This week, news arose of Iran’s bid for a senior post on a United Nations committee that decides accreditation of non-governmental organizations — the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations. Of course, the usual suspects have overtly condoned this move, but there is rightful concern about Iran holding such a position. For instance, there have been times in the Committee’s history where conservative members have worked to block LGBT and sexual and reproductive rights NGOs. Thus, where would Iran stand on such NGOs, as a senior member, with its own jarred stance on LGBT and reproductive rights?
It is important to note that Iran’s involvement in such UN committees allows for further pressure to be placed on Iran to uphold international principles nationally. There would be limited room for dialogue if Iran had no membership to UN human rights committees or had not been a party to any human rights related conventions. We have come to know too well that Iran’s stance on human rights issues, which do not concern Iran itself, are quite liberal and open – this allows manoeuvre room to remind Iran of its own words on rights issues.
But questions remain. For example, how would Iran, in a senior role, react to the accreditation of NGOs that work against mass surveillance and online censorship, such as ARTICLE 19? This issue is currently of high importance now with the death sentence of Soheil Arabi. Iran’s online censorship, mass surveillance laws and policies — that fully block freedom of expression — allow for this sentence to be passed based on nothing but Facebook posts.
Updates on this case suggest that Branch 34 of the Supreme Court has accepted re-reviewing the case. One hopes that this provides vital time to put further pressure on the Iranian government.
We have been monitoring Iran’s recent surge in countering online dissent and expression, and the results are worrying. There are, for example, at least 65 activists, writers, journalists, and bloggers in prison in Iran due to their online activities as of July. There is the notorious case of the “Happy Dancers”, who were arrested for their online video dancing to Pharrell Williams song “Happy”. This video gained them a combined 127 years in jail on charges of colluding against the state and spreading propaganda on Facebook. There is the case of the eight Iranian Facebook commenters who were sentenced to a combined 123 years in prison for their online activities. Or the case of Yashar Khameneh, for his part in the maintenance of a satirical Facebook page mocking the Shiite Muslim Imam Ali al-Naqi al-Hadi, causing the detention of his father, as he himself lives in exile
How would Iran, in a senior post on this UN Committee, respond to an NGO accusing it of illegal repression of online activity?
Journalists are increasingly under threat in Iran and restrained from working. Reports of governmental hackers harassing Iranian journalist in a fashion similar to 1990s sci-fi films are not uncommon. This is concerning. Iran is not foreign to the idea of detaining journalists without charge for prolonged periods, against international laws, as seen in the case of Jason Rezaian. Yet, under Iranian law, the judge is king and with his approval, a suspect can be held indefinitely and denied access to counsel.
These laws have allowed for the continued house arrest of the 2009 presidential candidates, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, for the past 4 years. In a recent open letter, Karroubi and his family have urged the right to a fair trial and his release.
So, what would Iran’s stance be, as a senior member, on NGOs promoting the right to fair trial and accusing Iran of violating international law?
The likelihood of Iran gaining a senior post on the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations remains low. But it is times like these that such questions, highlighting Iran’s contradictions, need to be echoed until an answer is given. Iran must be reminded that it cannot maintain a private and public image when it comes to human rights. It cannot cherry-pick the rights it likes and when and how to respect them.