Imprisoned in Iran

 The-Times-Event-500x281Justice for Iran joined more than a hundred Iranian activists, British government officials, journalists and others interested in Iran’s human rights situation at the “Imprisoned in Iran” event held by the Times of London newspaper at its offices on the evening of Tuesday, 13 September. The event—organised by the Times in support of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman whose sentence to death by stoning provoked an international outcry in the summer of 2010—featured British Foreign Secretary William Hague as its keynote speaker and touched on a range of human rights issues affecting Mohammadi Ashtiani and other Iranian prisoners of conscience.At the event, Justice for Iran’s Executive Director Shadi Sadr and other JFI representatives spoke to those in attendance about JFI’s campaign to profile human rights violators in Iran, as well as its on-going collection of documentation about occurrences of rape and sexual assault in Iran’s prisons.

Hague opened up the evening with a rousing speech emphasising both his and the British government’s commitment to improving the human rights situation in Iran through a dual approach of sanctions and dialogue. He underscored, in no less than certain terms, that sanctions issued by the British government against Iranian officials for human rights abuses are separate and distinct from those concerning the nuclear issue. He also confirmed that such sanctions may be lifted if the Iranian government improves its human rights record, but that if the situation further deteriorates the British government would not hesitate to intensify its sanctions regime. Hague expressed his commitment to the cause of human rights in Iran and intent to articulate these concerns at the UN General Assembly in New York, where he is due to appear next week.

The strength of Hague’s message was so pronounced that in the remarks following his speech, the editor of the Times James Harding commented on the “unequivocal” nature of Hague’s address to the crowd.

Following the British Foreign Secretary’s presentation, several notable Iranian activists, academics, journalists and personalities took the stage to comment on the challenges of reporting on Iran in the media and campaigning for Iranian prisoners of conscience.

Justice for Iran’s Executive Director Shadi Sadr addressed the crowd about the serious and on-going problem of arrests of lawyers in Iran who defend individuals perceived as government opposition. She noted that because these lawyers are often on the frontlines of progressive change in Iran, the efforts to free them go beyond just the individual and actually impact the struggle for greater freedoms in Iran as a whole.

Iranian human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei—forced to flee Iran in summer 2010 for his representation of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani—described his personal experience defending Mohammadi Ashtiani and the general challenges facing criminal defence lawyers in Iran who must play both the role of the lawyer and the activist for the plight of their clients to be heard.

Activist Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam spoke of the alarming rise in the rate of executions following the disputed June 2009 presidential elections in Iran. Writer and journalist Arash Hejazi—the doctor who attempted to save Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose killing by Basiji para-military forces in Iran’s post election violence in July 2009 was broadcast around the world—stressed the importance of citizens to “bear witness” to crimes and speak out about their experiences at the hands of a repressive government, just as he did in respect to Agha-Soltan’s death.

In conclusion, the Times editor James Harding’s opening announcement that he hoped the evening would function as an “information-gathering” exercise appeared to bear fruit as activists, officials, journalists and others who attended the event congregated after the speeches and branched off into small groups to further discuss the important issues raised that evening.

For full coverage of the event, see the Wednesday, 14 September 2011 edition of the Times newspaper, pp. 1-2; 8-10.