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Iran's woeful human rights record

Mora Johnson
National Post
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Earlier this month, Islamic Republic of Iran authorities announced that NobelPeace Laureate Shirin Ebadi’s organization, the Centre of Human RightsDefenders, would be banned. An official statement warned that any activityunder the name of the Centre—one of Iran’s leading human rightsorganizations—was “illegal” and that “violators will be prosecutedaccordingly.”

The Centre’s stated mission is reporting human rights abuses and providinglegal representation to political prisoners and support to their families. Itsadvocates, at significant risk to their own safety, have taken on high-profilecases of violations.This ban is deeply disturbing—all the more so because it is just one ofnumerous human rights violations in Iran this year:

In January, hundreds of bus drivers were detained in response to aplanned strike. The bus drivers had planned the strike to protest thedetention of their union leader, Mansour Osanloo, who was being detainedby Iranian security agents without charge or access to lawyers.In May, a group of 54 Baha’i youths who were tutoring underprivilegedyouths in Shiraz were arrested. None was officially charged with a crime, buta number of them were released only after their families paid high amountsof bail. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion or Beliefannounced in March that she had received a copy of a confidential memostating that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, had instructed theCommand Headquarters of the Armed Forces to identify members of theBaha’i community and monitor their activities. The Baha’i community has along history of official religious persecution in Iran.

In June, police beat hundreds of women’s rights activists with batonsduring a peaceful demonstration in Tehran and took at least 70 people intocustody. The demonstration followed a call by hundreds of women’s rightsactivists for reforms to Iran’s legal code and the removal of discriminatoryclauses against women.Student activist Akbar Mohammadi recently died in custody in Tehran’sEvin prison. Iranian authorities had arrested Mohammadi in 1999 followinghis participation in student protests at Tehran University. He was originallysentenced to death, but that sentence was later commuted to 15 years inprison. In 2004 Mohammadi was released on medical leave, but was laterrearrested.The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center has recently released areport, Impunity in Iran: The Death of Photojournalist Zahra Kazemi,examining systemic, structural problems in Iran’s law enforcement andjustice systems that contribute to impunity for violators. The report foundthat Iran’s judiciary, particularly when it works in conjunction with securityofficials, itself becomes a primary violator. When the judiciary itself isimplicated in violations, the chances of seeking redress through the courtsystem become increasingly slim.Moreover, a number of known human rights violators have been awardedprominent roles in Iran’s government. The presence in high-rankinggovernment positions of individuals implicated in serious and systematicviolations—such as the Minister of Interior, Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi, andthe Minister of Information, Gholamhussein Mohseni Ezhei—along withSaeed Mortazavi, still in the influential position of Tehran Chief Prosecutor,provide little reason to hope that the situation will improve soon.While current events in the Middle East have put a spotlight on the foreignpolicies and practices of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran,including its support for Hezbollah and its nuclear program, Iran’s domesticpolicies will also play an important role in defining (or eroding) its legitimacyamong its 69.4 million citizens. As the human rights situation inside Irancontinues to deteriorate, the international media must keep sight of the factthat the legitimacy of its actions should also be evaluated through itsdomestic policies, and in particular its human rights record vis-a-vis its owncitizens. 

Mora Johnson is the executive director of the Iran Human Rights

Documentation Center, a Connecticut-based organization documenting the

human rights situation in Iran. For more information please visit

www.iranhrdc.org or email info@iranhrdc.org.

© National Post 2006

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