Zahra (Courtesy of Amir Soltani, creator of Zahra).
Only one candidate is seriously addressing the issue of human rights in the lead-up to Iran’s presidential election on June 14. She is a mother, devoutly religious (albeit with an irreverence for authority), she has a well-thought out platform and a plan to initiate widespread reforms to guarantee human rights in Iran. Her name is Zahra and – oh, by the way – she is not real.
People hold posters as they mark World Press Freedom Day in Tbilisi (Photo Credit: Vano Shlamov/AFP/GettyImages).
Governments and other organizations across the world are perfecting techniques to prevent journalists from shining a light on corruption and human rights abuses. From trumped-up charges and removing work licenses to murder, here are 10 ways journalists are repressed and prevented from reporting freely and fairly.
1. Physical Attacks
In some countries such as Syria, Turkmenistan and Somalia, governments, military forces and armed groups attack and even kill journalists who are seen to be critical of their policies and practices.
In May 2012, 18-year-old citizen journalist Abd al-Ghani Ka’ake was fatally shot by a government sniper in Syria while filming a demonstration in Aleppo. Armed opposition groups have also attacked and killed journalists.
Even though most of the world has turned its back on the death penalty, some countries continue to impose capital punishment for acts like having consensual sexual relations outside marriage, opposing the government, offending religion and even drinking alcohol.
This is despite international law barring states from handing out death sentences for any of these crimes.
Here’s a list of some “crimes” that, in some parts of the world, can get you killed.
Iran’s Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery (Photo Credit: Etienne Laurent/AFP/Getty Images).
1. Consensual Sexual Relations Outside Marriage
In Sudan, two women, Intisar Sharif Abdallah and Layla Ibrahim Issa Jumul, were sentenced to death by stoning on charges of “adultery while married” in separate cases in May and July 2012. In both cases, the women were sentenced after unfair trials involving forced “confessions.” The sentences were subsequently overturned on appeal, and both women were released.
In Iran at least 10 individuals, mainly women, remain on death row having been sentenced to stoning for the crime of “adultery while married.”
After weeks of intense negotiations at the UN Conference, including a bitter roadblock put up by Iran, Syria and North Korea, a final treaty was adopted! The treaty prohibits arms transfers that would be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. We are now closer than ever to the golden rule we’ve been advocating for more than ten years: “Governments must prevent arms transfers where there is a substantial risk that they will be used to commit serious violations of human rights.”
More importantly, we’re closer than ever to winning the fight that’s been 20 years in the making! While this is a big win, there is still a lot of work to do. The treaty is adopted but “asleep” – it needs to be signed and ratified by 50 countries before it will enter into force. Amnesty International USA will demand that the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress take this important stand for human rights by signing and then ratifying this landmark treaty.
Lately, we have been hearing a lot about the extraterrestrial experiences of Iranians, both actual and desired. Iranian-American NASA engineer (and heart throb) Bobak Ferdowsi, who gained fame for his distinctive hairdo as well as his skill in guiding the Mars Rover landing, was the First Lady’s guest at President Obama’s State of the Union address, thanks to his efforts to inspire kids to pursue their education in the STEM fields.
Meanwhile, Iran successfully sent a monkey into space and back, prompting president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to declare that he would like to become the nation’s very first astronaut. While the prospect of Iran’s controversial president being launched into orbit in a space ship intrigued many both inside Iran and out, Iran’s ability to advance the frontiers of science is being undermined by its government’s practice of putting some of its brightest scientists in prison.
If anyone doubts that torture is plain wrong and indefensible, I invite them to examine the cases of seven men in Iran who were severely tortured to force them to make “confessions” of their involvement in national security offenses. All have been sentenced to death by hanging and are at risk of imminent execution—that is, at any time.
At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
By Nazanin Boniadi and Roxana Saberi
Nazanin Boniadi is an actress, activist and spokesperson for Amnesty International USA. Roxana Saberi is an Iranian-American journalist, author and human rights advocate. www.roxanasaberi.com
Behrouz with his newborn son, Harmang.
The imprisonment of Iranian filmmaker Behrouz Ghobadi appears to be the latest attempt by Iran’s regime to silence the country’s artists. Hollywood has united with Amnesty International to call for his release; now others can join them by sending a message of concern to Iran’s supreme leader.
Behrouz, a younger brother of exiled Iranian film director Bahman Ghobadi, was arrested on November 4 in western Iran. Since then, he has had no contact with either his family or an attorney. His family has asked the Iranian authorities for information, but no one has told them why or where he is detained.
Imagine you have spent nearly 30 years in prison just for writing poems—the only thing that keeps you going is the hope of someday being reunited with your wife and family. But then when the day of your release finally comes, you discover that your family has been told that you are dead and you are left to wander the earth like a ghost, caught between the horror of the past and a present where you don’t even really exist.
This is the tragic situation faced by the protagonist of a powerful new movie called Rhino Season (Fasle Kargadan) by the eminent Iranian film director Bahman Ghobadi. It can also be interpreted as a metaphor for an entire society, haunted by the human rights violations that shattered so many lives, yet unable to move forward because of the Iranian government’s stubborn refusal to accept responsibility for the crimes they perpetrated. Thousands of people were imprisoned, tortured and executed in Iran in the 1980s; there has never been a reckoning, there has been no accountability and it is impossible for any of those scarred by those years to find peace and closure.
May Day honors the contributions that hard-working men and women make to society everywhere around the world. In Iran, those who advocate peacefully on behalf of their fellow workers are likely to wind up spending May Day in prison.