Iranian leaders are masterful in manipulating the true reality on the ground in their country and obsessively addicted to taking advantage of any political opportunity to strengthen their own narrative of events. This week’s Non-Alignment Movement Summit in Tehran was one such occasion.
Trapped in two major crises–one Iran’s nuclear program and the subsequent series of sanctions adopted by the UN and the US, the other a series of UN resolutions against the country’s human rights record, which together have not only weakened Iran politically and economically but also created an oppressive image of the regime–Iranian leaders wanted to show they are still thriving.
As Tehran planned the summit, officials made sure to bring in as many heads of state from as many countries as possible, even those insignificant to Iran’s economy or national security, to fabricate a fairytale of influence and popularity between nations. In orchestrating the show, the presence of two men was pivotal: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
In the opening ceremony of the summit, Morsi, the first Egyptian president to travel to Tehran since the 1979 Revolution, harshly criticized Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime and said it has lost its legitimacy. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seated beside him, became so uncomfortable with these words that he started playing with the translation buttons in front of him, pretending not to listen. Iranian television, well-versed in damage control and spinning facts to match the official narrative, totally misled its audience by changing the lines in which Morsi slammed al-Assad, Tehran’s closest ally in the region.
The president of Egypt left Tehran a few hours later, his speech having challenged Iran’s carefully crafted projection of unity and support from a powerful regional Muslim country in the Middle East. The Secretary-General was not nearly as bold.
He did not visit any of Iran’s prisoners of conscience, he did not obtain any guarantee from Iranian officials that they would respect their obligations, and he did not publicly pressure Iranian officials on their human rights record.
Given that Iranian authorities have done everything in their power in recent years to undermine decisions made by various UN bodies, from the Security Council to the Human Rights Council to the General Assembly, Ban Ki-moon’s presence in Tehran was not necessarily expected. Iranian officials have repeatedly attacked the motives behind UN mechanisms, questioned the independence of the decision-making process in the UN, and downplayed its role on the international stage.
In keeping with this policy, Iranian officials have ignored the vast majority of communications from the UN thematic mandate holders and have refused to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran to even enter the country. And yet, Iranian officials welcomed the UN Secretary-General to the country with open arms, hoping that in such tough times for Tehran, he lends them legitimacy–precisely at a time when they want to show the rest of the world their anti-UN campaigns on both the human rights and nuclear fronts. But Ban still decided to go to Tehran.
This put the highest-ranking UN diplomat in a very delicate situation with high expectations and raised a simple question: could the Secretary-General, while in the country and meeting the highest-ranking Iranian officials, gain anything substantial regarding Tehran’s two major crises, in return for the boon his presence in Tehran granted the Iranian propaganda machine?
Right before his departure from New York, hundreds of Iranian activists and academics, in a letter submitted to his office, asked Ban to visit the two Iranian opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who have been under house arrest for more than a year and a half, while in Tehran.
Reports from Tehran indicate that the majority of Ban’s criticism of Iran was around the country’s nuclear program, the Supreme Leader’s allegations against Israel, and Tehran’s role in the Syrian conflict. Although his spokesman said that he raised the issue of human rights in the country, it appeared that was not at the top of his list.
Evin Prison, which holds the majority of the prisoners of conscience in Iran, is just a few miles away from where UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stood to take pictures with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and yet he did not take the opportunity to visit the facility.
On Tuesday, August 28, Ban’s spokesperson assured the international community that he “intends to discuss human rights with the Iranian authorities, including at the highest level,” according to the Guardian. On Wednesday, August 29, Ban announced, “We have discussed how United Nations can work together with Iran to improve the human rights situation in Iran. We have our serious concerns on the human rights abuses and violations in this country,” according to the AP. But the only public mention the Secretary-General made of human rights was in remarks aimed at the larger audience of the Non-Aligned Movement, never targeted to Iran: “Listen to the appeals of people–for justice, for human rights, for dignity.”
On Thursday, August 30, speaking at the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s School of International Relations, Ban said, “I have urged the authorities during my visit this time to release opposition leaders, human rights defenders, journalists and social activists to create the conditions for free expression and open debate. I also urge Iran to strengthen cooperation with the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations, in particular the Special Rapporteur. I have discussed this matter with your leadership.”
But a few sentences to a group of professors stating that Ban urged Iranian officials to do such-and-such was too little, too late. If Iranian leaders don’t care about resolutions signed by dozens of countries, why should they really care about remarks made behind closed doors?
In his visit to Tehran, the Secretary-General had an excellent opportunity to discuss serious human rights issues with Iranian officials, not only behind closed doors–where Iranian officials excel at making promises and promptly forgetting about them in public–but transparently, before the eyes of the world.
It is not clear to what extent, if any, the Secretary-General has been able to discuss the situation of human rights in Iran, whether he has made any progress in holding authorities accountable, in asking Iranian officials to cooperate with UN human rights bodies and to ensure cooperation with its mechanisms, or in guaranteeing any such agreements take effect.
After this visit, Iranian officials have no incentive to change their policies or their behavior with regards to human rights violations, as they have already seen that they can score political points and have the leader of the largest international organization in the world lend them legitimacy without having to cede any ground or making any compromises.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon missed a great opportunity to use his trip to influence the situation of human rights in Iran. The least he can do now is to tell the world what discussions he actually had with Iranian officials, what they promised to do to change the course of the human rights crisis, and whether he was able to secure a visit to Tehran by UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed. And what about visiting the captive opposition leaders?
Shedding light on those discussions and openly calling for Iranian authorities to take a number of concrete steps toward respecting their international commitments may be a way to salvage the scraps of this squandered opportunity.
August 31, 2012 Leave a Comment
NEW YORK, Feb 28, 2012 (IPS) - Amid mounting tensions between Iran and the United States over Tehran’s nuclear programme, perhaps nothing less than an Oscar to the acclaimed feature film “A Separation” could have brought smiles to the faces of millions of Iranians who see most news as bad news these days.
Written and directed by Ashghar Farhadi, “A Separation” was Iran’s entry for the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Film category. An acclaimed and powerful drama, the film received the first Oscar in Iran’s cinema history Sunday night in Los Angeles for a sophisticated story that captures the essence of everyday life and the difficulties of being honest when it’s costly to do so.
In 1997, Majid Majidi’s “Children of Heaven” was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to “Life Is Beautiful” from Italy. Read more
March 18, 2012 Leave a Comment
NEW YORK, Mar 8, 2012 (IPS) - A United Nations envoy has called on the Iranian government to release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, and to conduct an extensive, impartial and independent investigation into the violence that followed the 2009 presidential election.
In a 36- page report released at the Human Rights Council in Geneva Wednesday, Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, catalogues allegations that amount to a “striking pattern of violations of fundamental human rights guaranteed under international law”.
“Mr. Shaheed’s report has utmost importance to the people of Iran, as it proves how oppressed Iranian people are and that their human rights are violated,” Iranian human rights activist and 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi told IPS. “It is also important from an international point of view, because an impartial international authority has reviewed the people’s claims and has presented a report.” Read more
March 8, 2012 Leave a Comment
The Daily Beast- A nude photo and breast-baring video of the actress have divided Iranians who see it as striking a blow against Tehran’s Islamist extremism, and those who condemn it as an example of Western moral turpitude.
| January 20, 2012 4:45 AM EST
The publication of a nude picture of a popular Iranian actresscurrently in exile in Paris has sparked enormous Internet buzz, and polarized many Iranians conflicted about nudity—at a time that Iran’s independent movie community is under severe repression by authorities. Is it a courageous act of challenging Islamic and cultural taboos, or an insensitive and selfish move that might give Tehran hardliners an excuse in to put more pressure on Iran’s independent film community? Read more
January 20, 2012 Leave a Comment
On Wednesday, a Tehran bomb blast killed Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who served as deputy director of commercial affairs at the Natanz nuclear facility. According to official Iranian media, a man on a motorcycle stuck a magnetic bomb to Roshan’s car as the 32-year-old was leaving his home. Two men who were accompanying Roshan were also injured in the blast. It marks the seventh attempt on the lives of Iran’s nuclear-program employees and the sixth death.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton “categorically denied any U.S. involvement in any act of violence in Iran. “The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this,” stated Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. Read more
January 13, 2012 Leave a Comment
The Daily Beast, August 27 2011- A controversial new movie explores the lives of lesbians forced to live in the shadows. Omid Memarian talks to women in Iran who say the movie doesn’t do their predicament justice.
Four years after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared there are no gays in Iran during a speech at Columbia University, an Iranian-American filmmaker courageously portrays an unusual story of two Iranian lesbians who struggle under religious and cultural repression to explore their sexuality.
Iranians are, in general, culturally hesitant to publicly talk about their private lives and sexuality, so the sex scenes between two schoolgirls Atefeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemi) in Circumstance, take the viewer to the most extreme parts of Iranian underground lifestyle.
While Maryam Keshavarz’s portrayal is bold, and addresses a major taboo in Iran, many lesbians who actively live and love in the shadows there say the movie is not necessarily a true portrayal. Read more
August 28, 2011 Leave a Comment
August 20, 2011 Leave a Comment
NEW YORK, Aug 8, 2011 (IPS) - Last week’s appointment of a ranking member of Iran’s influential Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as the country’s new oil minister could lead to a more unaccountable and unpredictable military with greater influence on the government in Tehran, analysts say.
The IRGC currently controls Iran’s most powerful intelligence- security arm, which played a key role in the post-election crackdown of 2008 and the intimidation, arrests and imprisonment of hundreds of political dissidents.
It has built up a sprawling business empire since the 1979 Revolution, with annual revenues estimated at some 12 billion dollars and investments in sectors ranging from oil, gas and petrochemicals to cars, bridges and roads. It also controls the paramilitary Basij militia. Read more
August 8, 2011 Leave a Comment
The Slate, Tuesday, July 12, 2011 -This article arises from Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate. A Future Tense conference on the promise and limitations of using technology to spread democracy will be held at the New America Foundation on July 13. (For more information and to sign up for the event, please visit the NAF website.)
The Obama administration has begun taking action to bring Internet freedom to Iran. This sounds wonderful.
But this approach ignores two key factors: 1) Iran already has the upper hand in this battle; 2) the current approach is dangerous to activists and focuses on too few people. If the U.S. really wants to bring free-flowing information to Iran, it needs to rethink its current strategy.
I grew up in Iran and worked as a journalist there until 2004, when I—along with 20 other bloggers, Web technicians, and journalists—was arrested by security forces for my blog, in what was the first major raid against bloggers and online activists. After two months of mistreatment and solitary confinement, I was released and soon after moved to the United States. Read more
July 12, 2011 Leave a Comment
Huffington Post, Posted: 7/5/11- Less than a week after the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed former Maldivian Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed as Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Iran, Head of Iran’s Judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, in a TV interview said, “accepting the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights is not our policy.”
In March, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism for Iran and appointing a Special Rapporteur. Last month, three candidates were considered for this position. The Iranian side, knowing that a Special Rapporteur would be immediately appointed soon, sent a message to Geneva that the Rapporteur on Iran should have three qualifications: Be a man, be a Muslim, and not be from an Arab country. One of the male candidates didn’t seem to cause any controversy for Tehran; Ahmed Shaheed’s appointment met all of Iran’s requirements. Read more
July 5, 2011 Leave a Comment
NEW YORK, Jun 20, 2011 (IPS) - Millions of Iranians who have lived under an intense level of internet filtering and advanced monitoring systems for years may soon benefit from new technology that sidesteps the censors.
Last week, the New York Times reported that “the [Barack] Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy ’shadow’ Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.”
One of these projects has been dubbed “Internet in a suitcase”. According to the Times, the suitcase - financed with a two-million- dollar State Department grant - could be smuggled across the border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet. Read more
June 20, 2011 Leave a Comment
Huffington Post- What has been the root of the U.S’. inability to develop a sustainable policy or strategy on Iran for the last 30 years? What was not learnt from the Shah’s fall in 1979 and the nature of the revolutionaries who hijacked a pro-democracy freedom movement? And what are the parallels between the Shah’s regime and the current Islamic government in Tehran?
These are the types of questions that have been raised in my extensive interview with Dr. Abbas Milani, author of the recent book, The Shah, and the Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University in California.
While the Iranian government continues to curb social and political freedom in Iran, particularly after the post-presidential unrests which resulted in killing of dozens and arresting thousands of people, the author of a recent book, The Shah, provides a comprehensive image of parallels that contributed to the fall of the Shah and is now being perpetuated by the Islamists in Tehran.
January 24, 2011 Leave a Comment
The Daily Beast- The shah of Iran’s son took his life Tuesday, a decade after his sister died from an overdose. Omid Memarian and Roja Heydarpour on the family heartbreak and what it means for Iran. Plus, Stephen Kinzer reports on the death of the prince.
There is nothing worse for a mother than the death of a child, except, perhaps, the death of two children who took their own lives. That is what the former queen of Iran must endure now that her son, Ali-Reza Pahlavi, 44, was found dead in his home in Boston from a gunshot wound he inflicted on himself early Tuesday morning.
It isn’t the first time Farah Pahlavi has had to grieve a child who committed suicide. Just 10 years ago, former Princess Leila Pahlavi, whose young daughter suffered from anorexia and depression, took a lethal cocktail of cocaine and barbiturates, and died in her sleep at 31. Read more
January 5, 2011 62 Comments
The Daily Beast. December 25, 2010- The harsh sentencing of a world-renowned director prompted protests from Martin Scorsese and other artists this week. Omid Memarian on escalating repression in Iran.
When world-renowned filmmaker Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison earlier this week, the verdict reverberated both inside and outside Iran.
Not only did authorities in Tehran hand down an exceptionally harsh sentence, they also decreed that the 50-year-old Panahi will be banned from filmmaking, screenwriting and traveling abroad for the next 20 years. According to his relatives, Panahi has also been banned from talking to the media.
Along with Panahi, Muhammad Rasoulof, another filmmaker involved with Panahi’s movie, was also sentenced to six years in prison. Read more
December 25, 2010 107 Comments
SAN FRANCISCO, California, Dec 14, 2010 (IPS) - While Iran gears up for a second round of nuclear talks with Western countries next month, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s abrupt dismissal of his foreign minister on Monday indicates a new power struggle with moderate conservatives that could alter the tone and face of Iran’s foreign policy machinery in the years to come.
Manouchehr Mottaki is the seventh cabinet minister dismissed by Ahmadinejad over the past five years, while two others have resigned. Ahmadinejad sacked Mottaki while he was on an official trip to Senegal.
Mottaki had held the portfolio since 2005. Read more
December 14, 2010 Leave a Comment