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IRAN: Activists Spotlight Rights Abuses on Eve of U.N. Meet

Omid Memarian

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 22 2008 (IPS) - A day before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses world leaders at the United Nations, human rights activists criticised his government's record and urged the international community to hold the president accountable during his visit to New York.

From right to left: Minky Worden, Akbar Ganji, Hadi Ghaemi and Mehrangiz Kar. Credit: Omid Memarian/IPS

From right to left: Minky Worden, Akbar Ganji, Hadi Ghaemi and Mehrangiz Kar. Credit: Omid Memarian/IPS

At a press conference Monday held by Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, activists stressed that basic human rights protections in Iran have deteriorated to new lows.

"The most urgent in relation to human rights in Iran is repression of civil society across the board, journalists, academics and human rights defenders who have gone to prison during President Ahmadinejad's tenure… [it] is a reminder to the world that there is a human rights crisis in Iran that is not diminishing – it is actually escalating," Minky Worden, media director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

"It's very important for journalists and U.N. representative and other leaders to remind him that Iran is very much outside human rights norms and that all of these documents and treaties in relate to human rights that Ahmadinejad's government is signed on to they are not honouring those treaties," said Worden, adding that, "It's time for Iran to rejoin the international human rights norm."

A new briefing paper by the two groups, "Iran Rights Crisis Escalates: Faces and Cases from Ahmadinejad's Crackdown," documents the dire situation for human rights defenders and key dimensions of the human rights crisis in Iran today. Released ahead of Ahmadinejad's arrival at the opening ceremonies of the U.N. General Assembly, it highlights Iran's status as the world leader in juvenile executions.

Iran has executed six juvenile offenders so far in 2008, and more than 130 other juvenile offenders have been sentenced to death and are awaiting execution, according to human rights organisations.

"Iran is the only country to have executed such cases and we calling on Iran to stop those executions and join the international community in abolishing that penalty for children under 18," said Hadi Ghaemi, coordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Since Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005, the total number of executions has quadrupled in Iran, rising from 86 cases in 2005 to 317 cases in 2007 – almost a 300-percent increase.

"The process has been so closed that many times we don't know the names of the executed people and whether they had a lawyer or if there was a proper judicial due process," Ghaemi told IPS.

In July, Iran hanged 29 men in a single day in Evin prison. But the identities of only 10 of them were announced.

"Another aspect of Mr. Ahmadinejad's administration has been very broad repression and a crackdown on activists from religious minorities to ethnic minorities, journalists, women right's activists and political dissidents," Ghaemi added. "The third aspect has been to ignore that there is a human rights crisis in Iran and refuse to hold any dialogue or interaction with the international community."

Before Ahmadinejad was elected, there was a so-called "critical dialogue", a long and productive process with the European Union, that was later on abandoned. The Iranian government has also completely ignored the United Nations' human rights mechanism.

"Together with North Korea, Myanmar and Turkmenistan they are the only countries that do not allow independent organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to conduct research and travel to the country," said Ghaemi.

"This has led the United Nations General Assembly to issue a resolution requiring the secretary-general to prepare a report of his own which should be presented to the president of General Assembly in the coming month – that is another reason to focus attention on this upcoming report, and the need to hold Mr. Ahmadinejad accountable in this front."

Mehrangiz Kar, an Iranian exile who teaches at Harvard University, said journalists should ask "why the ministry of intelligence of President Ahmadinejad continuously persecute the peaceful women rights activities and accuse them of acting against national interests to the point that they don't have even immunity to meet with each other inside their homes."

"Iranian women are not happy with Iran's legal system," she added.

Akbar Ganji, one of Iran's most prominent dissidents, who spent six years in detention, said at the press conference that democracy and human rights may not hold much value for western governments. "We are here as human rights defenders and therefore our issues are completely different than the issues of western powers versus Iran," he said.

"The present attention of western governments is focused on the nuclear issue and that Iran should accept to suspend the enrichment of uranium, but our issue is the systematic violation of human rights in Iran and a non-democratic political system that is very repressive," added Ganji.

As evidence, he pointed to the negotiations with the governments of Libya and North Korea. "Mr. Gaddafi [Libya's president] shut down his nuclear activities and Ms. Rice [the U.S. secretary of state] went to Libya and while she was there, there was no discussion or mention of widespread human rights violations," Ganji said.

"We are worried about a similar negotiating path with Iran that would completely avoid the human rights issues, said Ganji. "The American government and Iranian government are in negotiation in secretive and private at the moment. We do support negotiation and believe in diplomatic interaction and we want normalisation of relations and more public negotiation between two governments, but secretive negotiations could be dangerous, because it could lead to outcomes such as the one with Libya."

In response to a question about domestic criticisms of Ahmadinejad, Ganji told reporters that beyond the exploding inflation rate and lack of investment, in his belief, the government is a form of dictatorship.

"When there is no liberty and democracy we don't have the ability to make public the economic corruption, "he said. "The price of oil has multiplied during the past three years and unprecedented revenues have poured into the government pocket – but all of it is gone, without any major economic development."

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