Six months ago, the U.N. sponsored its third report in four years on the situation of human rights in Iran. The investigation registered many concerns, most notably an alarmingly high execution rate, sustained imprisonment of dozens of journalists, and the continued repression of a multitude of religious and ethnic minorities. Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the report’s author, was hampered by travel restrictions throughout his visit to the theocratic state. As such, many observers speculated the offenses were far graver than Dr. Shaheed suggested.
On Friday, however, Iranian officials accused Shaheed of accepting bribes from the United States. It was not the first time his impartiality had been questioned. As the Maldivian Foreign Affairs Minister from 2005-2007, Dr. Shaheed rejected the condemnation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the Maldivian Chief Justice, leading to opposition allegations that Shaheed was a "spin doctor." Independent human rights groups have consistently defended Shaheed’s counsel, as has the UN.
For Iran, the accusations against Shaheed are emblematic of a larger blame-game that has defined the regime.
Following the release of Salman Rushdie’s best-selling novel The Satanic Verses in 1988, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s assassination. At the time, many international experts surmised Khomeini had broadcasted the religious decree in an effort to re-invigorate Iran’s populace after the disastrous Iran-Iraq War and growing marginalization of Shi’ites throughout the Arab world. Either way, the Iranian public responded with fierce anti-Western protests, leaving the government basking in growing nationalist sentiments.
While Iran’s flamboyant declarations were curtailed throughout the 1990s, the election of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in 2005 ushered in a fresh wave of blasphemous claims against the United States and its Western partners. In a May 2010 interview, Ahmedinejad told George Stephanopoulos, "I heard that Osama bin Laden is in Washington DC ... Yes, I did. He's there. Because he was a previous partner of Mr. Bush." His ostentatious rhetoric on the floor of the UN frequently leads to diplomatic walkouts.
Ahmedinejad was not responsible for Thursday’s indictment of Dr. Shaheed, though the accompanying assertions exhibited a similar style. "The money the special rapporteur has received from the U.S. State Department has led to a situation that he cannot write about anything except their anti-Iran desires," Mohammad Javad Larijani was quoted as saying. Iran’s state-controlled media reported that Larjani, secretary general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights, provided the UN with "considerable evidence of violations by Shaheed." The Associated Press noted, however, that the UN has received no such evidence.
The Iranian regime will surely continue concealing its wide array of human rights violations, especially as diplomatic alienation and a crippled economy have marginalized the country more than ever. Most experts believe that an authoritarian hold on power will continue indefinitely, as the Iranian populace has little desire to parrot the mayhem of the Syrian civil war. Iran’s government wants to minimize this risk as well, so no one should expect the political blasphemy to come to a halt anytime soon.