Pressure on Tahkim-e Vahdat or Systematic Limitation of Civil Organizations?
Several student activists from Dafter-e Tahkim-e Vahdat (Office to Foster Unity) have told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that over the past several weeks, security forces have warned them that this popular student organization must stop its activities, otherwise its active members would be arrested and imprisoned to face heavy sentences.
At this time, four members of the organization’s Central Council and several from its General Council are in prison. The nature of government reaction to activist groups, its practice of arresting student, and the closure of other civil and professional organizations over the past several months, show that regime authorities in Iran engage in a systematic process to weaken and limit the Constitutional rights of Iran’s civil society.
The Office to Foster Unity is one of the largest and most independent student organizations in Iran and has been critical of the policies of the Iranian government over the past few years. Last year, the sitting Minister of Science announced that this organization is not legal. The students, however, believe that the Ministry of Science cannot make such a determination and continued to operate. Pressure on the Office to Foster Unity is deeply troubling, considering similar incidents that have taken place over the past few months and years to limit or shut down independent civil society organizations.
The last independent professional organization shut down by Iranian government was the Iranian Journalists’ Association, which was shut down last year by the Iranian Judiciary after a long struggle its management had with the Ministry of Islamic Guidance over its bylaws and activities. This organization represents more than 3,000 Iranian journalists and its activities are limited to efforts to improve the professional condition of members of the Iranian press. Prior to this, the Defenders of Human Rights Center, an independent human rights organization that has several distinguished human rights lawyers such as Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi as members, was shut down.
We can add to these the arrests of members of the One Million Signatures Campaign, which represents a social movement seeking elimination of discriminatory laws against women. Concurrently, several independent NGO’s which were engaged in capacity building efforts for Iranian NGO’s were either shut down or stopped their operations altogether.
Another organization is the Iranian Bar Association, an independent organization which issues operating licenses to lawyers. After the elections, the regime authorities tried to limit the Bar Association’s activities. The Iranian Judiciary submitted a bill to the Iranian Parliament which would not only destroy the Association’s independence, it would make Iranian lawyers vulnerable to influence from the Judiciary. The bill stirred serious opposition, and though the bill was tabled by the then Head of Judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, the concern remains that as soon as the government has the capacity and the ability to implement this bill, new limitations would be imposed upon the Bar Association.
Over the past four years, other labor, teachers’, women’s, and other community organizations have not fared any better in Iran. These organizations have been deprived of their natural right to conduct peaceful congregations in order to pursue their demands and their members have been summoned, arrested and imprisoned for their memberships in civil organizations.
The above-mentioned cases show an overall picture of Iranian government’s mounting pressure on independent civil society organizations. Instead of allowing these organizations to continue their legal activities, the government has established organizations with similar names. In fact the government is trying to create a fake civil society which is attached and dependent on the Iranian government in different ways.
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran is concerned with news received about DTV’s arrested members. The most important news about these individuals is that during their interrogations by security authorities in prison, they have been put under pressure to stop making statements, or else they have been threatened with arrests and imprisonment. This news shows that Iranian authorities are targeting civil organizations and are weakening the voices of people heard through these organizations. This is a danger which threatens Iran’s dynamic civil society and human rights organizations.