Iran's new era? Human rights may hold the key
The good news for Iran-watchers is that they no longer have to gaze at images of ferrety former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ranting against his enemies (almost everyone.)
The bad news?
Newly-inaugurated President Hassan Rohani may not give them much good news anytime soon.
Or will he?
Executions in Iran have continued at an alarming rate according to Human Rights Watch and others who monitor the appalling body count. Since the June presidential vote that swept Rohani to power on the reform ticket (more or less), at least 71 more prisoners have been hanged.
“The Iranian regime has a clear choice to make,” said Foreign Minister John Baird. “It can either march Iran down its current path toward continued isolation and economic disparity..or it can let President Rohani change the regime’s nuclear policies, its wanton disregard for human rights and its destructive meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the wider region.”
That’s a broad agenda.
But one small – but significant – step would be sending home Saeed Malekpour and Hamid Ghassemi-Shall to Canada, where Ghassemi-Shall is a citizen, and Malekpour a permanent resident.
Both have been sentenced to death after widely-decried trials. Canadian Hossein Derakhshan is also serving a nearly 20-year sentence.
They are being held at the behest of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, with whom Rohani has sway as a former air force commander during the Iran-Iraq war.
He is also close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who gave a speech of unambiguous support at the inauguration, saying “I want everyone to help the government and president to realize people’s expectations.” In spite of Iran’s fragmented political system, it was a sign that the bitterly divisive era of Ahmadinejad could be at a close.
Many in Iran hope – if not expect – things to get better under Rohani. The release of political prisoners from Canada, and the thousands of Iranians also jailed for no crime but dissent, could only reassure them that a new era has begun.
Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights from the former Soviet Union to the Middle East and South Asia, winning national and international awards.