See no acid, hear no acid!

See no acid, hear no acid! - Media

This week, we again saw how the Iranian regime favours a Kafkaesque approach to handling the accusations of human rights abuses

The surreal nightmare of Iran’s acid attacks continue to haunt fearful Iranians and tourists alike. When the protests broke out last week, Iranian officials were quick to furiously deny allegations that the attacks were carried out by those linked to the regime. Yet, for a regime that is battling to prove its innocence, they have taken a very bizarre approach:

Soon after protests against the acid attacks and the government’s inaction, a number of journalists from the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) were arrested. This included editors Zahra Mohammadi and Sanam Farsi, and two others who have not been named. Interestingly, Sanam Farsi is Isfahan’s social affairs officer (the city where the notorious attacks took place). They have all now been released on bail. On 22 October, Arya Jafari, a photojournalist for ISNA, was also arrested. He had sold a number of the photos he had taken at the acid attack protests to Associated French Press (AFP). To date his whereabouts and charges are unknown.

There is no official confirmation or explanation of the arrests, yet for obvious reasons, it is widely believed that it is in relation to the news agency’s coverage of the acid attacks. Reports show that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council had written to the ISNA and warned them not to link the attacks to the vigilantes enforcing the hijab codes in Iran.

Unsurprisingly, certain hardliner government officials have accused external media networks of attempting “to unfairly influence the debate over a parliamentary bill that would empower morality vigilantes to enforce the government’s interpretation of Islamic values on the street”. Whether this means that the authorities will enforce a blanket silence on any reporting of the acid attacks, in the name of national security, will need to be seen.

To this end, in a truly bizarre effort to highlight western media influence, a confession was televised of a young man declaring that he had made acid attack threats after being seduced by its mass coverage on news outlets such as the BBC. Although the video has gone viral because of its comic connotations, it’s an indication of the worrying lengths the authorities will go to prove a point. Whether or not this man’s confession was truthful, the superfluous nature of its content is at question here.

The Iranian hardliners and those in government attempting to silence their accusers do not seem to realise that if they are trying to disassociate the attacks from themselves and Islamic moral code enforcement, then arresting those reporting on the issue will be counter-productive. Their overzealous reaction on the matter is only making outsiders more suspicious. Though, being familiar with the regime’s historical disregard for women’s rights and freedom of expression does not assist them.

These events have come to light days before Iran’s human rights record is examined in the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which is taking place today, Friday 31 October. You can visit UPR Iran’s summary of Iran’s current progress with its human rights commitments from the previous review – although it’s not very encouraging. Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Laureate and human rights activist, clearly explains Iran’s failures to uphold its human rights promises in Impact Iran’s latest video.

A recent report by the Foreign Policy Centre further outlines Iran’s disjointed relationship with the UN, with a particular focus on how the country interacts with UN human rights mechanisms and its commitments under international law.

We encourage you all to keep your eyes peeled and follow the UPR process for Iran. Only by being fully versed in the promises Iran makes in these meetings can we encourage Iran to remember the assurances they made in front of the international community and put further pressure on Iran to keep to them. The livestream of Iran’s UPR can be found here.