The Iranian government's poor record on human rights deteriorated even further in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of State's latest annual report on human rights conditions in Iran.
The government of Iran intensified its systematic campaign of intimidation against women's rights defenders, ethnic minority rights activists, labor leaders, journalists, students and religious minorities, said the report. Civil liberties, including freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion were severely restricted. Iran's security forces committed acts of politically motivated abduction, torture, and severe, officially sanctioned punishment, including death by stoning, amputation, and flogging.
The State Department report noted that in March 2008, student activist Ahmad Batebi fled Iran after prison authorities allowed him to leave Evin prison for medical treatment. The government had sentenced Mr. Batebi first to death, then to fifteen years in prison, after the photo captured of him, holding up the bloodied shirt of a fellow student, made the front page of the Economist magazine in 1999. Security forces had violently broken up the anti-government student protests. Mr. Batebi reported that prison and security officials had brutally tortured him while he was in Evin.
In an interview in Washington, Mr. Batebi said it was important that the U.S. and other countries continue to voice support for the Iranian people who are being oppressed for demanding their basic human rights:
"Iranians want freedom and democracy. They want an environment in which they have social equality, and where they would be able to decide their own future. They want to be able to claim their demands in a legal, secure and non-violent way. They want the system to leave them ways to express their demands."
Ambassador Karen Stewart, U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said at the news briefing announcing the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices that promoting human rights is and remains a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy. "We will continue to encourage Iran to abide by its international commitments to respect human rights. And in this report," said Acting Assistant Secretary Stewart, "we call attention to where we see the problem areas."