International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran Wed, 29 Jul 2015 23:05:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Iran’s State Media Launches Yet Another Attack on U.N. Special Rapporteur Wed, 29 Jul 2015 23:05:44 +0000

Allegations against Dr. Ahmed Shaheed Unsubstantiated and Questioned by WikiLeaks

Ever desperate to discredit the work and person of UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed, news agencies in Iran run by the Judiciary have made a new round of allegations against the UN official that have been completely unsubstantiated by any independent source.

The allegations claim that a WikiLeaks document shows the Special Rapporteur received a million dollars from Saudi Arabia in return for promising stronger criticism of the Iranian government in his annual reports on the state of human rights in Iran. But the authenticity of the document used in the news reports has been directly questioned by WikiLeaks itself. In a tweet, WikiLeaks wrote, “Please show which cable this claim is based on. You fail to link to one of our cables in the article.”

On his own Twitter page, Dr. Shaheed, who has been recognized internationally as a principled and scrupulous champion of human rights, thanked WikiLeaks for clarifying and calling attention to the fact that these reports had not been authenticated.

This latest in a long string of Iranian state attacks on Shaheed came shortly after the Special Rapporteur called on Iran’s President Rouhani to pay more attention to the country’s human rights situation now that the Islamic Republic and world powers have come to an agreement on the nuclear issue.

“It is my sincere hope that the successful conclusion of the nuclear talks, which will enable the lifting of economic sanctions, will allow President Hassan Rouhani to focus on his other campaign pledges, specifically those to promote the enjoyment of all human rights by the Iranian people,” said Shaheed in a statement published on July 15, 2015.

The current allegations appear to be a stepped up effort by hardliners to pre-empt any increased pressure inside or outside Iran to heed Shaheed’s words and address the country’s egregious rights record.

“This claim is preposterous and only serves to distract from the task at hand—addressing the serious human rights issues facing the country today,” Shaheed said in an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “Allegations to discredit me do not change the [Islamic Republic of Iran’s] record documented by the UN Secretary General and raised by the U.N. human rights mechanisms for the last decade.”

“Executions are taking place at an alarming rate.  Women’s rights continue to face significant challenges. Hundreds of individuals are in detention for things they wrote, said, or posted on the Internet.  And the Baha’i leadership remain in prison for their religious beliefs,” the U.N. Special Rapporteur continued.

“My work, like the work of my predecessors, is based on research.  It presents laws, government statements, as well as information taken from government websites and reports.  My work presents interviews with hundreds of individuals, inside and outside Iran, that claim that their rights were violated, and my work presents the research undertaken by dozens of internationally recognized human rights organizations,” Shaheed told the Campaign.

While Iranian officials continue their efforts to discredit Dr. Shaheed and any other human rights defender who attempts to hold the Iranian government accountable for its rights violations, the international community has maintained strong backing for the Special Rapporteur, noting his fair and meticulous work and invaluable contribution to the exposure of human rights abuses in Iran. As such it has renewed his mandate every single year.

In a response on July 29, 2015 to a question on these allegations by a reporter from ISNA (the Iranian Students News Agency), Mohammad Javad Larijani, Head of the Iranian Judiciary’s Human Rights Council, repeated the unsubstantiated claim that Shaheed had received bribes. However, within hours of the posting of the remarks on ISNA’s and the Fars News Agency’s websites, the link to the interview was removed. (To see a screenshot of the removed page click here.)

The attacks against Shaheed are nothing new. Iranian officials and state media outlets have been trying for years to defame him and destroy the credibility of the Special Rapporteur’s work, in a transparent effort to deflect attention from the rights violations documented in Shaheed’s annual reports on Iran.

Since being appointed as the U.N.’s human rights point-man for Iran in 2011, Shaheed has been refused entry into Iran, and his annual reports, detailing widespread rights abuses, have been described by Sadegh Amoli Larijani, who is Head of the Iranian Judiciary, as “lies” and by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marzieh Afkham as “lacking validity.”.

In a typical remark, in 2014 Javad Larijani called Ahmed Shaheed “a wicked fool,” and said “human rights defender” is another name for terrorist. He stated, “Those who are referred to as ‘human rights defenders’ these days, are soiled with terrorist acts and call themselves human rights defenders…when you hear the name ‘human rights defender,’ these are individuals who commit terrorist acts.”

In 2012, Javad Larijani claimed Shaheed was being fed false information by “terrorist groups” as well as by the U.S. and Israel in support of “mostly those who have carried out terrorist organizations under the guise of human rights defenders.”

In 2013, during a UN HRC session, Javad Larijani accused the Special Rapporteur of “relying on biased sources” and working with “a notorious terrorist group” to compile his reports. Larijani’s vitriol was so great that the president of the session felt obliged to remind Larijani not to personally attack the Rapporteur in his remarks.

The supposed “bribery” allegations are not new either. In March 2013, Javad Larijani accused the Special Rapporteur of taking bribes from the US State Department, an allegation that was later proved to be completely unfounded.

Iran’s human rights chief has not just attacked Shaheed; he has repeatedly equated all human rights defenders with terrorists, making specific reference to the internationally respected human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2011 for defending free speech and the right to peaceful dissent.

Iranian officials have also moved beyond their vilification of Shaheed to trash the broader human rights mechanisms at the UN and the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself. In remarks on November 22, 2011, Javad Larijani stated that [human rights] reports by Ban Ki-moon’s were a reiteration of viewpoints of “terrorist groups and organizations that oppose the Islamic Republic,” and that Iran was “extremely concerned” about the shortcomings of the United Nations under the leadership of Ban Ki-moon.

This pattern of attempted defamation and discrediting is not limited to the Larijani brothers: During a 2014 meeting in the city of Mashhad, Iran’s Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi claimed that the Special Rapporteur was “corrupt.”

The Iranian state media outlets that have participated in the current uncorroborated allegations against Dr. Shaheed include the Mehr news agency, which is a branch of the state Islamic Promotion Organization, and the Hemayat newspaper, which is run and controlled by the Judiciary’s media arm.

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Former Reformist Member of Parliament Arrested Upon Return to Iran Mon, 27 Jul 2015 21:18:19 +0000

A senior adviser to opposition Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi was arrested upon his return to Iran six years after the controversial presidential elections that forced him to leave the country. Esmail Gerami Moghaddam, a former Member of Parliament and spokesman for Mehdi Karroubi’s Etemad Melli Party, was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport and transferred to Evin Prison on July 17.

The arrest takes place within the context of a crackdown on political dissidents that has continued unabated since Rouhani’s election in 2013, despite his campaign promise to free political prisoners.

During this time other individuals such as Serajeddin Mirdamadi, Hossein Nouraninejad, Saeed Razavi Faghih, Mostafa Azizi, Sajedeh Arabsorkhi, Kazem Barjesteh, Hamid Babaei, and Masoumeh Gholizadeh have also been arrested upon returning to Iran, in addition to dozens of other Iranian expatriates who travelled to Iran followed assurances by President Hassan Rouhani of their safe return home.

According to Saham News, which is affiliated with the Karroubi camp, Gerami Moghaddam was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison but it is not clear under what charges or by which court.

Moghaddam left Iran soon after the disputed 2009 presidential elections, during which large peaceful protests broke out across the country in response to questions regarding the fairness of the vote. In the violent state crackdown that ensued, the Etemad Melli Party was banned and its leader and presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who called the election a fraud, was subsequently placed under house arrest along with fellow Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard.

While abroad, Gerami Moghaddam concentrated on completing his doctoral studies at universities in India and Malaysia. A veteran of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Moghaddam has lost most of his eyesight over recent years, and his family fears his ability to endure his prison sentence under the circumstances.

Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei told a press conference on July 13 that five people, some in absentia, had been sentenced in connection with disturbances following the 2009 election. He did not mention any names but it is thought Gerami Moghaddam was one of them.

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More than 100 Teachers Detained for Hours for Attempting Peaceful Protest Fri, 24 Jul 2015 12:08:44 +0000 ba88c366-f816-4075-a90b-174af1a68a1d

A planned protest by teachers in front of the Iranian Parliament in Tehran’s Baharestan Square was pre-empted by security forces who detained scores of teachers who arrived to take part in it on the morning of July 22.

According to Sedigheh Maleki, the wife of teachers’ rights activist Hashem Khastar, about 131 teachers were arrested and taken to the Vozara Detention Center, “but fortunately all of them were released by sundown.”

Ms. Maleki told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that the peaceful protest was planned for 10 a.m. until noon. “My husband [Hashem Khastar] called me and said the police and security forces who had been stationed around Baharestan Square before 10:00 a.m. arrested groups of teachers as soon as they got there and put them onto minibuses. In fact, no gathering took place today. They carried them all to Vozara [Detention Center].”

The Central Council of Educational Guilds recently issued a statement that they would be holding a rally in front of the Parliament building to protest the arrest of Esmail Abdi, the head of the Teachers Guild. Abdi was arrested on June 27, 2015, and has been held at Evin Prison ever since. No official reason has been given for his detainment but it appears the arrest is in connection with a 10-year prison sentence he received on national security charges by a Revolutionary Court in 2011 that arose from his union activities.

Interior Ministry Spokesman Hosseinali Amiri confirmed that a number of teachers had been arrested and later released. “Of course three or four of them who wanted to turn the gathering into a national security issue were held longer.”

A source who wished to remain anonymous told the Campaign that a number of teachers who had escaped the security forces gathered at the home of one of the teachers and heard the statement that was supposed to be read at the ill-fated rally in front of the Parliament demanding Abdi’s release.

According to Mohammad Rezakhah, who is a member of the Teachers Guild, teachers had come to Tehran from various provinces to take part in the rally, including Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Hamadan, Isfahan, Gilan, Mazandaran and Khorasan.

The teachers who were planning to gather in support of Abdi received a rare gesture of support from Member of Parliament Ali Motahhari, the maverick deputy from Tehran, who denounced the authorities for stopping the teachers from holding their protest.

“People should be free to hold gatherings as long as they do not lead to unrest, disorder and destruction,” he said. “According to Article 27 of the Constitution, demonstrations are permitted if they are not against the foundations of Islam. The law does not even mention the need to get a permit.”

Motahhari added: “If you block these kinds of gathering, you will exacerbate the problem.”

In addition to Abdi, other teachers have been arrested in recent months as well. They include Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi, the spokesman for the Teachers Guild, and Alireza Hashemi, the head of the Teachers Organization of Iran.

The last major action by teachers took place on April 16, 2015, when thousands gathered in various cities for “silent protests” calling for higher wages. Teachers in Iran are paid below the country’s official poverty line.

The arrests of the teachers reflect a broader and consistent denial of labor rights in Iran. Professional organizations face severe restrictions, strikers are often arrested and risk losing their job, and labor leaders face arrest and long prison sentences.

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Peaceful Dissent Denied in Iran by Equating Criticism of the Government with Religious Sin Tue, 21 Jul 2015 19:33:51 +0000
The Supreme Leader’s chief of staff Mohammadi Golpayegani (right): “Opposing the Islamic [Republic] is certainly the greatest wrong and if anyone, in any cloth or position, opposes it, he has committed the worst vice because the pure blood of thousands of youth has been shed to establish this state.”

The Supreme Leader’s chief of staff Mohammadi Golpayegani (right): “Opposing the Islamic [Republic] is certainly the greatest wrong and if anyone, in any cloth or position, opposes it, he has committed the worst vice because the pure blood of thousands of youth has been shed to establish this state.”

Freedom of expression and the right to peaceful dissent, long under attack in the Islamic Republic, have come under increased pressure over the last two years. Hardliners, anxious to re-affirm their control over the domestic sphere in the face of the centrist Rouhani’s huge electoral win in 2013, have launched concerted crackdowns, jailing journalists, shuttering publications, blocking social media, and sentencing peaceful activists to long prison terms.

Increasingly, hardliners are using a new weapon in the arsenal of repression: religion. While prosecutions of activists have typically been carried out under broad national security-related charges, political dissent is increasingly being portrayed by officials of the Islamic Republic as a religious violation.

The equation of dissent with sin is part of a broader attack in which the right to peaceful dissent, ostensibly guaranteed in the Iranian constitution (as well as in the international covenants to which Iran has freely joined) is effectively denied and those who engage in it are prosecuted by judicial officials under far more serious charges. “Corruption on Earth,” for example, carries a possible death penalty.

“To oppose the state is the greatest sin,” said Mohammadi Golpayegani, chief of staff to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to a group of clerics and seminary students in Gilan Province on June 13, 2015.

Golpayegani described the Islamic Republic as the “greatest good of our time” and, as reported by ISNA (the Iranian Students News Agency) added, “Opposing the Islamic [Republic] is certainly the greatest wrong and if anyone, in any cloth or position, opposes it, he has committed the worst vice because the pure blood of thousands of youth has been shed to establish this state.” In his eyes, any opposition to the Islamic Republic, in word or deed, or any questioning of its infallibility, constitutes a grave offense.

Under this line of thinking, financial corruption is considered a lesser crime than women who flout ultraconservative rules on public attire because economic crimes are not an overt political challenge to the state. A woman’s lack of adherence to “proper” hijab, however, is seen as a direct challenge to the regime’s legitimacy. In the words of Ayatollah Sobhani, “The hijab is a symbol of the Islamic Republic and those who don’t observe it are sticking their tongue at it. Profiteers, on the other hand, don’t care about the state.”

Such comments are not new. On May 2, Mohammadi Golpayegani quoted the Supreme Leader as saying, “Protecting the Islamic Republic is the greatest good and opposing it is the greatest wrong.” Golpayegani added, “Some think that promoting virtue or preventing vice is only limited to dealing with women in the streets with poor hijab. But we must be aware that the greatest vice is opposing the Islamic regime.”

In his speech on the occasion of the Iranian New Year, Supreme Leader Khamenei stated his view clearly: “The greatest good is to establish and preserve an Islamic state… while by contrast, moral corruption is wrong, helping the enemies of Islam is wrong, weakening the Islamic state is wrong.”

Going beyond verbal exhortations, the Supreme Leader issued a fatwa, or religious decree, forbidding people from publicly exposing injustice by officials of the Islamic Republic. In reply to a question from one of his religious followers on whether it would be appropriate to publicly reveal injustice or treason by government officials, Khamenei wrote: “It is not a problem to report injustice or treason to officials and government institutions so that they can be properly pursued and investigated… but revealing them to the people is forbidden because it creates mischief and corruption, and weakens the Islamic government.”

Equating political opposition with religious sin has had profound consequences for the lives of those who have questioned the dictates of the government: political opponents have been charged and sentenced to punishments of biblical proportions, with many spending long years behind bars and some facing the death penalty.

Officials often accuse government critics of opposing the country’s system of velayat-e faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, the ideology formulated by the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, which states that an Islamist jurist, or Supreme Leader, must provide guardianship over the government to ensure its compliance with Islamic law). As a result, such critics are accused of challenging the very foundations of religion.

This view is not shared by the majority within the Shia religious establishment. Most Shia clerics, in fact, do not accept the concept of velayat-e faqih. Indeed, the Islamic Republic is imposing the view of its ruling class and suppressing the plurality of views in Shia religious thought.

Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, however, who is the current head of the Islamic Republic’s Council of Guardians, the body charged with ensuring that all political candidates and laws conform to Islam and the Islamic Republic’s constitution, has assured all that the Supreme Leader can do no wrong: “The Supreme Leader never makes mistakes in his decisions,” Yazdi said in a speech in 2011. “That’s because if [the Supreme Leader] is thinking of making a decision that’s 100 percent harmful to the Islamic nation, the Hidden Imam [the ultimate savior of mankind, who, according to the Twelver branch of Shia Islam practiced in Iran, will return to bring peace and justice to the world] has a responsibility to advise him against it.”

These views have resulted in the belief that opposing velayat-e faqih is equivalent to opposing absolute Truth itself. As stated by Yazdi, “Opposing velayat-e faqih is the same as opposing the Imams and it is on the [same] level as questioning God’s singular authority.”

In such a system, where dissenters are not only enemies of the state, they are enemies of God, there is no possibility of acceptable peaceful opposition, the hallmark of democratic governance.

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Hardline Clerics Stop Screening of Film on Shia Religious Figure Tue, 21 Jul 2015 17:46:27 +0000 rastakhizmovie5Even Religious Topics Do Not Escape Hand of Censorship in Iran

A highly anticipated award-winning film about the revered 7th century Shia religious figure, Imam Hossein, has been pulled from cinemas across Iran on the first day of its screening following criticism by conservative religious leaders.

“Out of respect for great religious leaders and distinguished religious scholars, the screening of Rastakhiz (“Resurrection”) will be postponed until the approval of honorable religious leaders is obtained,” the Cinema Organization announced in a statement.

The film’s director, Ahmad Reza Darvish, maintains that he has had the support of senior religious leaders throughout the production process.

“As far as I’m aware as the director, this film has been made in accordance with the views of religious leaders, during the research phase when it received permission for production, and during the making of the film,” Darvish told ISNA, the official Iranian Students’ News Agency. “Even before public screening, when the film was being revised, representatives of some honorable religious leaders were present and some of them praised the filmmakers.”

Rastakhiz is a religious feature film set in 7th century Iraq that tells the story of the Ashura revolt, when Hossein, the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson and the third Imam of Shia Muslims, fought against the ruling caliph and died in an unequal battle near Karbala. The event is remembered every year in emotional ceremonies by Shia Muslims.

After winning several awards at the Fajr International Film Festival in Tehran in 2014, Rastakhiz caught the attention of the conservative religious establishment which criticized it on religious grounds, especially for the depiction of Imam Hossein’s uncle Abolfazl al-Abbas. According to Shia theology, reproducing the face of the Imams and their family members is forbidden.

The producers cut out 40 minutes of the film to placate opponents before the public screening. Yet on its opening day on July 15, a group of protesters gathered in front of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, waving banners and shouting slogans against the film. Some of them went to the Shekoofeh Cinema on Shohada Square to stop the screening. There were also reports that the protesters got into a confrontation with Ministry officials.

“If this film did not have approval from senior religious leaders then the Guidance Ministry would never have given a permit for its production,” Darvish told ISNA. “Therefore all the steps have been taken and all permits were issued. But the Guidance Ministry was forced to stop the film a few hours after it was supposed to be screened.”

Reza Mirkarimi, the head of the independent film organization Cinema House, criticized the stoppage of the film and called on its opponents to avoid “irrational extremist views” and take into consideration changes in the new version of the film.

Religious leaders who have expressed opposition to the film include Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi and Ayatollah Alavi Gorgani. “I took a position against this film before but no one paid attention. Therefore it is not appropriate to show this film,” Gorgani wrote in a letter published on July 13.

On the website for Rastakhiz, the producers quote the late founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Khomeini, who stated that acting the role of Shia Imams and their family members is permitted during religious ceremonies if they are treated with respect. The website noted that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has also issued a similar view.

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Rouhani Government and Conservatives Clash over Laws on Female Dress Tue, 21 Jul 2015 17:39:26 +0000

More than two-thirds of  the members of the Iranian Parliament—216 MPs—have signed a resolution supporting the implementation of a law that requires women to observe strict rules on clothing in public.

The Rouhani administration has expressed doubts on the effectiveness of coercive tactics against women who are not as observant as hardliners in the Islamic Republic would like them to be. The Parliamentary resolution reflects an intensifying debate in Iran on laws regarding female attire, or hijab.

Since passage of the Preservation of Chastity and Hijab Plan by the Supreme Revolutionary Council on January 3, 2015, there has been renewed public debate both within government circles and among the public at large regarding the efficacy and applicability of strict, legislated dress codes. Apart from any debate regarding the codes themselves, many question whether such restrictions are able to be implemented in practice.

“It is impossible to force and coerce people into being chaste and wear the hijab,” President Rouhani said in a speech to women’s affairs officials on July 12.

That view has been echoed by other government officials as well. According to Vice President Shahindokht Molaverdi, Rouhani’s adviser on women and rsmily affairs, the Islamic Republic has not been successful in carrying out hijab rules. “Society’s realities tell us that we have not done a good job. We have distanced ourselves from the goals of the law on spreading hijab and chastity,” she said.

There are 24 organizations in charge of controlling and carrying out hijab rules “but their duties aren’t in harmony with existing realities,” Molaverdi added.

The hardline Judiciary in Iran has pushed back: Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei reminded people that “not wearing the hijab is a crime and it will be dealt with.” Yet critics say there is a large grey area regarding “proper” hijab, as well as disparate views regarding how “improper” hijab should be addressed.

The Friday Prayer leader of Mashhad, Ahmad Alamolhoda, noted the difficulties involved in forcing women to wear strict hijab (and the similarities to the difficulties faced by the monarchy in Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution when force was used to rid society of the hijab), but he asserted nonetheless that “We must stop bad hijab practices. Those who reject the hijab are rejecting the Quran and those who reject the Quran are infidels.”

Conservatives have good reason to be concerned about the status of the hijab. Official statistics show that interest in religious rules on women’s attire has dropped drastically despite 36 years of Islamic rule.

Mohammad Aghassi, the head of the Iranian Students Polling Center told Fars New Agency on May 28 that only 25 percent of Iranians are inclined towards the hijab. He also described the 10 percent drop in interest in the chador black cloak between 2006 and 2014 as a “disaster.”

For much of the past year, the Rouhani administration and Parliament have also fought over the Plan to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, a bill that explicitly calls upon the Basij militia (an all-volunteer paramilitary force that is an arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards) to enforce ultraconservative notions of proper hijab on all Iranian women. In practical terms, it is another tool hardliners have used use to stop the tide against lax obedience of hijab rules.

The bill was passed by Parliament and became law on April 22 despite the Rouhani administration’s opposition. It has been linked to a series of acid attacks against women (who were “improperly” attired) in Isfahan in late 2014 when the bill was still pending and leading clerics made statements for stronger action against women with “poor hijab.”

President Rouhani has been reluctant to actively implement the Promote Virtue law in spheres under his control such as the police force and government ministries. In a letter to Supreme Leader Khamenei, Rouhani asked for the law to be suspended “until its weaknesses are removed.” Rouhani’s letter has been widely criticized by hardliners and Khamenei has not yet given his reply.

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Member of Spiritual Group Sentenced to Prison and Lashes Mon, 20 Jul 2015 21:05:44 +0000

Masoumeh Zia, a member of the Erfan-e Halgheh spiritual group, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that she has been sentenced to a year in prison and 74 lashes for “disturbing public order” and taking part in a gathering protesting the arrest of the group’s leader, Mohammad Ali Taheri, who has been imprisoned since 2011.

The security establishment has come down hard on Mohammad Ali Taheri and his Erfan-e Halgheh spiritual group, viewing it and any other alternative belief system, especially those which seek converts, as a threat to the prevailing Shia order. He is being held in prison facing the possibility of the death penalty on the charge of “Corruption on Earth”. He has been accused of illegal medical practices and sacrilegious activities.

Zia, a 38-year-old geologist, was among nearly 80 supporters of Taheri arrested in Tehran last year and held at Evin Prison.

“A number of Taheri’s students and colleagues gathered in front of Evin Prison a couple of times to protest his arrest and I was among them,” Zia told the Campaign. “The gatherings were peaceful and did not create any problems for passersby. We held signs for a couple of hours. Then on October 8, 2014, we were going to gather in front of the Revolutionary Court. But the atmosphere was so tense with the security measures taken on that day that the gathering didn’t take place. The police around the court quickly arrested anyone who looked suspicious.”

“I was arrested on that day with about 57 other women and 20 men. The agents took us to Evin [Prison] inside large vans. Most were let go on the same day… but I and two other women were held between five and eight days and then charged. I don’t know why. We did not do anything illegal,” Zia said.

Zia’s trial was held last February at Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court presided over by Judge Ahmadzadeh, who sentenced her to the year in prison and 74 lashes. The sentence was upheld by the appellate court, she said.

“I am not a political person at all and I’ve never taken part in political activities,” Zia reiterated to the Campaign.

One of the group’s instructors, Ziba Habibpour, surrendered herself on July 1 to serve a three-year prison sentence.

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Pursue Human Rights in Iran with the Same Vigor as the Nuclear Accord Mon, 20 Jul 2015 13:16:02 +0000 Rouhani-Celebrate-1-600x3501-600x350By Hadi Ghaemi– The nuclear accord reached this week between Iran and the P5+1 countries represents a resounding victory for diplomacy and peace. It was achieved only through unrelenting determination borne from a realization that the benefits of an accord far outweighed those of any alternative.

The leadership in Iran recognized the threat posed by the country’s economic deterioration, and signed on to a process that, however anathema to hardliners, held out the promise of economic relief for the isolated country.The West, with no stomach for another war in the Middle East, recognized that a deal which limited and afforded greater international scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear program was better than wishing for a complete nuclear rollback that was no longer possible.

National interest fuelled a forceful and sustained effort that led to a success that seemed at times remote and unlikely to even the most optimistic observers.So too this calculation must be made for the pursuit of human rights in Iran. A steadfast commitment to the defense of human rights, based on national interests, carries the promise of success as well.

Human rights is not a peripheral issue. It is central to core interests. Apart from any moral imperative of supporting the basic rights and freedoms of all peoples, the best way to ensure the successful implementation of a nuclear accord, which all sides view is in their national interest, is to empower the voices of reason and moderation. In the West, proponents of peace and diplomacy do not lack for outlets for such expression. In Iran, however, their silencing is often swift and harsh.

As we move into a post-deal context in Iran, it is possible that the silencing of such voices will increase, and that basic freedoms in the country, already at a dismal state, may deteriorate further. Political, security, and judicial institutions that have colluded to install and maintain an unprecedented repression over the past decade will be on the defensive, eager to re-assert their primacy in the domestic sphere in the wake of the Rouhani administration’s “win” in the foreign sphere.

These hardliners, anxious to frame the debate and control the narrative in Iran, have not been supporters of the nuclear negotiations; indeed, opposition to the West and any interaction with it has long been their raison d’etre. A renewed wave of repression inside Iran will only facilitate hardliners’ attempts to balk at implementing the accord’s provisions while silencing the voices of its supporters. It is essential that supporters of the nuclear agreement in Iran be able to voice their views.

And supporters there are: Iranian society has strongly backed the negotiations and the pursuit of a peaceful settlement to the long-running conflict. In a recent study by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, prominent political and cultural figures in Iran were interviewed on their views of the nuclear talks, and their support for a negotiated settlement was unanimous, even among political prisoners and dissidents whose rights had been severely violated by the Iranian government.

Yet the Iranian citizenry elected Hassan Rouhani to the presidency in June 2013 not only on the basis of his commitment to pursue a nuclear settlement, but also on his pledges for greater political rights and social freedoms. While most accepted that reforms had to wait for a settlement of the nuclear conflict, there has been a growing sense that domestic issues have been on hold too long. Indeed, Iran’s domestic politics has been akin to an airplane in a holding pattern, awaiting the resolution of the negotiations, before being allowed to proceed.

During this time, not only has Rouhani shied away from implementing policies aimed at opening up the closed political and social environment, but hardliners have cracked down on press freedoms and Internet activities, imposed long prison sentences on peaceful activists, and passed legislation highly discriminatory toward women.

While the nuclear negotiations and the aversion of war were rightly seen as the immediate priorities by all sides, the time has come to pursue human rights in Iran with the same vigor. Hardliners in Iran who control Parliament, the Judiciary, and the intelligence and security branches of the state, and are backed by the country’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, will push back. But their ability to do so will be curtailed if there is a substantial national consensus against their repression that can be publicly voiced and demonstrated, and backed up with firm and steadfast international support.

The international community has significant leverage with Iran at this juncture: the Iranian government seeks international reintegration, seeing it as integral to the economic revitalization of the country. The world must be clear that the full international reintegration Iran seeks is contingent upon the Islamic Republic’s acceptance of the right to peaceful dissent. The international community must be prepared to strongly condemn any attempt at wholesale repression inside the country. Without this they will be undermining the very accord all sides have worked long and hard to achieve.

Moreover, by upholding international human rights law and covenants to which Iran has freely joined, the international community will be sending the clear message that adherence to international laws and treaties is not selective, but binding.

Additionally, supporting the forces of moderation in Iran—by vigorously defending their right to speak freely and to engage in peaceful dissent—can only strengthen more moderate and constructive Iranian foreign policies, to the benefit of all those in the international community.

The long-term success of the nuclear accord—and with it the maintenance of peace in a region already soaked in blood—will be inextricably intertwined with the outcome of the struggle to end Iran’s domestic repression. The international community cannot afford to ignore this vital struggle.

Hadi Ghaemi is the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

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Imprisoned Founder of Spiritual Group Awaits Clarification on His Sentence Fri, 17 Jul 2015 18:50:38 +0000

May Still Face Death Penalty for Peaceful Practice of Beliefs

Uncertainty surrounds the sentence of Mohammad Ali Taheri, the imprisoned founder of a spiritual healing and cultural group. The Judiciary spokesman says he has been sentenced but his lawyer says this is “incorrect.”

“I went to the court on Tuesday July 14 and no sentence has been issued. If a sentence is issued, they will first inform me and my client. I’m sure [Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni] Ejei has been given the wrong information,” Taheri’s lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaee, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Ejei had stated in a press conference on July 13 that Taheri had been sentenced at the initial stage and that he could request an appeal. Yet Ejei did not reveal what the sentence was.

Mohammad Ali Taheri, founder of the “Erfan-e Halgheh” spiritual arts and healing group, is facing the charge of “Corruption on Earth” which carries the possibility of the death penalty. On June 20, 2015, his lawyer had expressed concern that the judge had issued the death penalty but the next day this was denied by the Judiciary.

Taheri established the Erfan-e Halgheh institute in Tehran during the 2000s, and, using healing concepts, treated patients with psychological and medical conditions. He was arrested in 2010 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards on charges of “acting against national security” and was held in solitary confinement for 67 days before he was released.

On May 4, 2011, he was arrested again and on October 30, 2011, Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced him to five years in prison for “blasphemy,” to 74 lashes for “touching the wrists of female patients,” and 900 million toman in fines (approximately $300,000) for “interfering in medical science,” “earning illegitimate funds,” and “distribution of audio-visual products and use of academic titles.”

The authorities in Iran do not formally acknowledge Taheri’s group, Erfan-e Halgheh, but in addition to imprisoning Taheri and prosecuting him on a charge that potentially carries the death penalty, its institute has been closed down.

The authorities take a harsh view of any individual who promotes alternative spiritual beliefs in Iran. They are seen as national security threats, especially if they attract Shia Muslims. As such, the authorities also severely prosecute Baha’is who propagate their faith, Gonabadi Dervishes, and evangelical Christians who seek converts to Christianity, demonstrating the continued systematic denial of freedom of religion in the Islamic Republic.

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2014 Annual Report Thu, 16 Jul 2015 15:00:43 +0000 Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 10.04.26 AMThe Campaign’s 2014 Annual Report presents some of the main human rights issues we worked on throughout the year, detailing our major activities, reports and publications, multimedia productions, media outreach, and advocacy campaigns.

We encourage you to peruse our website, and please feel free to contact the Campaign at for more comprehensive information regarding our work and activities, and to learn how you can support human rights in Iran.

Download the Campaign’s full 2014 Annual Report here (PDF). 




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