November 1, 2013 | Policy Brief

Rouhani’s Failed Human Rights Promises

The first 100 days of Hassan Rouhani’s presidency has done little to improve Iran’s human rights record. Widely hailed as a moderate, Rouhani announced prior to his election victory, “All Iranian people should feel there is justice. Justice means equal opportunity. All ethnicities, all religions, even religious minorities, must feel justice. Long live citizenship rights!” Yet, dissidents, religious minorities and ethnic groups have suffered during Rouhani’s short tenure.

For example, four Iranian Christians were sentenced in early October to 80 lashes for drinking wine during communion and possession of a satellite antenna. On October 30, two of the accused were whipped, according to a statement from Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

The plight of sexual minorities also remains a serious problem. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps arrested alleged “Homosexuals and Devil Worshippers” at a birthday party in October. Rouhani has refused to release the journalist Siamak Ghaderi, who was imprisoned in 2010 and flogged in 2012. Ghaderi published interviews with gay Iranians online.

The Bahai community also continues to suffer. After Rouhani’s victory, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared the peaceful religious Bahai community to be a pariah group. He issued a Fatwa dictating that Iranians should avoid all contact with the members of the minority religion. Khamenei’s incitement to dehumanize the Bahais has contributed to a climate of violence. The religiously-motivated murder of Ataollah Rezvani, a popular Bahai leader, took place shortly after Khamenei’s Fatwa.

Rouhani, for his part, has made no effort to free imprisoned Bahai religious leaders. Bani Dugal, a representative from the Baha’i International Community, now notes that “reports to our office actually indicate a worsening of the situation facing Baha’is in Iran.”

Since Rouhani assumed office, the rate of executions has accelerated.  Iran’s regime imposed the death penalty on over 125 people during Rouhani’s tenure, including a record number of 50 executions during a two week period in September for principally drug-related offenses. In September and October, Amnesty International repeatedly called for an end to executions in Iran.

To be fair, Rouhani has released some prominent political prisoners. Ahead of his UN visit in September, the regime freed 11 political dissidents, including the prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.

But the overall treatment of minorities and dissidents remains deplorable in Iran. Rouhani’s rhetoric, while inspirational, does not match the policies of the regime.  

Benjamin Weinthal is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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