While the international community continues to focus in on Iran’s nuclear capabilities and ballistic missile tests, as well as the latest sanctions from the United States, Iran’s ruling regime continues to suppress its people and their most basic rights.
Those who try to speak out for human rights and the basic dignity due to all individuals, regardless of their race, creed, or religion, are receiving the heavy hand of oppression. It has become even more intense under President Rouhani, who was just elected for a second term in office.
According to a recent report from Amnesty International, the Iranian authorities have cracked down on human rights defenders during Rouhani’s terms, demonizing and imprisoning activists who dare to stand up for people’s rights.
The Iranian regime has given their judicial authorities the ability to invoke a vague and overly-broad “national security” related charges, while sharply increasing the length of prison sentences given to convicted human rights activists.
Throughout a succession of recent cases, people have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms for acts that should not even be considered crimes. These include contact with the EU and the UN, as well as contacting media outlets, international trade union associations and human rights groups outside of Iran. The regime labels these individuals as foreign agents and traitors, making them out to be villains in their state-run media.
Throughout Amnesty’s report, Caught in a Web of Repression: Iran’s Human Rights Defenders Under Attack, provides a comprehensive overview of the crackdown, which has targeted activists from key battlegrounds for human rights in Iran.
One of the clearest cases demonstrating the issues in Iran is the case of human rights activist Arash Sadeghi. He is serving a total of 19 years in prison for communicating with Amnesty, sending information to the UN Special Rapporteur, and members of the European Parliament. Despite his critically ill condition, the authorities continue to block his transfer to a hospital outside of the prison in reprisal for a hunger strike that he staged last year in protest of the imprisonment of his wife, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, who was arrested and imprisoned for writing a fictional story about stoning.
Another activist, Narges Mohammadi, who led the Centre for Human Rights Defenders in Iran, is serving a 16-year prison sentence. The criminal case against her was opened in reprisal for a meeting she had with the EU’s former foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, on International Women’s Day in 2014.
These are just a few examples of Iran’s war on human rights activists.
“The international community, and in particular the EU, must not stay silent over the outrageous treatment of human rights defenders in Iran,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director for Amnesty International. “Instead of appeasing Iranian officials, the EU should forcefully call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those jailed for their peaceful human rights activism and for an end to the misuse of the justice system to silence activists.”
He also noted the irony that as the Iranian authorities boast about their increased engagement with the EU and UN, they are imprisoning human rights defenders for their contact with those same institutions.