JACKI LYDEN, host:
Thirty years ago this week, revolution swept Iran. The Shah's government fell, and in its place rose the Islamic fundamentalist regime that still rules the Islamic Republic of Iran.
To mark the anniversary, we decided to take a look at the issue of human rights. With me in the studio is Roya Boroumand. She runs a foundation named after her father. Welcome to the show.
Dr. ROYA BOROUMAND (Co-Founder, Executive Director, Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation): Thank you for having me.
LYDEN: And also with us in our New York studios is Hadi Ghaemi. He's the coordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Thanks for coming in.
Mr. HADI GHAEMI (Coordinator, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran): A pleasure to be here.
LYDEN: When you look across the globe, Hadi, where does Iran stand in human rights terms?
Mr. GHAEMI: Well, it is really unique in the sense that it has a very continuous and consistent record of fairly terrible practices that have not changed for 30 years. It is along with countries like Myanmar, North Korea, Turkmenistan in that it is a closed country to human rights activists. None of the major or international organizations can have a presence there.
And secondly is that there is very little leverage to persuade the government and to engage it. The government is very fearful of engaging dialogue as other countries do, other governments do, in how the human rights situation can be improved.
LYDEN: You both have elaborate systems for tracking the human rights situation in Iran. In a nutshell, Roya, could you tell us what you track?
Dr. BOROUMAND: What we track are people who are executed in Iran regardless of their crimes or their alleged crimes, political, non-political. We basically try to have an idea of the scope of violence in Iran.
LYDEN: And what is your system for tracking, Hadi Ghaemi?
Mr. GHAEMI: Well, first, I should add that there has been a very important development for the past 10 years and that is basically awareness among a new generation of Iranians of the importance of human rights. And a huge number of people turning into reporting and advocating for human rights. We see ourselves as a bridge between those activists and human rights defenders inside Iran and the international community.
LYDEN: Roya Boroumand, could you tell us more about who is being repressed? It's not only journalists and politically active students, even clerics. Tell me more about who is being cracked down.
Dr. BOROUMAND: Yes. Of course, you know, clerics opposed the Islamic Republic from the very beginning of the revolution. We have many, many very prestigious ayatollahs, including Ayatollah Shariot Madori(ph), who even didn't agree with the concept of the Islamic Republic. They were saying we are a republic of Muslim people, not an Islamic republic. And so, a lot of clerics got imprisoned, defrocked and silenced over the years.
LYDEN: Hadi, what cases stand out for you? What are you focusing on?
Mr. GHAEMI: What we track particularly and follow is the way that there has been a huge increase in the number of executions following unfair trials. This includes executions of minors which Iran is the only country on the record in 2008 to have executed seven minors for offenses they committed. And part of it is that the courts suffer from lack of due process, and we believe many of these children are not guilty.
In addition, the adults were being executed. Most of the time, we even don't know who they are and what the charges are and how the courts came to their decisions.
And on all those fronts, we see that the government of President Ahmadinejad has taken a very hard line for the past three years. And the number of cases that come to our attention are increasing exponentially.
LYDEN: And you were defining a minor as how, someone under 21 or under 18?
Mr. GHAEMI: No, under 18.
LYDEN: Roya, I visited Iran as a journalist, and when one goes there, on the surface you see a modern state with advertising and television shows being created and Internet cafes. Some of the laws on the books, however, in the Shah's time for all of the foment and opposition that lead to the revolution did protect women and children.
The Family Protection Law allowed a woman to choose her own husband, inherit property equally, push back against divorce. What are some of the laws that fall now most heavily on women and young people?
Dr. BOROUMAND: I think that the laws related to women have become much more discriminatory than they used to be. Iran had not experienced these kind of laws, especially in the criminal code, since the early 19th century. These are part of the problem.
The other problem is that, you know, people who talk about these laws or report about the consequences of these laws are particularly targeted - bloggers, for example. There's this young man, blogger, human rights defender, Kianoosh Sanjari, who is now here waiting on an asylum case. He was arrested eight or nine times, and he spent months and months on a row in solitary confinement and courageously kept reporting. Each time he came out he reported, they took him back in.
So, they are very sensitive about the world knowing about what happens in Iran. And looking at the pattern, it seems to me that people who start to organize and are effective in attracting the attention of Iranians and foreigners to a problem become targets.
LYDEN: Hadi, why do you think, if the human rights situation has worsened, why do you think it has?
Mr. GHAEMI: I think that this post-revolutionary political system is like an entity that has matured physically in terms of its security and police apparatus. It is not vulnerable to any domestic threats, but at the same time, it suffers from a very deep mental anguish and insecurity that letting people to organize, to network and to work on things which are apolitical, on social economic issues, would be a threat to it.
LYDEN: Hadi Ghaemi is coordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, and he joined us from New York. Roya Bouroumand is executive director of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, which is based here in Washington, D.C. Thank you very much both of you.
Dr. BOROUMAND: Thank you for having us.
Mr. GHAEMI: Thank you, Jacki.
LYDEN: You can find links to the Web sites of both these human rights operations on our Web site, npr.org.
We 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 Foreign Ministry in Tehran. Repeated calls there were not answered or returned.
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