The video also made brief reference to the positive reception that Rouhani received from some Western leaders at the time of his first speech to the United Nations. A follow-up to this speech is set for Monday when Rouhani visits the current session of the UN General Assembly. As previously pointed out by Iran News Update, a number of rights organizations and Iranian dissident groups are using this occasion to attempt to bring renewed international attention to the persistent abuse of human rights and criminalization of dissent.
The International Campaign distributed an open letter this week urging all world leaders to use every interaction with Iranian officials to pressure them on the human rights issue. The non-profit organization has been joined in this effort not only by other groups with a similar focus but also by individual advocates for individual victims or the Iranian regime’s repressions and political imprisonments.
On Thursday, the International Campaign pointed out, for instance, that the mother of imprisoned physics graduate student Omid Kokabee had written a letter to the supreme leader of Iran, calling it her “last resort” in a more than four year-long effort to secure her son’s release. The letter notes that Kokabee is now marking the beginning of his fifth academic year behind bars, and that prison officials have recently begun to bar him from even reading textbooks.
This particular measure reflects a broader set of repressions against him, which seem to confirm his status as a political prisoner targeted by hardline authorities on the basis of perceived dissent. Kokabee was arrested in 2011 on a trip home from his graduate studies in the United States, reportedly because he refused to participate in a military program for the Iranian government.
Since that time, his mother notes, he has been kept from seeing his family and has been denied furlough and medical treatment even as his health has continued to deteriorate as a result of stress and mistreatment. His uninterrupted detention reportedly violates several provisions of Iranian law, which provides for parole hearings that were never given in his case, as well as precluding him from being sentenced to multiple back-to-back prison terms as he was.
Though such sentencing is illegal under Iran’s new Islamic penal code, it is still quite commonplace in the case of political prisoners. Many such prisoners are also subjected to additional trials and sentencing while still in prison, in order to artificially add years to their existing sentences. This tactic was recently used, for instance, in the case of Bahareh Hadayet, the longest-serving prisoner from among those activists who were arrested during the Green Movement protests following the 2009 Iranian presidential election. Her five year sentence ended this past June, but she was never released and the judiciary subsequently decided to enforce a two-year suspended sentence despite its statute of limitations having expired in 2012.
In another, even more recent example, the International Campaign reported on Thursday that Rassoul Badaghi, a prominent teachers’ rights activist, was recently condemned to an additional three years in prison just as he was nearing the end of his six-year sentence. Badaghi is one of at least seven teachers’ rights activists in prison today, and the regime’s commitment to keeping him behind bars is indicative of how threatened it has been by the recent wave of teacher protests, which became especially visible following the announcement of a national budget that keeps their rate of pay below Iran’s poverty line.
But the imprisonments of Badaghi and some of his colleagues are related to the participation of teacher organizations in much more general activism for labor rights and human rights. Consequently, there are many more such victims of political imprisonment among Iran’s legal community and its general population. What’s more, the regime may even target the families of these individuals in some cases, especially cases of especially longstanding and prominent activists.
This tendency was on display on Thursday when IranWire reported that Iranian security forces had raided and sealed off a building in which the husband of prominent human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh had been maintaining an office. The incident also led to the mass arrest of everyone who was on the premises at the time of the raid, with security forces explaining their actions by explicitly referencing affiliation with people like Sotoudeh who had participated in the Green Movement.
The above instances of political imprisonment and repression of dissent are only a handful of the various human rights issues that activists are striving to bring attention to ahead of Rouhani’s visit to the UN. Groups like Amnesty International have long decried Iran’s record for the largest per-capita rate of executions in the world. And this rate has only continued to climb under the Rouhani administration, being currently on pace to easily exceed 1,000 executions for the year.
This and other negative aspects of Rouhani’s record will be on display on Monday when the Organization of Iranian American Communities holds a rally in the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza across from the UN on Monday. The rally will see speeches from a bipartisan group of US politicians who are similarly striving to bring renewed focus to the human rights situation in the wake of the nuclear agreement. These include former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.