Iran: Closure of Human Rights Defenders Center led by Nobel Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi
According to members of the organization, which has been active since 2000, the police had been informed of the meeting, at which political activists were scheduled to speak.
"The general human rights activities of this nongovernmental organization are the reason for this illegal reaction," the center's leadership said in a statement. Center officials speculated that the closure was in part a response to a United Nations resolution issued Thursday that expressed "deep concern" about the human rights situation in Iran.
Iran has been protesting for months against the resolution, which was put forward by Canada. In October, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a special human rights report that called on Iran to address concerns such as "amputations and corporal punishment."
Ebadi's organization assisted the United Nations in compiling the report. "Many international organizations quote our reports, including the report by the secretary-general, which resulted in a resolution against the government of the Islamic republic of Iran," the center's statement read.
An Interior Ministry commission that issues permits for political organizations said the center was carrying out illegal activities, such as publishing statements, writing letters to international organizations and holding news conferences, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported.
The commission, according to the news agency, accused Ebadi's center of distributing propaganda against the state. The report also cited repeated warnings delivered to the center and said the building had been sealed on the order of Tehran's top prosecutor.
In a telephone interview, Ebadi called the closure of her organization's office "illegal" and "unacceptable." She vowed to reopen the center, saying that "the police actions are against the law."
Ebadi acknowledged that the human rights center did not have a permit to operate but said authorities had blocked its legalization.
Since its founding, the organization has taken on 5,000 pro bono cases defending politically active women, journalists and students, said spokeswoman Nargess Mohammadi.
On Sunday, guests were arriving for the ceremony when police officers escorted Ebadi and her colleagues from the building. They had refused to leave their offices for more than an hour.
"This was supposed to be one of the few happy events for activists in Iran," said Asieh Amini, a journalist who focuses on human rights issues and who was one of about 300 invited guests. Amini said plainclothes officers took video of the guests.
The human rights center was financed with the $1.4 million Ebadi received when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. After death threats were pinned to the door of her home in April, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose policies Ebadi opposes, promised to investigate. No findings were made public.
In addition to its human rights work, the center has a committee on fair elections. The office of Ebadi's other organization, which focuses on mine-clearing and is in the same building, was also closed Sunday.
Iran has a history of arresting and pressuring dissidents who question the country's record on human rights and democracy.
On Sunday a special prize for oppressed dissidents was supposed to be given to Taghi Rahmani, an opposition figure who had been arrested several times, on charges of committing crimes against national security. Rahmani was to be honored for his work promoting human rights in Iran.
22 December 2008
Source: Washington Post
Raid May Herald Broader Attack on Human Rights Defenders
(22 December 2008) – The unlawful raid by Iranian security forces on the Tehran rights group run by Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi on December 21, 2008, raises concerns of a broader attempt to silence Iran’s human rights community, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and Human Rights Watch said today.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and Human Rights Watch called on the Iranian government to immediately allow the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC) to reopen its office, and to investigate and hold accountable those authorities responsible for conducting the raid without warrant or other apparent legal basis.
The DHRC, which was founded by Ebadi, who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, and other prominent Iranian human rights defenders in 2000, planned to hold the 60th anniversary celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at their Tehran office on December 21.
“The closure of DHRC is not just an attack on Shirin Ebadi and her Iranian colleagues, but on the entire international human rights community of which she is an influential and important member,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The Iranian authorities should allow the center to reopen and investigate why it was raided in the first place.”
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and Human Rights Watch expressed serious concerns of further persecution and possible prosecutions of Ebadi and DHRC members. In similar cases, Iranian authorities have frequently followed office raids and other harassment with arbitrary arrests and detention, often leading to prosecutions on dubious charges. Currently, Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand, founder of the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization, is serving a 10-year prison sentence solely for his activities as a human rights defender.
Narges Mohammadi, DHRC’s spokesperson, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that nearly 300 human rights defenders and supporters had been invited to the private celebration. She said a few hours before the start of the program, at around 3 p.m., she arrived at DHRC’s office to find dozens of police, members of state security forces, and plainclothes agents attempting to enter the building.
According Mohammadi: “I asked them to produce a search warrant, but instead the commander told me ‘My uniform is the legal basis, I don’t need to give you any warrant.’ As I was discussing the issue with the uniformed officer in charge, a plainclothes agent physically approached and threatened me while shouting insults. Police agents quickly restrained him and moved him away while he was shouting at me, ‘If you were not a woman, I would drag your legs and throw you into the street.’”
The government agents entered the office while Mohammadi, Ebadi, and two other DHRC members were present. The agents filmed the premises, made an inventory, and forced the center’s members to leave before putting locks on all entrances.
Security forces videotaped guests as they arrived for the event, and prevented them from approaching the building. They also confiscated journalists’ cameras. “Plainclothes agents attacked and intimidated guests. In one instance, they beat a member of DHRC, Hadi Esmailzadeh, on his chest and head and took his mobile telephone away. Their behavior was violent and vulgar,” Mohammadi said.
“If Shirin Ebadi and DHRC cannot hold a simple event to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then no Iranian citizen has any security to talk about or advocate for human rights,” said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesperson for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “This is a litmus test for the Iranian government’s tolerance of human rights defenders, and its results show ‘zero tolerance.’”
DHRC’s mission statement describes its primary duties as “pro-bono legal defense of prisoners of conscience,” “supporting families of prisoners of conscience,” and “documentation and reporting of human rights abuses.”
The government of Iran has an affirmative obligation to protect 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.
For the latest human rights developments in Iran visit the Campaign’s website at www.iranhumanrights.org
For more information:
Hadi Ghaemi, in New York: +1-917-669-5996
Aaron Rhodes, in Vienna: +43-676-635-6612
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