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Iranian riot police stand guard as Sunni demonstrators protest

Dismissing practices against witches as a thing of the past would be a proof of humanity’s state of denial. Even today one is bound to find at least one act of unjustified cruelty against a fellow human.

Human beings have not changed since the burning of witches. They have become smarter. They have learned to use words to help mask their cruelties. First it started with fancy words. Those words have now become ornaments to fancy terminology, which leaders around the world use to manipulate and manoeuvre listeners to make people see things differently — as they want them to.

One should take a moment to think of all the things happening around and raise one’s voice against the injustices. Human rights violation is one such recurring event. And most people are either victims or perpetrators. Differently put, even if individuals don’t act as violators, their very silence is taken as tacit support and thus they become a part of it!

Every year the UN General Assembly creates a platform welcoming all to put forth matters of human rights violation and help bring justice. This main deliberative organ of UN, the general assembly includes representatives of all members including Bangladesh, each with one vote. The UN charter gives the general assembly a broad mandate to “discuss any questions or matters within the scope of the present Charter and to make recommendations to Member States on these subjects.”

Among the countries in the Middle East, Iran is one such nation that not only hides behind the mask of democracy but also is an active member of the human violator’s cult!

Article 19 of the Iranian Constitution states: “All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; colour, race, language and the like, do not bestow any privilege.” However, discrimination on the basis of religion and ethnicity is rife in Iran. Minority languages are suppressed and many minorities are disadvantaged politically, socially and economically.

Ethnic and religious minorities make up nearly half of the Iranian population. Discontent among various minority groups has risen sharply over the past three years. Since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in August 2005, the government has promoted the country’s majority Persian and Shi’a Muslim identity forcefully. In contravention to formal guarantees in the Iranian constitution and international commitments, Iran continued a crackdown on ethnic and religious minorities in 2007 through police repression, discrimination in education, and state media campaigns. The victims included Baluchis and Turkomans, Kurds and Sunni Muslims. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a report on human rights in Iran in October 2008 that highlighted the regime’s abuse against women and minorities as well as one issued in the 64th session of 2010.

The General Assembly put forth a four-page damning list of activities that amount to serious violation of human rights. The violations are not restricted to cruel or inhuman treatment or just torture but cover a wide range of human rights violations from executions by stone throwing to amputations. According to reports, Iran has witnessed a high number of executions — 129 in 2010 so far, according to an AFP count based on media reports last year the number was 270.

The document also mentions increasing harassment, intimidation and persecution of political opponents and human rights defenders, forced closure of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre including the arrest of its staff, discrimination and other human rights violations against persons belonging to religious, ethnic, linguistic or other minorities like Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds, Christians, Jews, Sufis and Sunni Muslims and their defenders as well as attacks on Baha’is and their faith in state sponsored media, increasing evidence of efforts by Iran to identity, monitor and arbitrarily detain Baha’is, preventing members of the Baha’i Faith from attending university and from sustaining themselves financially, and the continuing detention of seven Baha’i leaders arrested in March and May 2008 for serious charges but without meaningful access to legal representation.

In the post-election protests to the alleged fraud in the presidential elections of 2009, Iran’s security forces arrested over 4,000 people, and in the past year tens of journalists and human rights activists have been imprisoned by the Islamic Republic. Since then many lawyers have also become the target of persecution for their attempts to defend political detainees.

Before, the Sunni community was allowed to hold Eid congregation but now some Shiite extremists using their governing power have banned Sunnis of Tehran to do that. In addition there are other cities where the Sunni community was also banned to hold their congregation, including Isfahan, Kashan, Qum, Kirman, and Yazd. According to the US Department of State, Tehran is the only city across the world where a single Sunni mosque is not found. According to Iran’s local newspaper “The Sunni News”, this Shi’a state sent forces to secure venues of Sunni Eid congregation and forced them away led by a Sunni scholar.

Iran has been arresting people and then pressing charges as opposed to it being the other way round and it has alarmingly been carrying out executions against Sunni minorities under various pretexts including drug trafficking.

Bangladesh has a vote in the upcoming UNGA meeting where in the previous years it has voted against action on Iran for human right violation. Bangladesh will get another chance this year to show it cares for human rights, whether it is that of a Hindu, Azeri or Sunni. The question is will it?

Neda Shakiba is a journalist

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