The Iranian regime has begun executing new dissidents

Following their threats to use the death penalty to repress the current protest movement sweeping the nation, the Islamic Republic has publicly executed two young men, reports STEVE BISHOP

SINCE the murder of Mahsa Amini by the Iranian “morality police” in September, nearly 400 protesters are known to have been killed, including 57 children, while over 16,000 people are known to have been arrested.

At the last count, 990 separate protests had taken place across 146 cities and 140 university and college campuses around Iran.

Protests have continued in earnest in defiance of a warning by the head of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps that they must stop.

A vote by 227 of Iran’s 290 legislators in November decreed that the death penalty could be applied to those protesters brought before the courts on charges of “serious crimes” against the state.

The charges against the protesters have included vaguely defined national security charges such as “enmity against God,” “corruption on Earth,” and armed rebellion.

All of these vaguely worded crimes are capital offences. The trial proceedings are rushed and defendants are prevented from having a lawyer of their choice, falling well below accepted international standards.

The first two death sentences have already been carried out. In Mashhad, the regime has publicly executed 23-year-old Majid Reza Rahnavard, found guilty of enmity against God, for the alleged killing of two security officers and injuring four others.

The regime is also reported to have executed 23-year-old Mohsen Shekari, who was also sentenced to death for enmity against God for allegedly “using a weapon to spread terror and violate the public’s freedoms and security” and for injuring a pro-regime militia.

These arrests and executions follow a consistent pattern of behaviour by the Iranian regime over the past 40 years and follow directly from the anti-working-class character of successive regimes in Iran going back to the days of the shahs.

The Pahlavi dynasty, which dominated Iran for most of the 20th century, tolerated no opposition, outlawing trade union activity, suppressing opposition political parties and incarcerating those opposed to the regime and its pro-Western political stance.

This, linked to the endemic corruption which was a feature of the Pahlavi regime, resulted in the groundswell which culminated in the national democratic revolution in February 1979, quickly followed by the declaration of the Islamic Republic of Iran in April of the same year.

While the left and progressive forces, with the widespread backing of student and women’s organisations, supported the overthrow of the shah, it became evident quite quickly that the clergy, which had provided the figurehead for the revolution, in the form of Ayatollah Khomeini, were not going to enact any progressive demands for open democratic politics, but were instead determined to take Iran down the path of medieval, theocratic rule.

Iran’s new rulers quickly adopted the tactics of the dynasty they had helped overthrow, proceeding to outlaw trade union activity, political opposition, student protest and restricting the rights of women, all in the name of Islamic laws.

Any hope that the revolution would herald an end to hundreds of years of monarchical dictatorship was soon to be crushed, as the theocratic dictatorship of the Islamic clergy in Iran tightened its grip.

The early years of the Islamic Republic set the tone for the ongoing record of the Iranian regime concerning human and democratic rights in general, and the rights of political and trade union activists in particular.

In draconian purges against those who opposed the establishment of a theocratic state, they arrested, tortured, executed and exiled key sections of the left, effectively driving underground any opposition to the consolidation of the rule of the theocracy.

It remains an appalling record, with many activists still exiled and trade union activity either restricted by the state or forced to operate clandestinely.

The regime has historically resisted accepting that trade unions have a right to operate in the country.

The Islamic Republic is in breach of International Labour Organisation conventions 98 and 87, guaranteeing the rights of all workers to belong to trade unions of their choice and to engage in trade union activities.

In Iran, the only permitted activity is through the state-established Islamic labour councils.

Though these bodies are permitted to operate, they are not trade unions, as they are ideologically restrictive and open only to followers of Islam.

Also, they are tripartite organisations involving representatives of employers and the government. The workers’ representatives are always in a minority.

In December 2020, a group of UN human rights experts wrote to the Iranian government warning that past and ongoing violations related to the prison massacres of 1988 may amount to crimes against humanity and that they would call for an international investigation if these violations persisted.

Between late July and early September 1988, thousands of imprisoned political dissidents across Iran were forcibly disappeared and then extrajudicially executed under a shroud of secrecy.

For more than 30 years, the Iranian authorities have systematically concealed the circumstances surrounding their deaths and the whereabouts of their remains.

During this brutal atrocity, the core structures and leaderships of the main left opposition parties, including the Tudeh Party of Iran, were effectively annihilated, and any remnants of those organisations were driven either underground or into exile.

Following the violent suppression of the Green Movement protests after the rigged presidential elections in June 2009, it became clear, even to those who remained under any doubt, that the Iranian regime was beyond reform.

The two-term Rouhani presidency, elected on a supposedly reformist ticket in 2013, attempted to paper over the cracks.

However, the sham of Iranian democracy which sees all candidates in parliamentary and presidential elections vetted for approval by the Islamic Guardian Council, and power ultimately in the hands of supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, prevailed over any leaning towards change in the country.

Even according to the regime’s own statistics, almost 40 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line in Iran.

This is the result of three decades of neoliberal economic policies imposed by the regime, encouraged by the IMF and World Bank.

The class interests of the regime are inextricably aligned with the interests of the country’s corrupt and parasitic big bourgeoisie which controls the entire economic and political direction of Iran.

There remains confusion in some left-wing and progressive circles in characterising the regime in Iran as an anti-imperialist force, owing to its record of posturing against the US.

However, despite the Iranian regime’s anti-US rhetoric, the Islamic Republic has remained a faithful ally to imperialist designs and interests throughout its existence.

This ranges from its support for the Contras in Nicaragua, and secret relationship with the US and apartheid South Africa, during the 1980s, through to its active participation in the US’s destabilisation and overthrow of the People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan; the civil war in Tajikistan; the subsequent invasions and occupations of both Afghanistan and Iraq; and its continued support for some of the most reactionary forces in the region, including the Taliban.

These are not the actions of a regime with which the left and progressive forces can do business or count on as an anti-imperialist ally.

The only true interest of the theocracy ruling Iran is in its survival, whatever the cost to its own people and whatever expedient international relationships it may forge to perpetuate its own hold on power.

Supporting the demands of the people of Iran for peace, democracy and social justice is the only legitimate position for the left to adopt in relation to Iran today.

Steve Bishop is on the executive council of Committee for Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights and represents Codir in negotiations and discussions with trade unions.

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