Nov. 13 (UPI) -- With the introduction of the final phase of tough, new U.S. sanctions on Iran, targeting oil exports, shipping and financial transactions, the clerical regime is in blind panic. Iran Human Rights Monitor has reported an increase in executions, repression and human rights abuse during the past month, as the mullahs try desperately to contain the growing unrest that has seen nationwide protests continue for almost a year.
According to I-HRM, there were at least 22 executions in October, including a woman who was only 17 at the time of her alleged crime. They also report arbitrary murders, deaths in custody, inhuman treatment, cruel punishments, appalling prison conditions and the continued persecution of religious minorities.
Last month, the U.S. State Department published a 48-page report titled "Outlaw Regime: A Chronicle of Iran's Destructive Activities." In a foreword, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained why President Donald Trump had decided to withdraw from the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions that had been lifted by former President Barack Obama, calling it: "a failed strategic bet that fell short of protecting the American people or our allies from the potential of an Iranian nuclear weapon."
In explosive comments, Pompeo said: "The Islamic Republic of Iran is not a normal state. Normal states do not attack embassies and military installations in peacetime; fuel terrorist proxies and militias; serve as a sanctuary for terrorists; call for the destruction of Israel and threaten other countries; aid brutal dictators such as Syria's Bashar al-Assad; proliferate missile technology to dangerous proxies; conduct covert assassinations in other countries; and hold hostage citizens of foreign nations. Normal states do not support terrorism within their armed forces, as Iran has done with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Quds Force. Normal states do not abuse the international financial system and use commercial industry to fund and support terrorism. Normal states do not squander their own natural resources. Normal states do not violently suppress legitimate protests, jail their own citizens or those of other countries on specious crimes, engage in torture, and impose severe restrictions on basic freedoms."
With a collapsing economy, massive unemployment and a growing recognition among the young and well-educated Iranian population that Iran's vast oil resources have been systematically misused to enrich the mullahs and to finance proxy wars across the Middle East, the nationwide protests are moving relentlessly toward a new revolution and the inevitable overthrow of the clerical fascist regime. Desperate to cling to power, the mullahs have ramped up repression and turned to the exploitation of cyberwarfare to spread propaganda, influence events, shape foreign perceptions and counter perceived threats. The U.S. State Department says: "The Islamic Republic has developed its cyber capabilities with the intent to surveil and sabotage its adversaries, undermining international norms and threatening international stability."
A key target for the clerical regime's cyber-spies is the main democratic opposition movement, the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI or MEK) and the National Council of Resistance of Iran. In particular, the regime has instigated a determined campaign to strike out at an enclave of over 3,000 PMOI activists based in Tirana, Albania, deploying cyberattacks to spread misinformation, fake news and blatant fabrications, labeling the MEK as a terrorist organization and claiming that its presence is a danger to Albania, Europe and the Middle East. It also utilizes vast resources to procure the willing service of gullible Western journalists. While the Iranian regime's attempts to smear the MEK have no credibility, what is worrying is that these allegations often become the basis for future terrorist and criminal acts against the opposition. The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence likes to use the Western media to denigrate the MEK in such a way that any subsequent terror attacks or assassinations targeting them receive little public sympathy.
In September, Twitter closed 770 accounts run by the Iranian regime, declaring them false accounts for government propaganda and for disseminating fake news and lies. At the same time, Facebook, Instagram and Google closed similar accounts related to the regime. On Oct. 17, Twitter published content associated with these 770 accounts, amounting to 1,122,936 tweets, along with embedded photos and videos. Among these tweets were hundreds that had been disseminated widely by Iran's MOIS in the days before the NCRI/PMOI annual "Free Iran" rally in Paris in June, which always attracts a crowd of some 100,000 ex-patriot Iranians opposed to the mullahs' regime. Some examples labeled MEK a "terrorist cult" and condemned the French government for hosting a "dangerous sect".
The tactic of using social media to soften public opinion and sow seeds of doubt about the NCRI/PMOI as a prelude to a terrorist attack was highlighted when on June 1 German police arrested Assadollah Assadi, a diplomat from the Iranian Embassy in Vienna, and charged him with terrorist offenses. On the same day, Belgian police arrested an Iranian couple from Antwerp after 500 gm of high explosives and a detonator were found in their car. They admitted Assadi had given them the bomb and instructed them to detonate it at the Iranian democratic opposition rally being held in Villepinte, near Paris that weekend, attended by hundreds of political leaders, including Rudy Giulliani and Newt Gingrich.
Despite such outrages, there are still appeasers in Western political circles who are prepared to close their eyes to the Islamic Republic of Iran's human rights abuse, aggressive military expansionism, sponsorship of terrorism and cyberwarfare. They believe that "constructive dialogue" with one of the world's most evil regimes is preferable to taking a firm line and demanding that Iran behaves like, in the words of Pompeo, "a normal state." The political appeasers have their willing media cohorts, who naively lap up every shred of misinformation about the Iranian opposition and every iota of propaganda about the regime. These "useful idiots" crop up repeatedly in newspapers, radio and television in the EU and America, echoing their predecessors who trod a similar dishonorable path during the rise of the Nazis and the oppression of the Soviet Union.
Struan Stevenson, coordinator of Campaign for Iran Change, was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.