Credit: Taymaz Valley via Flickr

Dissent shouldn’t be a death sentence

By Alisha Vaswani

The world needs to stand with the people of Iran against the Islamic Republic.

“Someone’s crime was that her hair was flowing in the wind,” rapped Iranian musician Toomaj Salehi – a song lyric that would soon result in his arrest for crimes punishable by death.

Over the past week, international discussion of the situation in Iran has taken on a new, more frantic tone. This is largely due to a particular false news story which spread like wildfire: no, the Republic did not sentence 15,000 people to death. In reality, one unnamed protester so far has been sentenced to death, which should be considered terrifying and shocking enough, even without the inflated numbers being circulated online. You wouldn’t be alone in believing these numbers at first, though, so did Justin Trudeau. Given what we know about the atrocities committed by the Islamic Republic, it’s not difficult to believe. 

The Iranian government’s absolute disregard for human rights is visible even in individual cases, like Toomaj’s, where he was arrested for a song that opposed the Republic and encouraged activism against the state. Along with potentially facing the death sentence, his family alleges that he is being subjected to severe torture in custody. These should not be the consequences of releasing a song. More crucially, these should not be the consequences of speaking out on injustice.

The news about the potential executions of protestors is also unsurprising because of the political leadership of the country. The president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected under dubious circumstances, with the lowest voter turnout ever in a presidential election, and many citizens believing Raisi’s victory in the election was predetermined. According to Amnesty, Raisi was never investigated for his role in extrajudicial executions that took place in 1988. This is the state of the leadership in Iran, and this is why the Republic will continue to undermine fundamental human rights until sufficient international action is taken. The people of Iran have done their best to communicate what this regime is doing to their country, despite internet monitoring, shutdowns and interruptions by the government. With local dissenters facing an increasing threat to their lives, it’s up to the international world now.

What we can do on an individual level is clear: talk about Iran. Talk about Toomaj Salehi, talk about the over 15,000 activists who have been arrested, talk about the journalists who reported Mahsa Amini’s death and might now face the death penalty for simply doing their job. People in Iran do not have the privilege of speaking out openly, but we do. Even if the coverage of Iran dies down, our attention to it should not.

But what’s more important is what governments can do to show the Islamic Republic that their actions will be met with international consequences. More than internet hashtags, and infographics shared on Instagram stories, this is what matters. Although several countries have enforced sanctions against the morality police, with the UK government recently announcing sanctions on 24 Iranian officials, the BBC points out that the West has been careful not to antagonise the Republic, for diplomatic reasons. I’ve seen widespread media coverage of Iran, particularly recently, with people worldwide advocating for change on social media – yet the UN Human Rights Council itself has not done more than release a statement so far. It’s become clear that something has to change in the world’s treatment of Iran and Middle Eastern countries in general. A more hardline approach against the Republic has to be taken globally so that the activists in the country are not risking their lives only to be met with silence. 

As exiled Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad said: “I’m not asking the leaders of democratic countries to come and save us. I don’t want them to save us, I want them to stop saving the Islamic Republic.”


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