Despite several years in his office, President Hassan Rouhani has not been able to deliver on his campaign promise of greater respect for civil and political rights. Just the opposite is true.
The security apparatus and judiciary continued to crackdown on citizens for the legitimate exercise of their very basic rights, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech or choice.
What’s more, Iranian dual nationals and citizens returning from abroad were at particular risk of arrest by intelligence authorities, accused of being “Western agents.” Many Iranians, including athletes, scientists and artists that bear any kind of connection to the foreign world, live in constant fear of imprisonment and torture. This fear hinders them in their career and restrains them from pursuing their goals.
Way too many executions, severe punishment for adolescent
Under Iranian law, many nonviolent crimes, such as “insulting the Prophet,” apostasy, same-sex relations, adultery, and drug-related offenses, are punishable by death.
If Iran is to be taken seriously on the international scene, and if the citizens of the country are to have any real level freedom, these nonviolent crimes must stopped being punished by death.
New amendments to Iran’s penal code allow judges to use their discretion not to sentence children to death. However, Iran continued to execute children in 2016, which underline the reports from Amnesty International, regarding Hassan A. and other more than 40 inmates who’d been sentenced to death before reaching the age of eighteen.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) children had been subjected to electric shocks to “cure” them. The electric shocks leave a permanent trace in your brain, and according to internationally recognized statistics, in more than 1% of cases they may actually kill the person subjected to the shocks, and in more than 10% of cases they electric shocks will change their perception of reality for the rest of their lives.
Bad treatment of prisoners, foul trials
Iranian courts allegedly used confessions obtained under torture as evidence in court. Iranian law restricts the right for a defendant to access a lawyer, particularly during the investigation period. What’s more, foreigners were often denied the interpreters for their trial, or could not choose them freely, and were left on mercy of their investigators.
Several political prisoners and individuals charged with national security crimes suffered from a lack of adequate access to medical care under detention. The same can be said about Christians imprisoned in Iran, who were repeatedly reported to being denied proper (or any) medical care.
Limited freedom of expression
Space for free speech and dissent remained highly restricted, and authorities continued to arrest and charge journalists, bloggers, and online media activists for exercising their right to freedom of expression. They are often subject to prolonged stays in solitary confinement, and both physical and psychological torture.
Hundreds of websites, including social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, remained blocked in Iran. Many people find the way to bypass the block using proxy servers (very common and available for free to the Iranians), but they are still at risk of imprisonment, should the security forces find their activity.
As we found in the book recently published as a memoir from Evin prison (University of Solitude), many people are sentenced to several months or even years for their activity on social networks. Posting a single joke about any of religious leaders, or perhaps just liking a cartoon that suggest such a joke, can lead to severe flogging and imprisonment.
Women still suffering
Iranian women face a discrimination in personal status matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. A woman is not allowed to leave the country without an approval of her husband. Women can not attend mass sporting events, and some cultural events as well. They are allowed to practice sports, but only with strong restrictions regarding their clothing and training, which results in the poor results on the international scene, since with the restrictions their face they can never really compete with female athletes from around the world.
Child-marriages still continue in Iran, as they still allow girls as young as 13 to marry a man. Needless to say, in this age, the girl is under full control of her parents and is not in a position to understand what the marriage means for her life, or to have any word regarding her future husband.
Treatment of minorities
Though officially allowed to practice their religion and culture, minorities continue to be suppressed by the governmental forces. Baha’is, Sunnis, Azeris, Christians, and members of other religious minorities continue to be persecuted and sentenced to long periods of imprisonment.
The historic nuclear deal and promise of sanctions relief – initially raised hopes among foreign companies eager to tap into the Middle East’s second largest economy. Iranians expected to quickly notice improvements in their quality of life. But nothing of that happens.
The Islamic Republic still faced significant challenges, triggered not only by sanctions, but by years of profligate spending and economic mismanagement. Iran was even slipping towards a recession. Domestic production stagnated. Low oil prices squeezed the state budget. And unemployment remained stubbornly above ten percent.
And all those numbers don’t even reflect the life of an average Iranian, especially those living outside of Tehran area.
Official government statistics report that ‘just’ ten million people live below the poverty line. However, knowing how the local reporting works, we can certainly say that the number is much higher.
What’s more, since the minorities are discriminated in both education, employment, and business, their members often struggle financially though having adequate knowledge and capacities to strive. They’re just not allowed to fulfill their potential in Iran.
Many foreign ministers, including those from France and Germany (the European super powers) were quick enough to visit Iran and sign new deals for cooperation. However, we must think who we support with our engagement in the region, with our investments. Do we support ordinary people, or just the government and security forces who continue to oppress them, enjoying the ever growing profits?
Iranprimner – Blog on the economic situation in the country, and the newly started international relations.
University of Solitude – Memoirs from Iranian Prison
Human Rights Watch Report on Iran – Extensive analysis of human rights in the country in 2016
How can we help?
There are various non-profit organizations that try to help the current situation in Iran. You can help the Iranians regaining their freedom and rights by supporting one of these organization. Human Rights Watch (cited above) and Red Cross are some of the organizations.
However, considering the structure of governing bodies in Iran and the power they posses (and control they have in their hands), if the situation is ever to improve, the masses of Iran have to take action. We are here to support them, and encourage them to fight their good fight for the freedom of their country.
Show your solidarity
You would wonder how little general public in Europe, or United States, know about the current state of affairs in Iran. The country is often demonized in the media, with the emphasis on the governmental forces and their politics.
Little is told about the destinies of common, ordinary people, and the problems they face. If you search the internet, however, reading independent blogs and books discussing the situation in Iran from the point of view of prisoners or local bloggers, you’ll find such stories. Sharing them you help to spread the word. We should not be mere puppets manipulated by the mass media and their intentions (making profit). We should have our word, show our opinions, and support those who need it, since their very basic rights are suppressed. Remember, if we don’t take a stand against inequality and torture in other countries, we may soon enough find ourselves standing in their shoes… Please support the Iranians, and share their stories. Thank you!