Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a press conference, September 2, 2019.

© 2019 Ivan Vodop'janov/Kommersant/Sipa USA via AP Images

On Friday, media reported the US State Department had rejected the request of Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, to visit his country’s UN Ambassador, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, who is currently in hospital in the US for cancer treatment.

Zarif, who is in New York for this year’s UN General Assembly meetings, is restricted in his movements to the immediate area surrounding the UN Assembly buildings in New York, along with other Iranian diplomats. These restrictions have escalated further as part of President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy on Iran.

Zarif tweeted a day after these media reports that, “thanks to technology, I was able to see and talk to my friend of 40 years and our UN ambassador Ravanchi, who is in hospital here in New York only a few blocks away,” adding photos of them video chatting.

Yet Zarif’s comments unintentionally highlighted Iran’s cruel and regular prosecution of peaceful dissent. Zarif’s photos were poignant for many dissidents, journalists, and others separated from families inside Iran and unable to visit because they risk arrest for peaceful dissent if they dare return. Farnaz Fassihi of the New York Times responded to Zarif by tweeting about Maryam Mombeini, an Iranian-Canadian citizen who has been under a travel ban preventing her from leaving Iran without facing any charges after her husband, Kavous Seyed Emami, a university professor, died in Evin prison under suspicious conditions in February 2018. Mombeini’s son left the country shortly after, and now can only talk with his mother remotely as he fears arrest upon entry.

Many human rights experts including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran and UN Secretary General have raised concerns about the overly broad economic sanctions and restrictions on Iran that are hurting millions of Iranians. But as Zarif and his team come to New York to build support to counter Trump’s policies, they are regularly confronted with reminders about the increasingly repressive situation at home that also extends to Iranians abroad. 

President Rouhani said during his speech to the General Assembly on September 25 that “the ultimate solution for peace and security in the Middle East is democracy inside and diplomacy with outside.” If only Iran’s government would live up to their own human rights commitments, Zarif’s implicit criticism of the Trump administration’s petty restrictions on him and his fellow diplomats might ring slightly less hollow to countless Iranians abroad who are not able to visit their loved ones.