The State Of Human Rights In Iran

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. In February 1979, the Shah's government fell, and an Islamic fundamentalist regime rose in its place. Since then, Iran's human rights record has been marred by the arrests and executions of those who question or criticize the government.

Activist Hadi Ghaemi leads the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. He tells Jacki Lyden that Iran is one of only a few countries, including Myanmar, North Korea and Turkmenistan, that are closed to human rights organizations. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other major international organizations cannot have a presence, making it difficult to monitor human rights violations in the country.

Ghaemi says that in the past 10 years, however, a new generation of Iranians has become increasingly aware of the importance of human rights. Many are using the Internet to report and blog about the issue, getting word out to an international community. Ghaemi works with these activists to track the number of executions and arrests in Iran, which he says has grown exponentially since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005.

Roya Boroumand runs the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, another organization that tracks human rights violations in Iran. She named the foundation after her father, who was part of the political opposition to the Islamic republic. He was granted political asylum in France, but was stabbed to death in his Paris apartment in 1991.

The Boroumand foundation tracks every execution in Iran, regardless of the accused crimes. Roya Bouroumand says the Iranian government targets a wide range of people they deem a threat, including the bloggers and writers who report on human rights abuses in the country, the women and workers who organize for rights, and the clerics who preach on the separation of church and state.

Of particular concern to Ghaemi's organization is the execution of child offenders (people who are charged with crimes committed when they were under 18 years of age). Ghaemi says Iran was the only country in the world to execute child offenders in 2008.

Asked why the human rights situation in Iran has worsened over the years, Ghaemi explains that while Iran has advanced its security and police apparatus and is not vulnerable to domestic threats, "it suffers from a very deep mental anguish and insecurity that letting people organize and network and work on things that are apolitical — social or economic issues — would be a threat to it."

NPR made several attempts to get the Iranian government's point of view on these issues. A spokesman for Iran's Mission to the United Nations would not comment and referred us to the Iranian Foreign Ministry in Tehran. Repeated calls to that office were not answered or returned.

Correction Feb. 9, 2009

An earlier version of this story contained a now-retracted statement from Roya Boroumand that many people charged with crimes such as drug dealing are political prisoners falsely accused to validate executions.

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