Nobel laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi has accused Iran's judiciary of laying the foundations for the “silent death” of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience and President Rouhani of lying about the human rights situation in the country.
A recent report by the Defenders of Human Rights Center [Persian link] sets out the Islamic Republic's recent violations of the human rights of teachers, workers, children and other groups, as well as violations of civil, political and cultural rights. Ebadi, co-founder and the president of the center, says the situation for human rights in Iran has not improved in recent months.
Over the course of the last few months, and especially at the start of the new academic year, many teachers have risen to protest in support of their imprisoned colleagues, which include Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi, secretary-general and spokesman of the Teachers Association of Iran, who faces 14 years in prison. Many prisoners across Iran have gone on hunger strike, but the judiciary has basically shrugged them off. Workers who have peacefully demonstrated against unpaid wages have been beaten and arrested.
Among all this civil unrest, however, it was the photograph of the journalist Alireza Rajaei after his cancer surgery that poignantly symbolized the “silent death” the report by the Defenders of Human Rights Center documents.
In an interview with IranWire, Shirin Ebadi said the judiciary is deliberately ignoring the legal and just demands of prisoners of conscience to force them into obedience. “Anyone who agrees to cooperate and commits to it,” says Ebadi, “is released much earlier than what the verdict demands. And, while in prison, they get to enjoy many privileges. But those who resist and insist on their legal rights are subjected to illegal pressures that force them to go on hunger strike. And the judiciary is quite happy to see anything bad happen to political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. When we say that it has prepared the grounds for the silent death of these prisoners we mean that it wants to silence them any which way it can, physically or psychologically.”
In the Iranian month of Shahrivar — from August 23 to September 22 — authorities arrested more than 75 cultural and civil activists, handed down illegal sentences to many political activists and banned at least 115 Baha’i students from pursuing higher education. The Islamic Republic executed at least 22 people, some in public and others secretly. And the neglect of the medical needs of prisoners continued, even in cases where prisoners required emergency medical attention.
Rouhani did not Keep his Campaign Promises
Given the range of violations, Shirin Ebadi concludes that the situation for human rights in Iran remains deplorable, and has shown no improvement. President Hassan Rouhani has begun his second term without his campaign promises being realized. “They imprison teachers because they demand a minimum living wage. Workers who demand their unpaid wages are beaten and thrown into jail,” she says. Furthermore, people are offered no protection when they deposit their money into banks and financial institutions licensed by the government. “Heterodox thinkers like Mohammad Ali Taheri are sentenced to death. All of this goes to show that the situation for human rights in Iran has not changed and has not improved.”
Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence is the plaintiff in many cases brought against journalists, activists and dissident Baha’i students. According to Ebadi, President Rouhani routinely blames the ministry in an attempt to defend his own human rights record — but the ministry is supposed to work under the supervision of the president.
Always Someone Else to Blame
Ebadi points out that Iran’s judiciary has not been independent or unbiased for many, many years. Rouhani, she says, has been a part of the country’s security establishment since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979. So the president has learned very well how to shirk his own responsibilities. “As a result,” she says, “the ball is always in the judiciary’s court. It is somebody else who is guilty. Everything he says is a lie. He says the dissidents have been arrested by the judiciary, whereas the plaintiff in most cases has been none other than the intelligence ministry, including the cases against the Defenders of Human Rights Center and people who have worked with it, such as Narges Mohammadi and Abdolfattah Soltani. They went to prison as a result of complaints lodged by the intelligence ministry.”
The judicial process begins when a complaint is filed but, according to Ebadi, 90 percent of these cases are not lodged by private plaintiffs. “The intelligence ministry comes forward as the plaintiff and the prosecutor bases its indictment on what the ministry wants. And the court issues its prison sentences the same way.
“Hassan Rouhani is the president and the intelligence minister is a member of his cabinet,” says Ebadi. “How can the president say that he is not guilty of illegal actions [carried out] by the intelligence ministry? He cannot escape responsibility. The responsibility for political prisoners and prisoners of conscience rests with both the judiciary and the person of [Judiciary Chief] Sadegh Larijani and with the intelligence ministry and President Rouhani.”
Ebadi argues that the survival of a government depends on its respect for human rights. “If a government wants the society to remain calm and not disintegrate, then it must respect human rights,” she says. “Any government that violates human rights will have the same fate as Bashar al-Assad. The Assad family ruled for close to 50 years while violating human rights — until at last people rose up. To remain in power, he has been willing to let his country turn into a mound of rubble, to let three million Syrians become refugees and close to one million lose their lives. This is the fate of a government that ruled for years by violating human rights. Other governments will be toppled eventually if they violate human rights continuously and grossly. Resisting the demands of the people will destroy the country — as it did in Syria — and they will be damned forever in the eyes of history and the people of their own country. Does Bashar al-Assad have an answer for history and the people of his country?”