This week in the review of civil society in Iran we mark the passing of religious scholar and political dissident Ahmad Ghabel and the award of the prestigious Sakharov Prize to filmmaker Jafar Panahi and imprisoned lawyer Nassrin Sotoudeh. The non-binding Iran Tribunal closed in The Hague. United for Iran released a report highly critical of the focus of the international community on Iran’s nuclear program at the expense of human rights. The economy continues to falter and workers are losing their jobs at alarming rates. Afghans continue to be repatriated, while the government does its best to widen the gender gap. The Tehran Symphony is now only available to those who can privately hire them and a new film on the lives of transexuals in Iran has opened in the country.

A Great Loss

Prominent religious scholar and political dissident Ahmad Ghabel passed away last week at the age of 58. In its report on his death, Radio Farda states: “With his death, Iran lost one of its most outspoken critics of the country who refused to be silenced despite pressure, multiple imprisonments, and solitary confinement.”

And the Sakharov goes to…

The European Parliament awarded the 2012 Sakharov Prize to filmmaker Jafar Panahi and imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. The prize honors individuals who work to defend human rights or freedom of thought.The two were honored for their courage in defending basic freedoms. “The award of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the Iranians Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi is a message of solidarity and recognition to a woman and a man who have not been bowed by fear and intimidation and who have decided to put the fate of their country before their own. I sincerely hope they will be able to come in person to Strasbourg to the European Parliament to collect their prize in December”, said European Union President Schulz.

A delegation from the European Parliament was supposed to visit Iran on October 27. The delegation had asked to personally deliver invitation letters to the Sakharov prize laureates. The visit was called off last minute as the Iranian authorities when told that a visit to the two could not be guarranteed.

Nasrin Sotoudeh has begun a hunger strike to protest the pressures placed on her family as a result of her 11-year prison term. Prison officials changed her family visiting day from Sunday to Wednesday, making it extremely difficult to see her family at all. Her hunger strike has been widely represented in the international media and has raised reactions from human rights organizations and activists. In its recent Urgent Action, Amnesty International voices concern about Nasrin’s further deteriorated health, which is weakened as a result of her previous hunger strikes.

Iran Tribunal

The Iran Tribunal [fa] closed Saturday, October 27 with the announcement of the judges that there was sufficient evidence that the Islamic Republic of Iran had  committed crimes against its citizens that warranted further investigation by international bodies. Johann Kriegler, a former judge in South Africa’s Constitutional Court made the announcement of the decision, stating, “There are six forms of gross human rights abuses to which the evidence presented to the Truth Commission and to this tribunal point incontrovertibly: murder, torture, unjust imprisonment, sexual violence, persecution, and enforced disappearance.”  (recording available here at around 2:35) He went on to reiterate that individuals are responsible for the actions of the state and should be made accountable for crimes committed against citizens. The judges called on civil society and individuals to support the decision and to press for official investigations. In the closing statements, the judges expressed their sentiments about the three-day proceedings. “The breadth of your sadness is now part of my sadness; your hope part of my hope; your humanity makes me more human,” said judge Patricia Viseur Sellers.

The objective of the non-binding tribunal was to investigate the crimes committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran against the country’s political prisoners during the 1980s. The first stage of this tribunal, known as the Truth Commission, was held in June 2012 at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre. The second stage in The Hague investigated the findings of the Truth Commission and issued a judgment based on that and the testimonies of 19 witnesses.

The Truth Commission and the People’s Court do not represent any state power and therefore cannot compel the accused to stand before the court.

Towards a Human Rights and Democracy Agenda for Iran

United for Iran released a report in October critical of the international community’s human rights record in Iran. Dokkhi Fassihian, United for Iran’s director of programs and advocacy stated:

“It is safe to say that the unrepresentative regime in Tehran is not pursuing the interests of its own people. In dealing with Iran on its nuclear program, and in imposing crippling sanctions that affect ordinary Iranians, the global community should also pursue a long-term strategy, which recognizes the urgent responsibility to simultaneously demand respect for the rights of the Iranian people, who are better suited to hold their leaders accountable in the long-term.”

A Bad Time to Start a Business?

Iran’s economic instability caused a rise in unemployment again. Amid financial instabilities, the World Bank published its results on Ease of Doing Business 2013, ranking Iran near the bottom at 145 out of 185 economies. The country’s rank has dropped one level compared to last year’s report. It should be highlighted that under the ‘Starting business’ indicator, Iran has gone down in rank by 37 points. Radio Farda [fa] argues that reviewing social and political changes together with economic developments are inevitable in producing such report, although they do not directly touch upon politics and society.

Unsurprisingly, Adel Azar, the head of Iran Statistics Center, announced that data on inflation is confidential and is only provided to relevant authorities. The Iranian Labour News Agency [ILNA] [fa] quotes Mr. Azar as saying that the unemployment rate for this summer increased by 1% compared to last summer’s 12.9%.

Gatherings, Strikes, and Job Losses

Kalame [fa] reports that over 300 workers lost their jobs in east Esfahan.  in Kaveh, 30 workers were also fired for protesting five months of unpaid wages. Similarly, the ‘Coordination Committee to Help Form Worker’s Organizations’ [fa] reports of a job loss of 20 workers due to a decrease in Zarivan factory production in Sanandaj.

According to ILNA [fa] the demonstration of around 1,200 workers from Iran’s Entekhab group at the South Korean embassy in Tehran finally ended. The aim was to retrieve a payment of $70 million which was promised to the Entekhab group when sanctions killed their deal with their South Korean counterpart.

The strike of truck drivers over poor wages ended last Thursday. The strike, which started on Wednesday, caused long queues for fuel in Iran at gasoline stations, fearing shortages. DW [fa] reports of another strike by 400 workers in Bonyan Dizel factory in Tabriz for over twenty days against forced movement of workers to other cities across the province.

Forced Repatriation of Afghan Migrants

The scope of victims of the economic sanctions against Iran is expanding. Radio Zamaneh [fa] reports on the repatriation of close to 200,000 Afghan refuges to their home country in the last six months, many of whom were undocumented. Reasons given for their return include unemployment, lack of income, high prices, and school restrictions for their children.

Gender Gap and Further Bans for Women  

The 2012 Global Gender Gap report lists Iran near the bottom of the ranking at the 127th position out of a total of 135 countries. Page 206 of the report shows slight progress for women in Education and Health but highlights the gaps with men in Economic Participation and Opportunity, as well as the Political Empowerment.

In the most recent operation on the gender segregation front, Fars News [fa] reports of local regulations banning women from watching live volleyball games.

Art About Town

Tehran Symphony Orchestra has halted its activities due to the unpaid wages of its members. Mehr [fa] reports that the symphony’s activities are now limited to exclusive programs, requested by the Music Bureau of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

The film ‘Facing Mirrors’ by Negar Azarbaijani is now open in Iran. This movie is the first in its kind and closely follows the lives of transsexuals in Iran, revealing the difficulties they are facing in the society.