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Iran's Assault On Civil Society


The government of Iran has turned its back on a rich tradition of civil society, perpetrating human rights abuses against many activists and ordinary citizens who just wanted the right to be heard.

Addressing a meeting of the Community of Democracies in Krakow, Poland, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of the importance of robust, non-governmental civic organizations to prosperous, democratic societies: "Citizens," she said, "must be free to come together to advocate and agitate, to remind those entrusted with governance that they derive their authority from the governed."

But Secretary Clinton pointed out that many governments across the globe are applying "a steel vise" that is "crushing civil society and the human spirit." One of those governments, she noted, is Iran.

"The government of Iran has turned its back on a rich tradition of civil society, perpetrating human rights abuses against many activists and ordinary citizens who just wanted the right to be heard," said Secretary Clinton.

In a report released last month, Amnesty International catalogued the growing government crackdown on Iranian civil society – on journalists, human and cultural rights defenders, religious minorities and women's rights activists - that has occurred in Iran over the past year. The report said that more than 5,000 Iranians have been arrested since the disputed June 2009 election, and many have been tortured. Claudio Cordone, Amnesty's interim secretary general, said, "The Iranian government is determined to silence all dissenting voices."

In her speech in Krakow, Secretary of State Clinton noted that governmental repression of independent groups and individuals "demonstrates the fear of illegitimate rulers, the cowardice of those who deny their citizens the protections they deserve."

President Barack Obama has said that the courage of Iranians in the face of severe repression is "inspiring" and "reminds us of democratic movements that have brought greater freedom and respect for universal rights to every region of the world. ... In Iran and around the world," said Mr. Obama, "the United States of America will continue to stand with those who seek justice and progress and the human rights and dignity of all people."

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