11-6-14 – Human Rights Erode in Iran Despite “Reformist” President

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS—Despite what many observers see as a politically reformist presidency of Hassan Rouhani, the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran remains dire.  A recently released UN report paints a grim picture of widespread executions, a tarnished judicial system, systematic religious persecution, and widespread discrimination against women.  

Ahmed Shaheed, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Iran stated his case succinctly; “the main concerns in my report deal with issues of right to life” thus responding to the “surge in executions in the past 12 to 15 months.”  Some of these include execution of juvenile offenders. 

The report states that at least 852 individuals were executed between July 2013 and June 2014, representing an “alarming” increase over previous years.   

Addressing the press, Dr. Shaheed cited, “widening range of offenses” for which people are put to death, including economic crimes and for political activities.  

Shaheed, a former diplomat from the Maldives islands, has been given the thankless task of monitoring the human rights situation in Iran.  He has been the UN’s investigator since 2011.   Not surprisingly, he and his team have been barred from entry into the Islamic Republic.

Clearly, while many in the West wish to rationalize that Iran’s reformist President Hassan Rouhani is presiding over a rapidly changing country, the stark reality remains that the Islamic Republic rests under the grip of the hardline guardians of the Revolution.  Rouhani, despite aspirations for change since being elected last year, has only limited political maneuver room in a repressive theocratic society.  The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Kahmeini has been in power since 1989 and holds the levers of both religious and political power.

There are some superficial changes to be sure.  The country’s new penal code has omitted references to apostasy, witchcraft and heresy as crimes but even in Islamic Iran the calendar shows 2014.   In other cases, people can be executed for economic crimes and, not surprisingly, political offenses. 

Religious persecution continues as the mainstream Shiite branch of Islam opposes the ancient Baha’i faith as well as Christian communities. 

Shaheed stresses, “Of increasing concern to me is the worsening situation of women in the country.”  The number of women enrolled in University has dropped from 62% to 48 % over a two-year period.  Gender discrimination is built into the Islamic Republic’s way of life.  Forced and underage marriages are commonplace.

In 2011, the report cites over 48,000 girls aged between 10 and 14 getting married.  

On the official side, only three percent of seats in Parliament are held by women. 

Recently, the Rapporteur raised opposition to the regime’s execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari, a young woman hanged for allegedly killing a man who was trying to sexually abuse her. There were serious legal concerns over the accused woman’s Tehran trial.

Naturally, freedom of the press and the free flow of information is curtailed.  At least 35 journalists are in detention.  Severe content restrictions hamper websites and 500 sites are blocked according to the survey.  Specifically, 190 sites deal with arts, another 164 with social issues, and 107 with news content.  

Budgets for the Ministry of Intelligence and Security have jumped by 87 percent in the past year, leading observers to voice concerns over more effective online censorship and web control.

Though monitoring the dim status of Iran’s human rights is not linked with seemingly perpetual diplomatic negotiations on the Islamic Republic’s efforts towards nuclear proliferation, the glaring fact remains that governments which abuse their own populations human rights hardly seem like trustworthy stakeholders to control the nuclear genie.   


John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues.  He’s the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014)

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