The United States has published its annual country reports on the status of human rights around the world. Barry Lowenkron, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, says broad patterns were discernible over the year:
"Across the globe in 2006, men and women continued to press for their rights to be respected and their governments to be responsive, for their voices to be heard and their votes to count."
But, says Mr. Lowenkron, 2006 also saw increased resistance from governments where power remains concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers. Those governments, which include North Korea, Burma, and Iran, among others, were the world's most systematic human rights violators in 2006.
In Iran, the report says, the government "flagrantly violated freedom of speech and assembly, intensifying its crackdown against dissidents, journalists, and reformers – a crackdown characterized by arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, disappearances, the use of excessive force, and the widespread denial of fair public trials."
Iranian law, says the State Department report, criminalized dissent and applied the death penalty to offenses such as apostasy, so-called "attempts against the security of the state. . . .and insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini and against the supreme leader."
The report cites the plight of Iran's political prisoners, incarcerated solely because of their beliefs – including, among others, ethnic Azeri activist Abbas Lisani, student demonstrator Ahmad Batebi, journalist Massoud Bastani, and dissident cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Kazemeini Boroujerdi. It notes the suspicious death of student protester Akbar Mohammadi who died in Evin prison on July 31st, and relates how his parents were denied permission to see his body and how the Iranian government refused all calls for an independent investigation into the cause of his death.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that whenever human rights defenders are under siege, freedom and democracy are undermined. The United States, she says, is committed to stand with courageous men and women who struggle for their freedom and their rights. "The world's democracies," she said, "must defend the defenders. That is one of the primary missions of our diplomacy today."