• Saturday 7th December 2019

Iran’s Human Rights Record Remains Poor By Azadeh Moaveni

A profound disillusionment is seeping into the youthful ranks of those who voted Rouhani into office.


Iran’s human rights record remains poor

By Azadeh Moaveni

When Hassan Rouhani was campaigning for president in spring 2013, he chose a key as the overarching symbol of his electoral platform and vision for a new Iran. That key, he vowed, would open up the country’s tightly sealed political sphere and unlock the path to basic civil rights.

One year into Rouhani’s tenure, the key has emerged as rich fodder for caricaturists, who have shown it to be alternately lost, blunted or mismatched to its lock. Today, the president finds himself presiding over a roughly unchanged Iran.

The lawlessness and arbitrary detentions that overshadowed the era of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have continued unabated. The state regularly arrests civil society activists and journalists, and executes scores of prisoners without fair trial. Iran’s once-vibrant NGO and media climate remains intimidated and quiet, and the political bullying that pushed reformist politicians and other critics to the margins of public life remains firmly in place.

The sameness has been so evident that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chastised Rouhani’s government in March for not having “changed its approach” to the death penalty or the protection of free expression.

Since the start of this year, the state has executed nearly 400 prisoners, many of whom human rights groups believe were activists for ethnic minority rights spuriously charged with criminal offenses. Authorities have also imprisoned at least 30 journalists and technology specialists, and in a particularly aggressive move in July, arrested the Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent.

Not only have Rouhani’s most notable electoral pledges about bringing Iranians digital freedom, dignity as citizens, and respect in private life remained elusive, the state has revitalized its efforts to enforce Islamic dress codes and limit women’s access to public spaces. Parliament recently held a session on the moral threat posed by leggings, and authorities forbade women from watching volleyball matches in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.

The Rouhani government’s scorecard on human rights and civil society is now widely discussed even within his administration as its most alarming and public failure. The president’s allies argue that he must focus first on securing a nuclear deal, and then use the political capital such a victory would garner to push forward more contentious social and political reforms. But that strategy risks losing the Iranian public – who are seeing neither a spike in living standards nor greater freedom – along the way.

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