This post first appeared on iranhumanrights.org and is published here in collaboration with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
“Our next agreement will be on our civil rights!” was one of the slogans people chanted in Tehran during their street celebrations only hours after a nuclear agreement was reached on April 2.
During his election campaign, President Hassan Rouhani repeatedly pledged to observe citizens’ rights, end the house arrest of the Green Movement leaders, and release all political prisoners. However, almost two years after he took office, most of these promises have not been realized.
Some of the president’s supporters believe that following a resolution to the nuclear standoff, the atmosphere will shift to allow delivery of those promises, while some of his critics believe that the president’s performance indicates that despite his earlier statements, human rights are not on the administration’s agenda.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has interviewed several prominent Iranians representing different professions, such as lawyers, writers, directors, analysts, university professors, and artists, about the effects of the nuclear agreement on the state of basic rights and freedoms inside the country.
Mahmoud Dolatabadi, author and novelist: There is no choice but hope
Like many other citizens, I, too, wait for the nuclear agreement so that the conditions change a little inside the country. In his speeches and election campaign pledges, Hassan Rouhani had indicated that he would pay attention to cultural issues. We should now assume that if he finds a chance, he would probably pay attention to them. There is no choice but to be hopeful.
Mohammad Saleh Nikbakht, human rights lawyer and academic: We shall not return to Khatami era
If the nuclear agreement is reached in June, Iran’s economic conditions will improve. Economic improvement would naturally affect political freedom. Even so, it will be an error to expect doors to be opened to Iranians, and for freedom, the way it existed in the early days of Mohammad Khatami’s presidency, to be reinstated. The conditions of Iranian society today must be measured within its own characteristics. I believe that after the [nuclear] agreement, certain solutions for going towards freedom in some areas will definitely be shaped and the situation of civil rights or what has been referred to as “the rights of the people” in the Iranian constitution would improve at least a little.
Naghmeh Samini, playwright and drama professor at Tehran University: Better conditions for theater
It would be impossible not [to expect] effects or improvements in the country’s artistic and cultural atmosphere following a nuclear agreement. For example, after the nuclear agreement, the relationship between Iranian theater groups with groups from other countries would definitely improve. Our current problem is translating Iranian plays into other languages and being in touch with other theatrical groups in other countries, and performing there. Regardless of what the government wants to do, I think after the nuclear agreement and improvement in Iran’s relations with the West, these things would automatically happen for professional and student theater groups in Iran, and the work atmosphere would get better. Another point is that after the nuclear agreement, the country’s economic situation would improve, which would naturally affect the cultural situation.
Ghasem Sholeh Sadi, lawyer, former member of parliament, former professor of international law, and former political prisoner: I am not optimistic
I doubt the nuclear agreement will have a positive impact on solving human rights issues inside the country, because there are several reasons for the situation of human rights in Iran. One part of it is a difference of ideological views, for example, [views on] such as torture and Qisas [death sentences in retaliation for murder] that are referred to in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are seen by Iranian officials as contradictory to our laws. Another point is that there are no true monitoring mechanisms in Iran to oversee enforcement of human rights.
When Hassan Rouhani became president, it was expected that human rights would be better observed in the society, but the number of executions indicates that there are many more instances of executions carried out in the country. Not too long ago, Ali Younesi, Rouhani’s special assistant, and former Tehran prosecutor and minister of intelligence, told the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) that human rights violations occur in the country’s prisons and courtrooms. For all these reasons, I am not optimistic that a finalized nuclear agreement would have a huge impact on improving the human rights situation inside Iran.
Massoud Shafiee, lawyer: The agreement will impact civil liberties
Before Mr. Khamenei’s April 9 speech, I couldn’t have a clear view about this subject, but in his speech, he mentioned a key factor that settled everything. While he took issue with the work of the nuclear negotiators, mentioning that the agreement is still in draft phase, and that a complete agreement has not been reached yet, he said that if the agreement is finally reached and Iran walks out of the negotiations satisfied and the other side shows their honesty, it is possible to talk about other issues with the U.S. and western countries later. My understanding of this part of the Supreme Leader’s talk is that after a nuclear agreement, there will definitely be openings in other areas in society, and this will definitely have an impact on civil liberties, as well.
Kambozia Partovi, author and filmmaker: Change is not Rouhani’s priority
I think creating change in the country’s artistic and cultural structures is not among the Rouhani administration’s priorities. Nevertheless, when Iran reaches a nuclear agreement, the country’s economic situation will improve, and naturally, improvement of the economic situation would cause more investment for making more films. But generally, it is not possible to give a definitive opinion about whether or not the cultural atmosphere in the country would open up. I can only say definitively that after the nuclear agreement things would be better than now, and at least artists would continue their work with more peace about the economy.
Fariborz Raisdan, economist, former university professor, former political prisoner: No change in liberties due to government’s lack of commitment
There will definitely be a limited economic improvement, and a section of the middle class will experience a moderate improvement, but this improvement will not mean that the country’s poor will be saved. Currently we have 5.5 million unemployed individuals, and the minimum monthly wage for workers is almost 50% below the poverty line. These problems won’t be solved by a nuclear agreement and an agreement with the U.S. and other countries. Even before the nuclear issue became significant, we had a lot of poverty and unemployment in our country. Currently, 70% of the country’s disposable income is in the hands of 5% of the population. Is the country’s political and economic structure going to change after the nuclear agreement? Iran’s economic structure is in the hands of two powerful factions, each of whom controls a section of the economic power and they wrestle over it. As far as the low income [segment of society], laborers, and female heads of household are concerned, this nuclear agreement is not going to change anything for them.
Regarding expression [and] social, ethnic, and religious rights, nothing much will change, because the Rouhani administration does not believe in allowing labor organizations and [political] parties to be active, and does not tolerate intellectuals to speak freely and to question the ideological and power fundamentals, and to defend their human rights. Has our problem always been the issue of sanctions and relations with the U.S.? For example, the Iranian Writers Association was suppressed during years when Mr. Rouhani himself was the head of the Supreme National Security Council. I believe that human rights in the form of freedom of association, freedom of expression, women’s rights, and removal of gender, ethnic, and religious discrimination is not compatible with the ruling ideology. For example, in the case of women’s rights, after all this time we are still talking about whether or not women should attend sports stadiums. They say this is because the police can’t take responsibility for looking after women’s safety [in sports stadiums]. How is it that the same police can crack down on a woman whose Islamic covering [hijab] is a little imperfect?
Sadegh Zibakalam, political analyst and researcher: Changes only over long-term
I believe that the nuclear agreement will be influential in improving the conditions inside the country, but not in the short-term; rather, it will show its impact over the long-term. This is for the simple reason that the nuclear agreement will lead to improved relations and a reduction of tension between Iran and western countries and the U.S., and this will indirectly help improvement of many issues in Iran. Conversely, when there is a tension-ridden relationship full of hatred between Iran and other countries, the energy required for changes inside is sapped.
Regarding the [potential] opening of the artistic and cultural atmosphere in the country and freedom of expression, I believe that if intellectuals, the elite, university students, and artists don’t demand Hassan Rouhani to pursue this issues, nothing will happen. He must be pushed in this direction. If he is put under pressure, he would definitely be forced to pay attention to creating change in the cultural and artistic situation, too.