On the eve of Iran's defense of its human rights record Friday before a key United Nations panel, a lawyer for the woman executed in the Islamic Republic over the weekend for allegedly killing her attempted rapist accused the regime of widespread torture and murder.
A UN-appointed human rights advocate had already prepared a voluminous account of Tehran's egregious transgressions, including persecution and imprisonment of religious minorities, alarming numbers of executions and systematic disregard of due process by Saturday, when Reyhaneh Jabbari, a 27-year-old woman who had spent the last seven years in prison, was hanged. Jabbari became an international symbol of the regime's brutality, with the UN and rights groups such as Amnesty International decrying her death sentence. Jabbari's execution served to punctuate this week's hearings, including the independent forum in Geneva on Thursday and a procedure today before a UN Human Rights Council panel.
"Because Reyhaneh Jabbari's case created a lot of attention inside and outside of Iran, a lot of people tried to save Reyhaneh Jabbari, but because of the power of Iran, on Saturday, they hanged her," Iranian Human Rights Attorney Mohammed Mostafaei, who represented Jabbari as well as some 200 death penalty defendants, told the independent watchdog group UN Watch on Thursday. "I'm sure we can -- if the Iranian government stopped the death penalty -- we can improve human rights in Iran."
Mostafaei, who represented Jabbari before fleeing Iran under threat, said Iranian jurisprudence disregards the concept of intent in determining guilt and meting out punishment, relying on sharia law. Once defendants are arrested, coerced confessions are common, say critics.
On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council conducted its periodic review of Iran's record in Geneva. Iran has long denied access to the UN’s independent experts and so-called special rapporteurs, including Ahmed Shaheed, the world body's special rapporteur on human rights in Iran. The meeting in Switzerland provided a rare occasion for UN member states to engage with the Iranian authorities, who have submitted a rebuttal which claims the regime does not engage in torture.
Iran's justice minister, Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, blamed Jabbari's death on the west, and several allies of Tehran, including Venezuela and Belarus, actually praised the Islamic Republic for defending human rights.
According to a 28-page report submitted by Shaheed, some 852 people were reportedly executed between July 2013 and June 2014 in “an alarming increase” over already high rates from previous years. In 2014 alone, at least eight people executed were believed to have been under the 18 at the time when they allegedly committed their crimes.
While capital punishment is permitted under international law for cases involving intentional homicide, Shaheed noted, Iran applies it to economic and drug crimes and even homosexuality, a crime under Sharia law. In addition, children often view the public executions, typically carried out by hanging convicts from cranes in public.
"Eighty-percent of the 800 documented [executions] were for drug offenses," Shaheed said.
And the real problem, according to Shaheed, whose report notes prosecution of journalists, labor and education activists and forced marriages of girls as young as 9, is that Iranians cannot feel secure under the rule of law.
"When your rights aren't guaranteed [and] they depend upon the human fancy of those in power, then you live in either self-denial or self-limitation," he said. "There are reprisals against those who cooperate with international human rights mechanisms. I think it is fair to say that there is a climate of fear in terms of people not being able to exercise their rights fully."
The election more than a year ago of President Hassan Rouhani, who ran as a moderate and stoked hopes of a more tolerant regime, has not brought about the hoped-for reforms. Although some say the religious clerics who carry more power in the Islamic Republic, are responsible for the continuing human rights violations, critics say Rouhani could do more.
At least three American citizens are believed to be held in Iran, including Pastor Saeed Abedini, a Boise, Idaho, married father of two who went back to his homeland to help establish a secular orphanage and was imprisoned for proselytizing; Amir Hekmati, a U.S. Marine who went to visit an ailing grandparent and was arrested and accused of being a spy and Robert Levinson, a former FBI and DEA agent who disappeared while investigating a cigarette -smuggling ring in the Kish Islands and is now believed to be the longest-held hostage in American history. Iran denies it is holding Levinson, but the State Department says it is.
Thursday's hearing by UN Watch served as something of a prelude to the UN's official inquiry on Friday. In addition to Mostafaei, the panel heard from former prisoners of Iran’s infamous Evin Prison, who recalled the horrors they endured. Marina Nemat, who was sent to Evin in 1981 at age 16 and says she was interrogated and tortured and even raped and forced to marry a prison guard, scoffed at Iran's defense of its human rights record.
"Iran doesn’t torture? Iran respects women’s rights?" an incredulous Nemat, now a professor at University of Toronto, asked at Thursday's forum. "They hired a fiction writer. I hope there is someone at the UN who would hold them accountable.
“I ask you to not allow for Iran to get away with lies,” she said in a direct appeal to today's UN gathering. “There are so many people who are more than willing to testify against it."
The Associated Press and FoxNews.com's Perry Chiaramonte contributed reporting to this story.