Opinions Vary Regarding Prospects for Human Rights and American Hostages

 

On Wednesday, the Campaign again raised the question of the relationship between the nuclear issue and the human rights issue. It put that question to eight Iranian human rights activists and cultural figures in order to record their opinions as to whether human rights might improve in the wake of a final nuclear deal, which is due on June 30.

The Campaign’s report demonstrates very little agreement on that question. With only eight people interviewed, the responses range from the belief that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will not make any effort to improve the human rights situation to the belief that the conclusion of the nuclear deal will automatically bring rapid changes in the domestic sphere.

Novelist Mahmoud Dolatabadi stated that “there is no choice but to be hopeful” that Rouhani will turn his attention to listening to the concerns of the people once he is no longer preoccupied with nuclear negotiations. But Fariborz Raisdan, an economist, former university professor, and former political prisoner declared, “I believe that human rights in the form of freedom of association, freedom of expression, women’s rights, and removal of gender, ethnic, and religious discrimination is not compatible with the ruling ideology.”

Raisdan went on to cite the issue of women’s rights as an example, noting that in spite of international focus on the issue of women being banned from Iranian stadiums, there is no sign of progress on this issue. Meanwhile, Iranian security forces continue to crack down on women who are perceived as being improperly veiled.

While Western focus on issues of this sort is noticeably intermittent in the midst of the nuclear negotiations, some Iranian human rights issues have had reasonably frequent presence in American media simply because they specifically involve American citizens. There are three prominent American-Iranian dual citizens known to be held in Iranian prisons today, all of them on highly questionable charges, and all of them reportedly subject to considerable mistreatment in prison.

Another American, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran in 2007 and is widely believed to be held hostage to this day.

The cases of each of these American citizens, especially Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was targeted for practicing his Christian faith, were highlighted again on Wednesday in an editorial at Fox News. The author, Jay Sekulow, describes it as “unconscionable” that the Obama administration has not made the conclusion of a nuclear deal contingent upon the redress of the human rights issue surrounding the continued detention and reportedly worsening condition of these American hostages.

But according to “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren,” also on Fox News, one of these hostages has himself rejected the idea of combining the two issues. Amir Hekmati, who was accused of espionage while visiting his grandmother in Iran in 2011, has reportedly said that his detention is purely a humanitarian issue and should not be used as a bargaining chip to elicit diplomatic agreement with the US.

However, Hekmati has accused the US government of doing too little to secure his release and the release of the other imprisoned Americans. “On the Record” played an audio recording of a telephone call from Hekmati to his family in which he urged the State Department and the Obama administration to make it clear that such acts of hostage-taking will lead to severe consequences for Tehran.

Hekmati’s desire to not be used as a bargaining chip by the Iranian regime was reflected by the New York Times editorial staff on Wednesday, with reference to the third American-Iranian imprisoned by the Iranian regime, namely Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. The Times says that the espionage charges filed against Rezaian are clearly intended to make him a pawn in a nuclear deal, and that the Obama administration has been correct to urge his release while also refusing to make it a condition of the deal.

But the Times also seems overly optimistic about what could happen, suggesting that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could order Rezaian’s release so that his imprisonment can no longer be used as evidence that Iran is not trustworthy. Such an outcome is surely unlikely, if only because Khamenei has not been averse to making the conclusion of a nuclear deal more difficult on other occasions, as by demanding that his negotiators adhere to various red lines including immediate relief of all economic sanctions and outright refusal to discuss any non-nuclear issues such as Iran’s missile stockpiles, support for terrorism, and human rights violations.