Concern Grows on Iran Abuses


Concern is growing among circles of Iranian nationals and expatriates that European countries are turning a blind eye to the regime’s human rights atrocities in exchange for trade benefits.

Late last year, the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution criticizing Iran for human rights violations. It cited new restrictions on freedom of expression and the persecution of political and religious dissenters. The resolution, the 52nd such measure by the United Nations against Iran, was approved 71-54, with 55 abstentions. The world body said Iran was facing a “worsening situation” regarding freedom of opinion and expression.

Human Rights Watch reported that the Iranian judiciary was using threats of lengthy prison sentences and coerced televised statements in an attempt to cover up its arbitrary detention and torture of internet journalists and civil society activists.

However, despite the U.N. resolution and the Human Rights Watch report spotlighting the problems, many Iranians inside and outside the country, as well as human rights activists, are concerned by what they see as appeasement by three leading E.U. countries, France, Britain and Germany. Word has spread that in return last October for Iran’s promise to halt its uranium enrichment program, which could be used to develop nuclear weapons, there would be political concessions made. Reportedly included would be a milder position on human rights issues.

In one Iranian human rights case that drew international attention, Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died in custody in 2003. She was arrested while photographing families lined up outside Tehran’s notorious Evin prison waiting to visit prisoners. The journalist’s arbitrary arrest, torture and subsequent death were further compounded by refusal to release Kazemi’s body to her son and a sham trial, in which a scapegoat for the death was cleared.

Kazemi’s death was only one of many human rights violations of which Iran has been accused. Last month, Hajieh Esmailvand, an Iranian woman convicted of adultery, was facing death by stoning, according to Amnesty International. The Iranian Penal Code states that women will be buried up to their breasts for execution by stoning, and the stones should “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes, nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones.”

The stoning death sentence was not an isolated incident. Zhila Izadyar, a 13-year-old schoolgirl, was sentenced to be stoned to death after being convicted of having an incestuous relationship with her 15-year-old brother, Bakhtiar. The boy was sentenced to 180 lashes, plus prison.

Hanging was ordered for a retarded 19-year-old woman on “morality-related” charges, after being forced into prostitution by her mother, and a religious judge ordered hanging for 16-year-old girl for “deeds incompatible with chastity.”

Boys have not escaped hanging sentences either. One 16-year-old who in self-defense allegedly killed someone attempting to sexually abuse him faces the noose — but not for two years. In this case, there is a law barring the execution of juveniles under 18. As a result, he will be imprisoned until he is legally old enough to be hanged. There are three other imprisoned minors awaiting the same fate when they turn 18.

During 2004, approximately 230 Iranian prisoners were executed or received death sentences. Recently, state-run television aired video of eight prisoners dangling from a gallows in southeastern Iran. Opponents of the regime have compiled the names and cases of 21,676 political prisoners executed by the government since 1981, and they claim this is less than one-fifth of the actual number.

Continuing concern over prisoner executions and other rights abuses rose even higher after an AFP news story on Oct. 21 that said Europeans promised to help on a range of “political and security issues” and would continue to regard the main Iranian resistance group “as a terrorist organization.” On Oct. 24, the state-run Jomhouri Eslami paper wrote: “European counterparts have stated explicitly that they are prepared to close Iran’s human rights file.”

The news confirmed Iranian expatriates’ previous worries that the E.U. had struck a deal with Iran in 2002, in which it would not go before U.N. Commission on Human Rights and General Assembly and accuse it of human rights abuses. Since that date no resolution on human rights in Iran has been sponsored by the E.U. before the commission — unlike the previous 20 years.

Last year’s passage of a U.N. General Assembly resolution accusing Iran of human rights violations is a good sign, but much more needs to be done. Rights violations in Iran are continuing, so international condemnation of them be should be maintained. Otherwise, Iran’s clerics might get the wrong message.

Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes for a variety of publications on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights.


Tune In to Israel

A newly formed Israel-based television network has begun transmitting programs around the clock to expatriates in the United States and Canada and to anyone else who want to stay in touch with news, education, music, sports and sitcoms in the Jewish State.

The Israeli Network will feature three eight-hour segments every day — except Yom Kippur — drawing its programs from Israel’s Channel 1, Channel 2, Sports Channel and Educational Television, as well as movies and documentaries from Israel’s Broadcasting Authority.

The primary target audience consists of Israelis in North America, which Shlomo Wolfhart, the new company’s founder and CEO, pegs at around 600,000.

“We also hope to reach American Jews through daily English-language newscasts, children’s programs geared toward teaching Hebrew, general cultural events and some Hebrew programs with English subtitles,” Wolfhart said, speaking by phone from his studio in Kfar Saba.

If American tourists are worried about traveling to Israel, the new network can bring Israel into their living rooms, Wolfhart suggested.

“We’ll bring you the Israeli perspective, so you don’t have to rely on CNN,” he said. The service is available through the Dish Network, a digital broadcasting satellite company (

Subscribers can sign up for the Israeli package alone at $19.99 per month, or combine it, at a higher fee, with a selection of American channels. (Homes with cable television alone cannot receive the programs.)

The Israel Network’s U.S. office is in New York and can be contacted by phone at (212) 925-9907, or through the Web site at Commercials will advertise both Israeli and American products, with sales representatives in New York and Los Angeles.

Wolfhart lived in Los Angeles from 1984 to 1993, first as a college student majoring in film and video, then as head of his own company, Ivory Video Productions, specializing in promotional videos.

Because of the time difference between the United States and Israel, most programs will be by delayed transmission, except for soccer games and breaking news, which will air live.

The Israeli Network was officially launched Sept. 14 with full-page ads in Hebrew-language newspapers in North America, three days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. As a result of the disaster, phone calls were erratic, and the New York office had to close down for its first four days. It is now up and running, said manager Anat Weinstock.

During its first full year, the network expects to sign up between 20,000 and 25,000 subscribers. Future plans include expanding the satellite feed to Europe (including Russia) and South America, and originating some programs from the Israeli enclaves in Los Angeles, New York and Miami.

Financial backers of the new venture include New Regency Productions in Hollywood, headed by Israeli-American producer Arnon Milchan, as well as a number of Israeli investors.

Wolfhart declined to give an exact figure for his company’s total assets, but said that they ran into the millions of dollars.