Norooz, a celebration of the new year that is marked by people from every religion and belief, was met with relief and joy by Iranians all over the world. Millions in Iran traveled in cars, buses, trains, and planes to see family and friends and to do a bit of urban camping. Iran’s press was filled with stories of tourist attractions and the numbers of travelers.
Sanctions are taking a huge bite out of the budgets of most Iranian households. Prices are “unbelievable,” sources tell Arseh Sevom. “Prices change three times a day and the government blames it all on the embargos,” an Ahwazi householder says. A Tehrani resident says that her home has lost 50% of its value this year. With sanctions on doing business with Iran’s central bank kicking in, inflation is expected to continue to rise. The Economist Intelligence Unit predicted further pain for the majority of Iranian households as the rial continues to plummet.
In a Swedish publication (translated by Anusche Noring), Sholeh Irani writes of warmongering and the oppression of women, stating there is broad consensus among Iranian women’s rights that sanctions and war do not lead to freedom and democracy. The article quoted prominent women’s rights activist Parvin Ardalan as saying:
“Under the shadow of the looming threat of war and economic sanctions, the Iranian regime has been stepping up its oppression of women, new discriminatory legislation is coming into force, and further pressure has been brought to bear upon civil society actors in recent months. One example which has not attracted any attention or resistance was the new legislation introducing total gender segregation in the country’s universities.”
Ms Ardalan, who has been following developments closely, finds that the impact of economic sanctions is manifesting itself more and more each day. They are affecting civil society – the regime, on the other hand, has managed to get by so far.
“In the majority of families in Iran, the husband is the sole breadwinner. Women are in charge of handling the familyʼs finances and need to ensure that their husband’s small income will cover all expenses. This has been a difficult struggle for the majority of women for some time now, due to the regimeʼs economic policies, but in recent months, it has become an impossible task. Alarmingly high prices for food, rent and other necessities of life, combined with rising unemployment and the general anxiety that exists in Iran, entail a dramatic increase in the burden borne by women.”
The report presented by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmad Shaheed, was discussed at length in the Iranian blogosphere. There was wide agreement among activists and organizations that the report was comprehensive and accurate.
More than 20 organizations signed a letter urging the retention of the Special Rapporteur:
The country mandate has mobilized, in an unprecedented manner, Iranians both inside and outside the country, to engage with the international community. In meeting after meeting, victims and activists have told us that they see the office of the Special Rapporteur as a critical focal point for documenting rights abuses, and an impartial and reliable channel of communication between victims and the United Nations and its member states. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur fulfills an important role for Iranian survivors of human rights violations which is denied to them in Iran.
Last week a second year was indeed added to his mandate.
(Arseh Sevom has been following this story on its Persian site: Iranian Human Rights Activists at an International Meeting in Geneva, The Need for Human Rights Education in Iran, Torture and Oppression of Prisoners)
Eighty journalists signed a letter to the imprisoned journalist Massoud Bastani on the occasion of his 999th day in Evin Prison. They thanked him for his resistance, courage, and nobility in the face of brutality and imprisonment.
News that Chinese companies have been supplying Iran with surveillance technologies since at least 2010 has come as no surprise to many. Human rights activist Anita Hunt tweeted:
@lissnup: 14 months after you saw it on Twitter, Reuters does a special on #China selling #Iran snooping software http://snup.us/v6X
It should also come as no surprise that these technologies are often used to track down dissenters.
In related news, China has been using malware to attack Macs used by NGOs focusing on issues related to Tibet. Activists should expect similar actions from Iran.
China is not the only country providing surveillance technology to Iran, the EU is home to a number of companies that have provided surveillance and monitoring capabilities in the past. This past week, the EU banned these sales to Iran.
Marietje Schaake, a member of the European Parliament, told Arseh Sevom:
“In the midst of all the talk about possible military actions against Iran these important new human rights sanctions signal the EU’s ongoing concern about the systematic violation of the Iranian’s fundamental rights and freedoms. By banning the export of European-made Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and operational services used for surpression and by targeting those within the Iranian regime responsible for the massive censorship and monitoring of internet and mobile communication traffic, the EU seeks to prevent the successful establishment of an electronic firewall and the “national internet,” which would cut off Iranians from the open world wide web. Sustainable change in Iran can only come from within, therefore the international community should stand by the Iranian people and preserve an ongoing dialogue, both online and offline, how difficult that may be. In my opinion democatization and human rights should be elevated even higher on the political agenda.”
The holiday of Norooz gave some relief to political prisoners such as Mehdi Karroubi, who after four months was allowed to see his family. The Guardian reported:
The news about Karroubi comes after several activists and journalists were given temporary leave from prison for the Nowruz holiday. Journalist Ali Mousavi Khalkhali, singer Arya Aramnejad, activist Mehdi Khazali and Parvin Mokhtarea, the mother of human rights activist Kouhyar Goudarzi, were among those let out of prison for Nowruz. There was no news on whether Mir Hossein Mousavi, another opposition leader, had been given prison leave.
Most, however, were left imprisoned, without access to family or even telephone calls. To bring attention to their situation, political prisoners refused all communication in the week after the holiday.
In Ahwaz, six Arab minority, political prisoners arrested during a peaceful demonstration, were sentenced by the revolutionary court to imprisonment and execution. The Arab minority in the area continues to be targeted by authorities.
On April 1, 7 Baha’i will have been in prison in Iran for a combined total of 10,000 days and several cities, including Amsterdam, will be taking action to bring attention to their plight and to that of other prisoners of conscience. This comes in the wake of a report on religious freedom issued by the US State Department that condemns Iran for its discrimination against religious minorities.
The commission condemned the Iranian government for discriminating against its citizens on the basis of their beliefs, using imprisonment, torture and executions. The annual report, published Tuesday, describes how conditions have worsened for the country’s religious minorities, such as the Baha’is, Christians and Sufi Muslims. But even those protected under Iran’s constitution — including Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians and Zoroastrians — have come under attack.
A pdf of the report can be downloaded here: http://www.uscirf.gov/images/Annual%20Report%20of%20USCIRF%202012%282%29.pdf
Finally, the facebook campaign launched by a couple of Israeli graphic designers, Ronny Edry and Michal Tamir, felt like a Norooz gift to many Iranians. The Israel Loves Iran Campaign was started as an attempt to reach out across the divide and start a conversation between Israelis and Iranians. In an interview with Arseh Sevom (to be published later this week), a volunteer for the campaign said that in the first days the Israeli designers had received over 20,000 emails from Iranians all over the world. The campaign has captured the imagination of people all over the world and has been featured on Al Jazeera, CNN, Radio Zamaneh, and more. It resulted in a peace demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening.
Iranian groups and individuals have also taken up the peace gauntlet.
Do your part to lift the pain of sanctions on Iranian families.
Dear Catherine Ashton:
We, the undersigned, are concerned about the effects the implementation of sanctions are having on average Iranians. We are particularly concerned that items that are not sanctioned, such as medication and humanitarian goods are not reaching the people in Iran.
This is a time of great suffering in the region. We want to ensure that we are not further contributing to the suffering because of the denial of access to a payment channel for humanitarian items. We know the intention of the sanctions is to put pressure on Iran’s ruling elite. We worry that this is not the reality.
The brunt of the suffering falls on women and children and the most vulnerable in society. They suffer the consequences in very real ways. They lose their incomes, their homes, and their access to life-saving medication. Some of this suffering can be alleviated by facilitating the seamless implementation of the existing humanitarian exemptions. These include financial transactions related to medications, basic needs, and other items that are currently not sanctioned.
We ask the European Union to create a payment channel to accept transactions from Iran. This channel should be closely scrutinized. This will allow much needed financial transactions for medications and basic needs to take place.
It is crucial at this time when the people of Iran are desperately trying to make their own voices heard that we show we are listening. They went to the polls in an attempt to show their own government that they wanted reform and better relations with the outside world. We need to show we are listening.
Please help to avert a humanitarian disaster. Allow Iranians access to the international banking system to purchase medications and humanitarian goods.