Iranian Courts Continue to Intimidate Perceived Enemies

by Navid  Felker

After “moderate” Hassan Rouhani succeeded Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran in 2013, a change was expected for the country’s human rights.

However, the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual Iranian-British citizen who worked for the media development team at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, highlights the lack of change concerning human rights in Iran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in April 2016 at Tehran’s airport as she and her baby daughter were about to board a flight back to London, where she lives with her British husband. She was in Iran for a family visit to celebrate the Iranian New Year. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for “participating in devising and carrying out media and cyber projects aimed at the soft overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Additionally, according to the UK-based human rights organization Amnesty International, she has now been told she could be charged again, and faces another trial at any point in time, which may result in an even longer sentence.

Britain’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson visited Tehran earlier this month, and spoke on her behalf.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is not the only foreign journalist to be arrested and convicted by the regime.The Washington Post’s correspondent in Iran, Jason Rezaian, was sentenced to an unspecified prison term that was not revealed even to him or his lawyer, in October 2015. Rezaian spent 18 months in a prison controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, and was released last year in a prisoner swap between Iran and the US.

Robin Shahini, another journalist with dual Iranian-American citizenship, was also visiting his family when he was arrested in July 2016. He was charged with “acting against national security” and “participating in protest gatherings in 2009” as well as “collaborating with Voice of America (VOA) television.” However, neither Shahini nor his lawyer were allowed to see the evidence against him.

It is not only dual nationals who are in danger. The 2009 presidential candidates, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and the academic and artist Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi’s wife, have remained under house arrest for years.

The deputy speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Motahari, claimed recently, “One of the heads of power said placing people under house arrest is not a punishment. I told him he should spend 10 days indoors and under siege and see what happens.”

Iran’s attitude toward human rights does not seem to have improved under the Rouhani administration, and the belief that the nuclear deal would affect progressive domestic change has not materialized.

While it is hoped that Johnson’s recent visit to Tehran may bring the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe closer, the broader and troubling issue of violations of human rights throughout that country is still a grave concern.