Sunday, October 09, 2005

Human Rights in the Spotlight

Rooz Online:

Arash Motamed

The judiciary directive to release imprisoned student activists, which was initially requested by the "Association for the Defense of the Rights of Prisoners" that specifically called for the release of 34 prisoners, and the judiciary’s recent emphasis on the necessity of having juries for political trials are new initiatives from the ultra-conservatives now in the driving seat in Tehran that signal more than just simple administrative changes.

In less than three months since it has come to power, the administration of president Ahmadinejad, it appears is trying to come up with a more cohesive domestic and even foreign policy to change the image that Iran has acquired and which is a barrier to many of its larger goals. Political observers have interpreted these moves to indicate a change to moderation from the initial hardline policies of the government. But for a purpose. They call this strategy “attack to defend”. In their view, the regime is aggressively trying to remove the foreign threat through this approach which it strongly defends in the face of public and even official criticism.But attack what to defend what? READ MORE

One interpretation offered by a trial attorney who preferred to remain anonymous is that the government wants to separate the intelligence forces from the Judiciary in an effort to lay the groundwork to resolve its human rights headaches domestically and internationally. Observers acknowledge the colossal challenges that Iran currently faces, namely the three issues of nuclear policy, human rights, and the Middle East policy. They also believe that the government is acutely aware of the burden of these issues, and thus it’s attempts to alter them. These issues have been expressly listed by no other than Ali Larijani, the chairman of the Supreme National Security Council, indicating their knowledge of why we are where we are today. The attack is to tackle the first two issues. The strategy of the regime seems to be to resolve the first two problems, to reduce or end the pressure on the third one, ie its Middle East, or Israel policy. This is the defense part. After all, in the words of one seasoned politician, “The Islamic Republic will remain what it is even if it forgoes the drive to acquire nuclear weapons or technology and changes its human rights practices. But it will no longer be viewed as the Islamic Republic if it changes its policy towards Israel, in the eyes of those who support it.” So the first two must be resolved to defend the third one. Attack or tackle the first two to defend the third.

The events of the last two weeks since the UN General Assembly meeting and the IAEA resolution indicate that hardline decision-makers are well aware of the importance of these issues. In the words of a university professor “To label hardliner politicians as ignorant is a street interpretation of their intelligence. These politicians, whose only bits are apparent to the public, have been successful in eliminating all their opposing forces step by step and have in due course consolidated all power into their own hands”, he adds. Now that they have all the institutions in their hands, they wish to show that the political atmosphere has changed and things can be moved forward.

The first event that signaled the arrival of a new atmosphere was the approach to Akbar Ganji’s case. Officials decided to take the international spotlight off his case. If sending him to prison in the first place was a tactical mistake, then sending him to Milad hospital put the case in the headlines of major international newspapers to the point where prominent world leaders began calling for his release. Had Ganji not be taken to the darkroom from the international spotlight, it is quite possible that his case may have dominated world attention as much as Iran’s nuclear issue has. Now, he is only among the 34 prisoners that the Association for the Defense of the Rights of Prisoners lists for freedom. This request diminishes Ganji’s prominence and international heroism. He is no longer the lonely star out there, but among 33 other political prisoners who deserve to be freed immediately. The list contains many prominent names, but it also astutely contains names of little known activists.

This clever step comes with a simple judicial directive, but it can relieve a heavy burden on the Islamic Republic. A request similar to the one made by the Association had been repeatedly made by Iranian and international organizations since former president Khatami’s second year in office, always falling on deaf ears. The Association’s request was written by the president of the organization after extensive talks with officials with the aim of “altering the conditions or freeing the political prisoners”, as he puts it.

In the words of a journalist, “this request originated during Khatami’s administration, but only materialized in the current one” , indicating the perceived need by the new administration to change things about Iran. The related official news that a question and answer session with three national-religious political prisoners is to take place is not coincidental and seen to be directly related to Shahrudi’s announcement of the new prisoner release directive. The other news that Abdolfattah Soltani, an attorney prisoner in connection with the Zahra Kazemi murder case, will be soon released comes also in the same light. Again unrelated to all of this and in the direction of making changing regarding Iran, is the news that Shahrudi announced about the need to have a jury for a court to oversee political offenses, like the one that is advocated for press issues. Regardless of how this step is implemented, it is interpreted to be of a democratic nature. Shahrudi also announced the release of student prisoners on “Student Day”, while ISNA student news agency reported the compilation of the list of students that qualify for this directive. According to the Minister of Justice Jamal Karimirad, “all of the 15 students will be released, regardless of the nature of their cases.”

These sweeping drives indicate the desire and will on the part of the administration to change the image of the country. What else do they mean and what will follow next is open to interpretation.


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