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Iran to send U.N. a fox in the henhouse

by Cesar Chelala

NEW YORK — Iran’s decision to include Tehran’s prosecutor general, Saeed Mortazavi, in that country’s delegation to the new United Nations Human Rights Council sends a wrong message to the international human rights community worldwide. By choosing one of country’s most notorious human-rights violators, the government of Iran is showing its disregard for human rights. The choice demonstrates the need for a mechanism within the Human Rights Council to prevent a similar thing from happening in the future.

In 2000, when he was a judge, Mortazavi closed more than a dozen newspapers in one month alone. Since then, he has closed more than 80 newspapers that expressed opinions opposed to policies of the Tehran regime. Because of his vicious rulings against journalists and human-rights activists, Iran is known as the “biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East.”

According to George Gordon-Lennox of the press group Reporters Without Borders, Mortazavi’s role has been to “put journalists in prison.”

In a case well documented by Human Rights Watch, Mortazavi ordered the arbitrary detention of more than 20 bloggers and Internet journalists in 2004. They were taken to a secret prison and tortured, and coerced into writing false confession letters and falsely incriminating colleagues in immoral acts.

More ominously, Mortazavi has been accused of direct participation in the murder of the Canadian-Iranian journalist Zahra Kazemi. Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer and Nobel peace laureate, has accused Mortazavi of being present when Mrs. Kazemi was tortured and killed.

During a trip to Iran, Kazemi was detained illegally under orders from Mortazavi. While in detention, she was beaten and tortured; her interrogators included Mortazavi and his deputy Arjomandi. According to Maryam Kashani, an Iranian journalist living in exile: “The beatings led to her death. This cannot be classified as unintentional manslaughter. This is an act of murder.”

The events leading to Kazemi’s death were confirmed by Shahram Azam, a former military physician who sought asylum in Canada. He stated that he examined Kazemi’s body and found evidence of rape and torture, including a skull fracture and severe abdominal bruising. The Canadian government considers her death a murder.

It is difficult to understand the Iran government’s rationale for choosing a person of Mortazavi’s tainted reputation to represent the country. The decision only hurts Iran and sends the wrong message to the Human Rights Council. It also shows the need for the council to install appropriate safeguards to avoid similar situations in the future.

As Hadi Ghaemi, the Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch, has stated, “Mr. Mortazavi personifies most of the ills affecting Iran’s judicial system: lack of accountability, rampant impunity, disregard for fundamental constitutional rights, manipulation of the law to promote a political agenda, systematic use of torture and, above all, abuse of judicial powers to repress peaceful expressions of dissent and criticism.”

Mortazavi has demanded that the United States adhere to the strictest human-rights standards. He is right to do so, but that doesn’t exempt Iran from following the same rules.