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The state of human rights in Islamic Republic of Iran has been the subject of concern for both Iranians and the international community. Iranian human right activists, many writers, and NGOs have protested abuses, while the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Commission have condemned abuses in Iran in published critiques and several resolutions.

The State of Human Rights in Iran:
Iran is ruled by religious fundamentalists who recognize no secular rule of law or traditional concept of natural rights. Although Iran technically holds elections (from a slate of candidates chosen by the Ayatollah), they wield only as much power as the Ayatollah chooses to grant at the time.

Speech, Press, and Assembly:
Free speech, as such, does not exist in Iran. Human rights activists and other perceived agitators are subject to beatings, arrests, torture, and disappearance.

Women's Rights:
In Iran, women can vote and run for Parliament and are not prohibited from traveling freely, but they are also subject to police beatings and torture for violating perceived social norms, are not protected from domestic violence, and are discriminated against in other subtle ways (such as inheritance law).

Racism:
Arabs (who make up 3%) of the population), Azeris (who make up 24%), and Kurds (who make up 7%) are frequently subject to racial profiling and mass arrests at cultural functions. Although there are very few Jews in Iran, vicious antisemitism is also a serious problem.

Beatings, Arrests, Torture, and Executions:
Iranian police tend to respond to peaceful political demonstrations by viciously beating and arresting protesters, who are then subject to further beatings, torture, sexual assault, and denial of medical treatment in prison. Iran formally executed 94 prisoners in 2005, and many more died in prison under mysterious circumstances.


Prognosis:
Although Iran's democratic processes are circumvented by the theocratic government structure, the Ayatollah's power is rooted in the support he receives from large segments of the population. A substantial shift in public opinion, leading to the consistent election of reformist candidates, could result in the long-term liberalization of Iranian human rights policy. This process seemed to be underway in 1997, when a surge of reformist voters--primarily women and young adult males--elected philosophy professor Mohammed Khatami, who was reelected in 2001. But Iran is more nationalist than it is reformist, and when conflict between the United States and Iran reached a fever pitch during the U.S.-led "war on terror," and the emerging possibility of a much more literal war between the United States and Iran, the Iranian people responded by reasserting more conservative Islamic values. This led to the election of anti-reformist candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, along with the election of a clear conservative majority in Iran's parliament. Ahmadinejad has been able to successfully antagonize Western nations, then exploit the resulting fear of a Western-led invasion in order to generate more political support. This self-sustaining process has further stonewalled the work of Iran's reformers, but whether or not it will function as an effective long-term political strategy remains to be seen.

The government of Iran is criticized for both official acts, i.e. restrictions and punishments that follow the Islamic Republic's constitutional and law; and extra-legal acts, i.e. torture of prisoners, or beatings and killings of dissidents and other civilians by groups associated with or protected by the government.

Legal acts violating international human rights norms include harsh penalties for crimes - amputation of offenders hands and feet; punishment of "victimless" crimes such as fornication, homosexuality, apostacy, poor hijab (covering of the head for women); execution of offenders under 18 years of age; restrictions on freedom of speech, and the press, including the imprisonment of journalists; unequal treatment according to religion and gender in the Islamic Republic's constitution - especially attacks on members of the Bahá'í religion.

Extra-legal acts that have been condemned include firebombing of newspaper offices by "Hezbollahi," or the murder of dozens of regime opponents allegedly by "rogue elements" of the government.

Most, if not all of these issues are also violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the Islamic Republic has not agreed to.

One defense made of the Islamic Republic's human rights record is that Iranians lack a fear of speaking out. Iranians are very willing to criticize their government publicly to strangers. In neighboring Syria "taxi driver[s] rarely talk politics; the Iranian[s] will talk of nothing else.

Although Iran's democratic processes are circumvented by the theocratic government structure, the Ayatollah's power is rooted in the support he receives from large segments of the population. A substantial shift in public opinion, leading to the consistent election of reformist candidates, could result in the long-term liberalization of Iranian human rights policy.

This process seemed to be underway in 1997, when a surge of reformist voters--primarily women and young adult males--elected philosophy professor Mohammed Khatami, who was reelected in 2001. But Iran is more nationalist than it is reformist, and when conflict between the United States and Iran reached a fever pitch during the U.S.-led "war on terror," and the emerging possibility of a much more literal war between the United States and Iran, the Iranian people responded by reasserting more conservative Islamic values. This led to the election of anti-reformist candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, along with the election of a clear conservative majority in Iran's parliament.

Ahmadinejad has been able to successfully antagonize Western nations, then exploit the resulting fear of a Western-led invasion in order to generate more political support. This self-sustaining process has further stonewalled the work of Iran's reformers, but whether or not it will function as an effective long-term political strategy remains to be seen.

 


 

 


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