Iranian regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei(left) and Ebrahim Raisi(right)
Iranian regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei(left) and Ebrahim Raisi(right)

On October 15, Iran’s state media reported about a new Judicial Security Document signed by the judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, which supposedly eases some of the repressive measures the regime imposes on the public. At first glance, the document addresses concerns about torture, unlawful detentions, forced confessions, freedom of choice in lawyer representation, and transparency in judicial processes. This could be a huge shift from the regime’s four-decade disregard for the most basic human rights of the population, as some foreign media have been quick to claim

That is, if the document is taken at face value.

Those with in-depth knowledge of the regime’s history of human rights abuses know that oppression, persecution and crackdown are vital to the mullahs’ stay in power. And though the regime might make some public relations maneuvers in times of distress, in reality, any relaxation on repression and human rights abuses will lead to the collapse of the mullahs’ rule.

A dark precedent

This is not the first time the regime claims to defend human rights. On 15 December 1982, amid mass executions and a fierce clampdown on political dissidents, Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and first supreme leader of the mullahs’ regime, announced an eight-point ”liberalization” charter which called upon the judiciary and other officials to spare ordinary people unnecessary harassment and brutality.

While political observers speculated that the regime would ease domestic suppression, political prisoners who were in the regime’s prisons at the time and survived the tell their stories portray a contrasting picture. They talk of Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) members using the abandoned Gohardasht prison in Karaj for mass confinement cells and also safehouses where the notorious Assadollah Ladjevardi, then-state persecutor of Great Tehran, and his staff extensively tortured and raped prisoners, telling them they would either die or lose their sanity.

So why can’t the regime abandon torture and execution to calm the population? Throughout their 41-year rule, the mullahs have held on to power through sheer repression of all dissident voices.

As of today, the Iranian regime’s human rights record has been a bloody one:

  • 65 condemnations by the UN General Assembly
  • More than 120,000 political executions
  • 74 documented forms of torture
  • Medieval punishments like amputation of limbs, public flogging, stoning to death, gouging out the eyes, etc.
  • Chain murders and assassinations of political dissidents around the world
  • Institutionalizing women suppression
  • Persecution of religious minorities, races or political beliefs
  • Brutal crackdown on social, economic and political protests

Ironically, Raisi, who now places himself at the forefront of judicial reforms in Iran, has been a key player in the regime’s brutal history of human rights abuses and played a pivotal role in the execution of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988.

This history of brutality and violence has created a wide gap between the population and the regime, one that will not be filled with mere promises of adherence to international norms of justice and human rights. The mullahs have also held on to a lesson they have learned from their predecessor, the Shah regime, which lost its hold on power as soon as toned down its repressive policies.

Why the judicial reforms?

So, what is the real motive behind Raisi so-called judicial reforms? The answer lies in the long history of the mullahs using lying as a tool to maintain their rule. Khomeini once bluntly said: “Lying is necessary, drinking alcohol is necessary, if it means protecting Islam and its followers.”

Forty-one years in power, the clergy has stuck with the same principle and even extended the logic into the offensive. The mullahs’ regime has dozens of unofficial and officially registered organizations committed to the cause with large annual budgets. For instance, following the nationwide unrest on November 15, 2019, the supreme leader Ali Khamenei ordered to stop the protests “with whatever it takes”. Consequently, as reported by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), Iranian security forces gunned down more than 1,500 protesters, and injured, arrested thousands of others. While governments and world media reported similar figures, the regime reduced the figures to a few hundred. Regime officials also denied Khamenei’s involvement and attributed the protesters to foreign states, calling them “thugs” who wanted to destroy the people’s livelihoods.

Another example is the execution of Iranian wrestling champion and political prisoner Navid Afkari. After arresting Afkari in the course anti-regime protests in 2018, security forces brutally tortured him and was forced to confess to crimes he had not committed. They then used the same confessions as evidence to justify his execution. Despite a nationwide and global outcry for the revocation of the sentence, the Iranian regime proceeded with the execution without prior notice to his family, lawyers, and even to himself.

Times of turmoil for the regime

This latest development comes at a time that the regime is under immense pressure both inside the country and abroad for its human rights abuses. Raisi made declared his so-called judicial reforms after facing a wave of public outrage in response of a campaign of public humiliation and repression by security forces, and while the rage of the Iranian people is still simmering from the execution of Afkari and Mostafa Salehi, another political prisoner.

In fact, in these times of turmoil, the regime needs to beef up its security and repression apparatus more than ever. And the facts on the ground show that the regime’s repressive measures have only intensified in the past weeks. Security forces are still rounding up protesters under the pretext of preserving national security, and regime authorities have ratcheted up the persecution of political prisoners. In this context, Raisi’s remarks will only serve as a publicity and cover that will allow the regime to continue its crackdown on dissent.