Saturday, September 02, 2006

An Undemocratic Iran Is Dangerous . . .

Ali Afshari and Akbar Atri, The Wall Street Journal:
This weekend, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is scheduled to visit Iran. The trip is taking place in the context of growing tensions between Iran and the world community over the nuclear issue, and as Iran continues to defy the resolutions of the Security Council.

No doubt, resolving this impasse is first and foremost on Mr. Annan's agenda, so as to prevent a potential war against Iran.

Over a decade as two leaders of the student movement, we have worked to focus the attention of the international community on the plight of the people of Iran. We are concerned that the country's nuclear activities may overshadow other subjects that are equally, if not more, important. Unlike the nuclear threat, these issues are affecting the lives of Iranians here and now, as we speak.

In particular, civil and human rights are in dire need of the secretary-general's attention. In his remarks at the inaugural session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, Mr. Annan vowed that as long as he is secretary-general, the U.N. will remain an organization that will place human rights at the center of its work; and no government will ever have the license to violate the rights and the freedoms of its citizens and then expect to hide these violations behind the fa├žade of national sovereignty. READ MORE

In the one year of his presidency, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has already created one of the bleakest human-rights records in Iran's recent history. Even as the secretary-general prepared to visit Iran, the regime arrested four leading student activists: Mehdi Makaremi, Jamal Zaherpour, Abolfazl Jahandar and Saeid Derakhshandi. Held in custody since Aug. 19, the authorities have refused to grant visits even to the families of these students. When Mr. Jahandar's father asked to see his imprisoned son, he was told that if he insists too much he may be referred to the morgue. Mr. Jahandar's crimes cannot be any more than being a popular blogger, a prominent leader of the student movement, and the editor in chief of one of the best journalistic Web sites on Iran, called Pooya News. Mr. Derakhshandi's father, a farmer who is at a loss in Tehran dealing with prison authorities, cannot even get the prison officials to grant him a telephone conversation with his son.

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Scores of other student activists are languishing in prisons throughout the country. The noose has been tightened around the neck of writers, journalists and bloggers in the past few months -- in their struggle to still remain afloat, they are committing bizarre acts of self-censorship. Satellite dishes are being collected so as to cut off the public's access to the free press and the news of the global community. Women's groups, labor organizations and student groups are not permitted even the most peaceful acts of protest. Women don't have the right to dress as they choose. And to show their respect for the international community, to the very inaugural session of the Human Rights Council where Mr. Annan delivered his historic speech, Iran sent the notorious Chief Justice Saeed Mortazavi, who is known to us as the butcher of the free press. These are the law-enforcement officials of the government with whom Mr. Annan plans to conduct civilized negotiations.

In the nearly three decades since the 1979 revolution, Iranian activists have learned the hard way how essential it is to respect international conventions. We have realized that nothing can be accomplished by radicalism or unilateralism. Our dream is to see an Iran that stays true to the U.N. and its values and covenants. We also believe that all the violent rhetoric of our rulers, especially that of President Ahmadinejad, is rooted in our domestic problems. An undemocratic Iran will be a danger to the world, with or without nuclear arms. An Iranian government that has no regards for human rights cannot be a reliable party in any negotiations. Time and time again, these very points have proven true about Iran in the last 30 years. When the regime conducted its political assassinations of Iranian dissidents on European soil, European countries thought this was only the domestic problem of another country -- until terrorism became a global affliction.

As two student activists, we urge Kofi Annan to place the issue of human rights as the top priority on his agenda. His visit happens to coincide with the anniversary of the massacre of political prisoners in 1987, when several thousand were executed in the span of two weeks -- a crime for which the regime has never been held accountable, and whose perpetrators remain in power. We hope that Mr. Annan pays a visit to the Evin prison to lend an ear to the numerous peaceful activists who want nothing but to see Iran join the world community as a credible partner.

Messrs. Afshari and Atri are the founding members of Iranian Students for Democracy and Human Rights.