Iranian TV shows musical instruments for 10 seconds — and religious controversy ensues

Iranian TV shows musical instruments for 10 seconds — and religious controversy ensues

Musical instruments were shown live on Iranian state television for the first time in decades — for 10 seconds — and the airing has caused a religious controversy in the capital.

“[The] spell … was finally broken,” the reformist daily Sharq newspaper ran its front page, the Los Angeles Timesreported.

The incident occurred on a show called “Good Morning Iran,” and now producers are calling the airing a technical error, according to the Times.

Normally, singers are not allowed to stand in front of musical instruments so that the cameras won’t pick up the taboo objects. When the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) is forced to cut away, stock images of the studio or nature are usually shown.

“The footage of instruments which was aired has nothing to do with a change in the approach or practice of IRIB, and it was just an unintentional mistake by us,” the show’s producer Gholamreza Bakhtiari was quoted as saying by Iran’s hard-line Fars news agency, the Times reported.

The mistake has prompted Iranians to wonder whether it was actually a salvo in a larger cultural battle between moderate and hard-line Islamists.

“It seems a decision was made at some level in the management [to show the instruments], but top managers did not dare to … defend the decision, and now they’re recanting,” Sobhan Hasanvand, a Sharq editor, told the Times.


Iran hangs 40 people in two weeks amid surge in executions

Iran hangs 40 people in two weeks amid surge in executions

Iran has carried out a total of 40 executions since the beginning of 2014, with at least 33 carried out in the past week alone, said Amnesty International today. 

“The spike in the number of executions carried out so far this month in Iran is alarming. The Iranian authorities’ attempts to change their international image are meaningless if at the same time executions continue to increase”, said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. 

The death penalty is a violation of every human being’s right to life and is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. 

“The Iranian authorities must urgently take steps to abolish the death penalty, which has been shown again and again not to have any special deterrent effect on crime,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said. 

Since the beginning of 2014, Amnesty International has recorded 21 executions which were officially acknowledged by the Iranian authorities, as well as 19 additional executions reported through reliable sources. 

In the week since 9 January 2014 more officially acknowledged executions were carried out in Iran than during the whole month of January 2013. 

At least one public execution was carried out on 14 January 2014 in Saveh, Markazi Province, northern Iran, of an individual convicted of murder. 

Public executions in Iran are usually carried out using cranes which lift the condemned person by a noose around the neck in front of a crowd of spectators. 

The organization is calling on the Iranian authorities to immediately adopt an official moratorium on all executions and commute all death sentences. The Iranian authorities must also end all secrecy surrounding their use of the death penalty.

Most of those executed in Iran had been convicted of alleged drug-related offences. Under international standards, non-lethal crimes such as drugs offences do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” to which the death penalty must be restricted. There is also no right to a meaningful appeal for drugs offences under Iran’s Anti-Narcotics Law, contrary to its international obligations to ensure that anyone convicted of a criminal offence has the right to appeal the conviction. 

“In Iran drug-related offences are tried in Revolutionary Courts which routinely fall far short of international fair trial standards. The reality in Iran is that people are being ruthlessly sentenced to death after unfair trials, and this is unacceptable,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. 

Revolutionary Court trials are frequently held behind closed doors and judges have the discretion to restrict lawyers’ access to the defendant during pre-trial investigations in limited cases. 

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception.

Iran’s reformists frustrated with slow pace of change

Iran’s reformists frustrated with slow pace of change

By Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

Just one hour before the ceremonies were due to begin at the sometimes controversial annual celebration of weekly reformist magazine Chelcheragh, the judicial order was delivered.

It was time for the journalists, musicians, movie directors and athletes on the 2,000-strong guest list to go home.

Iran’s conservative judiciary had declared that last week’s party was off. “As the news came all the excitement turned into depression,” one attendee said. “We felt those in the main power centres never loosen their grip over power and do not let reformists breathe.” A hardline newspaper, Kayhan, said the artists and athletes were just there to provide cover for a political gathering and that former reformist president Mohammad Khatami had been due to make a speech.

The slow pace of cultural and political change under centrist president Hassan Rouhani has angered reformists, who expect more from the man they backed in last June’s presidential poll, even as they blame fundamentalists for blocking the government’s moves to ease censorship and suppression.

Mr Rouhani owes his unexpected victory to the pro-reform groups and leaders who mobilised people to vote for him. In return, he promised reconciliation with the world through the resolution of the nuclear crisis and better times for an economy long battered by international sanctions.

Since then, Iran has agreed with the six big powers – US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany – to restrict its nuclear work in return for modest relief of sanctions. There have also been some economic gains; inflation has eased to 39.3 per cent from 40 per cent and the rial has stabilised against the dollar.

But reformist hopes for a cultural flowering and an easing of internet censorship have not been met. Since Mr Rouhani came to power, the judiciary has not only cancelled last week’s gathering but stopped reformist journalists from publishing new newspapers. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter – and from last month VChat – continue to be blocked. Some MPs have criticised government support for women singing solo as propagating anti-Islamic mores.

Last week, Mr Rouhani said he was not scared of “yellow cards” – official parliamentary warnings to arts and culture ministers which can pave the way for their impeachment. “When we tie up art and artists, we in fact pave the ground for the enemies’ planes to land,” he said.

Yet reformists remain frustrated. While some moderate politicians have been appointed to regional governorships, there are few prominent reformists in Mr Rouhani’s administration, a fact that privately irks those who backed him. At the same time, opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, key figures in anti-regime street protests after the disputed 2009 presidential election, remain under house arrest. Fundamentalists fear their release would strengthen support for reformists ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

“Other than foreign policy and nuclear negotiations and to some extent the economy, it is difficult to find out what the government’s policies in cultural and political fields are,” said one reform-minded analyst. “It is not right to say it’s still early. But probably because of the huge devastation the government has inherited in all fields, it has decided to focus on foreign policy and economy.”

The pace of change is even slower in the provinces. In Khuzestan, once home to winter cultural events because of its pleasant weather, so little has changed that commentators say it is as if previous fundamentalist president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad is still in power.

“We expected some dynamism but are getting disappointed that nothing may happen in [southern] Khuzestan province,” one local journalist said. In the northeastern province of Khorasan-Razavi, an analyst said members of parliament have put local officials under pressure not to implement any new policies. “You see a widespread disappointment being shaped among reformists as previous officials are not replaced and no change in policies is seen,” he added.

All this speaks to the fact that Mr Rouhani faces a tricky balancing act, analysts say. Too much reform could anger fundamentalists and jeopardise nuclear negotiations. “Rouhani seems to be even distancing [himself] from reformists to ease the pressure from fundamentalists,” one reformist politician said.

Also on the horizon are the 2015 parliamentary elections. The hardliners’ determination to stop the reformists gaining ground in these polls is evident in their continued reference to the 2009 street protests. Mohammad-Javad Larijani, a senior judiciary official, said western countries “hope to revive those who were involved in the sedition [unrest] in another form in the future”.

Once a sustainable nuclear agreement has been agreed, Mr Rouhani may be emboldened to stand up to the fundamentalists. “If the government comes out of the nuclear crisis triumphantly and eases economic woes, then Rouhani’s hands will be more open in domestic politics,” one reformist politician said. “But if he fails in the nuclear talks and loses the parliamentary election, he will have a very difficult time even for his own re-election.”


Iran President Hassan Rouhani tells his country that nuclear deal means ‘surrender’ of Western powers

Iran President Hassan Rouhani tells his country that nuclear deal means ‘surrender’ of Western powers

Associated Press | January 14, 2014 7:31 AM ET

TEHRAN, Iran — President Hassan Rouhani has praised a landmark nuclear deal struck in Geneva as his country’s victory, telling a home crowd it effectively means the “surrender” of Western powers to Iranian demands.

The remarks were part of the moderate Rouhani’s efforts to bring around hard-liners who claim the deal tramples on Iran’s enrichment rights.

Last week, the six-nation group — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany — and Iran agreed to start implementing the terms of the November deal later this month.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to cap its uranium enrichment in return for some relief from Western economic sanctions.

Speaking Tuesday in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, Rouhani said the “Geneva deal means the surrender of big powers before the great nation of Iran.”

HRW’s Joint Letter to President Hassan Rouhani re: draft Citizen’s Rights Charter

HRW’s Joint Letter to President Hassan Rouhani re: draft Citizen’s Rights Charter

His Excellency Dr. Hassan Rouhani
Islamic Republic of Iran


Your Excellency:

On November 26, 2013, in line with promises you made both during your presidential campaign and thereafter to address the serious human rights concerns of the Iranian people, your government published a draft Citizens’ Rights Charter. According to the press release accompanying the draft charter your government has provided one month for the public at large to provide comments and feedback on the charter. Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (“the Campaign”) are writing to express our views and concerns regarding this draft document within the time allotted for providing feedback.

We applaud your government’s efforts at identifying human rights as a priority issue during your first 100 days in office and initiating public discussion on reforms that need to take place. Yet we also have serious concerns regarding the process of consultation and drafting, the charter’s content, and its implementation.

As a preliminary matter, it is not readily apparent why Iran needs to go through the exercise of preparing such a charter since it is party to major international human rights treaties – including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These treaties obligate Iran to incorporate international standards and norms into its domestic law. Article 1.3 of the draft charter fails to identify these standards as a source of authority for the draft charter.

In addition to ignoring its international treaty obligations, Iranian governments have willfully disregarded their own laws, including constitutional provisions that safeguard fundamental rights. For the past decades Human Rights Watch, the Campaign, and other international and domestic rights groups have documented many of these rights violations.

Previous Iranian governments over the years have undertaken efforts similar to the current draft charter—efforts that raised much hope but failed to produce meaningful rights reform. The 2004 Citizens’ Rights Law issued by then-Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, and passed by the Sixth Parliament (2000-04), is but one example of such an effort. The law specifically enumerated the rights of individuals detained for allegedly violating Iran’s criminal laws. In many instances the 2004 law simply reproduced provisions already codified in Iran’s constitution and code of criminal procedure while in others it described, in detail, specific conduct prohibited during arrest and pretrial detention.

Unfortunately the passage of the 2004 law did little to protect or advance the due process rights of the individuals who have since been arrested, detained, interrogated, prosecuted, and even sentenced to death by Iran’s ordinary and revolutionary courts. It is clear that serious and meaningful rights reform in Iran cannot take place until Iran’s domestic laws reflect the full range of rights guaranteed under Iran’s international legal obligations, and until the government is ready and willing to act on these obligations. This willingness needs to include evidence that agencies and powers beyond the immediate control of the executive branch, such as Iran’s intelligence and security forces and its judiciary—which regularly violate human rights with impunity—also abide by Iran’s international legal obligations.

Section 3 of Iran’s Constitution, which addresses the “Rights of the People,” includes many provisions and guarantees that Iran’s security and intelligence forces, and its Judiciary regularly violate. Any plan to address rights violations in Iran should include an effort to respect existing rights protections codified in existing laws, including its constitution. We note that with respect to several rights and protections Iran’s Constitution has more favorable language than the draft charter.

At the same time it is important to note that there are serious flaws in Iranian domestic laws, including in the Constitution, Civil Code, and Islamic Penal Code. On August 1, 2013, a few days prior to your inauguration as the seventh president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Human Rights Watch issued apublic letter in which we identified nine priority areas for reform in the area of human rights. Human Rights Watch issued the letter in response to an election campaign in which you made many promises to the Iranian people—promises that played a role in your victory. The Campaign issued similar calls to your government to act on campaign promises to improve the country’s dire human rights situation.

Within this context we urge Your Excellency to consider addressing the following concerns with regard to the draft your government submitted for comment and review on November 26:

Ambiguities Regarding the Legal Significance of the Charter: Article 1.1 of the draft charter states that its provisions “in no way effect the other rights of Iranian nationals and other nationals codified in other laws, regulations, or international conventions.” Article 1.6 provides that the charter reflects the “‘programs and policies’ of the government,” that its purpose is not to “create, expand or restrict existing rights and responsibilities,” but that it simply sets forth “a collection of the most important citizenship rights.” Moreover, Article 1.2 makes it clear that the charter should be in harmony with existing laws and regulations and must “not limit any of the other identified or recognized citizens’ rights.”

This disclaimer language casts doubt on the legal significance of the draft charter despite the fact that section 3 provides measures to ensure implementation of the charter’s provisions. It is not clear how any inconsistencies between the draft charter and existing laws, including Iran’s Constitution, will be resolved. (Article 1.6 interestingly acknowledges that the charter may include rights that do not currently exist in the law and says that the government will undertake “serious and expansive efforts” to push through necessary legal reform to protect these unspecified rights, but in light of the aforementioned disclaimers this article appears to be solely aspirational to improving upon rights protected in existing laws.)

Right to Life: For the past several years, Iran has carried out the second largest number of executions in the world, behind China. In 2012, Iran hanged more than 500 prisoners either in prisons or in public. Since your electoral victory on June 15, unofficial and official sources have reported at least390 executions. The vast majority of executions in Iran are for drug-related offenses or other offenses that under international standards do warrant the death penalty. In other cases where courts have issued death sentences for serious offenses, such as for murder, Human Rights Watch and the Campaign have documented serious due process violations that taint the validity of the underlying convictions. Moreover, Iranian law still allows the execution of child offenders, defined under international law as persons under age 18 at the time of the alleged offense.

Article 3.1 of the draft charter provides that “citizens enjoy the right to life” but allows the government to take that right away “on the basis of a ruling issued by a legitimate court convened pursuant to legal standards…” The article also prohibits the state from violating an individual’s right to life if his or her prosecution violates due process standards, including the right to a fair trial. In light of the pattern of executions for crimes that do not warrant the death penalty and death sentences handed down following seriously flawed trials, we urge your government to push for legal reforms that specifically prohibit courts from imposing the death penalty in contravention of Iran’s international legal obligations. We also urge Your Excellency to push for a complete moratorium on the use of the death penalty in Iran, and take the lead in initiating public dialogue regarding the right to life.

Exercise of Fundamental Rights: Scores of individuals are currently detained in Iran’s prisons merely for exercising their basic rights, including freedom of expression and association and peaceful assembly. The state has prosecuted and courts have convicted many of these political prisoners under Iran’s vague and overly broad “national security” crimes. Human Rights Watch and the Campaign have previously asked you to push for the immediate and unconditional release of these political prisoners, including political and civic activists, journalistslawyers, and rights defenders.

It is particularly troubling that the provisions in the draft charter contain language that, largely consistent with Iran’s existing laws, limits or restricts the exercise of fundamental human rights. There are several instances of vague and open-ended conditions or disclaimers in the draft charter which restrict rights “within the framework of the law,” with “due consideration to Islam,” or as outlined in the Constitution.

Specific examples of significant restrictions on fundamental rights in the draft charter include:

Right to Freedom of Speech/Press/Information: As of December 2013 there were at least 35 journalists and bloggers behind bars in Iran for having violating Iran’s vague and overly broad national security laws. Security and intelligence agencies heavily censor the press and print media, enforcing an array of censorship rules that Iranians cannot cross without risking arrest and long prison terms. These restrictions extend to television and the Internet, and authorities routinely block or filter websites, jam satellite signals, and slow Internet speeds, depriving Iranians of freedom of the press and access to information.

Articles 3.11, 3.15 and 3.16 of the charter ostensibly assert protections for freedom of thought/speech, access to information, and the press respectively. All of these freedoms, however, are circumscribed by conditional language such as “within the framework of the law” and “as long as it does not destroy the foundations of Islam.” As previously stated these vague and overbroad restrictions threaten to render the protections meaningless, and allow authorities to arbitrarily deprive individuals of their fundamental rights.

Right to Freedom of Assembly: Article 27 of Iran’s Constitution states that public gatherings and demonstrations may be “freely held” as long as demonstrators do not carry arms and the demonstrations are not “detrimental to the principles of Islam.” Despite this authorities arbitrarily arrested thousands of peaceful demonstrators after protests following the disputed 2009 presidential election. Authorities eventually released many, but prosecuted some in unfair trials. There is no mention of the right to peaceful assembly in the draft charter.

Right to Freedom of Association: During the past eight years authorities have shut down dozens ofopposition political parties, non-governmental organizations, independent trade and labor unions, and student groups. The Iranian Bar Association, Shirin Ebadi’s Center for Human Rights Defenders, and the Journalists Association are examples of groups that authorities have either shut down, declared unlawful, or severely restricted. Many members of these groups are currently serving heavy prison sentences or banned from continuing their activities as part of these organizations.

Article 3.52 of the draft charter generally provides the right to freedom of association in “parties, societies, political or trade associations, and non-governmental organizations.” The article specifically says that “membership or the lack of membership [in these groups] should not lead to the restriction or deprivation of citizens’ rights,” but adds that the aforementioned groups must be “legal.” Again, this restriction threatens to render the protections meaningless by arbitrarily depriving legal status to groups the government considers unsavory and allowing authorities to deprive individuals of their right to freedom of association.

Religious Minority Rights: Pursuant to Articles 12 and 13 of Iran’s Constitution, only Twelver Shi’ism, Sunni Islam, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity are recognized religions protected by law. Adherents of these religions are “free to perform their religious rites and ceremonies, and to act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education” within the law’s limits. This excludes Iran’s largest non-Muslim minority, the Baha’is, from legal protections. Members of religious minorities are subjected to legal or de facto discrimination in their employment and their ability to exercise their rights to political participation, and social and cultural rights. This discrimination is particularly acute vis-à-vis members of Iran’s evangelical/Protestant Christian communities and Sufi groups such as the Nematollahi Gonabadi order, who the authorities systematically target and deprive of the right to practice their faith. Iran’s significant Sunni population, too, faces unnecessary restrictions including prohibitions on their right to freely worship.

Despite these fundamental flaws in Iran’s existing legal structure, Article 1 of the draft charter, which states that all “Iranian nationals regardless of gender, ethnicity, social class, race or other similar categories” may enjoy “citizens’ rights and guarantees” identified the country’s laws and regulations, glaringly omits “faith” or “religion” as one of the protected categories. Article 3.117 of the charter limits “conducting and participating in religious ceremonies” to faiths “officially recognized in Iran’s Constitution.” Several other provisions in the draft charter seemingly refer to respect for diversity of religions and freedom from discrimination, but it is not clear whether the term used—mazhab—refers to different religions or various sects within Islam.

Women’s Rights: Iranian women face discrimination in personal status matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. A woman needs her male guardian’s approval for marriage regardless of her age, and cannot pass on her nationality to her foreign-born spouse or their children. A woman may not obtain a passport or travel outside the country without the written permission of a male guardian. Iranian women are also much more liable than men to get caught in crackdowns relating to strict dress codes.

Article 3.99 requires the government to respect women’s rights in all circumstances and “in light of legal standards.” Article 3.107 says that women should have every opportunity to benefit from free choice of “suitable attire” according to “Islamic and Iranian standards,” and that the government is responsible for providing the conditions for the promotion of such suitable attire.

Ambiguity Regarding Protections for Non-Nationals: The draft charter repeatedly refers to the rights of “citizens,” and Article 1 clearly states that “Iran’s nationals” may enjoy “citizens’ rights and guarantees” without mentioning resident non-nationals, including at least three million documented and undocumented Afghan and Iraqi refugees and migrants who currently live and work in Iran. Does this mean that articles 1.3, 3.11, 21.3, and 3.92 do not protect non-nationals’ right to right to life, speech, ethnic identity, and freedom from torture, respectively?

Iran’s international legal obligations require the government to ensure that non-nationals enjoy the same guarantees and protections of fundamental rights as nationals or citizens of Iran. Many non-nationals currently living in Iran continue to experience rights abuses perpetrated by governmental authorities.

Inhuman Punishments: The amended penal code which came into force earlier this year retains many punishments that clearly violate Iran’s international legal obligations regarding prohibitions on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishments such as stoning, hanging by strangulation,amputation, and lashing. The draft charter makes no effort to prohibit these inhuman practices.


In light of the foregoing concerns our organizations believe that the most valuable contribution of this draft charter is its potential to initiate a much-needed national dialogue on rights reforms in Iran. We therefore urge your government to extend the one-month period for review and commentary to at least six months, and ensure that the process of consultation and comment is inclusive, transparent and fair. This could be done, for example, by:

  • Making it clear that Iranians inside and outside the country can freely organize, gather and discuss the provisions of the charter and amendments they deem necessary
  • Publishing guidelines describing the process by which input and feedback from Iranians and non-government organizations will be considered, reviewed and integrated into any legislation seeking to improve the rights situation in the country
  • Actively engaging with Iranian civil society through meetings, workshops and negotiations to ensure an opportunity for all voices to be heard.

Taking these preparatory but significant steps can go a long way in demonstrating that your government is dedicated to real and meaningful rights reform in Iran.

It is also our hope that your government will seriously consider the assessment we provide in this letter, along with the views and concerns expressed by Iranians and international organizations working to improve the rights situation in Iran, and reflect our views in any final document seeking to address, remedy or rectify the serious rights situation in the country.

We thank you for your attention to these important matters, and look forward to hearing from your office in the near future.


Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division

Hadi Ghaemi
Executive Director
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran