Nobel Committee Issues Long-Delayed Condemnation in Light of Continued Abuses

Salman Rushdie & Ali Khamenei

On Thursday, however, the current committee issued a new statement that reads in part: “The Swedish Academy decries the retention of the death sentence for Salman Rushdie and that state-controlled media are permitted to encourage violence directed at a writer.” This apparently comes in response to the renewed attention brought to the fatwa by forty Iranian state media outlets, which banded together to add 600,000 dollars to the original three million dollar bounty placed on Rushdie’s head by Khomeini. That bounty and the order for any supporter of the regime to kill the author remain in effect, as acknowledged by Khomeini’s successor, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in 2005.

The Nobel committee was apparently more willing to respond to the additional bounty than to the original fatwa because of the popular perception of new political conditions in the present day. The conclusion of a nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers last July has led many international observers to anticipate the normalization of relations between the two sides of a longstanding global divide. However, incidents like the reassertion of the fatwa are indicative of a more general increase in rhetoric and provocation aimed at Western nations and prominent Western figures.

The renewed commitment to an extrajudicial death sentence is also indicative of the continuation of threatening behavior and human rights violations by Iranian state institutions, even under the supposedly progressive conditions established by negotiations and interaction with the West. This behavior and the general lack of reform were also highlighted this week by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s renewal of the mandate for Ahmed Shaheed, the special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Iran.

The Islamic Republic has consistently refused to cooperate with Shaheed’s investigations, and has in fact used its own internal human rights monitor to issue various denials of the special rapporteur’s observations. Those observations are supported by numerous non-governmental human rights organizations, about three dozen of which joined in signing a letter to the Human Rights Council urging the renewal of the mandate of the special rapporteur.

Shaheed’s latest reports have emphasized that the rate of executions in Iran have dramatically increased in recent years, with approximately 1,000 having taken place during 2015 alone. These statistics are accompanied by observations regarding the lack of due process in many cases, the prevalence of political imprisonment, and the continued use of punishments and judicial practices that are in clear violation of international standards.

As one example of this, the Iran Human Rights website reported on Thursday that a 28 year-old Iranian man unintentionally damaged the eye of another man during a fight has been sentenced to have his eye removed as punishment. The Iranian judiciary generally passes several sentences each year that involve the removal of eyes of the amputation of limbs in keeping with religiously-justified laws.

But as the Rushdie fatwa indicates, some of the Iranian regime’s ongoing abuses are unrelated to actual legal proceedings, but are rather more arbitrary in nature. The Human Rights Activists News Agency reported upon two relevant examples of this on Thursday. In the first place, it pointed out that a civil and children’s rights activist who is currently facing criminal charges for participation in peaceful rallies was targeted by regime authorities at his workplace, where he trains other activists.

The training center was raided by plainclothes officers who were not in possession of a warrant but who threatened Aso Rostami’s employer in order to force the closure of the classes without appealing to actual legal processes.

Such actions are easily interpreted as efforts to intimidate activists, especially in light of other stories like HRANA’s report regarding two inmates in Uremia Prison who have been imprisoned since 2011 for financial crimes. The two men initiated a hunger strike – a common form of protest in Iranian prisons – to call attention to the apparent official neglect of their cases. But authorities responded by not only transferring the prisoners to solitary confinement but shackling them to the doors of the cells for three days as a warning against other prisoners engaging in similar activism.

Some critics of the Iranian regime have highlighted these sorts of ongoing human rights abuses to support the argument that the supposed normalization of relations between Iran and the West will likely not result in moderation of the former’s behavior. Furthermore, human rights groups have warned that excessive focus on the nuclear agreement could lead to neglect of the domestic situation in Iran. Indeed, this danger was cited by those groups who publicly urged the extension of Ahmed Shaheed’s mandate.

On the other hand, the Nobel committee’s long-delayed decision to condemn the Rushdie fatwa may indicate that in at least certain instances the expansion of interactions between Iran and the world community will make foreign entities more interested in, or more willing to call public attention to persistent abuses.