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Human Rights in Iran

  • 30 April 2014
  • Posted By Kaveh Eslampour
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2013

International Response to Abuse in Evin Prison

On April 17th, over 30 inmates in the 350 Ward of Iran’s Evin Prison were subjected to physical abuse and forcible head shavings, according to human rights groups outside of Iran. Victims included political prisoner Hossein Ronaghi Maleki and human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, both of whom were imprisoned following the uprisings of the disputed 2009 presidential election. With no public response from President Rouhani, campaigns professing solidarity with the prisoners have led the international outcry to investigate the incident and improve human rights in Iran.

The crackdown was conducted by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Intelligence Ministry officers, and prison guards who claim to have been conducting a routine search for elicit items such as cell phones. Following the incident, 32 prisoners were put into solitary confinement with some yet to be released. Gholam Hossein Esmaili was removed from his post as head of Iran Prisons Organization following the incident. However, in a move to defy critics, he was elevated to director general of the Justice Department in Tehran Province. This assault is the latest in a series of egregious human rights violations committed by the conservative dominated judiciary and the IRGC, possibly aimed at undermining President Rouhani in the ongoing nuclear negotiations with the West.

421 activists inside of Iran have written a public letter to President Rouhani calling for him to investigate the assault and protect citizen’s rights. Rouhani has not responded publically to the incident, although he has met privately with several prisoners’ family members. One day after protests outside of the President’s office, Rouhani administration spokesperson Mohammad Bagher Nobakht said that a team had been put together to investigate the attack. No new details about the team or their findings have emerged since the announcement a week ago. The constitutional powers of the president of Iran do not grant the authority to free political prisoners, although during his campaign Rouhani pledged to “improve the situation” of many prominent prisoners.

Rather than trying to appeal to President Rouhani, others have focused on supporting the victims of the assault. Thousands have viewed a group on Facebook (which is technically blocked inside Iran) dedicated to supporting those kept in Ward 350, with hundreds posting pictures of themselves with shaved heads to symbolize solidarity with the prisoners. More than 30 prisoners from inside of Evin Prison and six from the Rajaa Shar Prison have launched a hunger strike to call attention to their unlawful imprisonment and brutal treatment, according to human rights groups outside of Iran. In his latest report, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed reported at least 895 ‘prisoners of conscience’ and ‘political prisoners’ inside of Iran. Shaheed has still not been granted access to the country.

There has been increasing frustration with Rouhani for not pursuing campaign promises to improve human rights in Iran. Rouhani’s administration has appeared to focus instead on first resolving the nuclear issue with the West, under the belief that doing so can empower moderates and generate momentum on improving human rights in Iran. Former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist, has called for the release of political prisoners, including 2009 presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. On the opposite side, hardliners continue to criticize Rouhani for negotiating with the West. A new hour long documentary titled “I Am Rouhani”, reportedly funded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, is critical of Rouhani’s dealing with Iran’s “enemies.”

  • 28 April 2014
  • Posted By Kaveh Eslampour
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, UN

Iran and Women’s Rights

On Wednesday, Iran was elected to a second four-year term on the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a body charged with advancing gender equality and the rights of women around the world. The move was strongly criticized by the Obama administration, who denounced Iran’s long record of repressing women’s rights.

Iran’s ascension to such a body, given its poor human rights record, warrants concern from the international community. At the same time, this may an important opportunity to shine a spotlight on the issue of women’s right’s inside of Iran. It should also be viewed as an opportunity to further press Iran to operate within the framework of the UN and to allow the Special Rappateur on Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, to visit Iran.

On the first count, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shined a spotlight on women’s rights this week on the occasion of Women’s Day, saying “I, as the head of the government, confess there are still so many deficiencies with regards to the vindication of women’s rights.” He described “gender injustice” in Iran and lamented that “there are still women who are suffering from and even afraid of men’s unjust behavior – and this era must end.”

United Nation Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed released a report in March that documented the numerous violations of women’s rights and the imprisonment of many prominent women’s rights journalists, lawyers, and activists. His report describes the institutionalized discrimination of women that prevents fair court procedures, discourages women to come forward with rape charges, and many other forms that impact women’s everyday life. President Rouhani’s comments acknowledging some of these issues represents a small signal towards an effort to address gender inequality.

Rouhani’s election was based on a platform of not only improving relations with the West and negotiating an end to the nuclear standoff, but also improving human rights and building an inclusive government. Nearly ten months into his presidency, many analysts have criticized his short comings in regard to improving human rights – especially the rights of women. At the same time, women in Iran represent the majority of university students, even in the sciences that are traditionally dominated by males. Family planning laws are considered liberal in the region, and women have seen an increasing role in political and economic affairs over the last decade.

While Iran’s election to the Commission on the Status of Women should raise concerns if it confers legitimacy to Iran’s human rights and women’s rights record, multilateral engagement on these issues should remain a top priority. Cooperating and working with the international community can provide a path to establishing greater accountability of what is happening inside of Iran and addressing the urgent need to address women’s rights.

  • 9 October 2013
  • Posted By Mina Jafari
  • 0 Comments
  • discrimination, Human Rights in Iran

Will Rouhani Act to End Persecution of Baha’is?

Bahai Leaders

In many ways, Hassan Rouhani has distanced himself from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  In the first two months of his presidency, Ahmadinejad’s hostile rhetoric has been replaced with Rouhani wishing Jewish people around the world a Happy Rosh Hashanah, including Iran’s Jewish Member of Parliament on his trip to New York for the UN General Assembly, and condemning the Holocaust in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. In contrast to Ahmadinejad’s crackdown on the Green Movement in 2009, over 90 prisoners of conscience have been released since Rouhani’s inauguration, including prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.  These critical steps indicate that Rouhani is, at least for now, willing to act on his campaign promises to improve Iran’s relations with the outside world and create a less securitized political environment.

It is certainly refreshing to see an Iranian President trying to mend relations with the Jewish community, as Iran is also home to the second largest Jewish population in the Middle East (Israel being the first). But if Rouhani truly hopes to enhance Iran’s image he must take more significant action regarding the status of other religious minorities as well.

Five of the 270 members of Iran’s parliament represent religious minorities, including three Christian, one Jewish, and one Zoroastrian. However, Iran is also home to a large Baha’i community, equal to the 300,000 Christian Iranians. Yet the Baha’i, unlike Christians, are not represented in the Iranian Parliament and are frequently subject to violence and persecution. Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian Iranians are largely protected under Article 13 of Iran’s constitution, but the Baha’i are denied rights such as government employment or admittance to University. Discrimination runs even deeper as many Iranian clerics label Baha’is as apostates and their religion an affront to Islam. Prior to the Islamic Revolution, Shi’a clerics had feared that Baha’i could challenge their religious stature in Iran. That prejudice continues today, as Iran’s Supreme Leader issued a fatwa demanding further isolation of Baha’i followers. Such a stance runs counter to the long history of religious tolerance in Persian culture.

The UN special rapporteur for Human Rights has issued several reports addressing the maltreatment of religious minorities inside Iran. The most recent report published in May specifically addresses the treatment of Baha’is in Iran, urging the release of seven well-known leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community who have all been imprisoned since 2008.  The Baha’i leaders are serving 20-year sentences, longer than any other prisoners of conscience in Iran and an indication of the extreme measures taken to isolate and terrify Iranian Baha’is.

Since her release from Evin prison, Nasrin Sotoudeh sent a letter to Rouhani shedding light on the case of Ataollah Rezvani, who was murdered earlier this year for practicing Bahaism. Although this is the first “religiously-motivated” killing of a Baha’i in fifteen years, this is not an unusual case – 200 Baha’is have been killed since the start of Iran’s Islamic regime.  Sotoudeh emphasized in her letter to Rouhani how cases like these have been overlooked in the past, asking “what punishment is to be expected for the murderer of this Baha’i fellow-citizen, once he is identified? [...] You know the bitter answer to this question much better than I.” Sure enough, there has yet to be an official investigation to find Mr. Rezvani’s killers and bring them to justice. Sotoudeh also pointed to Article 14 of Iran’s constitution which “requires the government and Muslims to treat non-Muslims in conformity with ethical norms and the principles of Islamic justice and equity contingent upon their not partaking in conspiracies against Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Reza Aslan, a prominent Iranian-American author and a member of NIAC’s Advisory Board, co-wrote an article with Michael Brooks in the Washington Post on this issue.  According to Aslan and Brooks, the treatment of Baha’i people in Iran “will be the most powerful test of how genuinely committed [Rouhani] is to truly expanding human rights and social openness in Iran.” During his election campaign, Rouhani promised to issue a “civil rights charter,” which could represent an opportunity to improve the rights of Iranian Baha’i and other minority groups.

The U.S. Congress, as well, will be watching for a shift in the Iranian government’s approach toward minorities, with both the House and Senate considering bills condemning the treatment of Baha’is in Iran and asking the President, Secretary of State, and other allied nations to demand the immediate release of Baha’i prisoners.  Failure to do so would result in further sanctions “on officials of the Government of Iran and other individuals directly responsible for […] abuses against the Baha’i community of Iran.”

While Rouhani has said many things that have given reason to hope for an improvement in Iran’s human rights record, he will need to follow through. With lives and the fundamental rights of Iranian Baha’is and other minorities at stake, he will need to deliver.

Rouhani Raises Hopes for Diplomacy at First News Conference as President

By Samira Damavandi and Caroline Cohn

At his first press conference as Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani indicated his willingness to reengage in diplomatic talks with the West, raising hopes for finding a solution to the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Rouhani replaced outgoing President Ahmadinejad, whose bellicose anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rhetoric only exacerbated the already tense relationship between the U.S. and Iran. The election of Rouhani, a centrist candidate who pledged “constructive interaction” with the world, was a rare positive sign for a potential easing of tensions between the two estranged nations.

Of Rouhani’s news conference on Tuesday, the Washington Post noted that  “It was certainly a remarkable tonal departure from Ahmadinejad, with lots of talk about compromising with the West.” As Rouhani fielded questions from the media – which included reporters from both inside and outside of Iran, including the U.S. – he made several positive remarks indicating his plans for steering Iranian foreign and domestic policy in a more conciliatory direction.

Diplomacy

In response to several questions about his plans for renewing nuclear negotiations, many posed by Western news correspondents, Rouhani reaffirmed his plans to pursue a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy, starkly opposite from the approach of his predecessor.  “As I have said earlier, our main policy will be to have constructive interaction with the world,” said Rouhani.

  • 9 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Sanctions, UN

UN Report: Sanctions worsen human rights problems in Iran

In a recently released report to the UN General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon updated the body on the dismal human rights situation in Iran.  The report paints a bleak picture of the Iranian government’s attitude and actions towards its own people, concentrating on the extensive human rights violations of the Islamic Republic, but also finds that sanctions are creating additional human rights concerns for ordinary Iranians.

The critical sections of the document report “torture, amputations, flogging, the increasingly frequent application of the death penalty (including in public and for political prisoners), arbitrary detention and unfair trials” within Iran. Other violations noted include infringements against the rights of women, against  opposition political figures and the general electorate.  The report notes that “authorities have taken certain positive steps such as the decision to omit stoning as a method of execution,” but that judges do still retain the discretion to order such a sentence.  Another section  observes that, “the revised Islamic Penal Code, which is yet to be approved…establishes new measures to limit the juvenile death penalty,” but cautions that the new code fails to end juvenile executions.

In the midst of all of the findings of Iranian government sponsored repression, the Secretary General also examines the impact of western sanctions, under the title “Economic, social, and cultural rights”:

“The sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran have had significant effects on the general population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine.”

The report notes rising concerns about the sanctions among civil society groups:

“A number of Iranian non-governmental organizations and activists have expressed concerns about the growing impact of sanctions on the population and have noted that inflation, rising prices of commodities, subsidy cuts and sanctions are compounding each other and having far-reaching effects on the general population. They report, for instance, that people do not have access to lifesaving medicines.”

Sanctions also worsen current humanitarian problems by hindering relief efforts and basic medical care in the country, according to the report:

“Even companies that have obtained the requisite licence to import food and medicine are facing difficulties in finding third-country banks to process the transactions. Owing to payment problems, several medical companies have stopped exporting medicines to the Islamic Republic of Iran, leading to a reported shortage of drugs used in the treatment of various illnesses, including cancer, heart and respiratory conditions, thalassemia and multiple sclerosis.”

It is becoming increasingly clear that ordinary people in Iran are being squeezed by human rights violations–between the repression of their own government on one side, and the indiscriminate pressure of U.S.-led sanctions on the other.  These sanctions are not helping to alleviate the suffering among ordinary Iranians, they are actively making the situation even worse.

  • 9 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Sanctions

Food shipments halted as Maersk bows to U.S. Iran sanctions

Iran’s civilian population is already reeling from sanctions that, according to the United Nations, are cutting access to medicine and humanitarian goods.  But today, Maersk Line, the world’s largest shipping container company, announced it will end port service in Iran.

In Maersk’s statement, they declared that their cargoes had been limited to goods for the welfare of the general population:

“To date, Maersk Line’s business in Iran has involved transporting foodstuffs and other goods, for example vehicles, for the benefit of the general civilian population. It is with regret that it is ceasing these activities.”

Maersk’s spokeswoman cited concerns about the possibility of penalties from the U.S. government, despite the fact that food is supposedly exempt from current U.S. sanctions:

“This is a pragmatic decision based on an assessment of balancing the benefits of doing limited business in Iran against the risk of damaging business opportunities elsewhere particularly the U.S.”

Maersk’s shutdown can only make basic foodstuffs more scarce for Iran’s civilian population, a trend we are likely to see continue as sanctions escalate.  As the UN reported in August:

“Even companies that have obtained the requisite license to import food and medicine are facing difficulties in finding third-country banks to process the transactions.”

Because of the litany of broad economic sanctions in place, there are increasingly limited channels for legal humanitarian transactions regarding Iran, and fewer and fewer banks and companies willing to take the risk of violating the myriad sanctions.  Last week, a dozen U.S. lawmakers called on the President to take steps to ensure banking sanctions differentiate between blocked transactions and legally allowed transactions, such as food and medicine.

Iran is turning to unorthodox methods of securing food for its population. Traditionally a wheat exporter that allowed the private sector to manage food imports, Iran’s government has recently made large wheat purchases from Australia, Russia and the EU, as well pushing for a barter deal with Pakistan (Iran would send Pakistan pig iron and fertilizer in exchange for wheat).

  • 10 September 2012
  • Posted By Joseph Chmielewski
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

Iranian pastor accused of apostasy is released

Yousef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian pastor who was sentenced to death after being found guilty of apostasy, has been released from prison after tireless work by his lawyers and an international outcry regarding his situation.

Early in his life, Nadarkhani abandoned his Islamic faith and by age 19  officially converted to Christianity and shortly thereafter began his work as a pastor. In 2006, Nadarkhani began to protest the mandatory enrollment of his children in Quran classes at school. He was immediately imprisoned on charges of protesting. A few months into his sentence, his charge was changed to apostasy, the abandonment of one’s religion.

Nadarkhani was brought before a court in 2010 and given the death penalty. He was to be executed by hanging. His lawyers appealed the verdict, but a court in the city of Qom upheld the original sentence. But September 8, 2012, the apostasy charge was downgraded to evangelizing Muslims, the penalty for which was three years. Given that Nadarkhani had already served about six years in prison, he was released from a facility in Lakan, Iran.

Reaction from the international community regarding Nadarkhani’s plight had been strong, outspoken and unrelenting. Iran’s constitution allows for the free practice of one’s own religion, and yet the courts were still permitted to convict Nadarkhani of apostasy. Such a clear violation of basic human rights garnered reaction from many groups, including NIAC.

  • 30 July 2012
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Legislative Agenda, Sanctions, UN

Congressional push for sanctions on food and medicine

It’s that time of year again–when Republicans and Democrats in Congress takes a break from wringing each other’s necks to pass a piece of legislation to “tighten the noose” around Iran just in time for campaign season.

For those just checking in, here’s an example of what our current sanctions are already doing on the ground in Iran (via Tehran Bureau):

The board of directors of the Iranian Hemophilia Society has informed the World Federation of Hemophilia that the lives of tens of thousands of children are being endangered by the lack of proper drugs, a consequence of international economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian Hemophilia Society notes that U.S., EU, and UN sanctions technically do not ban medical goods.  In fact, there is a so-called “humanitarian exemption” in U.S. sanctions that is supposed to exempt humanitarian goods like medicine, medical goods, and food.

And yet medicine is not getting in to Iran as “sanctions imposed on the Central Bank of Iran and the country’s other financial institutions have severely disrupted the purchase and transfer of medical goods.”

It turns out that imposing the broadest, most indiscriminate, crippling-est, noose tightening sanctions ever (did I miss anything in there?) means that a few piecemeal exemptions for food or medicine, or even  Internet communication tools, don’t really stand up.

  • 25 July 2012
  • Posted By Roshan Alemi
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Sanctioning Iranian Women

Recently, the International Civil Society Action Network  (ICAN), provided an analysis of the effects sanctions have had in Iran, focusing in part on the impact of sanctions on Iranian women.

The report, “Killing them Softly: The Stark Impact of Sanctions on the Lives of Ordinary Iranians,” points to the wide range of direct ways sanctions are harming ordinary Iranians such as restricting access to foreign-made medicine in Iran and severe economic recession.

Sanctions, ICAN says, weaken society, not the state, and is undermining U.S. and EU credibility among Iranians.  “With the impact of current sanctions seeping into every day life now, many Iranians consider them to be a profoundly insidious and destructive force and source of basic human rights violations, affecting a wide cross section of Iranians.”

According to the report, it is Iranian women who are bearing the brunt of the economic and social punishment of sanctions.  The sanctions, ICAN says, are marginalizing women by pushing them out of the job market and limiting their access to education. With women’s education as a “key engine of socio-political change,” sanctions are impeding progressive change for women and the greater society in Iran. Thus, in addition to all the detrimental direct effects, “externally imposed sanctions will allow conservatives to further their regressive social agenda,” and will limit progressive social change within Iran.

“The US and EU have been strong proponents of the global women, peace and security agenda with the development of priorities and action plans to ensure women’s empowerment,” reads the report. “But sanctions undermine and contravene these policies. The contradictory nature of US and EU rhetoric, policies and actions increase the Iranian public’s suspicion about them, and credence to charges of hypocrisy.”

  • 28 June 2012
  • Posted By Roshan Alemi
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Iran Internet Censorship, Sanctions

How Google, Yahoo, and Go Daddy are Helping to Silence Iranians

Given the public attention surrounding Apple’s over-enforcement of sanctions, now is a good opportunity to look at the broader issue of how sanctions policies negatively impact access to communications technology for people inside Iran. Today, NIAC called on Internet service companies to lift the “electronic curtain” over Iran and other sanctioned countries in a letter signed by a coalition of Iranian, Cuban, and Syrian diaspora organizations, and human rights and Internet freedom organizations.

The fact is, even as the White House takes efforts to lift the “electronic curtain” imposed by Iran’s government, U.S. sanctions are part of the fabric of that curtain.

As of now, many companies that offer basic Internet communication services and websites–like Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, or Go Daddy hosted sites–do not allow their services to be accessed by Iran, even though they are technically exempt from sanctions. NIAC is targeting these companies in today’s letter and demanded that the public of sanctioned countries have access to the basic tools and platforms necessary for communicating safely and securely online

Before 2009, Iran was subject to extremely strict and broad sanctions at the hands of the United States, completely blocking communication technology such as computers, phones, modems, etc. These communication tools are increasingly essential in embargoed countries as a means of communicating freely and supporting operations that are pushing for social and political change. With these tools cut off, activists struggle to find the means necessary to communicate freely–relying on a sort of cyber black market involving Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or thumb drives to access software, services, and websites.

Especially after seeing the effect that social media had during the 2009 Green Movement, the Obama administration has made some adjustments to U.S. sanction policy. In 2010, the Obama Administration exempted basic, free Internet communication tools from sanctions and issued special licenses for other Internet communication software and hardware. In addition, this past Norooz, Obama pushed Internet communication companies to make their services available in Iran and to help lift the “electronic curtain” that is helping to silence the Iranian people.

However, despite these efforts, many companies are still not providing their services to the public of embargoed countries. This is unacceptable.