Nabz News Review - June 13, 2014

This week in human rights in Iran

Government Intervention and Personal Freedoms

The issue of government interference has been a major issue recently due to the emergence of a video recording of remarks by Mohammad Ali Jafari about the controversial 2009 presidential elections. Major General Jafari, who commands the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), explains in the video that a potential return to power by reformists in 2009 represented a “red line” for conservative forces, including the IRGC and the Basij. The remarks were made in a private session and leaked online, published originally on May 31 by dissident filmmaker and activist Mohammad Nourizad on his Facebook page. Nourizad later posted another video from the same gathering of remarks by Ali Saeedi, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s liaison to the IRGC. This second video emerges exactly five years since the turmoil following the 2009 elections and the rise of the Green Movement in Iran.

Debate over the degree of government involvement in Iranians’ lives has led to continued tension within the Iranian leadership, with open disagreement between President Hassan Rouhani and conservative clerics over the issue. The controversy began on May 24, when Rouhani called for less interference in Iranians’ personal affairs, claiming that people cannot be guided “to heaven through force and a whip.” This was met with strong criticism from prominent conservative figures, including Tehran’s Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, who expressed his disapproval of the Rouhani administration’s cultural policies. Khatami’s counterpart in Mashhad, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda and Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, Iran’s prosecutor general, joined the list of Rouhani’s critics, while Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah Yazdi went one step further by calling into question the president’s religious qualifications.

Tehran University professor Sadegh Zibakalam responded to Ayatollah Khatami’s criticisms of the Rouhani administration in an open letter to Khatami, in which Zibakalam pointed out that the Ministry of Cultural and Islamic Guidance’s budget of 6 trillion rials is only one-fifth the total budget of the Islamic cultural organizations that receive state funding. These organizations work outside the supervision of the elected administration and are therefore beyond public accountability).

Prisoners’ rights

The journalist Saba Azarpeik, who was arrested on May 28, continues to be held in an undisclosed location, and a group of over 140 journalists called for her release on June 9. Azarpeik is known for her coverage of the case of Sattar Beheshti, the blogger who died in custody in 2012. Meanwhile, human rights activist Narges Mohammadi faces new charges resulting from her March 8 meeting with Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy head who visited Tehran earlier this year.

In response to recent executions in Iran, a group of UN human rights experts issued a strong condemnation and urged Iran to move towards the abolishment of the death penalty. Among the experts was Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. On June 12, a coalition of human rights groups (including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) called for Iranian authorities to drop death sentences for 33 Sunnis.

Journalists’ rights

On June 8, Nabz-Iran received a news article from the Committee for Defense of Political Prisoners, an Iranian student organization, about another prisoner of Rajaei Shahr prison in Karaj: Rasoul Azizi, who is facing the threat of execution for a crime he committed at the age of 15. In Iran, execution of underage criminals is not allowed, but judges often keep minors in prison until they reach legal age and are then executed. At this point, the only hope for Rasoul is to be forgiven by the parents of the person he murdered.

On May 31, Iranian state television broadcast a fabricated news item about Masih Alinejad, the Iranian journalist who launched the popular Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women Facebook page, claiming she was raped on a London street while her son watched helplessly. After one state television presenter called Alinejad a “prostitute who tries to corrupt other women”, even Saeed Mohebi, chair of the conservative Basij lawyers’ organization, stated that according to the Quran, if one cannot prove an adultery allegation toward another person, he or she should be punished by 80 lashes. In addition, 70 journalists within Iran sent an open letter to Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists, asking them to provide legal support for Alinejad and to bring Iranian state television to international courts. In Iran, there is no independent journalists’ organization to monitor state television or protect journalists from such attacks.

This week, after news broke of the arrest of a schoolmaster in the west of Tehran who was charged with raping a group of elementary school boys, criticism was directed at Education Ministry officials for trying to prevent media coverage of the incidents, even after another schoolmaster was arrested for the same charge. Iranian officials, based on the conservative view that such events should be kept secret in a moral society, often try to stop media coverage of them.

On June 13, two ethnic Arabs from Ahvaz were executed and buried secretly after being held incommunicado for the past three months.