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Op-Ed: Stand with the dissidents of Iran

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Senator Mark Kirk (U.S. Senate)

Sen. Mark Kirk (U.S. Senate)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Iranian presidential election is fraught with fraud and fear — candidates vetted for their loyalty to the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards, the press muzzled by the imprisonment of independent journalists, and the leaders of Iranian civil society in detention.

The absence of any free or fair election is a manifestation of the larger repression in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Simply put, the Iranian government imprisons and tortures thousands of activists, executes dissidents without due process, ruthlessly curtails free speech, enforces a system of gender apartheid and imposes severe religious discrimination, dramatized in particular by the systematic persecution and prosecution of the Baha’i and the imprisonment of their entire leadership.

Indeed, killing people for their political beliefs is nothing new to Iran’s theocrats. The government consolidated its power in the 1980s by executing thousands of dissidents.

Its most brazen violation of human rights was a massacre of its political opponents in 1988. That summer, pursuant to an order by Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian regime subjected all of its political prisoners to one-minute “trials” and sentenced nearly 5,000 dissidents to death by hanging. To date, no one has been held accountable for these crimes. To the contrary, those who implemented Khomeini’s order have thrived, becoming cabinet ministers and Supreme Court judges.

As the 1988 killings show, Iran’s government has systematically used its prisons as sites of mass murder. With at least 2,600 political prisoners today, it would not hesitate to do so again to create fear among a restless population with strong democratic aspirations.

There are several initiatives that Canadian and American lawmakers have taken — and can take — to promote accountability and prevent the Iranian regime from directing another reign of terror toward political dissidents.

We recently launched the Iranian Political Prisoners Global Advocacy Project. Modeled on a similar initiative that once defended Soviet prisoners of conscience, the Advocacy Project encourages parliamentarians to “adopt” Iranian political prisoners and advocate on their behalf. Political prisoners who escape Iran have consistently said that international attention to their case was their best protection. The participation of parliamentarians in the Global Advocacy Project can literally mean the difference between life and death for many Iranian activists behind bars.

We must combat the Islamic Republic’s pervasive culture of impunity by shining a light on gross human rights violations that Tehran wishes to hide. Last week, Canada became the first country to officially recognize the 1988 massacre as constituting crimes against humanity. This will be a significant blow to the Islamic Republic’s quarter-century effort to deny these killings and holds the regime accountable for its gross human rights violations, no matter how long ago they occurred.

The United States and Canada must continue to lead the annual resolution at the U.N. General Assembly that “names and shames” Iran for its terrible human rights record. We must also work with like-minded countries, particularly those in the global south, to require Iran to permit the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran to visit that country’s prisons and talk freely with dissidents. The intensity with which Iran fights the annual resolution and the rapporteur’s investigation indicates that Iran is vulnerable on this issue.

We must expose the fraudulence of the Iranian presidential elections where numerous candidates, specifically women, were barred from participating while two of the candidates, Mohsen Rezai and Ali Akbar Velayati, have themselves been indicted for terrorist acts.

Iranian citizens yearn for human rights and the rule of law, as they clearly demonstrated during their massive and peaceful 2009 post-election uprising. They will not achieve these things in this presidential “election” on June 14. But solidarity and assistance from the United States, Canada and the international community will help them pursue their demands and protect their rights. It is what Iranians require. It is what Iran’s dictators fear. It is where we can help.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Canadian MP Irwin Cotler serve as co-chairs of the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran and the Iranian Political Global Advocacy Project.

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