One look at the human rights record of Iran should serve as a warning against President Hassan Rouhani’s charm offensive launched at the United Nations on Tuesday.
“My hope, aside from personal and national experience, emanates from the belief shared by all divine religions that a good and bright future awaits the world,” Rouhani said. Fine words, but Iran’s treatment of religious minorities and political prisoners denies far too many of Rouhani’s own fellow citizens any future at all. It is an international disgrace.
In preparation for Rouhani’s U.N. speech, Iran released a dozen political prisoners on September 19. “While the release of these individuals should be commended,” said Gissou Nia, executive director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, “hundreds of other prisoners who have been incarcerated solely for the exercise of their human rights and the legitimate expression of their beliefs remain in Iran’s jails.”
According to the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights for 2012, Iranian prisons are absolute hell holes, filled way over capacity with an estimated 200,000 prisoners, many of them political and a number of them media professionals. Torture (including beatings, rape, pulling of nails, burning with cigarettes) is common. Over the decade up to 2012, according to the U.N. human rights rapporteur on Iran, 3,766 flogging sentences were handed down. Arrests are often arbitrary—for crimes such as anti-revolutionary behavior—and formal charges can take months.
The Iranian constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press—except for those who would express words that are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” As the state owns all media through the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, censors Internet activity, and controls social media, there are not a lot of options for dissenters and netizens.
Freedom of religion does not exist, with 99 percent of the population being Muslim and the remaining 1 percent being subject to harassment, intimidation and imprisonment, and, in cases of apostasy from Islam, death. The constitution declares that the “official religion is Islam and the doctrine followed is that of Ja’afari (Twelver) Shiism.” All laws and regulations must be based on “Islamic criteria” and Sharia.
If Rouhani wanted to show the world a new spirit, he could heed the calls to release the Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. The pastor was handed an eight-year sentence under terrible conditions in Evin prison, which is notorious for cruel and prolonged torture, for practicing his faith and trying to establish an orphanage. Nadarkhani’s wife bravely accosted Iranian delegates at the U.N., handing them a letter for Rouhani. (She has not received much support from the U.S. government in the fight for her husband’s release, by the way.)
As the Obama Administration launches itself on a new round of nuclear negotiations with Iran, let’s remember that the first victims of the Tehran regime are the Iranian people.