Shaheed placed the number of executions in Iran in 2014 at 753, a marked increase over the previous year. He also called attention to the apparent expansion of government monitoring and press repression, in contrast to President Hassan Rouhani’s campaign promises of a freer and more open Iran.
Shaheed also called on the government of Iran to free some 30 journalists and bloggers held as political prisoners in the Islamic Republic. Iran is consistently rated by the Committee to Project Journalists as one of the world’s worst jailers of reporters. Among those currently held on vague or unspecified charges is Washington Post correspondent and dual American-Iranian citizen Jason Rezaian.
Rezaian’s case has once again been given renewed international attention, as his attorney and his brother both issued new pleas for his freedom and for an accounting of the charges against him. IPS News reports that Rezaian has now been detained for more than 230 days, much of that time in solitary confinement, making his the longest detention in the country for any Western journalist.
Although the case against him has never been publicly explained, the Iranian regime has pointed out that he is set to be tried before the nation’s revolutionary court, which is generally reserved for cases involving national security. But the revolutionary court has been highlighted by human rights groups as a particularly political body, which often sets harsh sentences in advance and then justifies them with false trials.
Rezaian’s case has received a good deal of attention from international activists, and on Thursday the boxing legend and noted American Muslim convert Muhammad Ali released a letter urging Iran to free him. Thus far, however, the regime has dismissed all such pressure, pointing out that it rejects the concept of dual citizenship and considers the Rezaian case to be a matter for Iran alone.
While the fight continues for Rezaian’s freedom, his lawyer is using the forthcoming Iranian New Year as an opportunity to request that her client finally be released on bail, as Iranian tradition makes such requests more likely to be granted at the time of the festival of Nowruz.
Activism remains similarly strong in the case of Rezaian and the case of Saeed Abedini, the Iranian-American pastor who is now in the third year of an eight year sentence on charges of undermining state security through the practice of his Christian faith.
In addition to being the focal points of activist causes, Rezaian and Abedini have both also been cited in criticisms of the Obama administration’s dealings with Tehran. Some opponents of the administration’s position in nuclear negotiations have expressed concern about the fact that Iran’s human rights abuses and its imprisonment of Americans are being effectively ignored in the interest of securing a narrowly focused deal.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran points out that Missouri Senator Roy Blunt said on Wednesday that he was astonished that the US government seems incapable of getting a single American citizen out of jail at a time when it is negotiating with Iran on a regular basis.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio levied this criticism from the opposite angle, suggesting that the release of Pastor Abedini should have been a precondition for the current talks with Iran.
“It is unacceptable that as the United States engages with Iran, human rights violations at the hands of Iranian officials go unchecked and Americans languish in Iranian jail cells,” Rubio said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.