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Rohani Officially Launches Iranian Citizens' Rights Charter

Iranian President Hassan Rohani gives a speech during a televised ceremony after he unveiled a landmark bill of rights in Tehran on December 19.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has launched a Citizens' Rights Charter that represents one of his administration's most conspicuous efforts so far to fulfill campaign pledges he made in winning the presidency three years ago.

Although it is not a legally binding document, the text contains 120 articles pertaining to freedoms that critics say are routinely violated in the Islamic republic, including rights to "life," which is aimed at capital punishment, "free expression," and against an "inquisition of ideas."

Rohani, who has helped rally reformists and other opponents of hard-liners within Iran's staunchly conservative political system, faces a reelection challenge in May.

He called the release of the Citizens' Rights Charter on December 19 a step toward fulfillment of his 2013 campaign promises, but Rohani has largely failed to soften hard-liners' increased use of the death penalty, strict curbs on public debate, and discrimination against women in cultural and legislative matters.

"I'm very pleased that today one of my most important promises is being fulfilled and I'm achieving one of my longest-standing dreams," the Iranian president was quoted by domestic media as saying. "I've made other promises to the people by which I will stand by until the last day of my duty."

Rohani called on the government to implement the charter while urging everyone, including academics, artists, and the elite to "promote and consolidate" the rights laid out in the charter.

He warned that "some individuals do not like to hear about some of the articles" in Iran's 1979 constitution and instead prefer to "ignore" some of the rights outlined in the charter.

What Chance Of Change?

The move appears to be a response to criticism that Rohani put rights issues on a backburner while focusing on Iran's economic woes and the landmark nuclear agreement reached with world powers last year.

Rohani released a draft of the Citizens' Rights Charter during his first 100 days in office, but the text was heavily criticized for its reliance on the constitution and Islamic law and for failing to offer any mechanisms to protect the rights in question.

There did not appear to be significant changes to the most closely watched sections of the new version, and similar criticism could follow.

Article 1 asserts that "citizens have the right to life" but stops short of mentioning Iran's status as one of the world's busiest executioners. A report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic estimates that between 966 and 1,054 executions were carried out in Iran in 2015. Rights groups believe that is more than at any other time in the past 20 years.

Article 3 states that citizens' individual and public liberties are "immune" from attacks and that "no citizen should be deprived of these freedoms."

Article 25 says that the "inquisition of ideas is prohibited," adding that "no one should be harassed and reprimanded over [his or her] ideas."

Groups like Amnesty International accuse Iran of not only jailing ideological opponents but of extracting forced "confessions" or "repentance" and "callously toying with the lives of prisoners of conscience and other political prisoners by denying them adequate medical care."

Article 26 says that "each citizen enjoys the right to freedom of expression," while adding that this right should be enforced "based on limits prescribed by laws."

The Committee To Protect Journalists lists Iran among the world's top 10 most-censored countries, and its system of enforcing "red lines" for journalists is well-known.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Iran 169th out of 180 countries in its 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

Intellectuals, journalists, activists, and rights lawyers have been harassed, summoned, and sentenced to jail for criticism of the Iranian establishment or their defense of human rights and civil liberties.

Many of the abuses are carried out by powerful conservative bodies, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the judiciary, that do not report to Rohani.

Iran's supreme leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has wielded the final say in religious and government matters since the country's religiously fueled revolution to overthrow the shah in 1979 and install a system ruled by Islamic clerics.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.