Access to the country for
independent human rights investigators remained restricted, although the
government did declare its willingness to admit U.N. special rapporteurs to the country. There continued to be lively
discussion of human rights issues in the press and in Parliament, although
independent local human rights groups were not permitted to function.
Several lawyers known for
their defense of human rights were targets of prosecution. Mohammad Dadkhah, part of the defense team of the Iranian Freedom Movement,
was sentenced to five months in prison in May. He was also banned from
practicing law for ten years.
The judiciary confirmed the
sentences of several lawyers associated with reformist causes, including cases
relating to the assassinations of writers and intellectuals in 1998. One
lawyer, Nasser Zarafshan, was sentenced to five years
in prison and fifty lashes. The bar
association described the flogging sentence as indefensible and unjustifiable. The
appeal was dismissed. Zarafshan had probed the involvement
of Ministry of Intelligence officials in the 1998 murders and claimed in the
press that there were more victims of these killings than had been mentioned in
the trial of officials involved in the killings.
European and Iranian
officials met repeatedly throughout the year to extend cooperation in a range
of areas, including counter-terrorism, trade, and the promotion of human
rights. The E.U. remained committed to a policy of engaging with Iranian
leaders, while at the same time giving human rights a high profile in its
public discourse about the relationship. E.U. Commissioner for External Affairs
Chris Patten told the BBC that the dialogue was aimed at bolstering Iranian
reformists, such as elected president Mohammad Khatami.
"It can't seriously be anybody's idea of a good way of promoting stability
in the region to think that we should isolate and cut Iran off
forever," he said. "If you don't talk to the reasonable people, you
fetch up with fewer reasonable people to talk to."
The improvement of
relations with the E.U. remained vulnerable to interference by hardliners
opposed to such normalization. In March, the planned visit to Berlin of Speaker
of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi
was canceled when Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder declined to receive him, a
decision that many observers believed resulted from political machinations by Iran's
conservative judiciary. Schroeder was displeased with the apparently punitive
transfer of Said Sadr to a remote and notorious
prison near the Afghan border in advance of Karrubi's
visit. Sadr, an Iranian employee at the German
embassy in Tehran, had been imprisoned in Iran since the
controversial Berlin Conference in 2000. Shortly before his planned trip, Karrubi apparently had angered hardliners by telling German
journalists that he was trying to secure Sadr's
release; the judiciary responded by transferring Sadr
to the remote prison, derailing the visit.
In a move likely to please
the Iranian government, the E.U. recognized the Mojahedine
Khalq Organization (MKO) as a terrorist group on May
3. The MKO was based in Iraq
and launched armed attacks against Iranian targets. It was described as a
foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. The E.U., however,
did not include the affiliated National Council of Resistance in its
On June 17, the E.U. placed
human rights at the top of a list of four areas in which it wanted to see
improvements through its policy of engagement with Iran: (1) human rights and
fundamental freedoms; (2) non-proliferation; (3) terrorism; and (4) the Middle
East peace process.
In September, Iran approved a
new British ambassador. The move ended an eight-month diplomatic dispute
following Tehran's rejection in January of David
Reddaway, described by conservative newspapers in Iran as a
Zionist and a spy. It was an indicator of the importance given to Iran by the E.U. and the U.K. that embarrassing incidents of this nature were not
permitted to stall the momentum of engagement. British Foreign Secretary Jack
Straw traveled to Iran in
October to further advance the relationship but was met by an upturn in
political and public executions, interpreted by many as another example of the
conservatives using their control over the judiciary to seek to influence Iran's foreign
In April, during the fifty-eigth session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, a
draft resolution criticizing the situation in Iran was defeated by a roll-call
vote of twenty to nineteen, with fourteen abstentions, marking the first time
in more than fifteen years that a resolution criticizing Iran's human rights
practices did not pass at the commission. It brought to an end the mandate of
the U.N. special representative on human rights in Iran and was seen as a major
victory for Iranian diplomacy. The Iranian government regarded the special
representative's mandate as political and repeatedly blocked his access to the
country, despite the balanced and constructive tone of his reporting over many
In July, Iran said it
would give immediate access to United Nations thematic rapporteurs
to allow them to examine its human rights record. Iran's ambassador, Mohammed Reza Alborzi, told High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary
Robinson that specialists would "be welcome." By the end of the year
no visits had taken place.
Possibilities for an
improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations based on the shared goal of removing the
Taliban from power in Afghanistan
were not realized due to continuing U.S. concerns over Iranian support
for terrorism. Such concerns were exemplified by the seizure of the Karine A, caught smuggling weapons from Iran to the
characterization of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an "axis of evil"
during his January 29 State of the Union address caused anger in Iran across
all factions within the clerical leadership. It fueled expectations among parts
of public opinion that the U.S.
would intervene directly in Iran,
as it had in Afghanistan,
and change the government. The government and many Iranians resented this
implied interference in their affairs.
In July, President Bush
issued a subtler statement that, though barely
reported in the U.S.,
sparked much debate in Iran.
It came a few days after clashes between students and police in Tehran on the anniversary
of the 1999 student demonstrations and the resignation of a prominent cleric,
Ayatollah Jalaledine Taheri,
who had accused the Iranian authorities of corruption and repression. In his
written statement, President Bush expressed solidarity with the students,
saying, "their government should listen to their
hopes." In a targeted phrase, the president urged Iran's
un-elected leaders to abandon policies that denied Iranians the opportunities
and rights of people elsewhere. In singling out un-elected leaders for
criticism the President appeared to be differentiating between factions within
the Iranian power structure. This more measured approach to Iran made the U.S. government's statements an
important influence on human rights conditions in the country for the first
time in many years.
The U.S. continued to block Iran's access
to loans from international financial institutions. For example, in September,
blocked the private-sector financing arm of the World Bank, the International
Finance Corporation, from investing U.S.$2 million in
an Iranian company. The World Bank had planned to lend Iran hundreds of millions of dollars, but the U.S.
effectively blocked the deals.
In March, the U.S. State
Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001 called
the Iranian government's human rights record "poor" and detailed
significant restrictions on citizens' right to change their government. In September,
the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom identified Iran, together
with eleven other states, as countries of particular concern with respect to
violations of the rights to freedom of religion.
Iranians worried about U.S. military action in nearby Afghanistan and threatened action in Iraq, but they were also interested in the
administration's strong rhetoric supporting democracy and human rights in Iran. The
openness of Iranians to the U.S.
was seen in September when the state news agency, IRNA, published the results
of a public opinion poll showing that 75 percent of Iranians favored a dialogue
between Iran and the United States, and almost 50 percent approved of
policy toward the country. The judiciary responded by closing down the
institute that conducted the poll and prosecuting the poll's director and the
director of the news agency that published it. Some conservative leaders even
called for the criminalization of advocating dialogue or normalization with the
However, the reformists appeared emboldened by the public mood. President Khatami admonished the critics of dialogue and expressed
his own willingness to enter into discussions with the United State