BY INU staff
INU – The autumn session of the UN Human Rights Council was opened on Monday and is scheduled to continue until the first week of October. Some Iranian human rights defenders are using this occasion as an opportunity to recall attention to a variety of ongoing and systemic human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic. A handful of stories have already emerged in service of this project this week, beginning with the news of the possible assassination in prison of labor rights activist Shahrokh Zamani.
The violent treatment of activists also recalls attention to the criminalization of honest social and political reporting in the country. Journalists too have been subject to the sorts of abuse that apparently killed Zamani. Demonstrating this fact,IranWire and its sister site Journalism is Not a Crime both reported upon the conclusion of a study by a University of Toronto psychiatry professor, which found that about 60 percent of the Iranian journalists interviewed for the study had been arrested at some point. About 20 percent had been subjected to torture.
Adding to the testimony of this study, IranWire interviewed David Oehlenschlaeger, the director of rehabilitation at DIGNITY, a facility that specializes in trauma rehabilitation for victims of torture. He noted that one of the largest groups they deal with is comprised of people who have been tortured by the Iranian regime.
Both reports also detailed how the experience of torture has contributed to many instances of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression among members of the Iranian diaspora. It has also discouraged people from continuing in the journalism profession or at least from keeping on with particular projects, in order to safeguard either their own lives or those of their family. Nearly 80 percent or participants in the study reported that their work had been halted by the regime’s repression, and half of all participants said that threats had not been limited to them but had included their families.
In light of all these statistics, one could say that journalists collectively comprise a significant underclass of Iranian society that is subject to systematic abuse and repression in much the same way as ethnic and religious minorities. Human rights groups have continually reported on the plight of Iranians who maintain faiths other than Shiite Islam. Of these, the followers of faiths that originated in the area of Iran are targeted with particular aggression, and the most prominent of these is the Baha’i faith.
The Human Rights Activists News Agency reiterated one aspect of this abuse on Sunday, namely the barring of Baha’i students from access to higher education and gainful employment. HRANA reports that ahead of the current academic year, a number of applications from Baha’i students have been denied via a message that simply declares their files to be “incomplete.”
There is no recourse for protesting such arbitrary rejections, and local Baha’is along with human rights organizations have made efforts to provide students with an alternative course of education outside of the official Iranian system. But these efforts too have been attacked by the Iranian authorities, who raided an closed down the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education several times since its opening in 1987.
While these types of repression have been relentless, the Baha’i comprise only a small portion of the Iranian population. Much larger minorities are also subject to coordinated repression, with the largest of these certainly being the population of women. The latest example of this come in the form of women’s soccer player Nilufar Ardalan, whose name was recently removed from the roster for the Iranian national indoor soccer team, after it was determined that she would not be able to travel for games.
At issue is the fact that Iranian law requires women to get permission from their husbands before either applying for or renewing a passport. And since Ardalan’s passport expired, her husband refuses to allow her to leave the country, citing the claim that she is needed at home at a time when their son is beginning school.
IranWire interviewed Laleh Eftekhari, a member of the Iranian parliament’s women’s caucus, over this story. But when they raised the question of changing the law, they were rebuffed and Eftekhari declared such denials of the legal autonomy of women to be requirements of sharia law.
It has previously been emphasized by women’s rights groups that despite the technical presence of a women’s caucus, women lack representation in Iranian government, as female parliamentarians are limited to persons with strict conservative views on religion and family, like Eftekhari.
By contrast, many victims of organized repression have been known to speak out, and Ardalan now appears to be one of them. She has decided to go public with her story and her refutations of her husband’s statements. Social media in particular is becoming an outlet for her views and those of her supporters, much as it has been for women’s rights activists in the past.
But this too highlights aspects of Tehran’s repressive measures, since activists in general and women’s rights activists in particular have been subject to harsh reprisals and prosecution as a result of their online activities. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter remain technically banned throughout the Islamic Republic, although many citizens work around these blocks. Those who do are in danger of being charged with spreading propaganda or insulting Iranian officials if they make critical posts. Four new such arrests were announced by the judiciary on August 30.
And now, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports that the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has taken measures to consolidate power for the enforcement of internet restrictions and the enforcement of internet-based “crimes.” Khamenei reportedly ordered all decisions on internet policy to be handled by the Supreme Cyberspace Council, which answers directly to him, thus circumventing all lower federal and regional authorities.
The International Campaign points out that Iran is second only to China in the number of websites that its government blocks. And it is entirely possible that this situation will worse in light of the latest news, which was accompanied by announcement of new posts to the Supreme Cyberspace Council, including two individuals who are listed as violators of human rights by both the US and the EU.