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Iran Continues to Publicly Reject International Human Rights Standards

In the first place, the post recalled attention to the case of Reyhaneh Jabbari, who was hanged in October 2014 even though international outcry over her case had caused multiple delays in the scheduling of the execution. Jabbari was accused of murdering a former Iranian intelligence agent, but she insisted that she had stabbed him, without intent to kill, while he was attempting to rape her. Forensic evidence reportedly supported this defense, but her death sentence was ultimately upheld nonetheless, leading to widespread accusations of gender discrimination and corruption among the Intelligence Ministry and the courts. 

The other reports highlighted by Death Penalty News help to support the discrimination argument by indicating that Jabbari’s case was not an isolated incident. The NCRI and the Daily Mail both reported that a 22 year old woman named Zeinab Sekanvan is in imminent danger of execution following her delivery of a stillborn child while imprisoned in Urmia Central Prison. 

Iran allows girls as young as 13 to legally marry, and many such marriages are arranged by families in exchange for money. The NCRI reports that the poverty of Sekanvan’s family resulted in her being forced into marriage at the age of 15, to a man who turned out to be physically abusive. However, when Sekanvan was accused of murdering her husband, her account of the abuse was dismissed by the court. 

The fact that she was only 17 years old at the time makes her case not only a possible example of the widely-recognized sexism of the Iranian courts, but also the latest potential example of Iran’s disregard for international standards opposing the execution of convicts who were juveniles at the time of their crimes. This practice is outlawed by two human rights documents to which Iran is a signatory, but Iranian courts have repeatedly reaffirmed and carried out executions of persons who were convicted as teenagers. 

And as Iran News Update pointed out last week, Iranian hardliners have also very recently reaffirmed their de facto rejection of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in large part because of the ongoing practice of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps recruiting children into its civilian militia. 

It appears that these sorts of hardliners are steadily issuing public disavowals of internationally agreed-upon human rights standards. This was suggested, for instance, by a report in Global Voices upon the recent wave of arrests and convictions persons who hold citizenship or have other connections to Western countries. 

The report focused particularly upon the case of Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese information technology expert with permanent US citizenship who was formally invited to a Iranian government-sponsored conference but was then arrested on accusations of having “deep ties to the US intelligence and military establishment.” 

But Global Voices points out that others have been convicted of spying or infiltration on the basis of extremely loose associations. As such, the depth of Zakka’s ties are in dispute, as is the sincerity of this one-note explanation for his arrest. The report points to Iran’s hardline Kayhan News as the only public account of the case against Zakka, and it quotes that account as decrying Zakka as a possible promoter of “Internet freedom,” and not a participant in any sort of espionage or the planning of an overthrow. 

In this way, the Kayhan report, in light of the paper’s close connections to the supreme leader’s office, highlights the Iranian government’s outright rejection of international principles of free speech and free access to information. This, of course, is no surprise to anyone who is aware of Iran’s bans on Facebook and Twitter or its promotion of an insulated, “halal” internet. But its connection to actual arrests helps to highlight the Islamic Republic’s ongoing project of attacking and isolating any potential advocates for free speech, gender equality, or other supposedly Western principles. 

Nevertheless, there are various indicators that Iranian civil society is moving in the opposite direction, with many Iranian citizens risking arrest alongside people like Zakka, by continuing their activism in favor of progressive causes. Although it has been reported that death penalty reform is unlikely to pass the Islamic authorities charged with vetting all Iranian legislation, there is growing outcry against executions, and not only those of possibly innocent persons like Reyhaneh Jabbari.  

In fact, the NCRI’s latest reference to Jabbari’s case came in the context of a report on her mother, who recently wrote a letter to Iranian news networks declaring that her hatred of the death penalty itself has only grown in the two years since her daughter’s death. The movement for reform of Iran’s capital punishment laws has reportedly gained some traction in parliament, but last month the hardline judiciary reaffirmed its resistance to such activism when it upheld the 16-year prison sentence for renowned lawyer and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, over her role as a founder of the organization Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty.

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