It has been over nine months since Iran was rocked by protests, now known as the Women, Life, Freedom Revolution. Although the protest movement diminished over the last six months, Iranians in the country and across the diaspora remain locked in a political struggle for the future of Iran.
Despite appearing on the brink of collapse, the regime has in recent weeks lashed out at activists and dissidents inside and outside the country, in a desperate attempt to ensure its survival.
Iran intensifies crackdown on dissent
The regime in Tehran has launched a fresh wave of repression against Kurds in Iran, reportedly targeting members of the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK) in the Kurdistan province of Western Iran. These attacks, as reported by the Kurdistan Human Rights network, occurred following military exercises conducted by the Iranian regime in the region. Many perceive these exercises as a show of power and intimidation.
The Kurdish region in Iran served as the epicenter of protests that sparked a nationwide movement last fall. It continues to play a pivotal role in opposition activity, with many Kurdish groups actively organizing resistance against the regime since the establishment of the Islamic Republic.
The escalation of armed repression has been coupled with a surge of repression inside the country's prison system, as the regime resorts to executing prisoners in its relentless campaign to stamp out resistance. Reports In April revealed a 75 percent increase in executions within Iran. Amnesty International has estimated that Iran has already executed three times the number of individuals in 2023 compared to the previous year.
Over the past decade, the regime in Iran has led the world in per capita executions. Many observed that the regime employs executions, occasionally carried out in public, as a deliberate tactic to spread terror and assert its power.
Unsurprisingly, ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Baloch, and Arabs continue to be primary target of these executions by the regime. Historically subjected to systematic oppression, these minority groups have consistently faced violence and repression, rendering them vulnerable to such actions.
In March of this year, Amnesty International highlighted a deeply concerning trend, stating that:
“…authorities have executed at least one Ahwazi Arab, 14 Kurds and 13 Baluchis following grossly unfair trials, and sentenced at least a dozen others to death since the start of the year, marking a chilling escalation in the use of the death penalty as a tool of repression against ethnic minorities.”
Roya Boroumand, Executive Director of Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, a prominent Iranian human rights organization, condemned the regime’s action:
“[The Iranian authorities’] actions amount to an assault on the right to life and a shameless attempt not only to further oppress ethnic minorities but to spread fear that dissent will be met with brute force, either in the streets or in the gallows”
— Abdorrahman Boroumand Center (@IranRights_org) March 2, 2023
A shift in the dynamics between Iran and the West
The repressive tactics employed by the regime are not confined only to Iran. In recent weeks, Iran’s influence has extended to Europe as well. Authorities in France recently canceled a planned protest organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an Iranian opposition organization. The authorities cited concerns that the protests could become a target for terrorism and violence orchestrated by the Iranian regime.
This cancellation comes two years after a similar event was targeted in a bomb plot by Iranian agents in France. It also comes days after French president Emanuel Macron held a 90-minute call with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on June 10, and just before a raid conducted by local police on a camp in Albania hosting Iranian dissidents.
The raid in Albania resulted in clashes between members of the camp and the local authorities, with one person losing their life, and leaving dozens injured. Following the raid, it was reported that the seized computer equipment from the camp was sent to Iranian authorities, potentially exposing sensitive information about dissident networks inside the country.
The NCRI successfully mounted a legal challenge against the French authorites’ cancellation of the protest, leading to a Paris court overturning the ban merely days before the scheduled protest. Nonetheless, the decision by the French authorities speaks to a larger area of concern for exiled Iranian dissidents.
These events take place within the context of ongoing talks between the Iranian regime and the West, against the backdrop of a changing landscape where Western countries are reassessing their stance towards exiled groups opposing the Iranian regime, influenced by political agreements and pressures from the Iranian government.
In May, Iran carried out a prisoner exchange, releasing a Belgian aid worker in exchange for an individual involved in the bombing plot against the NCRI. Additionally, reports indicate that the regime has been engaged in “secret talks” with the Biden administration concerning its nuclear program. This strategic approach of repression at home while seeking concessions through terrorism and negotiations abroad has prolonged the survival of the regime for decades.
Abdul Reza Farajirad, Iran's former ambassador to Norway and Hungary, was quoted saying that the cancellation was part of a larger decision by European powers to make concessions towards Iran, including cracking down on dissident organizations residing abroad:
Europe does not want to fall behind if the US and Iran finalize a pact. So, they want to prepare the scene for collaborations for when Iran and the US reach an agreement.
Just nine months ago, direct talks between world leaders and the Iranian regime seemed nearly impossible, as the regime lacked legitimacy and appeared destined for failure.
However, some now view these talks as not only providing the regime with a sense of legitimacy but also as a means to squelch the voices of Iranian dissidents. Unfortunately, the usual course of business between the West and Tehran has often meant that human rights and the fight for democratic change in Iran are relegated to a footnote, if not completely squeezed out of the narrative at hand.
Critics have previously highlighted the pattern of economic relief disproportionately benefiting Iran’s supreme leader, which can be seen as evidence that any sanctions relief resulting from the nuclear deal may inadvertently prolong the life of the regime.
Despite these unfolding events, Iranians both inside the country and abroad persist in organizing, fueled by the belief that it is only a matter of time before the next catalyst unleashes the next wave of protests.