Monday, January 14, 2008

Human rights in Iran

See also the HRW report on the crackdown on dissent in Iran: 
Ami Isseroff

A blind eye to barbarism
For three decades, Iran has systematically violated its citizens' basic human rights. Now it must be held accountable

Fariba Amini

January 13, 2008 4:00 PM |
Fifteen years ago, while visiting Iran, I went home to my parents' place in Bagh-eh Ferdos, a neighbourhood near Tajrish in northern Tehran, where we had lived up until we moved to the US. After the revolution, my parents had sold our house and had moved into an apartment on the same street. I had fond memories of Bagh-eh Ferdos, where I spent much of my youth in the nearby park sitting on the benches or just strolling in the park. The first thing I remember when I went back, walking in the same neighbourhood, was that people did not look happy, that their faces were gloomy.

We were outside the apartment and I, insufficiently aware of my surroundings, didn't have my hejab on right. A family member noticed and warned me. I guess I had not realised that in an Islamic Republic, you could be taken to jail and given lashes if you are not well covered. One day that summer a friend came over, shaken. She had just witnessed the shooting of a young woman in a telephone booth because she had defied the orders of a revolutionary guard. Later that day we learned that the young woman was taken to the hospital where she died of her wounds. I will never forget that incident in Tajrish square where my friends and I used to gather in cafes or just around the corner to mingle. It was a different ambience and a different time.

This has been the story of Iran since 1979, on and off, with violations of human rights fluctuating between bad, worse and terrible. It is written that all individuals are created equal to enjoy their basic rights when they are born. In Iran, often for no apparent reason, the authorities have rounded up people from their private homes, stopped them in public and taken them into custody, thus denying citizens their most basic individual rights. Whether it has involved young men and women holding hands in public, or those going to parties or gathering in public meetings, this was the norm in the years following the revolution.

In many instances, individuals have been subject to interrogation, arrest, torture and even murder for the way they thought, the way they expressed their opinions or just their mere appearances. Since the beginning of this year alone, at least 23 people have been executed. Three events stand out since the inception of the Islamic Republic: the execution of the Shah's close associates without any trial, the mass murder of 4,000 political prisoners in Evin prison and the 1998 serial murders of a number of prominent public figures. Today, to the dismay of most Iranians, this trend continues.

In 539 BC, the Achaemenid King Cyrus guaranteed freedom of religion and the absence of oppression for his subjects. Some scholars consider this to be the first declaration of human rights in history. The cylinder now lies in the British Museum, and a replica is kept at the UN. It is shocking to note that this guarantee has rarely been observed in Iran, and certainly not under the Islamic Republic.

Moreover, it is ironic that the government which was supposed to create heaven on Earth through equality, fairness and piety, has done the very opposite. There is something terribly wrong with a society in which individuals who harbour ideas and opinions going against the status quo are incarcerated, in which those who want justice in the eyes of the law are targeted in the harshest ways and in which a young doctor who goes to finish her medical internship in a rural area ends up being arrested for "bad behaviour" and, following her incarceration, ends up dead. There is something very disturbing when the founder of the Society to Defend Prisoners' Rights and a prominent journalist is taken to jail yet again and after suffering two heart attacks continues to be held in prison.

There are many societies where human life has no meaning, is worthless, where life is taken as easily as it is made. In 1948, the UN declaration of human rights was adopted by 58 nations. "The right to life, liberty and personal security recognised in Article 3, sets the base for all following political rights and civil liberties, including freedom from slavery, torture and arbitrary arrest, as well as the rights to a fair trial, free speech and free movement and privacy." Sixty years later, we are witness to many violations to this charter, to the wholesale abuse of human rights, in every part of this globe. Even the US is now condoning and practicing torture against prisoners of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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