When Hassan Rouhani won the Iranian presidential elections, he was touted widely in the mainstream media as “moderate” and “pragmatic” whose election portended a new direction for U.S.-Iranian relations. Now, as he is completing his first 100 days in office, a Washington-based research institute has examined the new leader’s record, raising serious questions as to just how moderate Rouhani really is.
Benjamin Weinthal, a research fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes that these first 100 days have “done little to improve Iran’s human rights record.”
Weinthal cites a long list of policies that might otherwise not be characterized as “moderate” by the media, including the prosecution of Christians for drinking communion wine during a religious service, the arrest of "homosexuals and devil worshippers," the continued persecution of embattled practitioners of the Baha’i faith, and the uptick in executions in the Islamic Republic since the presidential elections.
Weinthal writes that the “overall treatment of minorities and dissidents remains deplorable in Iran. Rouhani’s rhetoric, while inspirational, does not match the policies of the regime.”
Four Christian men were sentenced last month to 80 lashes each after being caught drinking communion wine during a ceremony with the Church of Iran, a Protestant denomination, and also for possession of a satellite antenna, as TheBlaze reported last week. Reports of the punishment prompted the Obama administration to react, saying it is “deeply concerned.”
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told TheBlaze last week, “We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s continuing violations of religious freedom.”
“The government continues to disregard the rights of its citizens, including Christians, Bahais, Sufis, Jews and members of other minority religious groups,” Meehan said. “Members of religious minorities are frequently subject to harassment, arbitrary detention and death. We again call for the Iranian government to urgently release all prisoners of conscience, including those detained for practicing their religion.”
Weinthal’s policy paper reports that harassment of homosexuals also continues, including the arrest by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of what it called "homosexuals and devil worshippers" at a birthday party last month.
“Authorities in the Islamic republic have previously likened homosexuals to satanists in an apparent attempt to further smear them in the eyes of the country's religious conservatives,” The Guardian reported on October 10.
The British paper further reported that at least 17 people at the party with tattoos, make-up, or rainbow bracelets “were blindfolded and taken to an unknown location.”
Under Iranian law, homosexuality can be punishable by imprisonment and even the death penalty.
Besides the raid of the party, journalist Siamak Ghaderi who has interviewed gay Iranians has been in prison since 2010 and was flogged in 2012, and Rouhani has reportedly refused to release him, according to Weinthal.
While Christians continue to face persecution under Rouhani’s Iran, other minorities are also at risk, as the White House acknowledged.
In August, a member of the Baha’i faith, Ataollah Rezvani, was reportedly shot in the back of his head in Iran. Rezvani had earlier been expelled from his engineering studies at university due to his being a Baha’i, according to Baha’i World News Service.
“From the available information it is now clear that the murder in Iran of Mr. Ataollah Rezvani was religiously motivated,” the Baha’i site wrote on August 27.
“Rouhani, for his part, has made no effort to free imprisoned Bahai religious leaders. Bani Dugal, a representative from the Baha’i International Community, now notes that ‘reports to our office actually indicate a worsening of the situation facing Baha’is in Iran,’” Weinthal writes.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ report notes that besides harassing non-Muslim minorities and the LGBT community, Iran has also increased its rate of executions since Rouhani took office.
“Iran’s regime imposed the death penalty on over 125 people during Rouhani’s tenure, including a record number of 50 executions during a two week period in September for principally drug-related offenses,” Weinthal writes. He notes, however, that Rouhani did release prominent political prisoners in advance of his visit to the United Nations in September.