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Mr. Snowden Goes to Tehran?

August 2, 2013 by Elizabeth Hoffman

On August 3, Iran will celebrate the inauguration of the newly elected “moderate” president, Hassan Rouhani.  Will this usher in a new era of openness in the foreign and domestic policy of the Islamic Republic?  Don’t count on it. 

As a prelude to the inauguration, notorious National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden was invited to visit Iran by a nongovernmental organization (NGO) dubbed “Justice-Seekers Without Borders” to discuss any further details he may have in regard to U.S. spying on the Islamic Republic.  The invitation sends a clear signal that the regime’s foreign policy strategy will remain fundamentally confrontational.

A vast majority of NGOs in Iran are closely affiliated with the government, and it is highly unlikely that “Justice-Seekers Without Borders” is any different.  The invitation for Snowden to visit Iran with the expressed purpose of elaborating on alleged U.S. “illegal…spying on the Iranian citizens” is clearly meant to fan the flames of antagonism with the West.

The ultimate irony at play is in the name of the organization extending the invitation to Snowden, “Justice-Seekers Without Borders.”  A brief look at the facts reveals that their efforts would be better spent seeking justice within Iran’s borders.

According to the non-partisan Committee to Protect Journalists, 45 journalists remained imprisoned in Iran in 2012.  Add to that the 10 journalists who were rounded up in an apparent attempt to quash dissent within the last month.  The Iranian government maintains a stranglehold over the Internet, preventing access to alternate sources and forms of information. 

The list goes on.  Freedom of religion remains nonexistent.  Seven leaders of the Baha’i faith in Iran have been incarcerated in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison since May 2008.  This past January, Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American Christian pastor was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of undermining national security.  According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Muslim minorities do not fare much better than their non-Muslim compatriots.  Sunni and Sufi Muslims face repression and discrimination based on their faith which does not conform to the interpretation of Islam according to the majority Shi’i community.   

Iran has also long restricted the rights of women.  A recent report issued by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran highlighted a litany of abuses.  Specifically, women associated with the One Million Signatures Campaign, which lobbied for an end to the barbaric practice of stoning, regularly face harassment, arrest and detention.  Furthermore, Iranian law compels women’s obedience to their husbands, and prohibits women from obtaining passports or leaving the country without written permission from their husbands.

It remains to be seen if Mr. Snowden will accept the invitation of “Justice-Seekers Without Borders” to visit the Islamic Republic.  While they await his answer, perhaps they can get started on addressing some of the issues enumerated above.

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