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Does Nuke Deal Point To Domestic Reforms In Iran?

November 26, 2013
Iran President Hassan Rouhani (Pic. courtesy Deutsche Welle)

The deal signed between Iran and the P5+1 countries early Sunday, has given fresh life to speculation whether the agreement will allow Teheran to crackdown with greater ease on dissidents, human rights defenders and independent journalists, now that western liberal governments are mollified by freeze on the country’s nuclear programme. The deal comes less than week after Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported lukewarm progress in Iran to ease constraints on censorship and freedom of information. 

“[President Hassan] Rouhani repeatedly said during his campaign that ‘all the political prisoners should be released.’ He also said on several occasions that he wanted a change ‘in favour of free speech and media freedom,'” said the Paris-based RSF in a statement on November 19. “…Nonetheless, despite the release of some prisoners of conscience, Iran continues to be one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists and netizens, with around 50 currently detained.
“At least 10 more journalists and bloggers have been arrested since his election victory, 10 others have been sentenced to a combined total of 72 years in prison and three newspapers have been closed or forced to suspend publishing under pressure from the authorities.”
Fear that a nuclear deal would help Rouhani to crackdown more severely on dissidents was also expressed by Iranian Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi in a widely-publicised interview on November 6 with Associated Press.
“Ebadi expressed hope that nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers, which are set to resume Thursday, will lead to the end of U.S.-led sanctions and a settlement of the stalemate with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program. ‘But I have doubts,’ she quickly added, ‘and I think it’s too early to be optimistic.'” AP reported.
Detailing a series of abuses since Rouhani came to power Ebadi also referred political prisoners continuing to remain behind bars. “In another rights crackdown, she said, the editor of the reformist newspaper Bahar was jailed last week for publishing an article on Shiite Islam deemed offensive by authorities in the Islamic Republic, a predominantly Shiite nation. He was released on ‘hefty’ bail after two days but the paper remains closed,” AP quoted Ebadi as saying.
But this view is contested. The Berlin/Bonn-based Deutsche Welle (DW) quotes Siebo Janssena, political scientist based in Cologne who says that the successful negotiation of the nuclear deal could also signal domestic reforms.
“‘Rouhani is president of Iran today because the electorate is thirsting for economic, social and cultural reforms,’ Janssen said. Iranians have even called for the improvement of the human rights situation in the country.
“According to Janssen, Rouhani still enjoys the confidence of the great majority of Iranians. He could, however, rapidly lose that support if he does not soon implement his reform plan,” said DW.

Therefore, it could be that all is not lost and the international community should use the interim of six months before a long-term agreement is initialled to press for more reforms on some human rights issues at least – especially those Rouhani promised during his election campaign.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.