About ten Iranian political prisoners were released on 18 September 2013. Among them are Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer, and Mohsen Aminzadeh, former Deputy Foreign Minister during former president, Mohammad Khatami’s time in the Office. This happened on the day Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif left Iran to attend the UN General Assembly in New York. Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani will be in New York on 22 September.
The simultaneity of the release of a human rights activist and a former deputy foreign minister (who is said to have acquaintance with Ban Ki Moon) among several other political prisoners and the trip of the top Iranian diplomatic figures to New York has important implications.
1) Following the series of events happened after the 2009 Iran’s presidential election a global concern rose about the human rights situation in Iran. But some were reasonably worried that the concerns about Iran’s nuclear program would overshadow the human rights issues. They argued that because the main concern of the world about Iran is its nuclear program, the pressure on Iran’s government regarding its oppressing human rights is only a political tool to achieve the main goal and if Iran can dismiss the nuclear concerns, the sensitivity about the human rights would be lowered.
As I wrote before (Congratulations to Iran and Rouhani and Iran’s Presidential Election 2013 ), the election of Rouhani showed that the attitude of government toward domestic and foreign affairs was ready to shift. The domestic shift showed itself in the choice of ministers, especially those dealing closer to the country’s economics. The foreign shift is evident in the choice of the foreign minister and the appointment of foreign ministry for the nuclear talks. And now the release of political prisoners, while partly answering to the domestic demand, is addressing the international concerns. The fact that Iran is sending messages showing willingness to take practical steps to resolve those concerns shows that the pressures from human rights organisations and activists were/are can be really effective.
2) The releases also show that Tehran has understood that in today’s world the human rights concerns can be as important as any other global concerns and a government should respect its own people according to global human rights. And apparently, Tehran is going to take practical action to reduce those concerns. This is very good news for Iranian activists. They can now grasp this opportunity to further pursue their goals such as the release of more political prisoners and the leaders of the green movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Zahra Rahnavard.
Some may argue that this is only a political show, an act to fool Iranians and foreign powers to take some of the paralysing pressure off the government. It can probably be true. But whatever a politician does is supposed to be political. The most important part is what we, as people who are concerned with freedom, human rights and well-being of people, can get out of politicians’ acts. And the release of political prisoners and the willingness of Iranian government to seriously continue diplomatic negotiations are indeed good signs of further achievements