It’s no secret that personal attacks hurled by some Iranian officials and media outlets in the run-up to the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council this past March reached new heights – or, rather, depths.
People frequently ask me if these attacks, which often include crude insults and defamatory remarks, affect me or my work. My answer is that while I of course find such tactics disappointing, I find their distractive nature to be more disturbing.
The presentation of my reports and the interactive dialogue about the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic that takes place among members of the Human Rights Council presents a opportunity for all stakeholders to discuss pressing issues and cases of abuse. Insults and inflammatory statements only serve to detract from this opportunity, and delays the much needed solutions necessary for the most vulnerable in Iranian society; solutions that often emanate from substantive and open discourse.
Besides, the attacks against me and other UN officials pale in comparison to those often reported by Iranians who exercise their fundamental rights to free expression, belief, assembly, and association.
At the end of each working day, I can turn off my computer and switch off my phone. Human rights defenders and those who express dissenting views inside the country apparently don’t have this luxury. Individuals who express dissent from officially-sanctioned views reportedly face prison sentences for the vaguely-defined and overly-broad “crimes” of “propaganda against the system,” “acting against national security,” or “dissemination of false information.” In some cases, they face capital punishment for mofsed fil-arz (corruption on Earth), or moharebeh (translated either as enmity with God, or as holding a weapon to the populace with intent to frighten).
As I documented in my last report to the Human Rights Council, there are around 900 political prisoners in Iran, many of whom are in prison for expressing the same types of international protected forms of criticism that I convey in my reports. The individuals punished come from all walks of life — ethnic, religious, and gender communities, geographical regions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. And there are many more hundreds of individuals who, while not necessarily in prison, reportedly face harassment and persecution for non-violent forms of dissent.
So when people ask me how I feel when officials attack me or the Secretary-General, I can only respond: I am far from a victim. The real victims of these personal attacks are those that live in fear of airing their beliefs, those whose grievances continue to be ignored, and those who continue wait in silence for remedy.