In Iran, the Islamic Republic has a long and well-documented policy of using violence as a tool of political repression. Nationwide protests against the regime, triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman being held in police custody, were met with severe crackdowns and widespread arrests, followed by what would charitably be called show trials. Indeed, even to call them that is to grant them a veneer of legitimacy that they do not deserve.
These macabre rituals, culminating in inevitable yet arbitrary executions, are the product of a state killing apparatus charged with keeping the regime in place. Law — even the regime’s twisted Islamic version of it — has nothing to do with it.
Last month, two Iranian men were hanged for allegedly “waging war against God” — the current Iranian state’s euphemism for practicing dissent. Neither man was offered a legitimate trial or allowed proper legal representation. In all likelihood, they were held in solitary confinement and beaten into confessing to acts they didn’t commit. They were then hastily executed as a deterrent to other would-be protesters.
Several other people still sit on death row for participating in the protests, their fate contingent on the whims of Iran’s capricious and criminal leaders, their lives to be terminated when it is most politically useful to the regime. On Friday, Amnesty International issued a statement calling for three of the accused to have their death sentences quashed, saying it understood that they had been tortured while in custody. A fourth detainee, 21-year-old Armita Abbasi, who was arrested last year after making social media posts critical of the regime and reportedly has since been raped multiple times in prison, stood trial this weekend, and may get the death sentence as well.
As The Post reported last week, protesters are not tried in an ordinary criminal court, but rather the Revolutionary Court. The decisions of this political tribunal are preordained. As a survivor of the Iranian “justice” system, I can say one thing with certainty: If you ever find yourself on trial in a court with “revolutionary” in its name, don’t expect to win.
Political prisoners in Iran are conditioned from the earliest moments of their detention to expect they will be killed by the state, because they know they very well could be.
In the days and weeks that followed my arrest, I was shuttled from my solitary confinement cell to an interrogation room, always blindfolded. I was regularly told in these violent sessions that I would in all likelihood be beheaded. More than once, that message was delivered directly by Hossein Taeb, who was the long-serving head of the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligence organization. The shadowy Taeb is known to be one of the architects of Iran’s policy of taking foreign nationals hostage, as well as exterminating all potential political opponents of the regime.
This kind of treatment was not restricted to the interrogation chamber. In my first appearance at Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court (one of its most notorious seats of extrajudicial excess), Abolqasem Salavati, often referred to as the “judge of death” because of the abandon with which he sends defendants to the gallows, asked me why I was wasting his time when I knew he would sentence me to death.
The terror is the point. These “trials” are meant to send a message to the condemned and to anyone else who might be paying attention, from the complicit bureaucrats tasked with carrying out the orders, to the public at large — and abroad.
Now many years removed from my own experience with this morally empty process, what sticks with me is the absurdity of the Iranian state’s attempt to vilify ordinary people. For that reason, as serious as this issue is, the outside world must begin referring to these farcical exercises and their predictable finales as nothing more than the terrible theater that they are. Treating these manifestations of ideological and political retribution and intimidation as if they were legitimate judicial processes only serves to normalize their horrific outcomes. Referring to them as such serves only to perpetuate their existence.
And writing them off as an “internal matter,” no matter how gruesome, leads to misunderstanding the regime perpetuating these monstrosities. Wanton murderous repression is the tool of a government so terrified of its own people that it must terrify them in turn. Such a paranoid regime knows no limits. And as we are already seeing, a repressive regime such as Iran’s will in time turn its violence abroad.