Activists Blast Iran for Teen Executions and Discrimination, Note Rights Abuses Elsewhere

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Human rights groups and activists denounced Iran's government Monday for executing teenagers and discriminating against women, but acknowledged that Tehran's record on these issues was significantly better than in some other Middle Eastern nations.

The activists' news conference came a day before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly.

"One of the main aspects of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration is a broad crackdown on dissidents of all kinds (while) denying to acknowledge that anything of the sort is happening," said Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Ghaemi and other activists from the New York-based rights group and from Human Rights Watch also criticized Tehran for executing juvenile offenders for crimes committed when they were as young as 15.

The U.N.'s human rights department has condemned the Iranian government for allowing the executions of juveniles. Earlier this month, the Geneva-based body expressed deep concern over the execution of two boys who were 15 and 16 when sentenced to die in a murder trial.

The activists also said that the situation regarding women's rights in Iran had deteriorated sharply since Ahmadinejad's hardline administration succeeded Mohammad Khatami in 2005. Labor rights also have suffered, with a number of organizers jailed in recent months for trying to set up independent trade unions, said Akbar Ganji, a journalist and former political prisoner.

But participants also pointed out that in relation to other regional countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, Iranians still enjoyed significantly greater democratic and human rights.

They pointed to the fact that women's rights in Iran were considered fundamentally better than in other Islamic nations in the Middle East and South Asia.

Also, prominent European intellectuals such as German philosopher Jurgen Habermas have visited Tehran and addressed university audiences on issues of democracy and political freedoms, something they said would be "unimaginable" in many other countries in the Middle East.

"The situation in Iran is much better in this regard than in (neighboring) countries," Ganji said.