Narges Mohammadi

In a interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Narges Mohammadi, human rights activist and spokesperson for the Defenders of Human Rights Center, acknowledged that the Citizen Rights Charter was a positive step, but noted that the draft document contained many serious shortcomings that needed to be addressed.

Noting its benefits, Mohammadi said that the draft Citizenship Rights Charter presented by Hassan Rouhani was in some respects a positive step. “Preparing the Charter and seeking the people’s opinions is a positive thing. It appears that after eight years of Ahmadinejad, in which human rights and citizenship rights were not considered and laws were consistently violated by the government, now the Rouhani administration is after enforcement of the laws and improvement of Iran’s image in international and national arenas. What can be important for us is that in the last pages of the Charter it is stated that the government intends to inform and educate the citizens about their rights. Considering this, if, with the many tools it has at its disposal such as higher education, the state radio and television, cultural centers, and civil organizations, the government acts successfully at least in the area of educating the people about citizenship rights, it has accomplished a very positive thing, something our society has needed for years,” said Narges Mohammadi.

However, Narges Mohammadi told the Campaign that the one-month window to seek people’s opinion in a society where citizenship rights have been suppressed for years is too short. She also noted that, “If the President agrees to have a national dialogue about citizenship rights so that he can hear people’s real and honest opinions, security issues must be reduced in the society so that people can find the courage to express their opinions. Otherwise, in the face of what itself is a huge violation, they will not be able to accomplish much,” said Mohammadi.

“It is very important for every Iranian citizen, whether old or young and a resident of villages or cities, to learn that the government has a series of obligations in protecting [its] citizenship rights. We do not know to what degree the Guardian Council and the Parliament will support the approval of this Charter, and how far Rouhani will be able to bring them along. But even this accomplishment can be considered a positive step, where at least the citizens are educated about their rights and the government’s obligation to observe their rights,” added the Spokesperson for the Defenders of Human Rights Center.

Addressing more specifically her concerns with the document, Mohammadi told the Campaign that despite the positive aspects of the Charter, the draft document has numerous problems which, if not corrected, would seriously reduce its effectiveness. The draft Charter’s silence on Iran’s religious minorities is one of the biggest shortcomings of the document, Mohammadi said. “In the First Chapter of the Charter it is stated that all Iranians, regardless of ethnicity, gender, and [socio-economic] class, should enjoy citizenship rights. The first question that came to my mind was what about religion-based discrimination? Shouldn’t discrimination based on religion and faith be condemned? Incidentally, condemning discrimination based on religion is one of the priorities of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Iran is committed. In Article 16 of our own Constitution, also, it is stated that the Government is obligated to act fairly towards non-Muslims. Isn’t fair treatment considered a citizenship right [that should then] be included in the Charter? A large group of our society follows other religions and beliefs. The main question is whether other than Shia and Sunni, other religious minorities should be deprived of their citizenship rights.”

“There are [other] serious problems with this Charter. The Charter points out that help from civil organizations was used in writing the draft, but we do not know exactly whom they mean by civil organizations. Are they public civil organization or organizations affiliated with the government? If civil organizations really had a part in drafting this Charter, why haven’t there been any reports from them to the people? For example, I know that no recognized women’s rights activist has provided advice on the section pertaining to Women’s Rights in the Charter,” Mohammadi told the Campaign.

“In another part of the Charter, there is an emphasis on the people’s right to participation in order to determine their social destiny, but I didn’t see any reference to the citizens’ right to political participation. Throughout this Charter, the use of the word ‘political’ is avoided! I question why there are no headings throughout this Charter about the citizens’ right to participate in the political destiny of their country, and, for example, the right to demonstrate and protest. Even Article 26 of the Iranian Constitution emphasizes this right of the people. Also, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Iran has accepted, it is stated that everyone has the right to freedom and to peaceful assembly. But there is no talk about this in the Charter and their citizenship rights are considered [without affirming] their political rights, and this is a clear violation of human rights,” added Mohammadi.

Narges Mohammadi also criticized the draft Charter for putting the women’s section under the heading of “Family, Women, Children, and the Elderly.” “It is inappropriate for women to be included under the headings of the elderly and the disabled. If the role of this Charter is really to inform and educate the citizens about their rights, there should have been special attention paid to half of the population who are women. The rights of half of the society are now abused and there are different forms of violence against women. Shouldn’t this Charter have had a section on violence against women or on safe houses, or to have invited women’s rights activists in its organization?” asked Mohammadi.

“In addition, as an organization, shouldn’t the Iranian Journalists Association have held several news conferences on this subject? But its door has been sealed and it cannot do anything. If Mr. Rouhani cares about people’s opinions in finalizing this draft, he should look at civil society more seriously. The number of seminars and dialogue on this subject could be an indication of how secure the Iranian civil society feels in engaging in a dialogue with the President. There should have been more opportunities for public reactions to this text. If Rouhani is interested in people’s opinions, he must open up the atmosphere in the society,” concluded Narges Mohammadi.