What next in Iran?

Bodies stacked up in make-shift morgues, hundreds killed and carted away in secret. These are the alarming claims being made about the secret death toll in the Iran elections crackdown.

How true are they? Frankly, I think it’s still impossible to say with any certainty. What has been happening – as also reported in the Guardian which has the “hundreds dead” story – is that families are being mysteriously summoned to courts and shown photographs of bodies and literally asked whether they recognise their missing relative.

As we were saying here at Amnesty earlier this week, this frightening scenario certainly played out in the case of the family of a 19-year-old student called Sohrab Arabi. He had disappeared without trace after taking part in one of the post-election demos on 15 June. It was weeks later – last Saturday, 11 July – when his family got the chilling call to go and look at photos. Sohrab was in one of the photographs. Apparently his body – with a bullet in the heart – had been in the coroner’s office since 19 June. There was no explanation as to how he’d been shot or how it was that his body was unaccounted for between 15-19 June.

Such is the harrowing reality for some people in the post-election Iranian clampdown. Against this frightening, closed-in background, where families are warned not to mourn their dead relatives or talk to journalists and then suddenly summoned to go and possibly identify a dead body, Amnesty has been trying to keep a log of who has been detained. It stands at 368 at the last count and more are being added to it. The real figure could even be into the thousands. (Please add your voice calling for the detainees to be fairly treated).

Meanwhile, the detentions issue is becoming critical in Iran. The former president-turned-Ahmadinejad-critic Ali Akbar Rafsanjani has today called for detainees to be released during his state-televised address at Friday prayers. Perhaps this will exert some pressure on the authorities to account for people. On the other hand, the use of tear gas to disperse opponents of the government who’d gathered during Rafsanjani’s address does not bode well. (And neither does the just-breaking news of the violent arrest in Tehran this morning of leading women's rights activist Shadi Sadr).

What next? Crystal-ball gazing is not my forte. What will unfold in Iran is obviously known to nobody – except, perhaps, partly to Martin Amis, who in a typically florid essay in the Guardian G2 today, half-predicts an Iranian foray into nuclear Armageddon under a half-mad Ahmadenijad. (Yes, the writer of the near-unreadable Money has excelled himself!). For another rather over-the-top historical-theoretical take on what’s going on in Iran, try this by the self-described “dialectical-materialist and psychoanalyst philosopher” Slavoj iek in the London Review Of Books. I’m only half way through but it’s … interesting. To be fair, so is Amis’ opus.

Generally, though, I leave the high-flown theorising to my literary betters. I think you still can’t beat Sam Goldwyn Mayer’s classic warning: “I never make predictions, especially about the future”. But I’ll predict this: human rights are going to be a dominant issue in Iran for a long time to come.

 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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