Home inContext Iran’s International Overtures Contrast Repression at Home

Iran’s International Overtures Contrast Repression at Home

Hannah Schaeffer

Iranian authorities ordered the removal of anti-American billboards in Tehran on Sunday, another diplomatic gesture toward the United States from the Islamic Republic. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to New York last month culminated in a historic phone call with President Obama, boosting prospects of reduced hostility between the two countries. The Iranian government, concerned by the impact of U.S.-led economic sanctions, hopes its charm offensive will lead to Western concessions during a new round of negotiations with the “P5+1” over the country’s nuclear program. Tehran’s goal in the talks is to ease the sanctions and secure Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

Despite outward acts of moderation, however, the Islamic Republic continues serious repression at home. On Saturday, the government executed 16 inmates without regard for due process. Officials executed the 16 “rebel” prisoners in retaliation for a Friday night raid which killed 14 Iranian border guards near Pakistan. The sixteen prisoners hanged by Iran had no clear connection to those behind the raid the previous day, according to a report in The Guardian. A long running Sunni insurgency challenges Tehran’s authority in Sistan-Baluchestan of south-eastern Iran.

A women walks past anti-American propaganda outside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran still on display. (Photo: BBC News)

Iran’s security forces have cracked down on other minority groups, arresting 80 members of Iran’s Kurdish community for protesting against parliament in Tehran. In a raid on October 9th, Iranian authorities also arrested men accused of being gay, the penalty for which is death. In addition, Rouhani’s regime has stepped up the arrests, imprisonments and death sentences against Ahwazi Arabs. Iran has executed approximately 150 people and arrested many others since President Rouhani took office in August despite his pledge to end the repression of the previous regime.The government acknowledges 260 executions in all of 2013, of which 53 were done in public, but Amnesty International puts the number at over 500.

With Iran’s leadership still willing to repress its own people to keep legitimacy and secure power, little in the Islamic Republic has fundamentally changed. U.S. Congress has urged the White House to remain skeptical as the administration engages with a country that flouts international human rights concerts and continues to enrich uranium. State Department official Wendy Sherman, however said this week, “We think that this is a time for a pause to see if negotiations can gain traction.”