• 13 September 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Heffner
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Human Rights in Iran, Legislative Agenda, UN

In the Struggle for Human Rights, Every Victory Brings More Work

There has been some welcome news on the Iranian human rights front in recent days.  First, Iranian authorities released human rights activist Nazar Ahari yesterday from the infamous Evin Prison, and photos of her outside the prison have made their way onto the internet.  Additionally, earlier in the week Iranian officials officially suspended the execution by stoning of a woman facing adultery charges, acquiescing to widespread and overwhelming international condemnation of the sentence.  Finally, reports surfaced that Iran will release the female American hiker Sarah Shroud after a $500,000 bail is paid, although this comes after Iranian authorities first announced her release was imminent, then further delayed that release over the weekend.  These human rights cases illustrate the sensitivity of Iran’s government to human rights pressure, while highlighting the overwhelming amount of work still left for activists.

The release of Ahari is significant from an American perspective because pressure came from not only the international rights community but from United States lawmakers as well, with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator Sam Brownback both independently lobbying for her release.  The success of these efforts in the case of Ahari should encourage lawmakers and others within the United States that pressing the Iranian government on its human rights obligations can produce tangible results.

The postponement of the stoning sentence was also a direct result of outside pressure, according to Newsweek, because Iran recognizes that blatant human rights abuses within Iran serve to undermine their credibility on other foreign issues such as the nuclear program.  In other words, this provides the clearest evidence yet that the U.S. can work to address human rights in Iran even as it works to resolve the nuclear issue.

Sadly, despite these clear victories, there is still much to be done.  For every victory like the release of Nazar Ahari, there is a case like that of Nasrin Sotoodeh, a human rights lawyer arrested last week.  The Iranian government is attempting to silence those voices within the country that support a balanced judicial system that protects the rights of all Iranians, not just those close to the government.  Far from a total victory, this week’s news should only renew the determination of those who seek basic human dignity in Iran.

The somewhat piecemeal human rights activism on the part of the US and European governments within Iran has created a “revolving door of freedom,” where concerted pressure leads to victories, only to have them overshadowed by additional regime crackdowns.  As Iran arrests those who seek to shed light on the regime’s ugly side, it is imperative that voices outside Iran increase their volume to demand accountability.  Appointment of a UN Human Rights Monitor on Iran, could give the world a more consistent means to press Iran on these important issues.  NIAC has called for the Obama Administration to support the appointment of such a monitor, but it remains to be seen if this time, the Administration listens.

Posted By Patrick Heffner

    2 Responses to “In the Struggle for Human Rights, Every Victory Brings More Work”

  1. Pirouz says:

    What about the suspended sentences and periodic releases during the Khatami and Rasfanjani eras? They occurred with the same, general regularity. But they didn’t make headline news. So why is it that now this kind of thing is the rage of headline news, and we’re patting ourselves on the back for successfully applying pressure?

    It’s all part of the demonization campaign that has one goal and one goal only: war against Iran.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Sign the Petition


7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



Share this with your friends: