EU Foreign Policy Chief Must Speak Out on Iran Human Rights

The EU’s policy on Iran is totally flawed and it is nowhere more evident than the attitude of its foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini regarding the despicable situation of human rights in that country. 

Mogherini’s misplaced priorities were prominently on display on August 5th, when she stood alongside dictators and terrorist leaders from the world over who had also decided to show their support for Iran’s clerical regime by attending the second-term inauguration of President Hassan Rouhani. Her presence in Tehran on that day was an affront to the human rights principles that ought to be of central concern to all Western democracies. It was also a reaffirmation of the EU’s tone-deaf preoccupation with Iranian business deals in the wake of the 2015 nuclear agreement.

This would be bad enough if the country’s abuses were only a recent phenomenon, but it is made worse by the fact that the ongoing inaction of Western powers leaves countless Iranians waiting for the justice that has already been denied to them for decades.

The case in point is the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988. These victims were condemned to hang on the basis of a fatwa from the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ruhollah Khomeini. Their trials before a hastily assembled “death commission” lasted two minutes on average, and the resulting executions were aimed at stamping out all opposition to the fledgling theocracy, particularly the opposition coming from the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Contemporary Western media largely ignored the massacre even as the MEK’s international affiliates strove to call attention to it. And that neglect set the stage for a pattern of feigned ignorance that has continued for nearly 30 years and has been clearly legitimized by the likes of Mogherini. Any person who has appropriate concern for human rights issues ought to understand that expanded relations with the Islamic Republic should be contingent upon the implementation of measures to bring the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre to justice.
Supporters of Mrs. Mogherini might object that the political life of a country moves quickly and that 1988 is ancient history by those standards. They might point to Hassan Rouhani’s reputation as a “moderate” Iranian leader, and suggest that EU policy should focus on the future instead of the past. But the future of any country is determined by how its leaders view the past, and after four years of Rouhani’s leadership, it is abundantly clear that he views the massacre of dissidents as unworthy of comment, and perhaps even as fully justifiable.

Rouhani’s rise to the presidency may have been meteoric, but he is not new to the Iranian regime. He and many of his administration’s principal figures held positions of influence in the summer of 1988 and were well aware of the massacre. Some were prominent participants in it, and indeed Rouhani’s first-term Justice Minister was one of four members of the Tehran death commission.

Rouhani’s inauguration last month coincided with his removal of Mostafa Pourmohammadi from that post – a fact that might make Mogherini’s attendance look less morally questionable. But Pourmohammadi was replaced by Alireza Avaie, who had filled a similar role on the death commission in Khuzestan Province. This adjustment of personnel is indicative of the Iranian regime’s modus operandi under Rouhani. It changes the face it shows to the world, but only in order to offer shallow concealment for the persistent brutality and contempt for human life that is at the regime’s core.

If Mogherini and other European leaders would merely look past the smiling faces, they would see the nature of that brutality, which includes 3,500 executions during Rouhani’s first four years in office, as well as rampant abuse of political prisoners whose ranks are swelling in the midst of a comprehensive domestic crackdown.

Now to the present. Some two dozen political prisoners are on hunger strike in Iran’s notorious Rajai Shahr Prison, where they were recently moved into even more cramped, sweltering, and unhygienic conditions and were made subject to truly oppressive, 24/7 monitoring. Their hunger strike is a month old and of course many of the participants are experiencing severe health effects. The regime has denied them medical care, ignored their demands, and generally shown no concern for the lives of these people. This is no surprise, considering both the nature of the regime and the fact that many of the hunger strikers are serving sentences for support of the MEK, the same organization the regime tried to stamp out in 1988. Iranian expats have been holding demonstrations and rallies in London and elsewhere to raise the concern of the international community on this pressing issue.

To the international community’s credit, the United Nations recently put out a statement on the hunger strike, following much pressure from groups like Amnesty International and the National Council of Resistance of Iran. At last, the UN has formally declared that the Islamic Republic cannot persist in the abuses underlying the hunger strike. Now it is time for the European Union to follow suit and to show at least the minimum concern for Iran’s human rights situation. If the organization cannot see clear to make this most obvious of statements, it will be more clear than ever that its foreign policy is in desperate need of new leadership.