Iran, one year after the election

In June this year Amnesty International published From Protest to Prison – Iran One Year After the Election, which reviewed a year of arrest and detention of those who have spoken out against the government and its abuses.

As Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International’s interim secretary general, stated,

“The Iranian government is determined to silence all dissenting voices, while at the same time trying to avoid all scrutiny by the international community into the violations connected to the post-election unrest.”

The report focuses upon some key examples of arbitrary arrest and detention including:

  • Banned student Sayed Ziaoddin Nabavi serving a 10-year prison sentence in Evin Prison.  A member of the Council to Defend the Right to Education, his sentence appears to be linked to the fact that he has relatives in the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, a banned group, which the authorities claim was responsible for organising demonstrations.
  • Around 50 members of the Baha’i faith have been arrested across Iran since the elections, continuing to be unjustly cast as scapegoats for the unrest.
  • Iran’s ethnic minority communities have faced arrest and detention, during and following the election.  Four Kurds were among five political prisoners executed in May without the notifications required by law, in what was a clear message to anyone considering marking the June election anniversary with protest.

As Claudio Cordone has stated, the position of Amnesty International is very clear:

“What we are calling for is very simple: the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience and for others to be tried promptly on recognisably criminal offences, without recourse to the death penalty, in proceedings which fully meet international standards for a fair trial.”

Iran has one of the highest rates of executions in the world. To date in 2010, Amnesty International has already recorded over 115 executions.

The report reinforces facts which have been highlighted by CODIR, Amnesty and other human rights organizations over the past year and presents a damning indictment of the Islamic Republic’s failure to address basic human rights issues and the demands of civil society.

The intransigence of the regime was further highlighted in July with the international outcry which followed the sentencing to stoning of Sakineh Mohammedi Ashtiani, who had been accused of adultery. Commuting the sentence to death by hanging has not stemmed the tide of protest.

In a further development the lawyer defending Ashtiani, Mohammed Mostafaei, has been missing following his release from judicial questioning. The authorities have further responded by detaining the lawyer’s wife and brother in law, prompting fears that they have been arrested to put pressure upon Mostafaei.

Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director, has been quite clear about the intentions of the regime, stating:

“Mohammad Mostafaei is a thorn in the side of the Iranian authorities and we fear that he is being persecuted in an attempt to stop him carrying out his professional activities as a defense lawyer and in support of human rights.”

As Amnesty International has pointed out, there is a longstanding pattern of harassment and imprisonment of human rights lawyers in Iran. In 2002, Nasser Zarafshan was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, partly on trumped-up charges of possessing a firearm and alcohol offences.

Abdolfattah Soltani was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in 2005 for disclosing public documents and “propaganda against the system.” The sentence was overturned on appeal on 2007 but he was arrested again in 2009 and held for two months before being released on bail. Mohammad Olyaeifard, is serving a one-year prison sentence imposed for comments he made criticizing the judiciary after the execution of one of his clients, juvenile offender Behnoud Shojaee.

Other Iranian human rights lawyers such as Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi and Shadi Sadr, recipient of various international human rights awards, now work outside of Iran, fearing to return.

In addition to this pattern of persecution against the legal profession the regime’s campaign against journalists continues with the ongoing internment of Abdolrezo Tajik who, at the end of July, had been held for 50 days without charge. The International Federation of Journalists has issued a call for Tajik’s release and IFJ General Secretary Aidan White has stated:

“The failure to produce evidence that he has broken the law and the fears that he is being abused in jail should be enough to indicate that there is a terrible injustice here. If there is no case to answer he should be freed immediately and all the allegations of ill treatment must be investigated.”

This ongoing pattern of suppression reflects a regime which continues to resort to force to cover up its contradictions. Intolerance of open debate and free discussion are symptomatic of the tyranny which is Iran today.

The latest pronouncements from the leadership of the theocratic regime reinforce this picture. In late July the office of the Supreme Leader, Ayotollah Ali Khamenei, issued a statement which in effect states that everyone must obey Mr. Khamenei. For his authority to make such a statement Khamenei referred back to the Prophet Mohammed, stating:

“An injury to the obedience to the faqih and the supreme leader is an injury to the Islamic regime itself, and I would not tolerate it from any person or group. Fortunately today, with God’s blessing, all individuals and groups following the line of the Imam are committed to their obedience of the faqih and the supreme leader. We hope that conditions for their disobedience never emerge.”

This movement towards personal dictatorship reflects the lack of confidence the regime has in its structures for government. It also demonstrates the extent to which the regime has been affected by the events following June 12, 2009. The clerical establishment has been shaken and society in Iran is increasingly forming into two clear camps; those in favor of the medeival clericalism represented by Khamenei and those broadly in favour of the principles of the Green Movement, seeking modernization, peace and democracy.

This contradiction will not be resolved overnight and it is clear that the Iranian people, in spite of their suffering under the theocratic regime, may yet be in for a long haul before they achieve their goal. It is equally clear however that international solidarity in support of the Iranian people is more vital than ever and external pressure combined with the resolve of the Iranian people themselves will eventually move Iran into the 21st century.

Photo: cc 2.0




Jane Green
Jane Green

Jane Green is the national campaign officer of the UK-based CODIR, Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People's Rights.