The hypocrisy of the Iranian government has been painfully apparent in recent weeks as the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other high-level members of the ruling elite sent messages of solidarity to people of color in the US. They've trumpeted their support for #BlackLivesMatter, hosted an "I Can't Breathe" exhibit, and even proposed to name a street after George Floyd, whose brutal murder ignited the grassroots protests sweeping across America.
Despite these grand gestures, the regime hasn't mentioned how these civic actions parallel recent popular demonstrations in Iran. And their silence makes sense as the treatment of their protesters not only raises flags but enrages human rights activists around the world.
There is no comparison to Iran's history of handling protests. This June, Iranians mark the 11th anniversary of the Green Movement protests in 2009, predating the Arab Spring; this was a mass movement triggered by blatant election tampering by the regime as disaffected young people pushed for political reform. Ultimately the regime responded with massive crackdowns, arresting and killing protesters who sought fair representation. Protester Neda Agha Soltan was killed during the protests. As she bled out through her mouth, her death was captured in videos that went viral, making her an icon or even a martyr for the movement. Neda and her fellow protesters never were honored by her government, and still, no corrective action has been taken to protect protesters. No exhibits, no streets were renamed to honor her memory, and the struggle for fair representation in Iran continues.
Crackdowns of protesters have continued through the past decade, and arguably, since the inception of the Islamic Republic 41 years ago. Last November, the Islamic Republic experienced a wave of unrest, mostly triggered by the sharp rise of oil prices. This time it was driven, not by idealistic students, but by a desperate middle-class who lost their livelihood as the economy collapsed. The regime responded by ordering troops to shoot demonstrators on sight.
According to Amnesty International, the protesters who lost their lives were shot in the head or the chest, illustrating the government's intentional "shoot-to-kill" orders, rather than disabling or dispersing the protesters. Thousands of protesters were arbitrarily arrested and jailed without due-process, risking torture and subsequent exposure to the coronavirus outbreak that plagued the country. In the end, up to 1,000 people were reportedly killed. Among them, Pouya Bakhtiari, a 27-year-old poetry enthusiast who was shot in the head. Once again, not only the Iranian government failed to honor the lives of innocent protesters, it banned the Bakhtiari family from holding any public memorial ceremonies for their son, fearing it could spark fresh protests against the regime.
The regime also continues to promote its self-motivated and inauthentic alliance with minorities in the US. There is no question that residual racism in America must be addressed. However, even as Iranian press outlets trumpet the demands of Black Lives Matter, they are somehow indifferent to similar cries from within their own country; as one could say, Women’s Lives Matter, LGBTI Lives Matter, Baha'i Lives Matter, Kurds Lives Matter or Gonabadi Lives Matter, etc.
Since the revolution in 1979, the regime has been notoriously cruel to its ethnic and religious minorities. In June of 2018, the authorities executed 51-year old bus driver, Mohammad Salas, a Gonabadi Dervish—an unrecognized religious minority in Iran. Following a bloody crackdown of protesters in Golestan-e-Haftom, Salas was participating in a solidarity protest on behalf of hundreds of arrested protesters. Salas suddenly was arrested and charged with murdering three police officers during the protests. He then was tried without due-process, gave a forced "confession," and later executed and buried in hiding without notice to the family. Many Dervishes remain in Iranian prisons under very harsh conditions.
Iran, arguably, reserves its worst deprivations for the Baha'i faith, the monotheistic religion that began in Iran. Bahai Iranians experience what is known as "cradle-to-grave" persecution, and are deprived of the most basic rights. The month of June commemorates the mass execution of 10 Bahai educators almost four decades ago, among them a 17-year old girl, Mona Mahmoudinejad. She and the nine other women were transferred from their jail cells and hanged, while the others looked on, for the "crime" of teaching their religion. Thirty-seven years after their grisly execution, not only has the regime not ended its systematic discrimination against the Bahais nor erected any memorial in the name of these teachers, it has made numerous attempts at destroying their burial sites.
What the hypocritical rulers in Iran don't tell their citizens is that despite systematic challenges that cost George Floyd his life in the US, by-and-large, American protesters take to the streets, knowing that the police have a duty to protect and honor their right to protest. In American streets, reporters from around the world, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, report on the events in real-time. Social media is widely open and available to protesters who wish to organize and share information, giving life to chants and hashtags, even educating protesters of their rights should they be arrested. As they protest, they demand change, knowing that there's a democratic process that can transform their demands into action. #DefundthePolice movement is already gaining steam across the country as mayors and governors are considering new police reform measures. In other words, in a free society, no matter how flawed, change is possible, and optimism persists.
Even as it tries to understand the forces reshaping America, the calcified, corrupt leadership in Tehran that crushes dissent and murders its own citizens, has only one tool left in its depleted arsenal: hypocrisy.