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September 13, 2010

In the Struggle for Human Rights, Every Victory Brings More Work

There has been some welcome news on the Iranian human rights front in recent days.  First, Iranian authorities released human rights activist Nazar Ahari yesterday from the infamous Evin Prison, and photos of her outside the prison have made their way onto the internet.  Additionally, earlier in the week Iranian officials officially suspended the execution by stoning of a woman facing adultery charges, acquiescing to widespread and overwhelming international condemnation of the sentence.  Finally, reports surfaced that Iran will release the female American hiker Sarah Shroud after a $500,000 bail is paid, although this comes after Iranian authorities first announced her release was imminent, then further delayed that release over the weekend.  These human rights cases illustrate the sensitivity of Iran’s government to human rights pressure, while highlighting the overwhelming amount of work still left for activists.
The release of Ahari is significant from an American perspective because pressure came from not only the international rights community but from United States lawmakers as well, with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator Sam Brownback both independently lobbying for her release.  The success of these efforts in the case of Ahari should encourage lawmakers and others within the United States that pressing the Iranian government on its human rights obligations can produce tangible results.
The postponement of the stoning sentence was also a direct result of outside pressure, according to Newsweek, because Iran recognizes that blatant human rights abuses within Iran serve to undermine their credibility on other foreign issues such as the nuclear program.  In other words, this provides the clearest evidence yet that the U.S. can work to address human rights in Iran even as it works to resolve the nuclear issue.
Sadly, despite these clear victories, there is still much to be done.  For every victory like the release of Nazar Ahari, there is a case like that of Nasrin Sotoodeh, a human rights lawyer arrested last week.  The Iranian government is attempting to silence those voices within the country that support a balanced judicial system that protects the rights of all Iranians, not just those close to the government.  Far from a total victory, this week’s news should only renew the determination of those who seek basic human dignity in Iran.
The somewhat piecemeal human rights activism on the part of the US and European governments within Iran has created a “revolving door of freedom,” where concerted pressure leads to victories, only to have them overshadowed by additional regime crackdowns.  As Iran arrests those who seek to shed light on the regime’s ugly side, it is imperative that voices outside Iran increase their volume to demand accountability.  Appointment of a UN Human Rights Monitor on Iran, could give the world a more consistent means to press Iran on these important issues.  NIAC has called for the Obama Administration to support the appointment of such a monitor, but it remains to be seen if this time, the Administration listens.

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