UNITED NATIONS – UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A U.S. human rights group urged U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to secure the release of a prominent Iranian journalist and activist who goes on trial Saturday on charges that carry the death penalty.
It said Shiva Nazar Ahari, founder of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters in Tehran, faces "trumped-up charges" including "actions against national security" and "propaganda against the regime" for her participation in demonstrations and other human rights activism.
Ahari is also charged with "waging war against God" for her alleged membership in the exile Mujahedeen-e Khalq Organization, which carries the death penalty. She has denied any connection to the organization, which is the militant wing of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran.
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq fought alongside Saddam Hussein's forces during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and carried out a series of bloody bombings and assassinations in Iran during that decade, though it says it renounced violence in 2001.
The American Jewish Committee's Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights said Ahari's case "exemplifies the sorry state of human rights in Iran."
According to the human rights group, Ahari was arrested on Dec. 20, 2009, and has been detained ever since at Tehran's Evin prison with little access to her lawyer and family members. She reportedly spends long periods in solitary confinement.
"U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon can help protect this remarkable advocate of justice, whose life is in danger," institute chair E. Robert Goodkind said in a statement. "He should insist that Iran respect the concerns of U.N. human rights bodies by promptly releasing Nazar Ahari from prison."
U.N. associate spokesman Yves Sorokobi said the secretary-general's office received the letter but the point person for this issue is U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
Since Iran's June 2009 disputed presidential election, journalists have become a prime target in an Iranian government crackdown on the opposition. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report in March that at least 52 journalists are now in Iranian jails.
Last December, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution urging Iran to halt the persecution of political opponents following the election and release those still detained. It cited the "harassment, intimidation and persecution ... of opposition members, journalists and other media representatives" and many others exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.