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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.

Minou Aslani, head of the Women's Basij organization in Iran, has condemned efforts to increase the number of women in parliament and opposed campaigns to curb domestic violence as perceived assaults on Iranian society and traditional family values.

The woman who leads female volunteers in Iran's hard-line conservative militia, the Basij, has identified a new foe.

Minu Aslani has reportedly called the promotion of gender equality illegal and demanded that the country's powerful judiciary take action against people who speak out against such state-sponsored discrimination.

"These activities are in fact against our laws and the judiciary should take action," the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Aslani as telling reporters on December 2.

In the past, Aslani has condemned efforts to increase the number of women in parliament and opposed campaigns to curb domestic violence as perceived assaults on Iranian society and traditional family values. Pushing for greater female participation threatens to "distort" the identity of Iran's women, she has said.

The latest broadside against opponents of gender-based discrimination appears to be a volley aimed at allies of relative moderate President Hassan Rohani, who campaigned in 2013 on a pledge to fight second-tier status for women and is expected to seek a second term in 2017.

At the December 2 press conference, Aslani argued that gender equality was a Western concept that isolates women. "This is a path that has resulted in the solitude of women in the West," she said. "Unfortunately some people in this country are following the outdated Western example -- it is against human nature."

Aslani also criticized United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's eight-year-old UNiTE To End Violence Against Women campaign, which is aimed at raising awareness about violence against women and girls.

Aslani argued that the initiative -- which proclaims the 25th day of each month "Orange Day" -- suggests to women and girls that they should not grant their love and affection to their families.

"Why have authorities in our country given a commitment to the United Nations to achieve gender equality within the next 15 years?" Aslani asked reporters.

She appeared to be referring to a UN development agenda for global action for the next 15 years, ratified by member states in 2016, that highlights gender equality and women's empowerment as a key priority.

Aslani added that Iran should have a plan for women to be active in society while providing "emotional support" to their families. "Alongside social and economic activities, the main identity of a Muslim woman is centered on her role as a mother," she said.

She also complained that unnamed individuals in Iran have designed a questionnaire to gauge gender equality among various state bodies, adding that such activities were also "against the law and the judiciary should take action."
Aslani also criticized Iran's vice president for women's affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, who has expressed commitment to gender equality and angered hard-liners with her efforts to promote women's rights. She recently tweeted to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25:

"...[W]hat has the vice presidency for women's affairs done for virtue in society?" Aslani asked.

Women's rights activists have sought to become more active and engage more thoroughly in Iran's religiously conservative society under Rohani's presidency. But they have faced pressure from hard-liners in control of key institutions who believe feminist ideas are a violation of Islamic principles.

In August, Amnesty International warned against a renewed crackdown against women's rights activists in Iran, saying that they were being treated as "enemies of the state."

In recent weeks, reports have said that as many as 20 women have been summoned and interrogated by the authorities for attending a seminar in Georgia on women's empowerment.

At least one of the seminar's attendees, photographer and women's rights activist Alieh Matlabzadeh, has been arrested.

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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