How Iran Used WikiLeaks to Attack a Human Rights Defender

Ahmed Shaheed,  Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, present's his report at a the 28th Session at the Human Rights Council. 16 March 2015. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, presents his report at the 28th Session at the Human Rights Council, March 16, 2015. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This post first appeared on and is published here in collaboration with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. 

State news agencies in Iran are trying to discredit Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran, through a story based on an alleged WikiLeaks document.

The authenticity of the document has been directly questioned by WikiLeaks, the well-known website that publishes secret information from anonymous sources. In a tweet WikiLeaks wrote: “Please show which cable this claim is based on. You fail to link to one of our cables in the article.”

Iran's media claims that a WikiLeaks document proves the Special Rapporteur received a million dollars from Saudi Arabia in return for promising stronger criticism of the Iranian government in his annual reports on the state of human rights in Iran.

Through his own Twitter account Dr. Shaheed, who has been recognized internationally as a principled and scrupulous champion of human rights, thanked WikiLeaks for clarifying and calling attention to the fact that these reports had not been authenticated.

This is not the first time a round of questionable allegations have targeted Dr. Shaheed.

The latest allegations

This latest attack comes shortly after the Special Rapporteur called on Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to pay more attention to the country’s human rights situation now that the Islamic Republic and world powers have come to an agreement on the nuclear issue.

“It is my sincere hope that the successful conclusion of the nuclear talks, which will enable the lifting of economic sanctions, will allow President Hassan Rouhani to focus on his other campaign pledges, specifically those to promote the enjoyment of all human rights by the Iranian people,” said Dr. Shaheed in a statement published on July 15, 2015.

The current allegations appear to be a ramped-up effort by hardliners to pre-empt any increased pressure on Iran — from either inside or outside the country — to address the country’s egregious rights record.

“This claim is preposterous and only serves to distract from the task at hand—addressing the serious human rights issues facing the country today,” Dr. Shaheed said in an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

“Allegations to discredit me do not change the [Islamic Republic of Iran’s] record documented by the UN Secretary General and raised by the U.N. human rights mechanisms for the last decade.”

“Executions are taking place at an alarming rate.  Women’s rights continue to face significant challenges. Hundreds of individuals are in detention for things they wrote, said, or posted on the Internet.  And the Baha’i leadership remain in prison for their religious beliefs,” the UN Special Rapporteur continued.

“My work, like the work of my predecessors, is based on research. It presents laws, government statements, as well as information taken from government websites and reports. My work presents interviews with hundreds of individuals, inside and outside Iran, that claim that their rights were violated, and my work presents the research undertaken by dozens of internationally recognized human rights organizations,” Dr. Shaheed told the Campaign.

While Iranian officials continue their efforts to discredit Dr. Shaheed and any other human rights defender who attempts to hold the Iranian government accountable for its rights violations, the international community has maintained strong support for the Special Rapporteur, noting his fair and meticulous work and invaluable contribution to the exposure of human rights abuses in Iran. As such it has renewed his mandate every single year.

In response to a question about these allegations by a reporter from ISNA (the Iranian Students News Agency) on July 29, 2015, Mohammad Javad Larijani, Head of the Iranian Judiciary’s Human Rights Council, repeated the unsubstantiated claim that Dr. Shaheed had received bribes. However, within hours of the remarks being posted on ISNA’s and the Fars News Agency’s websites, the link to the interview was removed. (To see a screenshot of the removed page click here.)

Iran's many attempts to discredit Shaheed

Since being appointed as the UN’s human rights point-man for Iran in 2011, Shaheed has been refused entry into Iran, and his annual reports, detailing widespread rights abuses, have been described by Sadegh Amoli Larijani, Head of the Iranian Judiciary, as “lies” and by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marzieh Afkham of “lacking validity.”

In 2014 Javad Larijani, who is Sadegh Amoli Larijani's brother, called Ahmed Shaheed “a wicked fool,” and said “human rights defender” is another name for terrorist.

He stated: “Those who are referred to as ‘human rights defenders’ these days, are soiled with terrorist acts and call themselves human rights defenders…when you hear the name ‘human rights defender,’ these are individuals who commit terrorist acts.”

In 2012, Javad Larijani claimed Dr. Shaheed was being fed false information by “terrorist groups” as well as by the U.S. and Israel in support of “mostly those who have carried out terrorist organizations under the guise of human rights defenders.”

In 2013, during a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Javad Larijani accused the Special Rapporteur of “relying on biased sources” and working with “a notorious terrorist group” to compile his reports. Larijani’s vitriol was so great that the president of the session felt obliged to remind Larijani not to personally attack the Rapporteur in his remarks.

The supposed “bribery” allegations are not new either. In March 2013, Javad Larijani accused the Special Rapporteur of taking bribes from the US State Department, an allegation that was later proved to be completely unfounded.

Iran's problem with human rights defenders

Iran’s human rights chief has not just attacked Shaheed; he has repeatedly equated all human rights defenders with terrorists, making specific reference to the internationally respected human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2011 for defending free speech and the right to peaceful dissent.

Iranian officials have also moved beyond their vilification of Shaheed to trash the broader human rights mechanisms at the UN and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself.

In remarks on November 22, 2011, Javad Larijani stated that [human rights] reports by Ban Ki-moon’s office were a reiteration of viewpoints of “terrorist groups and organizations that oppose the Islamic Republic”, and that Iran was “extremely concerned” about the shortcomings of the United Nations under the leadership of Ban Ki-moon.

This pattern of attempted defamation and discrediting is not limited to the Larijani brothers: During a 2014 meeting in the city of Mashhad, Iran’s Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi also claimed that the Special Rapporteur was “corrupt.”

Iranian state media outlets that have participated in the current uncorroborated allegations against Dr. Shaheed include the Mehr news agency, which is a branch of the state-owned Islamic Promotion Organization, and the Hemayat newspaper, which is run and controlled by the Judiciary’s media arm.

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