On Monday, the Jerusalem Post criticized the US for apparently putting diplomatic exchanges ahead of civil rights issues in its dealings with the Gulf Arab state of Oman. The article claims that the State Department had already completed its latest annual Trafficking in Persons report when high ranking officials intervened to delay its publication over highly negative findings regarding Oman.
The resulting report apparently altered Oman’s scores to keep it at one level above that which would allow for the US to intervene using economic sanctions. Media coverage of this incident serves to extend criticism of the Obama administration’s Iran policy, suggesting that permissiveness has guided policymaking in broader Middle Easter affairs, as well.
In fact, according to the Jerusalem Post the issues of Iranian and Omani misbehavior are directly connected to each other. The State Department’s alteration of the TIP report has been explained as an act of diplomatic largesse in exchange for Oman’s role in brokering the Iran nuclear deal that was finalized in July after more than two years of negotiations. Those negotiations began when a secret, preliminary meeting took place between Washington and Tehran, with the Omanis acting as a facilitator and go-between.
In this context, the US has been accused of looking the other way on Oman’s human rights because of the very existence of those negotiations. Furthermore, it has been accused of ignoring human rights in Iran as a result of the Islamic Republic’s willingness to see those negotiations through to completion. Obama administration officials have arguably viewed this as being indicative of a general change in Tehran’s attitudes and behavior. But critics find that that behavior tells a different story.
The administration’s optimism may be supported by reports on Monday that the one of Iran’s apparent political prisoners has had his death-sentence vacated and sent back to Tehran’s Revolutionary Court. The Express Tribune explained on Monday that Mohammad Ali Taheri was arrested in May 2011 and sentenced to death on charges of “insulting the sacred” and “spreading corruption on Earth,” as a result of his activities as a spiritual healer.
But now that sentence has been vacated by the country’s Supreme Court and Taheri is facing a new trial. On the surface, this suggests a positive step for human rights, but it is entirely possible that he will be sentenced to death all over again. Indeed, in the context of recent cases, this seems quite likely.
For instance, Amnesty International reported this month that the death sentences had been upheld on review for two Iranian prisoners who were the subject of urgent human rights activism as a result of their having been sentenced to death for crimes they committed when they were below the age of majority. The reaffirmation of those sentences arguably served as a rejection of international standards of human rights, which plainly deny the viability of the death sentence for juvenile offenders.
This is only one aspect of the conflict between Iran and the world community over the Islamic Republic’s use of the death penalty. The mere overuse of such sentencing has been the subject of constant international activism, as has its use in cases that cannot be categorized as being among the most serious crimes. On Monday, Iran Human Rights illustrated both of these issues by reporting that five persons had been hanged on Sunday morning for drug crimes and another two had been hanged in public for armed robbery.
Iran dismisses criticism of such incidents by saying that its domestic laws are nobody’s business but its own. Furthermore, the general landscape of political cases like Taheri’s has tended to reaffirm the viability of politically-motivated charges including those leading to the death penalty. Iran has been described as being in the midst of a large-scale crackdown on human rights activism and pro-democratic or pro-Western attitudes. As a symptom of this, at least four Iranian journalists were arrested in a single day in early November, and their cases have not been resolved, in spite of the resulting international outcry.
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