Special Rapporteur seeks access to Iranian refugees in Turkey

(Photo: AA)

May 24, 2012, Thursday/ 17:53:00

Ahmed Shaheed, a UN special rapporteur charged with examining human rights conditions in Iran, has indicated that he is looking forward to gaining access to Iranian refugees located within Turkey in order to gather additional information about the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives, was selected by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011 as a neutral party to investigate human rights violations in Iran and to write an official report based on the findings.

At the end of March of this year, he presented to the UN Human Rights Council findings from the first eight months of his investigation, reporting that the Iranian authorities are increasingly disregarding human rights and arbitrarily imprisoning human rights defenders, journalists, political activists and trade unionists. Furthermore, the number of executions has skyrocketed.

However, Shaheed has had to carry out his investigation from outside Iran since the Iranian authorities have not been cooperative. Because the Iranian government has not permitted the special rapporteur to visit the country, Shaheed had official visits to three European countries, France, Germany and Belgium, which host the Iranian diaspora.

However, human rights defenders note that Shaheed's visit to Turkey would be crucial because Turkey hosts the most Iranian asylum seekers in the world.

“We don't have access to Iran. Either we get information through the Internet or phone, or we go to the surrounding countries where there are Iranian refugees. Since 2009, Turkey has hosted the largest number of registered Iranian refugees and asylum-seekers in the world.

Iranians do not need a visa to come to Turkey,” said Faraz Sanei, a researcher on Iran at Human Rights Watch based in New York.

He noted that the number of Iranians seeking assylum in Turkey was 1,081 in 2009 and 2,881 in 2010, according to figures from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

“We also have to remember that there are people who left Iran but have not actually registered with the UNHCR, and they are not counted in the figures we have,” he added.

Metin Çorabatır from the Turkey office of the UNHCR said there are currently 5,700 Iranians registered as refugees or asylum seekers in Turkey.

Hadi Ghaemi, director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, founded in 2008 and based in New York, claimed that Special Rapporteur Shaheed met with a Turkish official in September 2011 to discuss visiting Turkey on a fact-finding mission and interviewing Iranian refugees. He further claimed that Shaheed submitted a formal request to the Turkish government on May 7 for permission for such a mission.

“There is no justification for the Turkish government not to allow him to conduct such a fact-finding mission towards preparing Shaheed's UN mandated report and I hope his request will be granted as soon as possible,” Ghaemi told Today's Zaman.

Turkish Foreign Ministry officials did not confirm Ghaemi's statements and Shaheed's office does not comment on his official communications with governments as a matter of course for confidentiality reasons.

UN experts condemn harsh sentencing of rights defenders

A group of UN independent experts recently condemned the ongoing arrests and harsh sentencing of human rights defenders in Iran, and urged the Iranian government to ensure that rights defenders are not being targeted for carrying out their legitimate activities and are provided with adequate protection.

“The conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of human rights defenders is an indication of the mounting repression against the legitimate activities of human rights defenders and represents a serious setback for the protection of human rights in Iran,” said Special Rapporteur Shaheed.

The UN experts expressed particular concern about the situation of Nargess Mohammadi, whose state of health is reportedly extremely fragile. Mohammadi, former vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, founded by Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, was rearrested on April 21 to resume a six-year prison sentence handed down by an Iranian appeal court for “assembly and collusion against national security, membership of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, and propaganda against the regime.”

Other human rights defenders arrested or convicted for carrying out their legitimate work include individual activists such as Abdolfattah Soltani and Nasrin Sotoudeh, both lawyers who have represented many high-profile political and human rights activists.

In addition, Special Rapporteur Shaheed reported an “alarming increase” in executions taking place in Iran, from fewer than 100 in 2003, to 670 in 2011, many occurring after little or no due process.

Ghaemi, who was recently in Turkey to raise awareness about the human rights situation in Iran among Turkish society and with the government, added that Turkey has a big role to play.

“Since Turkey has access to the Iranian government, it could play a very constructive role in letting Iran know that its human rights violations are not acceptable, that its lack of cooperation with the UN is not acceptable. Turkey can really play an important role to bring about transitional change which is not abrupt and violent. Turkey can prevent that kind of outcome in countries like Syria and Libya,” he said.

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