Renewed Doubts about Reform Following Iran Human Rights Report

Ahmad Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran

There was some expectation of a general change of behavior in the wake of the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, and then again last year with the conclusion of the nuclear talks, and last month with the supposed victories for moderates and reformists in elections for the Iranian parliament and Assembly of Experts. But human rights activists, among others, have repeatedly called attention to deteriorating conditions in areas such as the application of the death penalty.

This issue was raised again on Thursday when Ahmad Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran released a 21 page report in which he once again emphasized a recent “surge” in executions. According to the Associated Press, the report finds that 966 people were killed by the Iranian judiciary last year alone, although some other groups have made estimates that exceed 1,000. The total number of executions since Rouhani took office has exceeded 2,000.

Shaheed also noted that more than 500 of last year’s executions were for drug offences which do not rise to international standards for when the death penalty can be justified. Furthermore, over the 10 year period between 2005 and 2015, at least 73 juvenile offenders were executed, in clear violation of international law and the provisions of two human rights documents that the Islamic Republic has signed.

Shaheed and other human rights advocates have also called attention to persistent and sometimes worsening problems in the specific area of women’s rights. Some optimistic observers of the Iranian political situation are hopeful that this will begin to improve following the election of several new female members of parliament. But even though the number of female members has doubled to more than 20, this is insufficient to hold much sway over the 290-member body, especially given the amount of opposition they will face from conservatives and hardliners, even if they do actively pursue women’s rights issues.

Earlier this week, the virulence of some of that opposition was put on display when it was reported upon remarks made on video by newly reelected Urmia-district MP Nader Ghazipour, who derided representatives whom he described as “pansies” and said that the Iranian parliament is no place for “donkeys and women.” The Guardian notes that several female and some male representatives have filed a complaint against Ghazipour, and while the outcry prompted him to qualify his remarks somewhat, he has maintained an extremely defiant tone, saying for instance, “If elections were held again right now, I would win twice as many votes.”

The Guardian also points out that the journalist who released the footage of Ghazipour’s remarks was attacked and beaten in front of his wife and child by “unknown assailants.” And this is only one example of the personal retribution that is still visited upon people who appear to challenge the Iranian regime’s restrictive view of gender roles.

On Thursday, News sources  reported upon the case of Farnaz Lari, a female kickboxer who emigrated from Iran to Canada in 2010 and has had difficulty competing professionally since then as a result of obstacles put in her way by native home country. She claims that authorities never supported female competitors as they did male competitors, but when she left the Iranian team to compete for Canada, the Iranian team suspended her and refused to release her, citing her “lack of loyalty.”

Previous reports have indicated that this sort of career sabotage has been visited upon female government officials who stand up for reformist positions on women’s rights. Such reports contribute to the perception that significant change is unlikely even in the wake of the election of more female members of parliament.