Iran: Threats against Shirin Ebadi escalate

Iran Human Rights
Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi slandered by the Iranian government-controlled news agency; activists are concerned for her safety.
"The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran expressed serious concerns for health and safety of Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate, following increasing threats and slander by the official government organ, Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), against her in recent weeks.
The Campaign is also concerned about the continued detention and ill treatment of another human rights defender, Emad Baghi, whose health is in serious danger.

Over the past few weeks, IRNA has published a series of articles slandering and defaming Shirin Ebadi, claiming that Ebadi's daughter has converted to the Baha'i religion, implying charges of apostasy which is a crime punishable by death under Iranian law. Ebadi and her daughter have strongly denied and denounced IRNA's accusations. The articles also implicitly accused Ebadi of being a Zionist agent and that her Nobel peace prize was awarded on behalf of the international Zionist lobby.

These attacks on Ebadi follow her advocacy on behalf of seven detained Bahai's in Iran whom she is representing as their legal counsel. IRNA's defamation campaign against Ebadi comes on the heels of several death threats against her during the past few years by a shadowy "anti-Baha'i" group.

"The attacks on Ebadi by the official state news agency reflect the government's efforts to silence and intimidate an internationally recognized and respected figure. It is alarming how far the authorities are willing to go to prevent Ebadi from representing victims of human rights abuses," the Campaign said.

Following IRNA's escalating defamations, Ebadi filed a libel suit against IRNA. The Campaign called on the Iranian Judiciary to investigate the abuse of state-controlled news agency and to prosecute those responsible for spreading lies and threats against Ebadi.

Another prominent human rights defender, Emad Baghi, has been subjected to severe persecution and ill-treatment while in custody. Baghi is founder of the Society for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights and has been in prison for articles he wrote against the application of the death penalty 10 years ago. He is currently serving a one- year prison term that is to end on 8 October 2008. However during his imprisonment, the Judiciary continues to prosecute him on charges relating to his human rights advocacy as director of the Society for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights.

Baghi suffers from serious heart and kidney ailments. In early August, Baghi's condition deteriorated and on 9 August 2008, prison physicians declared his condition critical and asked that he be transferred to a hospital for specialist care. However, prison authorities, in complete disregard for Baghi's health, instead ordered his transfer to section 209 of Evin prison.

Section 209 is operated by Intelligence Ministry agents and is outside the supervision of the National Prison System. On 19 August, the Judiciary's spokesman, Alireza Jamshidi, told a press conference that Baghi has been transferred to section 209 for interrogations regarding his ongoing prosecution. According to reports received by the Campaign, Baghi's health continues to deteriorate. He is currently held in a small cell with no facilities along with another prisoner.

"Baghi's treatment is cruel and inhumane. He should have never been imprisoned for his human rights activities and now his life is in danger on account of abuses at the hands of the authorities," the Campaign said.

The government of Iran has an affirmative obligation to protect Ebadi, Baghi, and other rights advocates. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which the UN's General Assembly adopted by consensus in 1998, declares that states "shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of [human rights defenders] against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary actions" as a consequence of their legitimate effort to promote human rights.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran called on the government to end its harassment and prosecution of lawyers and human rights defenders, to guarantee the safety of Shirin Ebadi, and to release Emad Baghi from custody immediately and unconditionally.

26 August 2008