Iran’s presidential election amid unrest and ongoing human rights violations
Iran’s presidential election on 12 June, will take place against a backdrop of discrimination, worsening repression of dissent and violent unrest. In the run-up to its tenth presidential election from which women candidates have been barred, the country has witnessed the arbitrary arrest and harassment of activists and members of minority communities, censorship, armed attacks and suicide bombings. Amnesty International has welcomed the commitments made by some electoral candidates during their campaigns to address the issue of women's rights and the problems of ethnic minorities and the poor. "The ongoing efforts of women’s rights activists have forced the issue of women's rights into the debate, sometimes at the cost of their freedom," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Programme Director at Amnesty International. "All candidates should heed their calls for equality and make ending discrimination a priority." Another issue requiring urgent action from the new president is the execution of juveniles for crimes committed when they were children. "At least 139 juveniles are on death row in Iran," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. "The outrage after the execution of young painter Delara Darabi, the debates in the country and the initiatives of civil society to end this abhorrent practice must be matched by decisive action by the new president." The organization has expressed its concern about Iran’s discriminatory selection process for electoral candidates, which involves the Council of Guardians screening all candidates for election to "ensure their suitability for the Presidency". In a public statement on 15 May, Amnesty International urged the Council of Guardians to ensure that no one was excluded from standing as a candidate solely on the grounds of their race, colour, sex, language, religion, social origin or political or other opinion and that none of the 42 women who registered to stand were barred solely on account of their gender. However, all but four candidates were excluded, including all the women candidates. The four remaining candidates are: current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; former Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karroubi; Mohsen Rezai, former Commander of the Revolutionary Guards and current Secretary of the Expediency Council; and Mir Hossein Mousavi, who served as Iran’s Prime Minister during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Iranians have faced censorship during the campaign: the authorities blocked access to the social networking web sites Facebook and, briefly, Twitter on 23 May. Candidates and their supporters opposing current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been using the sites to spread information as part of their campaigns. Surprised by the outcry, the authorities unblocked access to Facebook three days later. The campaign of Mir Hossein Mousavi – himself a member of the Azerbaijani minority - has attracted allegations of racism after a video posted on YouTube on 14 May allegedly showed former President Mohammad Khatami (who supports Mr Mousavi) making comments belittling Iranian Azerbaijanis. Mr Khatami has since stated that the video was a fake. In the days after the video surfaced, hundreds of Azerbaijani activists held rallies and made protests, demanding an apology from Mr Khatami. Some have been arrested and are being held in incommunicado detention. In the pre-election period, Amnesty International has also received reports suggesting increased waves of arbitrary arrests and harassment targeting in particular members of Iran’s religious and ethnic minority communities, including Baha'is and converts from Islam, students, trade unionists and women’s rights activists. Emad Bahavar, of the banned Iran Freedom Movement, who was campaigning for the presidential election of Mir-Hossein Mosavi, was detained on 27 May on suspicion of "spreading propaganda against the system". It was reported that Mr Bahavar, 31, was detained by an order issued by the Revolutionary Court. Security guards searched Mr Bahavar’s residence and a number of his personal effects, such as his computer, were confiscated. Mr Bahavar was reported to have been released on Tuesday. Other cases of arbitrary detention include the arrest on 19 April of Mehdi Mo’tamedi Mehr, a member of the Committee to Defend Free, Healthy and Fair Elections and a member of the Freedom Movement. Before his arrest he had been called by a Ministry of Intelligence official and told that publication of a statement entitled Civil Society Institution as Election Observers: An Assurance toward Free, Healthy and Fair Elections by the Committee would be an act against national security. The statement was published anyway, and he was arrested. He has been accused of "acting against state security". On 29 April, security forces prevented other members of the committee from holding a meeting in the Raad Legal Institute which belongs to Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a prominent lawyer and member of the High Oversight Council of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). The CHRD headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi was forcibly closed in December 2008 and has not been allowed to reopen. At least two Amir Kabir University students remain detained without trial by the Ministry of Intelligence in Section 209 of Evin Prison in Tehran following their arrests in February 2009. Other students arrested with them who have since been released have said that they were tortured in detention. On 28 April 2009, a Revolutionary Court judge said that eight students, including those still detained, had been accused of cooperating with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, an opposition group based in exile. He added that they had intended to ìcarry out some activities in the universityî during the forthcoming election. Jelveh Javaheri is the only woman among around 20 people still held after their arrest on 1 May 2009. She is a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign (also known as the Campaign for Equality), which is collecting signatures to a petition demanding equal rights for women. Most – including Jelveh Javaheri's journalist husband Kaveh Mozaffari - were arrested in Laleh Park in Tehran where a celebration of International Workers' Day was being held, but Jelveh Javaheri was arrested at home without an arrest warrant when security officials came with her husband to search their house. She has since been charged with "acting against national security through membership in the One Million Signatures Campaign and with the aim of disrupting public order and security." "By imprisoning people for merely expressing dissenting views, the Iranian authorities are stifling the free debate which is a pre-requisite of elections," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. "Citizens should be able to freely express their grievances and their demands so that candidates can address them." "All individuals and groups should be allowed to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, including in ways which dissent from state policies and practices, in the run-up to the presidential election." In the run-up to the elections violent unrest has intensified in Sistan-Baluchistan province in south-eastern Iran. A member of the armed Baluch group, the People's Resistance Movement of Iran (PRMI) carried out a suicide bomb attack on a mosque in the provincial capital of Zahedan on 28 May. Up to 25 people were reported to have been killed and dozens more were injured. The PRMI said that the attack was a reprisal for the execution of several Sunni clerics in recent years. "The bombing of the mosque is a total disregard of principles of international humanitarian law, by which the PRMI has pledged to abide. We condemn it unreservedly," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. Less than 48 hours after the bombing, three men were hanged in public near the site of the attack amid claims that they were responsible. Later comments clarified that the three men had been in detention at the time of the bombing, but that they had "confessed" to providing the explosives used in the bombing. Further unrest broke out afterwards with up to ten people killed, and dozens arrested. Iran's Baluch minority suffer discrimination by the state authorities leading to gross violations of their economic, social and cultural rights. They live mainly in the provinces of Sistan-Balouchistan and Kerman, and are believed to constitute between one to three per cent of the country’s total population of around 70 million. They are mainly Sunni Muslims, whereas the majority of Iran’s population are Shi’a Muslims.