The resulting report apparently altered Oman’s scores to keep it at one level above that which would allow for the US to intervene using economic sanctions. Media coverage of this incident serves to extend criticism of the Obama administration’s Iran policy, suggesting that permissiveness has guided policymaking in broader Middle Easter affairs, as well.
In fact, according to the Jerusalem Post the issues of Iranian and Omani misbehavior are directly connected to each other. The State Department’s alteration of the TIP report has been explained as an act of diplomatic largesse in exchange for Oman’s role in brokering the Iran nuclear deal that was finalized in July after more than two years of negotiations. Those negotiations began when a secret, preliminary meeting took place between Washington and Tehran, with the Omanis acting as a facilitator and go-between.
In this context, the US has been accused of looking the other way on Oman’s human rights because of the very existence of those negotiations. Furthermore, it has been accused of ignoring human rights in Iran as a result of the Islamic Republic’s willingness to see those negotiations through to completion. Obama administration officials have arguably viewed this as being indicative of a general change in Tehran’s attitudes and behavior. But critics find that that behavior tells a different story.
The administration’s optimism may be supported by reports on Monday that the one of Iran’s apparent political prisoners has had his death-sentence vacated and sent back to Tehran’s Revolutionary Court. The Express Tribune explained on Monday that Mohammad Ali Taheri was arrested in May 2011 and sentenced to death on charges of “insulting the sacred” and “spreading corruption on Earth,” as a result of his activities as a spiritual healer.
But now that sentence has been vacated by the country’s Supreme Court and Taheri is facing a new trial. On the surface, this suggests a positive step for human rights, but it is entirely possible that he will be sentenced to death all over again. Indeed, in the context of recent cases, this seems quite likely.
For instance, Amnesty International reported this month that the death sentences had been upheld on review for two Iranian prisoners who were the subject of urgent human rights activism as a result of their having been sentenced to death for crimes they committed when they were below the age of majority. The reaffirmation of those sentences arguably served as a rejection of international standards of human rights, which plainly deny the viability of the death sentence for juvenile offenders.
This is only one aspect of the conflict between Iran and the world community over the Islamic Republic’s use of the death penalty. The mere overuse of such sentencing has been the subject of constant international activism, as has its use in cases that cannot be categorized as being among the most serious crimes. On Monday, Iran Human Rights illustrated both of these issues by reporting that five persons had been hanged on Sunday morning for drug crimes and another two had been hanged in public for armed robbery.
Iran dismisses criticism of such incidents by saying that its domestic laws are nobody’s business but its own. Furthermore, the general landscape of political cases like Taheri’s has tended to reaffirm the viability of politically-motivated charges including those leading to the death penalty. Iran has been described as being in the midst of a large-scale crackdown on human rights activism and pro-democratic or pro-Western attitudes. As a symptom of this, at least four Iranian journalists were arrested in a single day in early November, and their cases have not been resolved, in spite of the resulting international outcry.
One of those journalists, Isa Saharkhiz, went on a hunger strike to protest his politically-motivated arrest and subsequent treatment. IranWire points out that Saharkhiz consumed only fluids for 48 days before finally ending his strike on Saturday in response to the urging of a number of Iranian political and human rights activists. Their attention to his case, along with that of foreign media, is indicative of the support that human rights issues are receiving from some circles, even as the Obama administration faces criticism for perceived neglect.
But there is little reason to believe that this attention is having a significant effect on the Iranian regime’s human rights activities. Saharkhiz and others, including Mohammad Ali Taheri, still face vague political charges along with difficult prison conditions and mistreatment by the Iranian judiciary.
On Saturday, the Human Rights Activists News Agency issued a report about the conditions in just one Iranian institution, Sanandaj Central Prison. It called attention to the non-separation of political prisoners, violent offenders and others, the denial of medical attention to sick and wounded inmates, and the trafficking of drugs by prison officials who simultaneously block access to items like books. All of these issues are familiar to reports by human rights activist groups regarding prisons across Iran.
And on Monday, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran provided the latest evidence that some political prisoners are arbitrarily subjected to those conditions for longer than is necessary or legally permissible. The report pointed to the ongoing struggle of Omid Alishenas, a children’s rights activist who has repeatedly been denied bail without explanation and in spite of numerous efforts by his family.
He was held in temporary detention for nine months before being sentenced to 10 years in prison for “colluding against national security” and “insulting the supreme leader.” He is now awaiting an appeal at an unspecified future date while still being held without any apparent prospect for release on bail.