November 20, 2018

Iran gets away with murder

Radovan Karadzic’s arrest last month in a Belgrade hideout was more than just a finishing point to 12 years of a fugitive’s life. Renowned as the face of “ethnic cleansing” in the Balkans, Karadzic was especially sought for having ordered the execution of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica.

His arrest can only increase international awareness of what is known as crimes against humanity. The feeling that criminals cannot go around unpunished is a sacred feeling anywhere in the world. Even when those criminals at large are no longer a threat to public security, they should be sought and brought to justice. They might no longer be a public threat, but they certainly remain a threat and a challenge to human dignity.

Nazi criminals who were justly pursued and brought to justice years after the horrible crimes they committed against the Jewish people more than deserved that. So long as such criminals are at large, the human conscience is oppressed, ignored, humiliated. There should be no impunity for such gross human rights violations, regardless of when and where they were committed. Unfortunately Karadzic’s record is not an isolated one.

Last week, Amnesty International issued a public statement on the 20th anniversary of the 1988 “prison massacre” in Iran. Twenty years after the Iranian regime began a wave of largely secret, summary and mass executions in September 1988, Amnesty International renewed its call for those responsible for the “prison massacre” to be held accountable. The call was launched a long time ago by the Iranian opposition and various circles of the Iranian diaspora.

In the summer of 1988, Iran put thousands of political prisoners to death after a desperate cease-fire agreement was reached to end the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. During those killing months, a three-judge panel retried thousands of inmates already serving sentences. The hearings lasted a few minutes for each prisoner. Those inmates who stood by their opposition to the regime were ordered immediately hanged. Amnesty International puts the number of the executed between 4,500 and 5,000, including women. In a letter to Imam Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, then the latter’s heir apparent, quoted the number to be either 2,800 or 3,800. Opposition counts go as high as 30,000, of which a list of 3,208 names has so far been produced. Montazeri stressed that the victims, members of the Moudjahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) organization, were not “individuals,” but “represented a sort of thought.” In other words, those massacred were all prisoners of conscience.

But that is not the worst part. The worst is that those responsible for the carnage were never blamed, and not the least sign of regret was ever expressed by anyone in the regime. On the contrary, many of the perpetrators of that massacre are still very much in circulation.

Jaafar Nayyeri, chairman of the three-judge panel, is currently deputy chief justice of the Iranian Supreme Court. A second influential judge, Ebrahim Raissi, is the head of the State Inspectorate Office. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, head of the executive at the time, is currently the supreme ruler.

The fact that Serbian criminals were out of business at the moment of arrest, and that those of Iran are still in power, does not give the latter any legitimacy to continue. On the contrary, because they think they are safe from punishment, the case is more urgent. Political power, often kept with utmost repression, should no longer be criteria for safe haven.

Last July 25, in a single day, 29 prisoners were executed in Iran. The act provoked much international condemnations. However, the ruling clerics paid no heed and in the following days executed 10 more people. Last year, around 400 people were “officially” executed in Iran, often in public. It might still not be a massacre, but certainly the mentality of the perpetrators remains the same.

The international community has rightly brought Karadzic to justice, and the International Criminal Court has done well to indict Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir for alleged crimes against humanity in Darfur. The same should be done in regard to Iran.

Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes for a variety of publications on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights.