On Monday, Tasnim News Agency posted a laughable article about Iran’s human rights situation, quoting the deputy head of the judiciary’s Human Rights Council as saying that “most advanced laws for the protection of human rights are enforced in Iran,” and that these laws put Iran ahead of most of the world in terms of protection of human rights.
As I read the article, I was reminded of an early episode of The Simpsons, titled “Kamp Krusty.” In it, Bart Simpson receives his predictably terrible report card at the end of the school year and is dismayed that it might bar him from receiving promised reward from his parents. On the bus ride home, he carefully changes each of the grades from “D-” to “A+”. When he shows his sister, she laughs out loud at him, and when he takes it home his father scoffs and gives him a typically Simpsonian bit of morally dubious advice: “A ‘D’ turns into a ‘B’ real easy, boy. You got greedy.”
It would be one thing for Iranian officials to dispute a certain portion of the human rights abuses that they’re accused of virtually on a daily basis; it is quite another for them to attempt to unilaterally reverse their well-publicized record and claim that they’re actually one of the most human governments on the face of the Earth, that all of their “D”s are actually “A”s.
If there’s one thing that paints the Islamic Republic of Iran as a fascist regime, it’s this level of arrogance, which leads them to believe that they are so fully in control of reality that they can contradict the statements of numerous foreign governments, United Nations experts, and respected human rights groups, and just expect their citizenry to swallow their lies whole.
This sort of aggressive disregard for truth and common sense makes me angry when I see it on display among public figures in my own country or anywhere in the world. But thank God that when that happens in reasonably democratic countries I can be fairly confident that politicians and pundits aren’t lying about the very existence of rampant executions, false imprisonment, and institutionalized repression of minorities and the press.
Iran routinely claims that the UN’s reports about its human rights abuses aren’t trustworthy because the special rapporteur, Ahmad Shaheed is somehow politically biased. Okay. It’s hard to imagine why that would be true since, as a former Maldivian minister of foreign affairs he doesn’t really have a dog in this fight. But assuming it is true, it’s enough to bump up one of Iran’s grades from a “D-” to a “C”, maybe a “C+”. But if Iran’s judiciary wants to make that “D” into an “A” it’s really going to have to do a lot more than pound its fist on the desk and whine that the teacher is just out to get them. The fact remains that they’re still failing the Human Rights 101 tests, and there’s nothing they can do to dispute that.
Claims of political bias can’t explain away the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center’s assiduously maintained records of 721 executions in Iran in the year 2014. Neither can it refute the Committee to Protect Journalists’ determination that in the same year Iran was second worst in the world for the unlawful imprisonment of journalists. In the West, we’re well aware of that problem, even if not the scope of it, because of the arrest last July of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who has yet to have a coherent case against him articulated by the Iranian judiciary.
Similarly, we’re aware of the problem of institutionalized religious persecution because of the now two years of imprisonment suffered by Boise-based Pastor Saeed Abedini. No amount of “advanced laws for the protection of human rights” in Iran can make up for the fact that the country’s advanced theocratic legal system allows people to be arrested, prosecuted, and potentially sentenced to death for crimes like “insulting the prophet” and “enmity against God.”
The sensitivity of these issues to Western audiences makes me wonder why in hell Tasnim even decided to publish the “we love human rights” story in English. Who could they possibly be expecting to reach with these hilariously obvious lies? I understand that English is practically a lingua franca for the globe, but are there even any non-Farsi speakers in the broader Middle East who would buy into Tasnim’s bizarrely ham-fisted propaganda? I can’t imagine anyone being that stupid unless they were being actively smothered within Tehran’s media bubble.
Ironically enough, that media bubble was actually another feature of the Islamic Republic that Kazem Gharibabadi, they deputy head of the Human Rights Council, cited as a reason for why Iran is one of the top defenders of human rights. As Tasnim puts it, he claimed that “the existence of over 6,000 publications and more than 120 news agencies as well as news websites in the country is indicative of the fact that the Islamic Republic attaches great significance to the issue of freedom of expression.”
Well, no, not really. The sheer number of media outlets obviously doesn’t mean a damn thing if a huge proportion of them state owned, or have a controlling state interest, or are subject to tight government restrictions and could be shut down at any minute for any perceived infraction, and often are indeed shut down and then re-opened.
How outlandishly arrogant does a regime have to be to expect that people will believe their propaganda as long as they can get that propaganda with a few hundred different brand names attached to it? To claim that that is one of the regime’s merits is like rushing home with your report card after school and saying, “Look, dad! My grades are still all ‘D-‘, but at least now I’ve got 6,000 of them!”
Edward Carney is a freelance writer and editor residing in New York State. He holds a degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies from New York University, having pursued these disciplines in the interest of helping to foster inter-religious, inter-personal, and inter-political understanding. As a ghostwriter he has been published in both the popular and academic press, and under his own name he contributes to political blogs on topics including civil rights, ethics, and poverty.