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IX. A Bleak Future

The climate of fear created by the abuses documented in this report has affected many Iranians. Several students told Human Rights Watch that while they supported the views of the student activists, they were afraid to go out into the streets or attend public speeches. “Before, you might be afraid that they would take you to jail for the day,” one said, “Now, you are afraid that they will beat you and cut you.”160 

Today, little hope remains for domestic organs to push for change in the judiciary’s behavior.  The costs for speaking out against human rights violations by the judiciary and by the parallel forces have increased considerably over the past three years.  As Ambeyi Ligabo, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right of freedom of opinion and expression observed in a report on his recent trip to Iran, repression of speech created a “climate of fear.”

The Special Rapporteur would go even further, underlining that the climate of fear induced by the systematic repression of people expressing critical views against the authorized political and religious doctrine and the functioning of institutions, coupled with the severity and disproportion of the sentences imposed, leads to self censorship on the part of many journalists, intellectuals, politicians, students and the population at large, thus in effect impeding freedom of expression.161

In the aftermath of the February 20, 2004 parliamentary elections, it seems that this climate of fear will only increase.  One popular disqualified MP, who was the first to resign from the Sixth Majles, recently said, “The Judicial mechanisms, which are under the direct control of the hardliners, and all the hardliners who are involved in a plan to limit the political space, and this new political space will render the country in a worse condition than before.  Compared with the past, we must expect a much worse condition.”162  On the eve of the elections, one of two remaining reformist newspapers was permanently shut down, the other closed for two weeks; numerous individuals were threatened by the courts, several public lectures were physically attacked by plainclothes security forces, and a number of Internet news sites were filtered from users inside Iran.163  While it remains unclear precisely what impact the handover of the Majles to conservatives will have, events since the elections suggest that developments will be very detrimental to the rights of political prisoners. 

On March 18, 2004, the spokesperson for the judiciary announced the end of activities of the presidential committee on the condition of political prisoners, despite objections from reformist members of the committee.  The spokesperson, in response to a question regarding three religious/nationalist alliance journalists who have been in detention without charge for months, suggested that their families had been overly vocal in pleading their cases with the media.164  The next day, a reformist minister – also a member of the committee - noted that the committee had not issued, and indeed lacked the jurisdiction to issue comment on the legal status of the journalists.165 

On March 7, 2004, a disqualified parliamentarian who has spent much of his tenure investigating secret prisons, decrying the abuse of political prisoners, and demanding government accountability for their detention, read these words on the floor of the parliament while being shouted down by hardliner politicians:

Today, we witness a parliamentary coup that employs disqualification and intimidation in the election of the 7th Islamic Majles as tools against the movement by Iranian people who desire change.  The coup we witness is designed to transform the Majles into an institution with hand-picked deputies who vote according to orders.  The coup is designed to transform the Majles into an institution from which letters of protest are no longer written, from which the voice of those wishing to uncover the truth will no longer rise, and whose Article 90 Commission will no longer investigate the complaints of the oppressed.  It will, instead, become an institution whose reports on the murder of dissidents, on the attack by military forces on the campuses of Tehran, Tabriz, or Taraasht, and on the harassment of and solitary confinement of journalists, prisoners, and political activists, namely students and those involved in the student movement, will no longer bother the rulers.  In this transformed Majles, no longer will members speak of the loneliness of prison and solitary confinement for innocents like Saber, Alijani, Rahmani, Ganji, Zarafshan, Aghajari, Eshkevari, Abdi, Batebi, or others.166

[160] Human Rights Watch interview with former student, October 13, 2003.

[161] Report Submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the right of freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, E/CN.4/2004/62/Add.2, January 12, 2004. 

[162] “Fatemeh Haqiqatjou: We Must Expect Much Worse Conditions,” Peyke Iran Online, March 25, 2004, Citing Deutchewelle Persian Service, (retrieved March 29, 2004).  

[163] On January 21, 2004, a group of plainclothes Ansar-eh Hizbollah men attacked a peaceful gathering of speakers. Among the speakers were Said Rajavi-Faqih, a leading member of the Office of Fostering Unity [Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat] and several others who were encouraging people to vote in the February 20 Parliamentary elections. There was also an attack against a leading reformist member of parliament on December 5, 2003, when MP Mohsen Mirdamadi attended a public meeting  of the Islamic Iran Participation Front in the city of Yazd, and was attacked by plainclothes agents.  A number of police officers were also injured in this attack. A local Yazd Province official noted; “How can we expect the rule of law to be respected anywhere in this country, when the chairman of the Majles’ National Security and Foreign Policy Committee is assaulted by a factious group after being officially invited to deliver a speech?”  “Governor-General Expresses Regret Over MP’s Attack,” Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) (Tehran), December 6, 2003. 

[164] “The end of activities of the Presidential Committee for Following Up on the Condition of the Political Prisoners,” Sharq (Tehran), March 18, 2004.  The judiciary’s spokesman also noted, regarding the recent closure of the newspapers, “The judiciary did not see the closures of these papers as a politically advantageous act, and this act has no benefit or fruits for the judiciary, which means that if political exigency was a motivating factor, some aspect of the activities would not have happened, and now that those activities have happened, it shows that the work of the judiciary is not political.” (Translated by Human Rights Watch).

[165] “Minister Says Investigation into Case of Political Prisoners has not ended,” ISNA, March 19, 2004. 

[166] “Speech of MP A. Akbar Mousavi Khoeini,” (in Farsi), Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (Tehran), March 7, 2004. 

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