In regards to Tehran’s nuclear program, the sparks of hope turned into a bonfire with the preliminary agreement in Geneva. Since then, the bonfire grew and simmered but the fire of hope kept on burning, warming relations between Tehran and the rest of the world.
But as far as human rights in Iran are concerned, the sparks landed hopelessly on the hard and unwavering laws of the Islamic regime and Rouhani’s promises of reform never had a chance.
Now, over a year and a half into his presidency, the latest reports from the UN, one issued by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and another by the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran Ahmed Shaheed, the state of human rights in Iran has gone from bad to worst on nearly all fronts.
From Freedom of Speech to Jail
Take social media, for example: Iranian leaders such as Khamenei, Rouhani, Zarif, Larijani etc… are heavy users of social media as part of their propaganda but the use of social media is not available to the majority of Iranians. In fact, the IRGC has launched a surveillance operation code-named “Ankaboot” (spider) which gathers data of over 8 million Iranian “likes” on facebook in an effort to root out “corrupters” and “insulters of Islam”. This program has led to at least 60-70 arrests and this is just the beginning.
More than 13 bloggers and journalists were arrested over the past year bringing the tally of imprisoned journalists to 30 including some, such as Soheil Arabi, who are facing death sentences for “insulting the Supreme Leader”.
Websites, newspapers and TV stations are shut down if they are found to be critical of the regime and it’s going to get worst as a “Media Council” bill is being drafted in parliament which will give the government more punitive powers over the media.
Shutting down media is supplemented with the systematic destruction of satellite dishes in order to make sure that content that is deemed unfit to the regime should not be seen or heard by the Iranian people.
Persecution of Religious Minorities
Baha’is are singled out for persecution on a regular basis on many fronts. i.e.:
- Burials: Tehran issues strict laws contrary to Baha’I traditions concerning burials and have repeatedly delayed Baha’I burials.
- Education: Baha’i students are systematically discriminated in higher education and are regularly barred from registering in universities – this has sparked the worldwide “Education Is Not A Crime” campaign.
Christians are also persecuted and at least 92 Christians are in jail for their religious beliefs. On Christmas day, mass arrests were conducted in churches across the nation and several pastors remain in jail to this date.
Even Sunnis are persecuted and are not given permits to build new mosques while being told that they should pray in Shiite mosques instead.
Segregation and Persecution of Women
- The “Plan to Protect Hijab and Modesty” effectively segregates women in the workplace, forbids women to work in coffee shops and allows employers to enforce penalties for women who do not meet the proper Islamic dress codes – 1/3 of their salary for one month to one year.
- The “Family Excellence Plan” is meant to encourage women to raise families while the bill to “Increase Fertility Rates and Prevent Population Decline” will seriously curtails the use of contraceptives and outlaw vasectomies while scrapping national and local sex education programs.
- “The Plan to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice” empowered Basij vigilantes to enforce the “proper” use of Hijab and sparked a nationwide attack on women by throwing acid or by stabbing. Even Hezbollah forces were allowed in on the action through motorcycle patrols to “End Nudity and Lack of Hijab” without legal permits of any kind.
Together with women’s hair being hidden, women’s voices are being shut: Women are not allowed to sing in public. Some musicians were brave enough to defy these laws only to find their concerts shut down. Other prominent Iranian singers simply left the country to sing elsewhere.
Despite all the pressure against Iran to tone down its policy of the death penalty, the numbers of executions is at a 12 year peak and is the highest per capita in the world. The human rights chief Javad Larijani made a big issue about the fact that “80%” of the executions were for drug-related offenses, as if that made it OK, but in fact, that number is closer to 50%. Out of 753 documented executions, 362 were drug-related. The rest of the executions include 13 juveniles and 25 women.
High profile executions include the hanging of Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, whose crime was killing an employee at the Ministry of Intelligence who attempted to rape her and the Kurdish Saman Naseem, 22, for the crime of “enmity against God” while being a juvenile.
In order to understand fully just how bad the situation is, one should read the list of executions and identify the charges of those executed which include “Moharebeh” (enmity against God” and many suspicious “N/A” charges which could be anything from freedom of speech to human rights activism.
Rouhani promised radical changes in the state of human rights in Iran and to his credit, he continues to speak out on these issues.
Unfortunately, he seems powerless to “walk the talk” and Rouhani has not introduced one single bill which eases the desecration of human rights in Iran. Oh, and Tehran’s response to the UN reports? Tehran, as in the past, shows neither acceptance nor remorse and instead simply deemed “unrealistic” and “biased”.