Iran’s notion of human rights vs. Reality

“God, I can’t breathe…”

The emotional cry of a terrified and tormented mother, worried about the well-being of her 25 year old. Ghoncheh Ghavami, British-Iranian prisoner of conscience, has gone on hunger strike to mark the 100 days of her arbitrary arrest. Ghoncheh who was arrested in June, for attempting to watch a volleyball match, told her mother that “she’s fed up with this 100 day uncertainty” and was going on a ‘wet’ hunger strike (only consuming only liquids).

Her mother, Susan Moshtaghian, has also gone on hunger strike in solidarity with Ghamavi. She is quoted in the Independent as saying “I will not touch food either until the day that my Ghoncheh will break her hunger strike. God, you’ve been my witness, I have remained silent for 82 days so that my innocent daughter returns home… She hasn’t returned and now her life and health is in danger. I will no longer sit silently. God end this nightmare.”

Ghavami’s case was referred to the Revolutionary Court for “spreading propaganda against the system” late last month – despite the fact that her real crime should have been civil disobedience. Amnesty International notes that “the charge against Ghoncheh Ghavami does not amount to an internationally recognizable criminal offence and that she is jailed solely for her peaceful activities to end discrimination against women.” Since 2012 women have been banned from entering volleyball matches as the mixing of men and women in stadiums is deemed as harmful for public interest.

Before her arrest, the UK law graduate, had returned to Iran in order to work for a charity teaching literacy to street children and see her family… things that seemingly threaten the Islamic state.

You can read more about Ghavami’s distressing case here. Azadeh Moaveni’s recent article also insightfully covers the political entanglement of Ghavami’s case and the Iranian regime’s intolerance against women’s rights activists.

In an update on the situation of the arrested journalists, Jason Rezaian and Yeganeh Salehi, it has been reported that Yeganeh Salehi was finally released on bail earlier this week. The husband and wife had been detained on July 22, yet to date no charges against the pair have been declared. Salehi has also been informed that she has been banned from doing any journalistic work in Iran – another female journalistic voice silenced. The status of Rezaian, who is of a dual American-Iranian nationality is unknown and officials are refusing to fully comment on his case. To read more about the case you can read Azad Tribune’s previous blogs on the topic.

Regardless of his cryptic responses in regards to imprisoned journalists – or in other words, his blatant denial of their existence – President Rouhani has been highly vocal about his views on academic freedom. Iran’s President made another speech about the need for academic freedom at Tehran University earlier this week. He said “[i]rrelevant restrictions will lead to lack of tolerance [and] the departure of honest, competent individuals.” He went on to also add, “We should not be concerned about the expression of diverse views by university professors.”

Yet, with Rouhani’s limited power to enforce these recommendations it seems unlikely that the hostile and limiting atmosphere within Iran’s education system will improve. Or worse, Rouhani may forget that this issue exists and declare Iranian universities as beacons of free expression.

All of the issues that surround the above cases where addressed by the 6th report of the Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed. Here, the 28 page report addresses the inadequacies of Iran’s justice system in the move to protect the Right to Life by highlighting the rising number of executions, the abysmal state of judicial independence and fair trial, and the numerous issues relating to freedom of expression and the right to information, including the number of rebuked websites and blogs and that currently at least 35 journalists are in detention for their work. This report can be found in full here.

Regardless of the evidence provided and the strategic manner the report was presented in, Iranian authorities responded with force, not only questioning the credibility of the report, but also of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. Mohammad Javad Ardashir Larijani, who is ironically the head of the Iranian Judiciary’s Council for Human Rights is quoted as saying that the “appointing a special rapporteur on human rights in Iran by the United Nations is not justified at all and is illegal”. Larijani has slammed the report – quite like the past 5 reports have been – for not being professional and using “various internet websites and meeting with certain people” – as vague as that itself sounds. He went on to purport “Iran’s great democracy should be recognized and it does not need a rapporteur.”

The previous day, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham, also went on the dispute the credibility of the report stating the “We are suspicious of the unfair and unscientific performance of the rapporteur due to his ignorance of international principles and criteria,” continuing “Iran seriously rejects the unfair and unprincipled behavior of the UN Human Right Rapporteur.”

Since the beginning of Dr. Shaheed’s mandate in 2011, the Iranian authorities have been hostile to his reporting and have not allowed co-operation with the UN Special Procedures – something that he has become accustomed to. Nonetheless, Iran had issued a standing invitation to the Special Procedures in 2002. Despite this standing invitation, Iran has not permitted any special procedure visits in nearly a decade (since 2005), regardless of Iran’s commitment to cooperate in the Special Procedures during the UPR processes in 2009 and 2010. Dr. Shaheed and his team continue to produce their reports and request co-operation with his legitimate mandate.

As evidenced, it was the women of Iran that inspired most of the headlines of this week’s news. It would add context to remember that alongside numerous occasions when Iran has accepted its responsibilities to uphold the rights of women – which it has failed in – it was also elected to the UN Commission on the Status of Women this year. Having certain figurehead women as representatives of the same repressive notions, such as Marziyeh Afkham, does not equate to rights for the women of Iran, such as Ghoncheh Ghavami, Yeganeh Salehi or women from the 30 universities who were blocked from enrolling on around 80 courses. Will upcoming UN discussions, and continued debate on Iran’s human rights violations bring about a realisation that the regime cannot create its own concept of human rights? Probably not.

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