Wednesday, 23 November 2011

RFERL: Azerbaijani Journalist Targeted By Fatwa Dies After Stabbing Attack

BAKU -- Azerbaijani writer and journalist Rafiq Tagi has died, four days after he was stabbed multiple times in a late-night attack in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

Tagi, 61, a critic of the Azerbaijani government, Iran, and political Islam, died in the Baku hospital where he had been treated following the November 19 attack.

Rasim Karadzha, a friend of Tagi's and editor of the "Alatoran" literary journal, informed RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service that Tagi died about 3 p.m. on November 23.

Tagi underwent four hours of surgery after the attack and had his spleen removed, but he had been reported to be in satisfactory condition.

Tagi spoke with RFE/RL about an hour before his death and said that he was recovering well.

"My condition is difficult and stable," he said. "It's stable and difficult, but it's not worsening."

WATCH: Rafiq Tagi spoke to RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service correspondent Maarif Chingizolgu just an hour before he died. 

Nizameddin Asgarov, one of the doctors who operated on Tagi, told RFE/RL it was likely Tagi choked.

"He was a normal patient. We assume he died of a vomit mass -- that he choked on this mass," he said. "When he had to vomit, the water went to his windpipe. We cannot find any other reason for his death."

Asgarov said that doctors checked on Tagi less than 10 minutes before he died and he was stable.

Earlier, some of the writer's friends had complained about a lack of security at the hospital and urged the government to take measures, but Tagi told RFE/RL that he did not feel in danger.

Iran Denies Role

Tagi was stabbed seven times outside his Baku home late on November 19 by two unidentified assailants.

In comments to RFE/RL on November 21, Tagi said the attack might have been linked to an article he published earlier this month on the website of RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service titled "Iran and the Inevitability of Globalization" (here in Azerbaijani).

In the article he sharply criticized the Iranian government and ridiculed Tehran's threats against Azerbaijan.

In 2007, a district court in Baku sentenced Tagi to three years in jail for an article published in 2006 that was deemed to be critical of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. He was granted a presidential pardon later that year.

That article prompted an Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani, to place a fatwa on Tagi, calling for his death.

The Iranian Embassy in Baku on November 22 issued a statement denying any Iranian involvement in the attack on Tagi.

"We refute the groundless claims, at odds with reality, spread by some persons and media outlets of the Azerbaijan Republic linking the attempt on Rafiq Tagi's life to the Islamic Republic of Iran," the statement read.

The Azerbaijan authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the attack on Tagi.

Azerbaijani blogger Ali Novruzov, speaking to RFE/RL at a conference in Brussels, said he was certain that Tagi was killed because of his writings and that it was crucial for the country that the case be investigated quickly and the perpetrators punished.

"There is one issue that I'm sure of -- he was stabbed to death because of his writing, of expressing his opinions, of his journalistic activities, of his criticisms," Novruzov said. "Just imagine that in the 21st century, in a country that aspires to be modern, a guy is stabbed for his opinions, for his thinking."

Novruzov said Tagi's passing was a major blow to critical thinking in his country. "Rafiq Tagi was a person that everybody in Azerbaijan knows -- for bad or for good -- but everybody is -- was -- aware of his existence, of his writings.

"It is not just an ordinary man stabbed in the street. It is somebody whose opinion was listened to."

based on RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service reports

Monday, 21 November 2011

Washingtonpost: Iranians traveling to Israel face 5 years in prison after parliament extends ban

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranians traveling to Israel could go to prison for up to five years instead of only three months, after Iran’s parliament revised an existing ban for such trips.

The measure reflects Tehran’s security concerns over archenemy Israel. Iran claims to have dismantled several purported Israeli spy rings in recent years and arrested Iranians with alleged links to Mossad.

Iranian state TV on Monday reported that parliament passed a new amendment, expanding the current prison term for travel to Israel to between two and five years.

Under a 1972 ban imposed by U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, offenders faced possible imprisonment of up to three months.

At the time, the law was designed to mostly avert travel to communist countries.

AFP: UN resolution on Iran rights gets record votes

UNITED NATIONS — The UN General Assembly on Monday passed an annual resolution condemning human rights abuses in Iran with a record number of votes in support.
The assembly also passed resolutions condemning human rights in North Korea and Myanmar. All received record high backing.
The Iran vote came only three days after the General Assembly condemned an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington -- a plot which the United States accuses Iran of masterminding.
The 193-member assembly passed the resolution condemning "torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" by Iranian authorities with 86 votes in favor, six more than last year, 32 against, down eight from 2010, and 59 abstentions.
The resolution, proposed by Canada, condemned "flogging and amputations" carried out in Iran and deplored a "dramatic increase" in the use of the death penalty, particularly against minors. Many human rights groups say events have deteriorated in Iran over the past year.
Iranian government representative, Mohammad Javad Larijani, an advisor to the country's supreme leader, called the resolution "substantially unfounded and intentionally malicious" in a speech to the General Assembly's human rights committee.
Syria, which faces a special human rights vote on Tuesday over its deadly crackdown on opposition protests, spoke out strongly for its Iranian ally.
The North Korea vote was passed with 112 votes in favor, 16 against and 55 abstentions. On Myanmar the vote was 98 in favor, 25 against with 63 abstentions.
The assembly raised "very serious concern" over the "torture" and "inhuman conditions of detention, public executions, extra judicial and arbitrary detention" in North Korea.
It also condemned the "existence of a large number of prison camps and the extensive use of forced labor."
The Myanmar resolution welcomed recent talks between democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the military-dominated government, the release of some political prisoners and other changes over the past year.
But the General Assembly said there were still "systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms."
It highlighted "arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." It also raised concerns about the treatment of ethnic minorities such as the Karen people.
Western nations, which have sanctions against Myanmar, have sought to encourage the tentative reforms started by the government. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to hold talks in Myanmar next month.
Myanmar's UN ambassador U Than Swe highlighted the government's efforts towards "building a flourishing, democratic society."
"We do deserve warm, welcome, kind understanding and sincere encouragements of the international community rather than unconstructive approach by adopting such resolutions," he told the assembly.
In a statement, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague acknowledged the changes in Myanmar, but said "human rights abuses continue, especially in ethnic areas, and the level of support for this resolution shows once again that the international community has not forgotten the people" of Myanmar.
"The UN General Assembly passed these three resolutions by a record majority today, and I welcome the strong signal that sends," Hague said.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

CFR: Human Rights in Iran

Women's rights: The Iranian constitution allows equal rights for men and women "in conformity with Islamic criteria." According to the World Economic Forum's 2010 Gender Gap report (PDF)--which compared disparity between men and women on economic participation, access to education, health, and political empowerment--Iran ranked 123 out of 134 countries. This was better than most countries in the region, ahead of Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and even Turkey.  However, the UN report notes that the application of certain laws is a barrier to gender equality in Iran.  For instance, a woman's worth and testimony in a court of law is regarded as half that of a man's. Women do not have equitable inheritance rights, nor can they be granted guardianship rights for their children, even upon the death of their husbands. The report says female activists who try to address gender equality issues are often targeted.

Religious, ethnic, and other minorities: There are widespread abuses against members of recognized and unrecognized religious and ethnic minorities such as Arabs, Azeris, Baloch, Kurds, Namatullahi Sufi Muslims, Sunnis, Baha'is, and Christians. Iran's largest non-Muslim religious minority, the Baha'i, has historically been discriminated against and continues to be denied jobs and educational opportunities, and face arbitrary detention and unfair trials. Human Rights Watch says Iran also engages in systematic discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. "Iran is one of only seven countries with laws allowing executions for consensual same-sex conduct," it says.

VOA: Sexual Minorities Persecuted In Iran

The Iranian government has a deplorable record of persecuting members of Iran's gay, lesbian and transgender, community.

International observers were recently alarmed by reports that three men were hanged in the Iranian city of Ahvaz for a series of crimes that included  engaging in sodomy.

According to the Norway–based NGO Iran Human Rights, the Iranian Student News Agency said that on September 4 three men were convicted of 'unlawful acts' and acts against Sharia, based on articles 108 and 110 of the Islamic penal code.  Iran Human Rights noted that "Articles 108 and 110 of the Iranian Islamic Penal code are part of the chapter covering 'Hadd' for sodomy. . . .Article 110 says punishment for sodomy is killing."

The three men, identified only by initials, were also charged with kidnapping and theft.  Because of the variety of charges and the lack of due process in Iran – summary trials, the disregard for the right to defense counsel, and the practice of accusing political prisoners of criminal activity -- there is no way to know why these men were hanged.

The Iranian government has a deplorable record of persecuting members of Iran's gay, lesbian and transgender, community -- the size of which remains unknown, since many individuals fear identifying themselves.

The State Department's most recent human rights report on Iran notes that the law "prohibits and punishes homosexual conduct; sodomy between consenting adults is a capital crime."  It says that those accused of sodomy often faced summary trials, and noted that "human rights activists and NGOs reported that some members of the gay and bi-sexual community were pressured to undergo gender reassignment surgery to avoid legal and social persecutions in the country."

In his most recent address to the U.N. General Assembly, President Barack Obama defended the human rights of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered -- or LGBT -- individuals around the world:  "No country should deny people their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion; but also no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere."

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says, it is "hateful" to suggest that LGBT people "are somehow exempt from human rights protections. . . .All people's rights and dignity must be protected whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity."