Cliff May

Iran’s rulers have long embraced Stalin’s impeccable logic: “The people who cast the votes don't decide an election; the people who count the votes do.”

So a year ago this month, they held an election and blatantly falsified the results. Iranians protested and were brutally suppressed. One victim became known worldwide: Neda Agha-Soltan. At an anti-regime demonstration on June 20, 2009, she was shot in the chest. Soon after, demonstrators pulled a man from his motorcycle, disarmed him, and identified him as a member of the Basij, a militia that specializes in crushing anti-government dissent. He reportedly shouted: “I didn’t want to kill her!”

Amateur videos of the incident quickly found their way onto the Internet. Neda’s face, beautiful even as she lay dying in the dusty street, personified the people’s revolt against the clerical rulers brought to power by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979. His successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has held on to power over the past 12 months by authorizing the killing, torture, rape and imprisonment of thousands of Iranians. But he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad learned something from Neda: They have endeavored to keep stories like hers from being documented and publicized. And, for the most part, the “international community” has been more than cooperative.

So kudos to Amnesty International which has just published “From Protest to Prison,” a report on the atrocities that continue to occur inside Iran. “One year on from the disputed presidential election of June 2009,” the report observes, “Iranians who want to criticize the Government or protest against mounting human rights violations face an ever-tightening gag as the authorities and the shadowy intelligence services – shaken to the core by the events which followed – consolidate their grip on the country and intensify the repression already in place for years.”

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Katie Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, writes that the regime has cast a wide net, targeting not just “human rights campaigners” but also “students, women’s rights activists, academics, former political prisoners and their relatives, members of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities, trade unionists, and lawyers who have defended political detainees.”

The Amnesty report – which has received scarce attention in major news rooms and  the corridors of political power -- notes that authorities in Tehran “have criminalized contact with over 60 foreign institutions, media organizations and NGOs … They have continued to close down newspapers that are deemed to cross the ever-shifting ‘red line’ of what they consider to be acceptable. Websites and email services have been filtered or blocked and the police have warned that SMS messages are monitored. They have fired many university professors and staff on the grounds that they do not have sufficient ‘belief’ in the Islamic Republic. Renewed efforts to implement ‘morality’ codes concerning dress and gender segregation are underway … They have issued numerous threatening statements and executed political prisoners to make it absolutely clear that those who express any form of dissent – whether by speaking out or writing or attending demonstrations – will face the harshest penalties.”

Among the cases cited in the report: A woman whose house was “ransacked” and her child taken away. For months, she tried to locate him. Then she was arrested, a show trial was staged and she was sentenced to death. A woman raped by government officials particularly recalled that they were dirty and that they laughed at her. “Even though they saw I was a virgin, they accused me of being a whore and forced me to sign a statement that declared I was a prostitute… My front teeth broke and my shoulder was displaced; my womanhood was destroyed.” A Norwegian student saw Basiji insert a baton into the mouth of a demonstrator, a girl who “was screaming in pain.” He added: “At one point there was a small bus on fire, people were trying to get out. When they tried to get out they were shot at. Some of them did not get out.”

As for Neda, the authorities denied her a proper burial and banned collective prayers on her behalf. Her family has been threatened. An Iranian diplomat suggested the CIA was responsible for her death. A senior government official said she was probably killed by demonstrators so they could raise “propaganda against the system.” Iranian state television portrayed Neda’s death as a Western plot that had only been simulated in the videos. In November, supporters of the regime desecrated her grave. In December, the portrait on her grave was defaced by gunfire.

One wonders: When the leaders of Turkey and Brazil decided to help Iran’s rulers avoid sanctions aimed at preventing them from acquiring nuclear weapons, did they consider any of this? Do the European executives making barrels of money by doing business with Iran factor it in?

Stalin said: “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” By highlighting even a small number of individual cases, the Amnesty report begins to reveal those statistics not just as tragedies but as crimes being committed by what is now the world’s most dangerous criminal regime. For Congress and the Administration, and for those in Europe still considering whether to take serious action in response to the Iranian threat, Amnesty’s report should be required reading.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.