Human Rights Cases Still Obscured by Nuclear Talks

 

Over the weekend, it was widely reported that the negotiations had seen some progress after missing yet another deadline at the end of June. At the same time, there were several new developments regarding Iran’s fraught relationship with journalists and civil activists, but these stories have mainly been given exposure only in special-interest outlets dealing with Iran and human rights.

For instance, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported on Saturday that the activist Minoo Mortazi Langroudi had launched an appeal by which she hopes to overturn the six-year prison sentence handed down on her by the particularly hardline Judge Salavati. Prior to the May trial, Langroudi had reportedly been targeted by Iranian security and intelligence agents on a recurring basis since the 2009 Green Movement protests.

The charges against her stem from her membership in peaceful activist organizations that are banned in Iran, including the Council of Nationalist-Religious Activists and the Center to Defend Prisoners’ Rights.

Apropos of the latter activist cause, the website Journalism is Not a Crime reported that the Iranian blogger Hossein Ronaghi has become the subject of an urgent action campaign by Amnesty International. Ronaghi has been ordered to return to prison after being granted medical leave in mid-June. He has only one functioning kidney and is in need of constant, specialized medical care that is not available in prison.

The denial or revocation of medical care and medical leave is a frequent tactic employed by the Iranian regime against dozens of political prisoners. By some accounts the strategy is even applied beyond Iran’s borders through allies and proxies. Iranian dissidents living in Iraq at the former US military base of Camp Liberty have been subject to a medical blockade since the country was still being led by close Iran ally Nouri al-Maliki.

Within Iranian prisons, denial of medical care is only one of many human rights crises that are frequently highlighted by domestic and international activist organizations. The arbitrary or unlawful extension of prison sentences is another such repressive tactic employed against political undesirables. The journalist Masoud Bastani is arguably an example of a person targeted by this practice, as he too has been ordered to return to prison from furlough. In his case, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency, the period of leave extended past the end of his sentence, meaning that his return at this time is a de facto extension.

The most recent reports indicate that another imprisoned Iranian activist has actually had the good fortune of released as of Sunday, according to Journalism is Not a Crime. But the same source indicates that Mehdi Kodaei was subjected to harsh interrogation and forced confession and was tried without a lawyer on the basis of his civil activism. Kodaei served a sentence one and a half years longer than his legal sentence under Iran’s new Islamic Penal Code, and HRANA reported that authorities initially delayed his release and warned his family against pursuing the case.

These types of activities by Iranian officials can be expected to be highlighted in HRANA’s annual report on the situation of human rights in Iran, which was released in Farsi on Monday and will shortly be released in English as well. It remains to be seen whether this catalogue of Iranian human rights abuses will have a significant impact on the international media. Its chances of doing so may be increased if the nuclear negotiations are resolved n Tuesday as several diplomats have said is their goal. But the viability of that goal is unclear.

It is possible that in addition to freeing up media attention for human rights issues, the end of the nuclear talks may also preface the conclusion of some cases that are possibly being held back by the judiciary or other officials. Poynter reports that nothing has been heard from within Iran regarding Washington Post correspondent and American-Iranian dual citizen since his May 26 trial date. This has fueled speculation that Rezaian is being held as a bargaining chip until the end of the talks.

But the possible overlap between these two issues is unusual insofar as it encourages reporters and commentators to place the nuclear negotiations in context with this particular human rights case.