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  • 4 August 2010
  • Posted By Sherry Safavi
  • 5 Comments
  • Congress, Human Rights in Iran

The Senate Calls on Iran to Release Three Detained Americans

Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal

Cross-posted from the NIAC homepage

The Senate unanimously passed a resolution yesterday calling for the “immediate” and “unconditional” release of three American hikers being detained in Iran.  The resolution, backed by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-PA), Al Franken (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Arlen Spector (D-PA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), emphasized that Sarah Shourd, Joshua Fattal, and Shane Bauer have been detained in Iran for over a year and urged their release on humanitarian grounds.

While the UC Berkeley graduates were originally reported to have been arrested after unintentionally crossing into Iran, a recent report by The Nation cites two eyewitnesses who said the three were arrested on the Iraqi side of the border.  The report by the Nation further reported that the IRGC official responsible for ordering the detention of the trio has since been arrested by the Iranian government and charged with smuggling, kidnapping, and murder.

The resolution emphasized that “the amount of time Sarah, Josh and Shane have spent in prison is unjustified in relation to their alleged offense of illegal entry into Iran.”

Though Iran’s criminal procedure code maintains that persons must be charged or released within four months of being detained, the hikers have yet to be formally charged of a crime.  Sarah, Josh, and Shane, who are being held in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, have been allowed to see their families only once, in May, and have had otherwise limited contact with the outside world.  According to their families, Sarah and Shane may be suffering from potentially serious health problems.

The resolution text is below the fold:

  • 2 July 2010
  • Posted By Sherry Safavi
  • 6 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran

One Iranian Court’s Cruel and Unusual Choice of Punishment: Death by Stoning

Death by stoning, generally thought of as a barbaric and obsolete practice of a bygone era, is unfortunately not quite the anachronism one would like it to be. An Iranian woman, facing charges of adultery for her involvement with two men responsible for the murder of her husband, has been sentenced to death by stoning in the Iranian city of Tabriz.

Sakineh Mohamamadie Ashtiani’s execution will be drawn out. She will be struck by rocks until she is buried up to her chest. Had she been a man she would have been buried up to her waist only. Inopportunely, the majority of those sentenced to death by stoning in Iran are women.

News of the sentence has been met with a mixture of moral outrage and deep disappointment. Stoning is yet another example of the Iranian government’s utter disregard for human rights. At every turn, one stumbles upon a new article detailing Iran’s human rights abuses. Amnesty International reported 126 executions in Iran from the beginning of the year to June 6.

What is perhaps, most disturbing about stoning is that while it may be a first class human rights violation, it is perfectly legal choice of punishment in Iranian adultery cases. Individuals guilty of infidelity are generally punished with lashes and jail time. The choice of punishment is left to up to the judge. This can be found in Article 83 of the Laws of Islamic Punishment in Iran which was ratified in 1991. The irony is that the punishment of stoning does not appear in the Koran. If the government chooses to follow through with the execution of Ashtiani, the stoning will be the first in years.

Ashtiani’s execution is believed to be imminent. She denies the allegations. Her children, Fasrideh, 16, and Sajjad, 20, are working on behalf of their mother but have not been informed as to the status of her case. Her son pleaded for her release:

“Please help end this nightmare and do not let it turn into a reality. Help us save our mother.”

Matters are complicated by the fact that Ashtiani has already been punished for her alleged extramarital relations. She was tried in 2005 and sentenced to 99 lashes after which she confessed to the crime. She also served an unknown amount of time in prison. She has since then retracted her confession.

One year later, Ashtiani and the two men with whom she was accused of having sexual relations were all tried for the murder of Ashtiani’s husband. They were found guilty and sentenced to death. Ashtiani maintains her innocence. The case is complicated by the fact that murder is not punishable by stoning. In order for Ashtiani to have received the punishment of stoning, her adultery case must have been reopened, human rights activists say. Moreover, it is possible that Ashtiani had trouble understanding the court proceedings due a language barrier, said human rights attorney Mohammad Mostafaei. She speaks Turkish, the court proceedings were held in English.

Ashtiani’s sentence, death by stoning, is a staggering reminder of the rapid deterioration of human rights under President Ahmadinjad’s administration . As the international community continues to focus it’s attentions on nuclear concerns, human rights has taken the back seat and cases like Ashtiani’s go unnoticed.

  • 18 June 2010
  • Posted By Sherry Safavi
  • 2 Comments
  • discrimination, Human Rights in Iran, Iranian Youth, UN

Iran Rejects UN Accountability for Baha’i Treatment

The Baha’i International Community expressed its deep disappointment with Iran’s refusal to adopt recommendations made by the UN during Iran’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  Iran’s Secretary General of the High Council for Human Rights, Mohammad Javad Larijani, brazenly rejected a number of the council’s key human rights concerns and accused the Baha’i International Community of acting on behalf of Western powers.

“We are deeply disturbed by the Iranian government’s refusal to accept basic recommendations concerned with ending injustice, persecution and discrimination in that country,” a representative of the Baha’i International Community said at the meeting.

The UPR recommendations aimed to end discrimination against Baha’is and the Iranian government’s repression of the community, among many other recommendations about human rights in Iran.  Specifically, the council called on Iran’s government to do away with policies restricting Baha’i access to universities and official lists barring Baha’is from pursuing twenty five different professions.

Despite the statements of 26 states urging Iran to account for their human rights violations against the Baha’i community, Larijani flatly denied many of the allegations. “Baha’is enjoy full civil and citizenship right[s] in Iran… The government is supporting all of their economic activity.  They go to school, they go to universities …I can name for you more than 200 students at universities,” he told the council last Thursday.

The findings of the Human Rights Watch would suggest otherwise.

One Human Rights Watch report detailed how the Iranian government had denied some 800 students access to their school transcripts. The students had logged onto their student accounts only to be informed that their transcript was “incomplete.” Students complained that school officials had ignored their efforts to address the issue.

The Baha’i religion is not recognized by government authorities and Baha’i’s face severe consequences for the practice of their faith, which the government has characterized as participation in cult-like activity.  The roots of this discrimination can be traced back to the Iranian government’s interpretation of the Baha’i faith as a divergence from Islam and its practitioners as a heretic sect.

“One thing we are against and we are not going to hide it, we are against any cult type, sect type activity. Even if it is a Shiah sect we will ban them… This is the main accusation of [the Baha’i] people who are right now under pursuance of law,” Larijani contended.

Moreover, Larijani rebuked the Baha’i International Community, accusing them of parroting the United States.  Such allegations are not new. Just like the government’s efforts to undermine the Green Movement by painting it as a stooge of the “foreign agents,” their accusations against the BIC ring just as hollow.

Government officials have suggested the Green Movement is a Western ploy. They have accused various Western countries of staging the death of Neda Agha-Soltan. Her tragic death, caught on video, during the 2009 presidential election protests has became a visible symbol of the Iranian government’s repression, but sadly, there are dozens or hundreds of similar situations throughout Iran that could resonate just as strongly.  The abysmal treatment of the Baha’is is one of them.

Underground Music Eludes Government Efforts to Silence It

Music has become political as Iranians turn to alternative outlets to express their frustration at the leaders of their government. Avid fans of blocked music have found ways to maneuver around government censors to download the “resistance music” the Islamic regime has so doggedly tried to silence.

Rap, folk, and classical music artists have all come together to give rise to a varied and dynamic underground music scene which has grown rapidly in the wake of the 2009 election in Iran. The lyrics of dissent have caught the attention of a wide public audience, speaking to the young and old alike.  As street demonstrations and open rebellion have been repressed, music has become a subtle but powerful form of protest according to Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian studies at Standford University.

The lyrics to one such song by traditional artist Mohammad Reza Shajarian titled “Language of Fire,” are pointed and powerful, making it an overnight hit:

Lay down your gun/ As I hate this very abnormal shedding of blod/The gun in your hand speaks the language of fire and iron/But I, before this fiendish tool/Have nothing but, the language of the heart/ The heart full to the brim with love for you/Who are in love with the enemy.

Unsurprisingly, the music has come under the ever-watchful government eye in Iran. Some artists like Persian classical musician Shahram Nazeri have paid a steep price for artistic freedom. Nazeri was held in custody and threatened after his release of an anti government song, “We Are Not Dirt or Dust.” His song was a response to President Ahmadinejad’s dismissal of protesters as “dirt and dust” in the aftermath of the demonstrations following the disputed presidential election last year.

Artists like rapper Shahin Najafi and folk artist Mohsen Namjoo have found themselves homeless.  Najafi now lives in Cologne, Germany and faces three years in prison and one hundred lashes should he choose to return to his native country. As Namjoo, who now lives in Palo Alto, California, told New York times reporter Nazila Fathi, “you have to constantly live with fear.”

However, there have been victories. When broadcasters tried to play Shajarian’s music as part of a government propaganda campaign, he proclaimed himself the voice of dirt and dust. He stood up to the state-controlled media and threatened to sue broadcasters if they continued. In the end, the voice of dirt and dust triumphed and broadcasters backed off.

  • 3 June 2010
  • Posted By Sherry Safavi
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Leader Pardons 81 Political Prisoners, Hundreds More Remain Incarcerated

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pardoned 81 of some 530 political prisoners jailed in the wake of the 2009 presidential election. The fate of the other 450 who remain incarcerated is unknown and new arrests continue to be made.

The government has not released the names of those pardoned or confirmed their wrongful prosecution. According to ILNA news agency, the Leader noted in a letter to Sadegh Larijani, head of the judiciary, that the pardons were made on the Prophet Mohammad’s daughter’s birthday.

Speculation still surrounds today’s pardons with the Associated Press writing that “the pardons were seen as a gesture of good will by Iran’s leaders just days before the anniversary of the June 12 election.” However, some remain skeptical finding it hard to believe that Khamenei would have been motivated by a sudden change of heart to express good will towards a group of people he has spent the last year repressing. A far more likely explanation would be that the pardons are part of an effort to shift domestic and international attention away from the regime’s many human rights violations in the days nearing the anniversary of the 2009 election.

Aaron Rhodes, spokesperson for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, has come to this conclusion. He notes that the Leader’s pardons speak to the innocence of those imprisoned. It would then follow that those imprisoned under similar circumstances, i.e. the other 450 political prisoners, should be pardoned as well. If the Leader does not extend the pardon to those individuals, then today’s pardons are essentially meaningless and arbitrary.

Further undermining the legitimacy of the pardons are reports made to the Campaign of prisoners being forced to ask for pardons. One example is director and film maker Mohammad Nourizad who was ruthlessly beaten when he refused to seek a pardon for a crime he had not committed.

Moreover, pardoned sentences do not even ensure the detainees freedom. In the past, interrogators have kept close watch on former political prisoners and threatened them in order to keep them in the country and out of the public eye. Long after their release, these former detainees find themselves still in a cell, a larger and more comfortable one certainly, but a cell nonetheless.

Sign the Petition

 

7,349 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.

Sincerely,

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