Among the ways of measuring a new leader are his approach to the people he is beholden to and the choices he makes for roles of great responsibility.
In the case of Hassan Rouhani, the new president of Iran, the signs are not encouraging. And the U.S. government and the European Union should continue to be wary of his intentions, not just in the nuclear dossier, but also on the Iranian regime’s appalling human rights record.
First, he has no real power; anything he does must be approved by the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. It was Khamenei who weeded out all the candidates who might be truly moderate or even of independent mind, and permitted the “election” of Rouhani. It is Khamenei who controls Iran’s destiny, including the internationally tense issue of nuclear weapons development.
Indeed, it was Rouhani who, as Iran’s nuclear negotiator, followed Khamenei’s instructions and succeeded in buying more time for the mullahs to develop a nuclear capability, whilst the West believed he was negotiating in good faith. During the inauguration of his new foreign minister, Rouhani was quoted as saying, “Reconsidering foreign policy doesn’t mean a change in principles because principles remain unchanged.” As for the people whom Rouhani chose for his cabinet, their membership is quite enlightening and is reassuring to the Supreme Leader.
Putting aside gestures of reform and moderation, let’s look at the facts:
The cabinet is riddled with senior officials of the regime since its inception who have played significant roles in upholding the regime’s principals, namely war, suppression, export of terrorism, and fundamentalism for the past 34 years — and none among them have been out of the circle of mullahs’ regime officials in that time. Also, not one woman has been nominated for a ministerial post.
The individual who stands out most is the appointed minister of justice, Mullah Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi. For years, he worked as deputy to the minister of intelligence, and in that position he was the principal member of the three-man Death Committee that played the greatest role in the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, an overwhelming majority of them activists of the Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.
Most of the victims had finished their prison terms but many had not been released. All of them had been subject to the mullahs’ kangaroo trials earlier and were sentenced to prison terms. But this time there was no mercy. All were executed. Very few political prisoners in Iran were spared, and very few eyewitnesses survived.
In the final phases of the Iran-Iraq war, Ayatollah Khomeini, who felt that defeat was imminent, decided to wipe out the political prisoners. He issued fatwas (religious decrees) ordering the massacre of all who had not “repented” and were not willing to totally collaborate with the regime.
Every day, hundreds of political prisoners were hanged summarily and their corpses were buried hurriedly in mass graves all over major cities, in particular Tehran. Twenty-five years later, no one still has any clues on the exact details of the massacre.
Khomeini assigned an “Amnesty Commission” for prisons. In reality, it was a “Death Commission” comprising three individuals: a representative of the ministry of intelligence, a religious judge and a prosecutor. The final word was that of the Intelligence Ministry official; in Tehran, that individual was Pour-Mohammadi, whom Rouhani has now chosen to head the Justice Ministry. During the period of 1990–1999, Pour-Mohammadi played a special role in the regime’s assassinations, functioning as deputy and head of foreign intelligence in the intelligence ministry.
At the time, the deputy commander-in-chief of the regime’s armed forces was Hassan Rouhani, the new president. Actually, since 1982 he was a member of the regime’s Supreme Defence Council and of the Central Council of War Logistics Headquarters. In those positions, he was fully cognizant of this hideous crime and obviously was in full conformity.
Rouhani may lack the bluster of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the notion that he is a moderate and reform-minded is preposterous and baseless. Actually, like all other senior officials of the regime, he has been a culprit in these hideous crimes. He supports Tehran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons, has expressed unflinching support for Syria’s Assad, and has been an ardent supporter of protest suppression, including those by university students.
In retrospect, the initiative by the U.S. House Representatives to vote for increased sanctions on Iran is welcomed. It is also encouraging that more than 70 U.S. senators backed this initiative recently in a letter to President Barack Obama calling for increased pressure on Iran.
However, efforts by the EU and U.S. should not focus solely on the nuclear dossier. It is time that the West targets the regime’s Achilles’ heel: its appalling human rights record. European and American lawmakers should start to name and shame those Iranian regime’s leaders who are responsible for the serious human rights violations in Iran and impose punitive sanctions on them. It is time for the West to be more vocal in demanding accountability for those committing these crimes and support the Iranian opposition’s calls for justice for the victims in international tribunals.
As stipulated by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi — the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran — addressing a gathering of 100,000 expatriates in Paris on June 22, no change is imaginable in Iran without the release of political prisoners, freedom of expression, freedom of political parties, cessation of transgressing meddling in Syria and Iraq, and ending the project to attain nuclear weapons.
Lord Alex Carlile of Berriew CBE, QC was the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation in the United Kingdom (2001-2011). He is a leading member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.