Assessing The State Of Human Rights In Iran

Six Iranians were arrested for a video they posted to YouTube of dancing to the hit song, "Happy." It is the latest sign of the power struggle between the hardliners in the government and the President Hassan Rouhani. NPR's Arun Rath speaks with Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Now, to Iran where last week security forces arrested six young men and women for dancing.

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RATH: Pharrell's hit song "Happy" has launched hundreds of homemade music videos, including one filmed on streets and rooftops in Tehran. Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has called on the government to ease tough restrictions on Internet access and social media, but the hardliners who control the police, the security forces and the courts are not inclined to do so. And on Monday, police arrested those young people from the video and forced them to apologize on state TV for what they called a vulgar clip.

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RATH: By Wednesday, an international backlash had forced the regime to release the six young dancers. They're out now on bail. But it's a sign of the fight going on for the future of the country.

HADI GHAEMI: That incident really laid open a great divide and culture war going on within Iran.

RATH: That's Hadi Ghaemi. He's the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

GHAEMI: Those security forces were really targeting Internet and social networking and trying to make example of these young people for the broader population.

RATH: You know, there's been a lot of talk about the changes coming to Iran under the current president, Hassan Rouhani. How do you take this - what's happened with this case in the context of that?

GHAEMI: Well, we're almost exactly one year into election of Rouhani. It was just a year ago that he created a lot of hope, especially for the young population who voted for him to ease the restrictions and improve the human rights situation. Unfortunately, not much has happened. There is a minority clique who is controlling the security, intelligence and judiciary. And they don't seem to be wanting to relinquish power. And if anything, they have increased their oppression and human rights violations.

And unfortunately, we don't see Rouhani being very proactive or standing up to them because he seems to have put all his attention to the nuclear negotiations at the moment.

RATH: So, these hardliners in the judiciary, can't he do anything? I mean, does the president have no power in the situation?

GHAEMI: Of course there's - he's not the most powerful figure within the state because the supreme leader controls the judiciary and other branches of - especially armed forces, intelligence services and the police. But as the president, for one thing, he has the bully pulpit. He could be speaking out more forcefully. He could be showing executive orders. He could be reforming the interior ministry which still has some of the law enforcement agencies under it. But unfortunately, he hasn't done any action. He's only very gently rhetorically challenging his opponents right now in this front.

RATH: Western countries have been involved in deep conversations about Iran's nuclear program. Do you feel like they're doing enough to emphasize the situation with personal freedoms in Iran?

GHAEMI: Not yet. No, we haven't seen a concerted effort of holding Iran accountable on that front. But as we are reaching important deadlines on nuclear negotiation and hopefully we'll go forward smoothly and we will reach an agreement. It is high time to start paying attention to what the Iranian people want to happen inside the country.

RATH: That's Hadi Ghaemi. He's the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. And he joined us from our New York bureau. Hadi, thank you very much.

GHAEMI: Thank you, Arun, and great talking to you.

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RATH: This is NPR News.

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