State Department Testimony: Iran’s Growing Human Rights Abuses

         The following is an excerpt on Iran’s human rights violations from a joint statement by Michael H. Posner, Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Philo L. Dibble, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern Affairs on May 11, 2011.

         Almost two years after Iran’s disputed presidential election, Iranian authorities continue to harass, arbitrarily detain, torture and imprison their citizens, as well as some of ours. Their targets include those who demand accountability from their government and who stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens, ethnic and religious minorities, journalists, bloggers and students.
         Unfortunately, the situation has only further deteriorated in the first months of 2011 as compared with last year: protestors were killed in Tehran in February and in ethnically-Arab areas in April. The reduction of prison sentences for seven Baha’i leaders from 20 years to 10 was reversed. Additional sentences were levied on those already in prison merely for sending letters to family members. Political prisoners are held in deplorable conditions with convicted murderers in former stockyards; those released from prison are forced to pay exorbitant bail sums. A Jewish woman and her Armenian-Christian husband were reportedly executed based on undisclosed charges. Mass executions of mainly ethnic minority prisoners have been carried out without their families’ knowledge.
        Iran has executed at least 135 people this year, more than any other country in the world except China. Restrictions on speech have intensified. Journalists and bloggers continue to be targeted by the regime for daring to write the truth; teachers and other workers are harassed and incarcerated when they seek freedom of association and payment of wages owed; trade union leaders remain imprisoned on questionable charges; politically-active students have been banned from universities; and entire university faculties deemed un- Islamic have been forced to close their doors.
        Particularly troubling is the deepening persecution of religious minorities. On May 1, the Revolutionary Court in the northern city of Bandar Anzali tried 11 members of the Church of Iran, including Pastor Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad and Zainab Bahremend, the 62-year-old grandmother of two other defendants, on charges of “acting against national security.” On September 22, 2010, Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was given a death sentence for apostasy although, according to human rights groups, this sentence is against Iranian law. Another pastor could be sentenced to death later this year. In March, over 200 Gonabadi Sufis were summoned to courts around the country based on allegations that they were insulting Iranian authorities. In April, eight other Sufis were re-arrested on charges of disrupting public order – charges for which they had been punished with flogging and imprisonment.
        Iran’s leaders continue to signal to their citizens that criticism will not be tolerated, while selectively applauding protestors in other countries in the region. As the country’s economic situation deteriorates, workers are arrested when they protest for back wages, only to have authorities deny that strikes are taking place.
        At the same time the Iranian government was claiming influence in shaping popular unrest in the Arab world last month, its security forces arrested over 200 of its own people and three protestors died at the hands of authorities. While it decries crackdowns against protesters in Bahrain, it defends and assists the Syrian government’s repression of protesters in Syria. Though Iranian leaders continue trying to portray regional events as inspired by the 1979 Islamic revolution, we are confident that the people of the Arab world will recognize those statements for the opportunistic falsehoods they are.

        Despite growing international consensus and a resounding condemnation of the Iranian government’s actions, the regime continues to turn a deaf ear to the aspirations of its own citizens. But there is hope. Hundreds of brave Iranian citizens continue to engage in the most basic of human rights work, documenting and reporting on abuses, with the hope that one day Iranian government officials will be held accountable for crimes they have committed against their fellow citizens.