State Department Highlight’s Iran’s Violations of Civil Rights and Free Expression

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By INU Staff
INU – On Thursday, the Human Rights Activists News Agency pointed out that the United States Department of State had issued its annual report on human rights throughout the world. As in years past, it included a section on the Islamic Republic of Iran, highlighting a range of persistent human rights violations, in accordance with the reports and activism of various independent human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, and the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The latter organization reinstated the mandate for the special rapporteur for human rights in Iran last month, following a report indicating, among other things, that the Iranian judiciary had carried out nearly 1,000 executions in the year 2015 alone, often for offenses that do not meet international standards for justification of the death penalty.

Over the past several months, some human rights activists have suggested that the international community is turning a blind eye to escalating domestic problems inside of Iran while focusing on the prospect regaining access to the Iranian oil and import markets. Nevertheless, some Western governments have taken recent action over Iran’s human rights abuses, at least in cases where those abuses have affected foreign targets or dual citizens.

For instance, it was reported earlier in the week that the US Supreme Court had made a ruling on an Iranian challenge to a lower court’s decision granting the victims of Iran-backed terrorism access to two billion dollars in Iranian assets that were frozen in US banks. 1,300 people who are US citizens or otherwise have access to American courts will receive portions of that money as compensation for their having lost family to attacks such as the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut.

The Times of Israel reported on Friday that Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hossein Jaber Ansari had condemned the Supreme Court ruling, saying that “such a verdict is a theft of the assets and properties of the Islamic Republic of Iran” and that it is “tantamount to ridiculing justice and law and it does not create any right for the US nationals.”

Iranian officials justify such statements in large part through patent denial of the Islamic Republic’s often well-documented involvement in such attacks. This is directly analogous to the regime’s strategy for defraying criticism of its domestic human rights abuses. Tehran claims to retain its own internal human rights monitor, but his function has involved little more than denying the findings of the UN special rapporteur, whom Iran vaguely accuses of being politically biased.

Naturally, the regime reacts to State Department human rights reports in much the same way as it has done to UN reports and to the recent Supreme Court ruling. But many of the issues highlighted by the State Department are directly reflected in Iran’s official policies and internally documented activities.

HRANA quotes the report as saying, “The most significant human rights problems were severe restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, association, speech (including via the internet), religion, and press; limitations on citizens’ ability to choose the government peacefully through free and fair elections; and abuse of due process.”

These trends have resulted not only in foreign condemnation but also in sometimes large-scale domestic protests, in defiance of Iranian restrictions on unlicensed gatherings.

Iran’s homegrown Baha’i religious minority is the target of particularly coordinated repressive activity, with members of the community being routinely prevented from enrolling in institutions of higher education or engaging in free commerce. On Wednesday, HRANA reported that at least 16 Baha’i businesses had been closed down by government authorities in the city of Qaem Shahr, simply because they did not remain open on a Baha’i holiday.

These activities are apparently aimed at making it difficult or impossible for Baha’is to achieve or maintain an adequate quality of life in Iran, thereby forcing them to either convert or flee the country.

But religious discrimination in Iran is not reserved for small and easily suppressed groups, either. It has also been observed among Sunni Muslims living in the Shiite theocracy. In fact, another HRANA report pointed out on Thursday that representatives of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei personally oversee a governmental institution known as the Great Islamic Center, which controls the affairs of Iranian Sunnis.

The authority of this center was recently invoked to indicate that Sunni mosques in Iranian Kurdistan are not permitted to hire or fire personnel, or to conduct religious education classes, without the express approval of government authorities. These sorts of mechanisms of control comprise the more subtle civil rights violations that supplement more explicit violations including the political imprisonment of Sunni religious scholars and minority activists.


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