BEIRUT — A ranking Iranian judiciary official defended his country's human rights record Saturday, lashing out at a recent State Department report that condemned the Islamic Republic's record on upholding the rights of minorities and dissidents.
"Claims by America and some European countries on the violation of human rights by certain states are not aimed at defending human rights, and they are rather used to exert political pressure on Third World and developing countries, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran," Ebrahim Raisi, first deputy of Iran's judiciary branch, told journalists in Tehran, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
The State Department report, issued last week, took Iranian authorities to task, charging: "The government's poor human rights record worsened, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. . . . The government severely restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association, movement and privacy, and it placed severe restrictions on freedom of religion."
In recent weeks, Iran has charged seven leaders of the country's outlawed Bahai faith with espionage after holding them in prison for months. Authorities also arrested dozens of university students opposed to the burial of Iran-Iraq war victims on the campus of Amir Kabir University in Tehran. All but about 10 were released, according to a university website and the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
"Peaceful protest is not a criminal offense," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, said in an announcement. "Iranian authorities should release these students without delay."
The Obama White House has highlighted Iran's nuclear program, support for militant groups and threats against Israel as points of contention between Washington and Tehran, avoiding explicit calls for the Islamic Republic to improve its human rights record.
But rights advocates say Iran's treatment of women's rights activists, political dissidents, ethnic minorities such as Kurds, and leaders of religious groups such as the Bahai has deteriorated dramatically as the Islamic Republic has sought to crack down on any potential domestic opponents.
Iranian officials regularly accuse the West of hypocrisy in zeroing in on Iran's human rights record, citing abuse allegations at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and what they call European and American complicity in alleged Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians. Iranian officials say they do their best to protect the rights of minorities and they accuse the West of using activists to foment political unrest.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran will not allow any trend to harm national security by its organizational, illegal and unauthorized activities," Iran's chief prosecutor, Ayatollah Qorban Ali Dori-Najafabadi, said Friday, according to the official news agency.
Bahai followers, whose religion was founded in 19th century Iran, say adherents of the peaceful faith are persecuted for their beliefs. Advocates say Iranian authorities deny Bahais university posts and government jobs. But Dori-Najafabadi said authorities had "irrefutable evidence" that those Bahais in prison had colluded with "enemies" of Iran.
Rafei is a special correspondent.