United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

U.N. Report: Iran Repressing Dissent

            Iran’s crackdown on journalists and detainment of opposition leaders “does not bode well for the prospect of a free and fair” presidential election in June, said Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. investigator on human rights in Iran. In his brief to U.N. Human Rights Council on March 12, Shaheed expressed concern over the nearly 500 executions allegedly carried out by Iran during the last year. He said journalists, rights activists and lawyers “continue to be subjected to harassment, arrest, interrogation, and torture…” Iran has denied Shaheed entry to conduct research. The new report is based on interviews with 169 people, many of whom still live in Iran.

            Iran's Human Rights Council Secretary Mohammad Javad Larijani said the report was “baseless” and used a “totally unacceptable methodology,” according to Iranian media. Larijani called the report “the product of an unhealthy, nonobjective and counterproductive exercise initiated by the United States of America and its European allies.” The Islamic Republic submitted a detailed reply to the report. The following are excerpts from the U.N. report and the Iranian response, with links to the full documents at the end.
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Free and Fair Elections
           … On 11 February 2013, the Special Rapporteur joined the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association in a statement urging the Iranian government to immediately and unconditionally release former 2009 Presidential candidates Mr. Mehdi Karoubi and Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard, and hundreds of other prisoners of conscience who remain in prison for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, or freedom of association and assembly during protests following the 2009 Presidential election. The Special Rapporteurs underscored the fact that the two opposition leaders have not been charged with a crime since their arrest, and that in its August 2012 Opinion, the Working Group on arbitrary detention confirmed that Mr Mousavi and Mr Karoubi, are subject to arbitrary detention by the Iranian Government
contrary to article 9 of the ICCPR…
Freedom of expression, association, assembly
            The Special Rapporteur remains concerned over the continued arrest, detention, and
prosecution of dozens of journalists and netizens under provisions in Iran’s 1986 Press Law, which contains 17 categories of “impermissible” content. The Special Rapporteur joined the independent expert on freedom of opinion and expression, human rights defenders, and the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on arbitrary detention on 4 February 2013 in calling on Iran to immediately halt the recent spate of arrests of journalists and to release those already detained following the arrest of at least 17 journalists, the majority of whom work for independent news outlets. The group of human rights experts underscored their fear that the 17 arrests carried-out were part of a broader
campaign to crack-down on independent journalists and media outlets, under the accusation that they have collaborated with ‘anti-revolutionary’ foreign media outlets and human rights organisations…
            The Special Rapporteur expressed concern about reports of widespread use of torture in his report to the 67th session of the General Assembly. He further reported that 78% of individuals who reported violations of their due process rights also reported that they were beaten during interrogations for the purpose of soliciting confessions, that their reports of torture and ill-treatment were ignored by judicial authorities, and that their coerced confessions were used against them despite these complaints…
            The Special Rapporteur continues to be alarmed by the escalating rate of executions,
especially in the absence of fair trial standards, and the application of capital punishment
for offences that do not meet “most serious crimes” standards, in accordance with
international law. This includes alcohol consumption, adultery, and drug-trafficking. It has
been reported that some 297 executions were officially announced by the Government, and
that approximately 200 “secret executions” have been acknowledged by family members,
prison officials, and/or members of the Judiciary, making a likely total of between 489 and
497 executions during 2012…
Click here for the full U.N. report.
Detailed Reply of the Islamic Republic
            ...The Islamic Republic of Iran has constantly taken steps toward promotion of human rights at national and international levels. Our efforts to promote human rights have been based on our religious obligations and adherence to the constitutional and ordinary laws of the country and our commitments under international treaties. We are committed to promotion of human rights both in our deeds and words. Submission of national report under the UPR mechanism, cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner, invitation of the High commissioner for Human Rights to visit the Country and visit by the OHCHR to Iran in December 2011 to facilitate the visit of the High Commissioner to Iran are examples of our cooperation [sic]…
III. Capital punishment
            Use of phrase "execution of individuals in lack of fair standards" in this paragraph indicates draft writer's lack of knowledge towards Islamic Republic of Iran judicial system. Having said that in most of countries including Iran capital punishment is anticipated and there is no global consensus on it's elimination. Capital punishment in Islamic Republic of Iran for the most serious crimes is legally executable which is also ratified by international documents. [sic]
            In accordance with Islamic Republic of Iran law, capital punishment is only applied for the most serious crimes and even for premeditated murder there is no capital punishment in the law unless the owners of the blood request for retribution in kind and the highest pertinent judicial authority (or his representative) agrees with the demand (Article 219 of the Islamic penal code). [sic]
            There are many countries who have capital punishment for serious drug offenders. For Islamic Republic of Iran that lies next to the largest producer of opium and heroin in the world, it is very natural to have capital punishment for drug traffickers. Moreover, the Islamic Republic of Iran seizes narcotics shipments of tens of times more than other countries altogether, and thousands of our border guards have been martyred or injured in this fight. This matter has become particularly serious for Islamic Republic of Iran since the number of abusers of new types of synthetic drugs has been on the rise, leading to serious consequences for the families and the economy of the nation. Recently many of these drug abusers have lost their lives and many others have suffered from psychosis and incurable illnesses that ends in their death raised from destruction of body tissues…
V. Torture and other inhumane, cruel and humiliating punishments  
            Islamic Republic of Iran strongly rejects biased allegations on widespread use of torture for confessions. Because according to Islamic Republic of Iran constitution, ordinary laws specially citizenship rights and regulations pertinent to respect to legitimate rights, perpetrator of torture shall be held accountable and shall stand trial. Therefore there is no room for impunity of torture perpetrator in Islamic Republic of Iran current laws [sic].
            In accordance with Articles 20 and 22 of Islamic Republic of Iran constitution, all individuals of the nation are under protection of law and their soul, dignity, wealth, rights, house and occupation are all immune from any kind of offensive.
            In a glance, status and value of people and their dignity are of the greatest importance. Parallel to this, Article 32 of constitution has reiterated that "no one shall be arrested unless by law and through a certain legal procedure. In case of arrest, he/she should be notified about his/her charges in writing (Articles 112 and 113 of code of criminal procedure)…
Click here for the full Iranian response.

The Mysterious Case of Robert Levinson

            Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent, disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island on March 9, 2007. He was reportedly investigating cigarette smuggling while working as a private investigator. Levinson’s family first received evidence that he was alive in November 2010. In the 54-second video, Levinson asked for a U.S. government response to his captors' demands, which have not been publicized.

In March 2011, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that new information indicated that Levinson was being held in southwest Asia. His unidentified captors sent a set of photographs to his family the following month. Levinson, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, held a sign bearing a different message in each photo. “This is the result of 30 years serving for USA,” one read.

      On March 8, 2013 Secretary of State John Kerry called on Iran to uphold its offer to help find Levinson. Tehran responded two days later. “We are ready to cooperate through the intelligence entities to shed light on this issue,”  Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi reportedly said. The following is a statement by Secretary Kerry and remarks by Foreign Minister Salehi.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi
            “We have said many times that we do not have any information in this regard…”
            “We have repeatedly announced that we are ready to cooperate on humanitarian ground to find… how he disappeared… We are ready to cooperate through the intelligence entities to shed light on this issue. I once again repeat that this person is not in Iran and the Americans have already acknowledged this.” March 10, according to ISNA and IRNA news agencies
Press Statement by Secretary of State John Kerry
March 8, 2013
            Tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of the disappearance of U.S. citizen Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who went missing in Iran on March 9, 2007.
            A husband and father to seven children, Mr. Levinson has missed birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and other important milestones since his disappearance six years ago from Iran’s Kish Island. He is also the grandfather of two, the second of which was born in his absence.
            The United States continues to welcome the assistance of our international partners in this investigation and calls on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to uphold its offer to help find Mr. Levinson and return him safely to his family.
            I met with Mr. Levinson’s wife and son today to reiterate that the U.S. Government remains committed to locating Mr. Levinson and reuniting him safely with his family.
            Last year the FBI announced a $1 million reward for information on Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts that could lead to his safe return. Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to contact the FBI.
Photo Credit: Released by the Levinson family.


Video: Iranians Candid on One Wish

            Iranian graphic artist Ali Molavi asked 50 people in Tehran: “What’s your wish for today?” At first timid, they answered candidly, reflecting the passions, problems and politics in Iran today. Their wishes ranged from buying a motorcycle, being reborn, to finding a good job. One man wanted “all the inflation and high prices to go away.”  Another wished for Iran to “move towards peace and understanding with other countries." One woman did not have any wishes. “They have not left any room for us to dream anymore,” she said. Molavi's video has been viewed more than 25,000 times. Click on the CC button below to turn on English subtitles.


Video: Former U.S. Commander and Diplomat on Iran

            On March 7, Admiral William Fallon, a retired four-star admiral and former head of U.S. Central Command, warned that “you can’t lock them [the Iranians] in a box” on the nuclear issue. He discussed U.S. policy on Iran with a former assistant secretary state, James Dobbins, and Karim Sadjadpour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Carol Giacomo, an editorial board member at The New York Times moderated the Council on Foreign Relations event. The following is a recording of the discussion.

Click here for a transcript of the discussion.


Khazaee: Threatening Iran Won’t Work

            On March 3, U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee said that the recent talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers in Kazakhstan were “a turning point.” Iran feels that “both sides are getting closer to each other,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. But Khazaee also warned against threatening Iran during nuclear negotiations.

            The ambassador also commented on U.S. calls for direct talks with Iran. “We welcome any kind of dialogue and talks with the United States,” he said. But Khazaee stipulated that Washington must be “serious” and “honest.”

            Zakaria asked Khazaee what he thought about the American thriller “Argo,” which was named best picture at the Oscars in February. “Whoever in Iran saw the film, they felt insulted by America.” The ambassador claimed the film’s content was “politically wrong and technically wrong.” The following are excerpts from Khazaee’s interview, with a link to the full transcript.
U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee
Nuclear Program and Negotiations
            “…[W]e have to have a realistic approach in the negotiation… But the feeling that Iranians have from the negotiation is that both sides are getting closer to each other. That's the main point…”

            “But when they decide to negotiate with each other with more comprehensive, simultaneous steps should be taken, these are the important points…”

            “…[M]y understanding is that Iranians will be able to enrich uranium at least at the 5 percent level if what they did for need TRR (Tehran Research Reactor) and for our more than 1 million patients it provided. So these are the good and positive signs that we can take. But, of course, we still have a far way to go ahead to fulfill Iranians' expectation from the other side for a confidence-building measures.”

            “But I think, over the last few years, it was a turning point in the negotiations between Iran and the 5 plus 1...”
            “But Iranians stood against the pressure and hegemony of outside countries against them [during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s]. So we are a nation that we have stood about eight years fighting and defending ourselves.”

            “So, therefore, with such a nation and the history that you know very well, talking about pressure, putting about -- threatening Iran is not going to work.”
U.S.-Iran Relations
            “Iran is for negotiation and definitely we welcome any kind of dialogue and talks with the United States, as well as many other countries, all of the countries around the world…”
            “The clear message of Iran is that if we see that United States is serious and is honest about this proposal for negotiation, cooperation, direct talks with the Iranians, Iranians will accept it and we will welcome it definitely.”

            “There is doubt that that. I can confirm it here with you and also for your distinguished audience that Iran will come negotiation and direct talks with the United States provided that we make sure that U.S. is serious and do not act differently…”
            “The most important point is that some officials in United States should understand how to speak with the Iranians… But the point is that Iranians should make sure that American is not using pressure on Iran for negotiation.”

            “Negotiation should be for negotiation, talks to find common ground and solve if there's any misunderstanding or there is a problem that obviously exists…”
            “… I was member of the Festival Film Jury for five years when I was in Iran. From the technical point of view, to be honest with you, if I was a judge, the movie is a very weak movie.”
            “I'm not saying it is just a very weak or is not compatible with other kind of movies which Hollywood movies, but, compared to "Lincoln", compared to "Life of Pi", compared to the "Les Miserables", you know it did not deserve to receive Oscar prize first of all.

            “There are many mistakes in the movie. For instance, you are familiar with our culture. Even the producer or the director, they are not familiar with the Iranian culture…”

            “So even that much, the producer or director or (inaudible) of the movie were not familiar with the Iranian culture. And, to be honest with you, whoever in Iran saw the film, they felt insulted by America.”

            “It was politically wrong and technically wrong and I think the producer of the film that is known as the Ambassador of Peace as I heard should be ashamed of producing such a film that, from the technical point of view, political point of view, was wrong, as well as insulting a big nation like Iran.”

            “I would like to invite the producer and the director of the film to travel to Iran and then they travel to Iran, the day after they will apologize from the big nation of Iran for producing such a weak film.”

Click here for the full transcript.


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