Thursday, May 20, 2010

Iran: Opportunity for Accountability

Since Iran’s disputed June 12, 2009 presidential elections, human rights and religious freedom conditions have deteriorated to a point not seen since the early days of the Islamic revolution. Religious minorities–including Baha’is, various Christian groups, Sufi and Sunni Muslims, Zoroastrians, and Jews–are suffering increasing persecution and imprisonment while killings, arrests, and physical abuse have intensified for reformers, ethnic minorities, journalists, human rights defenders, women’s groups, and other activists. Religious as well as political dissidents are often tried on trumped-up national security crimes and other criminal charges of blasphemy, propaganda against the regime, and criticizing the Islamic Republic.

On June 10, two days before the one-year anniversary of the 2009 elections, the international community will have the opportunity to scrutinize Iran’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) in Geneva. The review provides an opportunity for the United States and other member states to press for a resolution at the UN HRC condemning Iran’s severe human rights violations and to raise awareness and demand the release of prisoners of conscience.

To discuss these and related issues, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is holding a press conference including Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American journalist arrested in Iran in January 2009 on bogus espionage charges and sentenced to eight years in prison. During her 100 days in prison, Ms. Saberi shared a cell with other prisoners of conscience, including two female Baha’i religious leaders who have been incarcerated for two years on several baseless capital charges. Ms. Saberi’s new book “Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran” documents her experiences in Iran and provides the reader with a glimpse of Iran’s notorious Evin prison.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

India Remains on RF Watch List

India is among the countries which have been put on the ‘Watch List’ of a bipartisan US panel on global religious freedom, which termed its progress in protecting the rights of minorities as mixed.

Putting India on the ‘watch list’ for the second year in succession, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its report said the Indian government at various levels recognized the problem of communal violence and created some structures to address these issues.

“However, justice for victims of communal violence was slow and often ineffective, thereby perpetuating a climate of impunity.   

“While there was no large-scale communal violence against religious minorities during the reporting period, attacks on Christians and Muslims and their places of worship continued, along with incidences of intolerance against both,” it said.

However, placing India on the ‘Watch List’ for the second year in succession by the Commission was not unanimous. One of the prominent members of USCIRF, Commissioner Felice D Gaer, USCIRF Chair last year, has written a long dissent note against such a decision of the body, which released its annual report running into more than 370 pages.

The recommendations of USCIRF are not binding on the US Government.

Notably, the members of the Commission were unable to visit India to have a spot assessment of the ground realities as they could not obtain a visa for the purpose - for the second consecutive year.

“Among its numerous policy recommendations, USCIRF urges the US government to integrate concern for religious freedom and related human rights into all bilateral contacts with India, and for US ambassador to India to speak out against, and seek to visit sites of, communal violence,” the report said.

“The Commission attempted to visit India, but no visas were granted,” it said.