Home inContext Iranian Executions Belie Claims of “Moderation”

Iranian Executions Belie Claims of “Moderation”

Alex Finkelstein

On Wednesday the United Nations called on Iran to put an end to an ongoing surge in executions. Amnesty International reports that 40 people have been executed in Iran in the last two weeks. The executions are conducted in public and hanging is the most common form of punishment. Most of the criminals are charged with drug-related offenses. There is no means of appeal if convicted of a drug crime in Iran and non-lethal drug crimes do not meet international protocol for crimes worthy of execution.

In 2013, which includes the June election of President Hassan Rouhani, there were 100 more executions than in 2012. The drastic increase undermines with Rouhani’s efforts to present himself as ideologically and politically “moderate” and thus a potential partner for talks with the West. His “moderate” persona was the main impetus for the White House to open diplomacy and undertake the talks that eventually led to the current six-month nuclear agreement.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 23, 2014. (Photo: AFP)

In the deal, the U.S. agreed to ease sanctions on Iran while the Iranians agreed temporarily to freeze their nuclear program and reduce a portion of their 20% enriched uranium to 5%. The White House, eager for a victory, argued that the agreement reduced Iran’s nuclear capabilities and lengthened the time to a “breakout” to nuclear weapons. Iranian leaders, on the other hand, emphasize that the deal accepts the principle of Iranian enrichment activities, and does not include the dismantling of any part of its nuclear-related capability. The Iranians also noted that 5% uranium can be re-enriched fairly quickly. Negotiations toward a second-stage agreement may lead to further agreement, however, there is still a large gap between what the U.S. says it wants and what the Iranians insist are their rights.

Rouhani billed himself as the “moderate” candidate to the Iranian people as well as to the West, but since all eight candidates had to be approved to run by the Supreme Council, the designation was a false hope. The executions are more than troubling and other signs of social progress have been illusory. The recent display of a musical instrument on television, flouting traditional religious convention, was enthusiastically received by Iranians on social media. However, it was quickly deemed a “mistake” that will not be repeated. Restrictions on travel and the Internet are also still in effect. The one ray of hope for the Iranian people is that the easing of sanctions has encouraged European companies to consider a return to the Iranian market. This is unlikely to compensate for a rate of (mainly public) executions that rivals China.