Saturday, May 15, 2010

More than Nukes

By William Fisher

Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the bloody disturbances following its elections last year have so dominated media reporting on the country that many equally critical issues have been virtually forgotten.

That’s the view of Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI), a New York-based not-for-profit group attempting to raise public awareness of human rights abuses in Iran.

In an telephone interview with IPS, Ghaemi cited two issues to illustrate his point: last Sunday’s secret executions of five Iranian political prisoners, and the recent elevation of Iran to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

And he reminded an IPS correspondent that “with the first anniversary of the uprising that followed Iran’s deeply flawed election, last June 12th, we can only expect more repression and more brutality as the authorities continue their relentless campaign to silence any voices of protest.”

Iran’s election to the UN Commission came as many women’s rights activists and their international supporters issued a protest statement addressed to the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The statement called Iran’s election “shocking.” It asked Council members to oppose Iran’s request and to make Iran’s election conditional on its adherence to international equal rights covenants.

The Iranian official news agency called the women’s rights activists, “hostile groups and western media,” who through “poisonous propagation,” tried to prevent Iran’s membership in the Commission on the Status of Women,” but that “their efforts were ignored by members of ECOSOC.”

The agency said Iran’s membership in the Commission is important because “Iran’s views about the position of women can help reflect Islamic views about family and women.”

The letter by women’s rights activists said, “In recent years, the Iranian government has not only refused to join the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), but has actively opposed it.”

The Iranian government, the letter said, “has earned international condemnation as a gross violator of women’s rights. Discrimination against women is codified in its laws, as well as in executive and cultural institutions, and Iran has consistently sought to preserve gender inequality in all places, from the family unit to the highest governmental bodies.”

The second development referenced by Dr. Ghaemi was Iran’s May 9 sudden and secret hanging of five political prisoners. Neither their families nor their lawyers were notified.

ICHRI said the executions “appear to signal a government policy of relying on politically-motivated executions to strengthen its position vis-à-vis its opposition through terror and intimidation.”

The four men and one woman executed include Farzad Kamangar, a 34-year-old teacher and social worker, who was charged with Moharebeh (taking up arms against God), convicted and sentenced to death in February 2008, after a seven-minute long trial in which “zero evidence” was presented, ICHRI said in a statement.

“Kamangar was arbitrarily arrested and set up to be killed in a staged trial,
with no opportunity to present a defense,” stated Aaron Rhodes, a spokesperson for the Campaign.

He added, “These secret executions are, in reality, nothing more than state-sanctioned murders, and provide more evidence of the Islamic Republic’s brazen contempt for international human rights standards.”

Kamangar was held incommunicado for seven months after his arrest in July 2006. ICHRI says there is “strong evidence” that he was tortured. His lawyer has stated that no evidence could be found in his interrogation records, file, or in presentations by prosecutors or the judge’s decision to support the charge of Mohareb. Neither Kamangar nor his lawyers were permitted to speak at his trial.

Shirin Alam Holi, a 28-year-old Kurdish woman was also executed. In several letters recently written from Evin prison she denied charges of terrorism against her and said she had been tortured to make false confessions in front of television cameras, which she had refused.

At least sixteen other Kurdish political prisoners and eleven post-election protestors are in danger of similar unannounced and sudden executions, ICHRI said.

Roxana Saberi, the journalist who was detained in Iran for 100 days in 2009 in Iran, is among many others attempting to raise awareness of dire situation inside Iran.

She wrote in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post, “If the international community fails to condemn such atrocities, Iran's regime will continue to trample on the basic rights of individuals, many of whom have been detained simply for peacefully standing up for universal human rights. It is common for Tehran's prisoners -- including journalists, bloggers, women's rights campaigners, student activists and adherents of the minority Baha'i faith -- to be held in prolonged solitary confinement without access to an attorney as they try to defend themselves against fabricated charges such as espionage and "propaganda against Islam" or the regime.”

Saberi believes international pressure and media attention helped her win her freedom. Her book, "Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran," chronicles her experiences and the stories of her fellow political prisoners in Evin prison.

Hadi Ghaemi, ICHRI’s founder, came to the United States from Iran in 1983 as a student and received his doctorate in Physics from Boston University in 1994. Dr. Ghaemi was a professor of Physics at the City University of New York until 2000.

In 2004, he joined Human Rights Watch as the Iran and United Arab Emirates researcher in the Middle East and North Africa division. He founded ICHRI in 2007 to advocate on behalf of human rights and social movements in Iran and provide a platform for their views.

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