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GENEVA: Iran’s silencing of journalists and opposition leaders could jeopardise the legitimacy of the presidential election in June, a United Nations human rights investigator said yesterday.
Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said that dozens of Iranian journalists were behind bars, including 17 arrested during one week in January and charged with communicating with foreign news outlets or rights groups.
“I am concerned that, with elections around the corner in June, this sort of accusations against journalists does not bode well for the prospect of a free and fair election in the country,” Shaheed told a news briefing.
At least 10 lawyers are in custody, including Nasrin Sotoudeh, Abdolfattah Soltani and Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, for crimes including “spreading propaganda against the system through interviews with foreign media”, he told the UN Human Rights Council during a two-day debate on Iran. Freedom of expression and of association are essential conditions for exercising the right to vote, yet hundreds of political prisoners remain in custody, he said.
Opposition leaders Mehdi Karoubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, both candidates in the 2009 presidential election, are under house arrest following mass protests over alleged fraud in the return to power of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that year.
Some analysts say Iran’s Islamic clerical leadership sees the risk of more serious unrest in the upcoming election and is cracking down in advance to minimise the impact.
“I wish to point out that in light of elections coming up, I have expressed concern about the continued detention of Karoubi and Mousavi whom a UN working group deemed last year were detained illegally, or arbitrarily,” Shaheed said.
In a report two weeks ago to the UN Human Rights Council, Shaheed said that Iran had stepped up executions of prisoners including juveniles as well as arrests of dissidents who were often tortured in jail, sometimes to death. Reuters