Iranian lawyer and prominent human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh on Dec. 4 ended a 49-day hunger strike in protest of her prison conditions and a travel ban imposed on her family. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay had expressed concern for Sotoudeh's deteriorating health and urged the Iranian government to lift the travel ban, saying it was not justified by international law. After judicial authorities agreed to lift the travel ban on Sotoudeh's daughter, Sotoudeh ended her strike. Sotoudeh was sentenced in January 2011 to 11 years in prison after being found guilty of "acting against national security" and "making propaganda against the system" for which she will serve five and one years, respectively. The remaining five years of her sentence result from allegations that she was a member of the Human Rights Defenders Center, an organization originally founded by Shirin Ebadi and four other Iranian lawyers, many of whom have also been detained or otherwise punished for their work. In addition to her prison term, Sotoudeh's punishment also requires that she refrain from leaving the country or practicing law for the next 20 years. Sotoudeh has spent a large part of her detention in solitary confinement.
Amnesty International called on Iranian authorities to protect all detainees and prisoners from harassment and degrading treatment, after nine female political prisoners—including some deemed "prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty—started a hunger strike Nov. 1 in response to alleged abuse by prison guards. The women, all held in Tehran's Evin Prison, include activists and journalists. They say they were subjected to humiliating and degrading body searches and had personal belongings conficated by female guards from the Prison Security Section the day before they began their strike. The women plan to continue their hunger strike until they receive a formal apology from the prison authorities, return of their belongings, and guarantees that such incidents will not happen in future.
We aren't being ironic in the slightest. The only irony is that Mitt Romney posed as the protector of the Iranian protesters when by doing exactly that he actually utterly betrayed them—placing them at greater risk of repression and generally weakening their position within Iran. Here's what he said, according to the New York Times transcript:
And then the president began what I've called an apology tour of going to — to various nations in the Middle East and — and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness. Then when there were dissidents in the streets of Tehran, the Green Revolution, holding signs saying, is America with us, the president was silent. I think they noticed that as well. And I think that when the president said he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel that — that they noticed that as well.
Representatives for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) voiced their concern Oct. 2 over Iran's recent crackdown on activists speaking out within the nation. The OHCHR is most notably concerned by the September arrest of human rights lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah. According to a statement by the OHCHR, Dadkhah has been sentenced to nine years in prison for "membership of an association seeking to overthrow the government and propaganda against the system." In addition to his prison sentence, Dadkhah has also received a 10-year ban on legal practice and teaching. Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who had been the press adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was also arrested last month for having "insulted" the Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei.
Calm returned to central Tehran on Oct. 4, a day after it was rocked by unprecedented protests over Iran's plunging currency. All money-changers and most shops were closed, and the Grand Bazaar—the normally bustling commercial heart of the city—was mostly shuttered, with only a few streetside shops open. In the nearby traditional money-changing district, police patrolled past closed exchange outlets. The previous day, hundreds of police and security personnel flooded central Tehran, arresting unlicensed money changers—part of efforts by authorities to halt the dive of the rial, which is at an all-time low against the dollar. Scuffles broke out with stone-throwing men, and trash dumpsters were set alight. Opposition website Kaleme.com said slogans included "Allahu akbar!" (God is great, associated with the 1979 revolution) and "Leave Syria alone, instead think of us!" (Middle East Online, World Bulletin, Turkey, Oct. 4)
We have long been skeptical about incessant predictions from the Chicken Little crowd of an imminent US or Israeli attack on Iran. We've heard these predictions for years, and it still hasn't happened—yet none of those making the predictions ever seem to eat crow. And there has been plenty of evidence that the whole thing is a game of brinkmanship aimed at keeping Iran intimidated. But in recent weeks we have started to fear that the new circumstances in the Middle East may indeed be compelling the West towards war with Iran. Now, with two US warships headed for Libya, 25 nations led by the US are converging on the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz for naval maneuvers on an unprecedented scale. The idea seems to be to prevent Iran from closing off the strait in the event of war. Prominent partners in the 12-day exercise are the UK, France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. (The Telegraph, Sept. 15)
Now here's a delicious irony. The New York Times reports that US officials say Iran is supplying Syria with arms through Iraqi airspace, and Washington is quietly putting pressure on Baghdad to shut the air corridor down. We noted last year that the Iraq pull-out (which is largely fictional anyway) could paradoxically lead to war with Iran: the Bush/neocon strategy of playing a Shi'ite card against Iraq's Sunni jihadists and Baathists has resulted in a state as much in Tehran's orbit as Washington's. So holding on to Iraq (with its decisively critical oil reserves) as a US client state could necessitate a severe humbling (at least) of Iran. Now the Syria crisis ups the ante further. We've already noted that the US and UK have established an office block in Istanbul to jointly coordinate aid to the Syrian rebels. Now Reuters reports that France is supplying "aid and money" to rebel-controlled "liberated zones" in the northern provinces of Deir al-Zor, Aleppo and Idlib. (See map.) Just as the US is supposed to be drawing down its military commitments in the Greater Middle East, the Syrian dilemma could be propelling the West towards a virtual reconstitution of the Seleucid Empire, which in the Third Century BCE ruled over Syria, Babylon (Iraq), Parthia (Iran) and Bactria (Afghanistan). Only this time, of course, under US-led multinational rule, not Greek.
Families of murdered Iranian nuclear scientists told reporters at a press conference on Aug. 15 that they have filed lawsuits against the US, UK and Israel for their governments' alleged involvement in the assassinations. The father of one of the scientists revealed that the families would ask Iran's judiciary to pursue their complaint internationally. At least five nuclear scientists have been murdered since 2010. Iranian authorities announced earlier this month that 14 individuals have given confessions in association with the killings and that some had confessed to being trained in Israel. The US and UK have repeatedly denied involvement in the killing of the nuclear scientists despite their objections to Iran's nuclear program.