The government of Iran has been in a state of panic for more than a year. And when the government is in panic, the people live in enormous fear. Because the Iranian government is cruel beyond understanding, and it is the Iranian people who pay the price. 

Last year, the people rose up against the Iranian government after the price of gas doubled over night. The streets of Iran filled with angry Iranians calling for “Death to the Dictators”, and the Iranian government seemed to be more fragile every day. The growing demonstrations, in more than 275 cities all around the country, were telling the real story about how Iranians really feel about their government. And for the first time, the Iranian people were not only demonstrating in the streets, they were fighting back. They were clashing with police, with the IRGC, and with the Basij militia. They were calling for “Death to Khamenei” and “No reforms, no referendum, just strikes and revolution”. There were rumors that things got so bad that Iran’s leaders were sending family members abroad to keep them safe.

The treasury got so low that Iranian soldiers weren’t getting paid. And it was getting worse every day. And then the China Virus came. And the demonstrations subsided as the people struggled to survive. The Iranians are merciless, and the welfare of  the people are hardly the first priority of the Mullahs who rule the country. 

The death toll in Iran during the following months was high. The official numbers were ridiculously low, but the efforts that the government made on behalf of the people in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic was pathetic, and the numbers of dead were based mostly on the huge cemeteries that are so large that they can be seen from space. Only the elite were getting the medical treatment they needed to combat the virus. 

The demonstrations of 2019 and 2020 were not the first demonstrations in Iran. In 2018, thousands of Iranians poured into the streets in a disorganized but highly emotional effort against the government. Iran’s interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli warned that those who “disrupt the order and break the law must be responsible for their behavior and pay the price”.

These words of prophecy are now being played out – and with a vengeance.

Hundreds of people just ‘disappeared’, to be hidden in prisons to be raped and tortured, or just executed. In February, we learned that five men were sentenced to death for “waging war against God,” armed rebellion against the government, and “corruption on earth.” 

Navid Afkari

And just this week, one of Iran’s champion wrestlers – 27-year-old Navid Afkari – who reportedly took part in the demonstrations in August 2018, received the extraordinary sentence of two death sentences, six years and six months in prison, and 74 lashes. He was sentenced by the ‘revolutionary court’ for the ‘crime’ of demonstrating with hundreds of other people against the deteriorating economic conditions in the country. 

The sentence is shocking, particularly given another recent sentence given to the father of 14-year-old Romina Ashrafi. He beheaded his daughter in what is known in Islamic culture as an ‘honor killing’ in Islamic culture. For this horrific crime, he was given nine years in prison. Yet a man who did nothing more than join a demonstration with hundreds of others against crushing inflation, received two death sentences, plus jail time, plus 74 lashes. This is what is called ‘justice’ in Iran.

Prison time in Iran is not anything like prison time in the West. People arrested during the 2018-2019 demonstrations faced filthy conditions in rat and lice-infested prisons, and suffered horrific torture reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition. According to Amnesty International, “victims include children as young as ten, and injured protesters and even bystanders, who are arrested from hospitals while seeking medical care for gunshot wounds. And human rights activists, journalists, and individuals who attended ceremonies to commemorate those killed during the protests. Hundreds of people were sentenced to prison terms, flogging, and even were sentenced to death, after barbarous closed-doors trials, presided over by judges who relied on “confessions” obtained under torture, and who knew the verdict before even hearing the case.

“Instead of investigating allegations of enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment and other crimes against detainees, Iranian prosecutors became complicit in the campaign of repression by bringing national security charges against hundreds of people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, while judges doled out guilty verdicts on the basis of torture-tainted ‘confessions’. This litany of crimes and violations, committed with total impunity, has been accompanied by a wave of forced televised ‘confessions’ in state propaganda videos and grotesque statements from top officials who have praised intelligence and security forces as heroes for their role in the brutal crackdown.”

This report exposes the blatant disregard for international norms and laws requiring the humane treatment of prisoners. None of this apparently concerns the Iranian mullahs, whose iron fist rule is barbaric and unforgiving. 

The brutality of Iran’s death culture is underscored by the Human Right’s Watch exposure of how Iran executes individuals, even those who are sentenced to death for offenses that they may have committed as children. Execution is often carried out by hanging, not by dropping the prisoner, but by lifting him or her on a crane, and — to an agonizingly slow and painful death. These executions are often carried out in public. And to cause further pain to the family, they are charged for the noose, and the body is not released for burial until that fee is paid.

There seems to be no end to the cruelty and ugliness of Iran’s regime, even now, when its economy is at the brink of total collapse. In June, the rial, which is the Iranian currency, fell 14 percent. That was its lowest level in its history. It is ironic that a country that is so rich in oil and gas (Iran has the second-largest gas reserves and fourth-largest crude oil reserves in the world), Iran’s 80 million people are mostly impoverished and starving.

The government is responding to the threats from the virus, the collapsing economy, the restlessness of its people, and the impact of international sanctions, by threatening its neighbors with attacks and the world with nuclear annihilation.   

Iran is not an enemy to be taken lightly, because the Iranian leadership is plagued with a particularly evil kind of insanity that considers its population a disposable nuisance, and its leadership role in the world as bestowed by Allah. They consider themselves at once invincible and righteous, even as their people starve, and their position in world affairs is increasingly marginalized. 

The world is in turmoil. Iran’s ambitions do not help resolve any of the chaos, they only add to it. The recent sentences to hang innocent people for the ‘crime’ of disagreeing with the mullahs only shows how desperate they truly are. But the power they hold over the country is still a fist of iron, and they will not relinquish it willingly.  

The sanctions are working. The pressure that the US is putting on them is working. But the situation is complicated. It may still take some time to end this regime of terror and despicable cruelty. It is long overdue for a change in the government of Iran and a return to something a lot closer to democracy. The people of Iran are more than ready.