by Peter Deekle, Former Dean of University Libraries
Current and ongoing terrorism has prompted concerns for national security and military action. Meanwhile, however, human rights continue to be threatened in many countries. Reflecting this threat, Scholars at Risk began in the Human Rights Program of the University of Chicago in 1999. Since then, scores of universities have joined the Network and helped to defend hundreds of scholars around the world. Roger Williams University is among those network members, associated with its annual advocacy for intellectual freedom and, particularly, the case of individuals abroad who have been endangered because of their beliefs and scholarship.
Since my Fall 2015 retirement as library dean I have been consulting with the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) and also attended the House of Representatives Human Rights Commission briefing on Iran, chaired by Representative James P. McGovern, on October 29, 2015.
Stephen McInerney from the Project on Middle East Democracy moderated the briefing panel, featuring commentary by Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, Dr. Roya Boroumand, of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, and Dr. Hadi Ghaemi, of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
All the panelists commented on the value of the pending nuclear arms agreement as a potential opportunity for the Iranian government to focus more attention internally on domestic issues and human rights. This prospect will be dependent in part on the outcome of next year’s parliamentary elections.
However, there was reported evidence of a continuing abuse of individual religious minorities, scholars, and other non-political persons, resulting in prolonged incarceration, restricted access to lawyers, assassinations, and an execution rate likely to exceed 1000 in 2015 (highest in the world).
Commentators reported a systemic drug abuse problem, contributing to 70% of the current prison population. As Western economic sanctions ease and more business interests are encouraged, the panelists urged Western governments, including the United States, to maintain regulations recognizing compliance with ethical practices and the support of human rights.
I questioned whether academic or non-governmental institutions were increasing their collaboration with external international organizations; Drs. Shaheed and Boroumand stated that such outreach is circumstantial, at best, and largely involves individuals rather than entire agencies. Free press and scholarship remain under close scrutiny, and journalists are particular targets at present.
Since the 2009 uprisings in Tehran, a continuing crackdown on press freedoms has been evident. The recent case of detained and convicted Washington Post journalist, Jason Rezaian (who holds both US and Iranian citizenship) was cited first by Chairman McGovern and later by all three panelists as evidence of this condition, and the continuing strength of the Revolutionary Guard. Iran has sentenced detained Jason Rezaian to an unspecified prison term following his conviction in October on charges that include espionage.