In Tehran, the Center of Human Rights Defenders has been declared illegal. Iran's Interior Ministry announced that anyone continuing activities at the center would be subject to arrest.
The center was founded in 2002 by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi and several other Iranian human rights advocates. The organization has provided free legal counsel for hundreds of Iranian dissidents facing criminal charges for exercising their fundamental rights. It has also provided financial and moral support to the families of political prisoners.
The center helped journalist and pro-democracy activist Akbar Ganji, who was released from prison in March. Mr. Ganji had been jailed for six years after publishing newspaper articles implicating top Iranian government officials in a series of murders in the 1990s. The center also represented the family of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, who was beaten to death in Evin prison in 2003. Recently, the center called for an independent investigation into the death of student leader Akbar Mohammadi, who died in prison under suspicious circumstances on July 31st.
One founding member of the Center of Human Rights Defenders, Abdolfattah Soltani, was arrested in July 2005. He was sentenced recently to five years in prison purportedly for disclosing confidential information related to one of his cases and for engaging in so-called, "propaganda against the regime." After sentencing, he said, "they are treating me this way so that no other lawyer will accept a political case."
In a statement, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, "condemn[ed] the Iranian government's severe repression of dissidents, and its continued crackdown on civil society and those fighting for personal freedom in Iran." He called on the government in Tehran "to respect the human rights of all Iranian citizens. . . .and to release those arrested and imprisoned as a consequence of defending universally accepted human rights and freedoms."
President George W. Bush says the United States supports the "Iranian people's efforts to win their own freedom":
"Iran is a nation held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people and denying them basic liberties and human rights."
America, says Mr. Bush, supports the desire of the Iranian people "to build a free, democratic and transparent society."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.