Exiles report widespread persecution in Khomeini's Iran
Sometimes they come in surges, at other times in trickles. But the desultory stream of Iranians fleeing their country continues to bear witness to the brutal human-rights violations of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic revolutionary regime.Skip to next paragraph
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Exiles arriving in Paris, London, and other European cities via Turkey and Pakistan bring with them tales of abhorrent living conditions, torture, and murder in Iran's prisons.
The exodus persists, with up to 700 refugees reportedly leaving Iran each week. Many of them are escaping Iran's general political and economic instability, but a good portion are direct victims of the repression that has gripped the country for the past two years. Their testimony suggests that despite the recent clampdown ordered by Khomeini against human-rights abuse, the persecution has shown few signs of slowing down.
Khomeini's eight-point ''liberalization'' charter, which was introduced in mid-December, calls on Islamic revolutionary officials to spare ordinary people unnecessary harassment and brutality. It has since resulted in a purge of public prosecutors, the release of 400 political prisoners, and the creation of special monitoring teams. The charter, however, did not protect those who wish to criticize the Islamic republic.
Both the Paris-based political organizations and those among the exiles who have suffered under the present regime have labeled the Ayatollah's decree as ''cosmetic.'' They find it hard to believe that Khomeini or his successor will succeed in reducing the terror with which Islamic revolutionary elements - particularly the almost autonomous local justice committees - have been ruling Iran.
Political opponents and religious and ethnic minorities such as the Bahais and Kurds will continue to be killed, imprisoned, and tortured in the ''name of Islam,'' these political groups say.
''There is virtually no hope that things will change for the better in the near future. There is a deep sense of pessimism and despair among most people,'' says a French source who recently returned from Iran and who has close contacts in the exile community.
Reports from refugees and European-based human-rights organizations say that as many as 20,000 ''enemies of the revolution,'' including children, have been killed during the past 18 months. Exact figures are difficult to come by. Some 40,000 to 50,000 political prisoners are thought to be incarcerated in Iranian jails.
Tehran's Evin Prison, for example, a notorious detention center under the Shah, is now said to hold an estimated 15,000 to 16,000 inmates, three times more than when it was controlled by Savak, the Shah's dreaded secret police.
At present, at least 12 detention centers are known to be operating in and around Tehran alone.
The Iranian Embassy in Paris has denied these charges. Embassy officials maintain that the charges are all part of an international plot aimed at discrediting the Islamic revolution. An embassy spokesman refers to the French-language Tehran weekly Sorouche, which pointedly has condemned organizations such as Amnesty International as anti-Islamic instruments in the service Zionism and imperialism.
Some organizations, including Amnesty, are reluctant to qualify the violations of the present regime as being ''worse'' than under the Shah. Nevertheless, critics, including those whose human rights have been violated by both regimes, have begun drawing bitter comparisons.
As might be expected, former Shah supporters, who often conveniently seem to ignore their own previous persecution of left-wing dissidents, religious activists, and Kurds, are seeking to turn the situation to their own political advantage.
A 1978 Amnesty International report said it could not cite a figure for the number of political prisoners in Iran, but noted that opposition sources claimed the number was far higher than the 2,200 put forward by the Iranian government in February 1978. Even those who acknowledge that Savak was responsible for ''excesses,'' maintain that Iran at least enjoyed a sense of economic well-being and political security.