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Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- Political Prisoners and Public Executions (Arseh Sevom)

Two Iranian muggers, just before their public execution on Sunday in Tehran

Arseh Sevom, the NGO promoting civil society and human rights in Iran, summarises latest developments within the country:

Prison furloughs have been given to a number of prisoners of conscience, even as Sakharov Prize winner Nasrin Sotoudeh was called back to prison after just three days.

Public executions spark debate, while Iranian State television airs an “exposé” of CIA spying. Parliament debates restricting foreign travel for all women under 40. The continuing house arrest of former Presidential candidates is called into question.

The Iranian Coalition for Peace reaches out to President Obama.

Brief Furlough for Nasrin Sotoudeh: Three Days 

Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was temporarily released from prison, The Guardian reports. It was her first furlough since she was jailed in September 2010.

The award-winner lawyer caused anger among authorities after representing several political activists and highlighting the execution of juveniles in Iran. Many believe it was her specific representation for Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is living in exile, that most upset Iranian authorities.

Sotoudeh was arrested in September 2010 and initially sentenced to 11 years in jail for “propaganda against the regime” and “acting against national security”. An appeals court later reduced the sentence to six years, which she is serving in Evin Prison.

As International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports, Sotoudeh returned to prison on Monday after just four days, even though authorities had earlier told the lawyer and her family that the furlough would be a long one.

After publication of news on Sotoudeh’s temporary release, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville said: “We hope that the temporary leave will be extended and that Ms. Sotoudeh will soon be indefinitely released”, the same hope her family had before she left her children with tearful eyes.

Several other political prisoners have also been released on furlough over the past few days, including student activist Bahareh Hedayat; journalists Bahman Ahmadi Amoui, Ahmad Zeidabadi, Mahsa Amrabadi, and Masoud Bastani, and lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah.

Public Execution: A Ceremony to Watch

Despite criticism and campaigns, Iranian authorities carried out public executions of two young men, involved in a mugging that was caught on video in November. They were hung on Sunday in Artist Park (Park-e-Honarmandan) in downtown Tehran.

The video of the mugging had been posted on social-networking websites, criticising the police for not acting to prevent crime.

In a break from Iranian criminal procedure, the two men were tried in Revolutionary Court, facing Abulfazal Salavati, "the hanging judge". The defendants wre convicted of the crime of moharebeh (waging war against God).

About 100 onlookers watched the hanging. New York Times journalist Thomas Erbrink was one of them:

Mr. Mafiha, in tears, laid his head on the shoulder of one of the executioners, who placed his arm around him. After the nooses were placed around their necks, both men were pulled up by the two cranes. They died silently as many in the crowd shouted in protest, while others used smartphone cameras to record the scene.

“This is not fair,” said one young man, crying loudly while being dragged away by another friend. “If they hadn’t been caught on camera this would have never happened to them.”

On 16 January, a man charged with rape was executed in public in Sabzevar in Khorasan Province at the city's Sports Complex. Hundreds of “spectators” attended the public hanging. Women, who are forbidden to go to sports events, were allowed to watch.

There have been a number of arguments against public execution, such as the negative effects on the mental health of onlookers and a likely increase in the general level of violence in society. Yet, as Radio Zamaneh reports, some MPs still support public execution.

Hooman Askary posts the response from netizens at Global Voices.

Meanwhile, Arseh Sevom has joined a group of 30 organizations calling for a halt to the execution of five Ahwazi Arabs who are being persecuted because of their dissent. Read the statement here.

Spy Games: The Hunter in the Trap

Bashgah-e Khabarnegaran and Fars News Agency were among the news websites reporting on the broadcast by Iranian State television of the film “The Hunter in the Trap", which describes the process of capturing alleged “CIA spies”.

The reproduction of the same article, almost verbatim. on numerous websites indicates that publicity was circulated by the Ministry of Intelligence itself, Al-Monitor suggests.

Several foreign nationals are named in the film. One of these men, a Czech citizen named “Matti Valuk”, claims that he was hired by a front company used by the CIA for intelligence gathering inside Iran in 2009. At the end of the documentary, the man called Valuk says that he is regretful if he placed any Iranian in danger as a result of his cooperation with the CIA.

At a recent event, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of the Revolutionary Guards, stated:

“We are committed by all possible means to preserve the accomplishments of the regime and the revolution, we are ever watchful as we move forward on this path toward a brighter tomorrow.”

The film may be a response to a recent US Government study on Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence that claimed an exaggerated figure of 30,000 employees. After much criticism, the study report has been withdrawn for revision.

Wanna Travel Abroad? What’s Your Gender?

In November 2012, Arseh Sevom reported on a bill that would restrict reavel for women.  This is getting attention again because it has now left the committee. RFE/RL [en] reports that after much criticism a small change has been made allowing women to get passports without permission. They still wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country without consent of their father or guardian, ISNA reports. Furthermore, a woman’s passport may be confiscated if her guardian changes his mind and opposes her travels abroad. Therefore, the potential confiscation of women’s passport is a new limitation.

Mousavi and Karroubi: Time to End the House Arrest

Three leaders of the Green Movement --- Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Zahra Rahnavard --- have been under strict house arrest since February 2011. They are back in the spotlight ahead of June's Presidential election.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has asked the Iranian government to release the trio. The working group stated that the government has held the opposition leaders without charges or a trial and so “violated international human rights law [and] also Iranian laws".

As Radio Zamaneh reports, MP Ali Motahhari stated that Mousavi and Karroubi should be given the right to speak in an open court and explain the truth:

“If Mousavi and Karroubi are convicted, then the Guardian Council must decide how someone who served as the prime minister for eight years and another who was speaker of parliament in two parliaments turned out this way… they must be heard and judged.”

Habibollah Asgharouladi, a senior Iranian politician, said on multiple occasions this month that he does not consider Mousavi and Karroubi as “leaders of sedition”, Iran Emrooz reports.

Delicate Attempts to Get Medicine to Iran

Sanctions have had serious effects on a number of Iranian patients. They are in need of life-saving drugs and sanctions are not helping them. Arseh Sevom has discussed the issue earlier, and the effects continue.

In a humanistic and artistic attempt, Canadian and Iranian Coalition for Peace addresses the problem with a video letter to President Obama.

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