Whether or not Blatter’s statements were in response to that activist push, they reflect a concern for the rights of women in Iran that has been expressed through various outlets in recent days. As reported on Thursday, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has issued a briefing paper that called attention to the Islamic Republic’s efforts to empower Islamist vigilantes to confront and potentially attack women for “improper veiling” and related offenses.
The campaign’s report put significant emphasis on a recent spate of acid attacks on women in Iran, which has injured, disfigured, and blinded people in at least 14 separate incidents. No one has been brought to justice in those cases to date, but Al Arabiya reported on Friday that punishment had been carried out on the perpetrator of an earlier acid attack against a male victim.
Not limited to imprisonment, that punishment involved the perpetrator having one eye gouged out by medical professionals in a religiously justified, literal eye-for-an eye act of legal retribution. The Al Arabiya article criticizes the action as an example of the barbarity of the Islamic Republic’s criminal justice system and emphasizes that by participating in it, the doctors who took the perpetrator’s eye have violated their Hippocratic Oath.
The acid attacker has also been sentenced to pay a fine and spend 10 years in prison and was originally slated to have both eyes removed, although his crime only blinded the victim in one eye. The complete sentence may still be carried out six months from now, but under Iran’s Islamic legal philosophy of qisas, it will apparently be up to the victim to determine whether the perpetrator is permitted to retain half of his eyesight.
One might say that under this legal philosophy, mercy is the prerogative of individual citizens, but never the state. Indeed, in cases of execution, which are more numerous in Iran than any other country except China, the international press has reported on a number of incidences of the families of victims pardoning convicts as they stood on the gallows.
But on Thursday the National Council of Resistance of Iran reported on the outright rejection of commutation of sentences as expressed by Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli. The cabinet-level official told Iranian media, “Drug traffickers must be hanged and the judiciary should not have any mercy in dealing with these individuals.”
Drug offenses comprise the vast majority of executions in the Islamic Republic, and this has been a major source of criticism from international bodies and activists, including the United Nations, which issues periodic reviews of the situation of human rights in Iran. On Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued one such report, emphasizing both the deteriorating situation of women in the country and the rising level of executions. Ban specifically highlighted the matter of drug offenses, which do not meet international standards for the seriousness of crime for which the death penalty can be justified.
The Iranian Foreign Minister’s comments, together with the raw statistics about annual and monthly rates of execution indicate that in at least some respects the Islamic Republic’s human rights record has deteriorated under the tenure of President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected in 2013 and embraced by some in the international community as a moderate.
The contrast between this perception of the Rouhani administration and its actual performance in domestic affairs was also on display in the comments by Sepp Blatter. The FIFA president reported that he had met with Rouhani on the issue of women being banned from stadiums, and had come away from the meeting with the impression that the matter might be resolved. But Blatter was subsequently disappointed to see that no action was taken by the Iranian president and no change emerged over the subsequent year.
Iranian press is closely monitored and periodically subject to shutdown notices, while the government maintains a highly active propaganda network in the country. Meanwhile, the internet is restricted as an alternative news source, and social media is banned, ostensibly weakening its power as a tool for organizing and spreading awareness.
But domestic activism is still vigorous, helped along by the widespread evasion of these restrictions, which IranWire partly quantified in a report on Friday. The site finds that for the ever-important 15 to 29 demographic, an impressive 70 percent of Iranians use filtering software and related tools to gain access to banned websites and platforms. An increasing number of Iranians of all ages are turning to the internet as a more reliable source of news than the largely state-controlled media.
What’s more, these figures are the result of research by the Iranian Ministry of Sports and Youth, and thus their connection to the regime raises the possibility that the estimates are quite conservative. But regardless of the specific numbers, it seems clear that more and more Iranians are gaining access to the human rights information currently being emphasized by international activists and others.