Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- Sanctions, Awards for Political Prisoners, and the Supreme Leader on Facebook (Arseh Sevom)
Arseh Sevom, the NGO promoting civil society and human rights in Iran, reviews the latest developments inside the country:
Some people in Iran are feeling the effects of shortages of medicine and high prices, while an artist challenges passersby at the United Nations to confront the growing problem.
Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi receive the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in absentia, sending messages for justice and freedom, as imprisoned human rights activists call for others to spread the call for dignity. Mohammad Maleki, the former Chancellor Tehran University, is summoned to serve a six-year prison term. Journalists call for an end to the intimidation of political prisoners' family members by interrogators.
The Supreme Leader gets a Facebook page, as Parliament debates election reform and reduced powers for the President and Human Rights Watch issues a report on the more than 40,000 Iranians seeking asylum abroad while a photographer shows us that life in Iran goes on.
Crippling Sanctions Continue
Stories of the suffering of people in Iran as a result of a shortage of medicine or high prices due to crippling sanctions are commonplace. Although one cannot only blame the sanctions — the government’s mismanagement of the health sector and medical provisions also needs to be taken into consideration — victims of such policies are mounting on a daily basis.
The Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child released a statement voicing concern about the situation and calling for the lifting of sanctions from medical supplies. The Society urged officials to implement better protective measures, and it urged physicians and others to do anything in their power to protect children from more pain and suffering.
In collaboration with Havaar and Sanctioned Life, Iranian artist Sanaz Sohrabi performed her "Sanctions; Silent War” in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York. She filled thousands of pill capsules with the real-life stories of Iranian patients whose lives have been affected by sanctions, and gave them to people passing by, asking them to open the capsules and read the messages inside.
Sotoudeh’s Dream: Realization of Justice
By awarding the Sakharov Prize to lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and film director Jafar Panahi in absentia, the European Parliament acknowledged their plight and their outstanding efforts in their incessant struggle for human dignity, fundamental freedoms, and political change in Iran. In their acceptance speeches, delivered by Nobel laureate Dr Shirin Ebadi and the filmmaker Costa Gavras, Sotoudeh and Panahi expressed their gratitude for the prize as a symbol of encouragement.
Panahi dedicated the prize to “all the anonymous fighters for freedom, to all those who are fighting for peace in the whole world.” In her thank-you letter, Sotoudeh dedicated the prize to “all the political prisoners of Iran and the world".
“I have only one dream; the dream of the realization of justice and I believe that this dream will be realized in my country, by juridical independence,” said Nasrin Sotoudeh in the speech delivered by Ebadi. “Governments should know that in order to maintain their existence, they have no choice but to observe the rights of every individual/”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry responded: “Unfortunately, the European Union and its affiliated bodies have a selective approach to and objectify [sic] human rights matters, and pursue their political objectives by raising such issues.”
The Iranian Parliament has been debating amendments to its election laws over the past two weeks. The aims of the changes, proposed by nearly one-third of MPs are to 1) give Oarliament increased power in Iran’s cumbersome Presidential vetting process while 2) reducing the role of the executive branch in elections.
Jahan e Sanat presented a comprehensive report on proceedings for the bill, highlighting the influences of the Intelligence Ministry and Hawza (Islamic seminary) in the proposed reforms.
Dr. Mohammed Maleki, the former Chancellor of Tehran University, wrote an open letter to Supreme Leader last month, urging Ayatollah Khamenei “to accept that Iran is at the verge of collapse". He asked Khamenei to resign, followed by a free and fair referendum about the state of the country.
Maleki was summoned to Evin Prison last week to serve the six-year prison sentence imposed on him soon after the disputed 2009 Presidential election.
Six Iranian human rights activists behind bars issued a statement calling for greater resistance to rights abuse and the condemnation of Iran’s widespread use of the death penalty. Their statement calls upon all activists to put in “greater effort to spread an understanding of human rights and the protection of human dignity in society".
Head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani has received a letter from 117 journalists calling for protection for the family of imprisoned journalist Alireza Rajaei from “threats, harassment, and violence.”
The journalists referred to a letter from another political prrisoner Abolfazl Ghadiani, describing interrogators' unethical intimidation.
For International Migration Day on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch [HRW] released a report on Iranian activists who have fled the country in the three years since the disputed 2009 Presidential election.
The 60-page report “Why They Left: Stories of Iranian Activists in Exile” documents the experiences of dozens of rights defenders, journalists and bloggers, and lawyers targeted by security and intelligence forces because they spoke out against the Government. The report concludes that, due to the crackdown against popular dissent by security and intelligence forces, the “space in Iran for civil society has been shrinking” since 2009.
The report found that close to 45,000 Iranians sought asylum in 44 countries over the period of 2009 to 2011.
Supreme Leader and the [Filtered] Social Media
Although social media websites are blocked in Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has launched his own page on Facebook. According to the Guardian, the news came from Khamenei’s Twitter account, believed to be run by his office. Khamenei’s official website has not yet confirmed the existence of the page, but Baztab, a conservative news website, said the account was run by his office.
The Supreme Leader's office has already been active on Twitter and Instagram, despite the sites being labelled as part of the “western soft war".
Will the leader’s face end up in an advertisement as a result of his use of Instagram? Only time will tell.
Life Goes On…Colourful Iran
Brandon Stanton started a documentary project to create a photographic census of nearly every New Yorker a while ago. The project, Humans of New York, has an active blog and an even more active Facebook page.
This month Brandon has been posting images from Iran. It is a different, interesting portrayal of the country, to be put alongside the negative news we hear everyday