Government for the People — Not yet for Iran

Regime protesters outside of the Amirkabir University of Technology, in Tehran. AFP/Getty

Since the assassination of the top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by a targeted U.S. drone strike on January 3rd, experts have been analyzing Iran’s situation.

Some say that the U.S. president went too far by killing Soleimani and that this action alone could perhaps lead to a war in Middle East- fueled by the fact the Iranian government is condemning Trump’s actions.

For others, Soleimani, who was classified as a terrorist, needed to pay for his sins and that his execution was inevitable. Now that tensions between the U.S. and Iran are at their highest, only the future can predict if we will see an increase of fighting in the region.

The discussion around Iran changed drastically a few days ago when the Islamic Republic of Iran admitted that it “unintentionally” shot down a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 civilians, including 57 Canadians. 82 of the victims were Iranians. Did they mistook the plane for a military target? Let’s not forget that it is not the first time that the government has killed its own people. Iranians should be outraged. Could you imagine a legitimate democratic elected government, like Canada, shooting down a plane full of its own civilians and getting away with it? No, never.

Many people are now becoming more aware that the Iranian regime isn’t as innocent than what they are claiming. In non-democratic regimes, a fine line exists between terrorists and members of government. With all the chaos taking place since the beginning of the year, we cannot be confident that what the Islamic Republic of Iran President or its ministers are saying is the truth.

The supreme leader of the country, Ali Khamenei (who was president before 1989), still plays a key role in the political day-to-day of Iran. A monarch in a way, Iran’s supreme leader holds his position for life.

Without much surprise, in Iran, religion is at the forefront of politics. Every decision, and law, must take Islam into account, which can undoubtedly lead to persecution of certain fragments of the population. Supreme leader since 1989, and the second since the 1979 revolution, he is the army’s (Revolutionary Guard and regular forces) commander-in-chief. This means that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), responsible for the downing of the plane, must continuously report to him before taking any military action. Ali Khamenei can also direct them with orders, which they need to obey. He can declare war on his own- without the need for approval of elected officials.

The monster behind Iran’s horrible human rights violations. Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, 80 years old. AFP/Iranian Supreme Leader’s Office

“He also appoints six of the twelve members of the Council of Guardians, the powerful body that oversees the activities of Parliament and determines which candidates are qualified to run for public office”, as said in a PBS report. That council, supervised by the supreme leader, is there to make sure all political processes and laws respect sharia. They also have veto over the parliament, which makes it inconceivable to identify Iran as a democratic state.

Iran is what we can consider an Islamic theocracy. The president is elected by the Iranians, even though the elections are not legitimate and the process is not transparent. He has less power than the supreme leader. The federal government is a unicameral legislative body composed of 290 members that are elected every four years.

As with other non-democratic governments, compromise is not one of Iran’s principles; in part because the supreme leader is head of the judiciary. Is Iran a semi-democracy or a full-scale dictatorship that aligns itself with some democratic principles. Elections are still being held, but can we believe the results?

Hassan Rouhani, president of Iran since 2013. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

In recent days, Iran has been the subject of many discussions, focused on the civilian missile attack. Mainstream media has only slightly covered the subject of the treatment of human rights in Iran, as well as surrounding countries. Most Iranians, more specifically different minorities, are suffering and would most likely welcome a change to the regime.

As citizens of Iran learned of the regime’s “mistake” of taking down a civilian plane, many Iranians took to the street to protest, many of the protestors were younger and students. It all started with a quiet candle vigil honouring the victims, but quickly escalated into agitated protests who were visibility angry.

The protestors do not believe that the killing of 176 innocent lives was an accident; it was well thought and planned. Are missiles just missiles, being thrown in the sky as if they could not lead to tragic events? Let’s remember that when it happened, the Iranian government did not admit what had happened; saying the plane crashed due to technical difficulties.

In the streets, Iranians demanded a change to the regime, shouting that the real enemy wasn’t Trump and the U.S. but their own Iranian government. It is not true that all Iranians support their supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and their president, Hassan Rouhani, and were mourning the death of Soleimani. We could observe during the protest videos that some of the participants were holding U.S. and Israeli flags.

Iranians mourning their countrymen who died in the plane crash. Twitter

The fact that the President said that Iran “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake” isn’t enough.

On Twitter, the #FreeIran and #IranProtests were trending worldwide for a good part of the day on January 11.

Iranian Students chanting “Soleimani is a murderer.” Twitter
Donald Trump urging the Iranian leaders to not kill their protesters. Twitter

The truth always appears, sooner or later the world will be made aware of the atrocities that are going on in certain parts of the world, including in Iran. Change is slow as many countries are still governing on models of tradition (monarchies) over democratic principles. We need to have hope that Iranian citizens will realize that a change in regime is an option that can lead to change. History has shown us that concentrated and unchallenged power leads to an undemocratic model of government.

U.S. and international allies need to stand together and demand accountability for the missile attack that took so many innocent lives, as well as other human rights violations committed in Iran. NATO, an intergovernmental military alliance between 29 North American and European countries, must find common ground and evaluate the best and safest thing to do for Iranians civilians who are suffering due to their regime.

Protesters taking to the streets of the capital of Iran, Tehran, chanting “death to the Islamic Republic.” Getty Images

On January 10, the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, expressed his concerns about the situation in Iran. Concerning the crash, “we need a total and transparent investigation and I call on Iran to fully participate and contribute to a transparent and thorough investigation”, said Stoltenberg. “It is in nobody’s interests to have a new conflict in the Middle East”, he added.

This message was supported by the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, in a January 11 press conference. “This is an extremely serious matter […] Canada and the world still have many questions, questions that must be answered”, said Trudeau, while remaining elusive about the upcoming repercussion that the Iranian state could face. To be noted that Canada, like the U.S., has no diplomatic tie to Iran. The liberal government finally decided, on January 17, to give $25,000 to the victims’ families to “assist their immediate needs.” We will need to wait for the end of the investigation to see if Iran suffers consequences from the tragedy.

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, addressing the media on January 11. Reuters/Blair Gable/Manila Bulletin

Tensions are going to remain high between the U.S. and Iran, but it is yet to be determined if a war will be declared in the near future, even though some say an undeclared one has been going on since the 1970s Iranian revolution. A revolution that established the Islam Republic of Iran in 1979. And one year later, the country was invaded by Iraqi and its leader Saddam Hussein; executed in 2006 after being accused of crimes against humanity by an Iraqi court.

The biggest dilemma we need to deal with right now is that we do not want a conflict escalation in the Middle East but, at the same time, we need to stand up for human rights around the globe. It should never be tolerated that religious, ethnic and sexual minorities face discrimination (and much more) from the Iranian government just because of who they are, believe or love.

Everywhere, citizens should be entitled to freedom of expression, to be able to freely express their disagreement with the government. All humans should be treated equally, independent from their gender.

To support the execution of gay Iranians, the current Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said: “Our society has moral principles. And we live according to these principles. These are moral principles concerning the behaviour of people in general. And that means that the law is respected and the law is obeyed.”

Cruel and incomprehensible, the death penalty for members of the LGBT community in Iran should be condemned by all democratic leaders. This is a crime against humanity from Iran’s leaders. They should face consequences for the killing of their own population and brought to international court. The judiciary system in Iran will never address these atrocities because to them they are not even seen as atrocities.

It saddens me to think that some of my brothers and sisters abroad are losing their lives because of who they are, what they believe in and who they love. Actions need to be taken and leaders need to step up to their responsibility.

Human rights organizations from all over the world are requesting accountability for human rights violations in Iran. Right before Christmas, a coalition of them insisted the “UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to launch an independent inquiry and demand accountability for the Iranian government’s repression of last month’s street protests, which resulted in at least 304 deaths.”

If it does take place, let’s make sure the inquiry not only tackles protests but any rights violations, especially the rights of minorities. That is where the international community needs to act decisively and quickly to protect Iranians; not arrest, imprison and kill people who are different and citizens that do not share sharia values. Much of the international media attention in these past few weeks was put on Soleimani and the relation between Trump and Iran. But we need more discussion and awareness about human rights. This will continue to be a challenge because of the lack of transparency of the dictatorship.

2019 has not been a positive year for human rights in Iran, according to the Iran Human Rights Monitor (Iran HRM), advocating for better rights in the country. For last year, the group as listed, “vindictive crackdown against human rights defenders as well as the heavy-handed treatment of political prisoners also stark indications of mounting repression in Iran. Human rights defenders, members of minority communities, lawyers, journalists, labour and teachers rights activists and women have continued to be intimidated, harassed, arrested and detained”, as written in their annual report.

Iran protesters in the streets of Tehran calling for a political change. AFP/Getty Images

Since 1979, only a few protests have emerged against the regime. For example, in 1999, students were angry when the government decided to ban a reformist newspaper named Salaam. The young Iranians, most of them studying at the University of Tehran, were asking for freedom of the press and the right to criticize politics; like it should be in a democracy.

After the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in June 2009, people took the street calling for fair elections. At the moment, they were “charging the government with fraud.” Lots of protesters were arrested, more than 2,000, put in jail by the regime. The government said that there were only a few casualties due to the protests, what was quickly denounced by human rights campaigners. There were more than 50 dead Iranians, one month after the election; with large numbers of citizens that were identified as missing.

We all have a role to play to make the world a better place. Let’s change what we are seeing unfolding in Iran and create a better storyline.

This article was about one specific country because of the recent events but it is not to say that human rights in other countries in the Middle East are not worth talking about.

Graduated with a masters degree in politics from the University of Quebec in Montreal. Human rights, LGBT issues, sports and music. Twitter: @OlivierPilon

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