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Rights Workers say Repression in Iran Getting Worse

Human rights advocates say repression of civil society in Iran has dramatically worsened over the past year. They blame much of the increase in systematic violations of human rights on the international fixation on Iran's alleged nuclear program. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The human rights advocates say the women's rights movement has borne the brunt of the repression, especially since the launch of the "One Million Signatures" Campaign in August 2006. The Campaign seeks to provide education on women's rights and to repeal discriminatory laws against women.

Rights advocates say dozens of activists have been prosecuted and condemned to prison sentences, some with lashes. They say arrests, detention and judicial harassment are common practice. They say journalists, lawyers, students and trade unionists are particularly targeted.

Spokesman of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, says Iran has taken advantage of the International Community's fixation on the country's nuclear issue to increase repression in the country.

"As the military threat against Iran increases, indeed, the government uses that to solidify the current situation and increase its repression. And, human rights defenders inside Iran are very much opposed to the continuing threat made against Iran," he said. "It has made life very difficult for them. And, if there is any kind of military action against Iran, be it a very limited one, it will give a license to the government to completely uproot any semblance of civil society in the country."

Ghaemi says any threat of military action by the West against Iran could have negative consequences. He says pressure on the government to fulfill its obligations can only happen under a peaceful situation.

Iran signed the U.N. Declaration of Human rights in 1975. The activists say the government is in violation of provisions of the treaty. Last year, the U.N. Human Rights Council, removed Iran from a list of countries whose human rights situation was being closely monitored.

Nobel Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, says this action has had negative consequences for people in Iran. She is calling on the Council to reappoint a Special Rapporteur to examine the human rights situation in her country and bring the government to account when it violates the rights of its citizens.

Ebadi says she opposes the decision by the U.S. government to withdraw from the Council.

"The Council has not performed very well during the past two years...but, even though it has not performed well, we should not be interpreting it in the same way as the United States has done that the U.N. and its Human Rights mechanism is not useful...We should be coming up with solutions on how this trend can be reversed and the Council can become more effective," she said.

The United States said last week that it was limiting contact with the organization because the group has become little more than a sounding board for criticism of Israel. A State Department spokesman said the United States would participate in debates at the Council only on matters of "deep national interest."

Nobel Laureate Ebadi says the United Nations is the last hope for people in many countries and if the body is weakened, the hope of many people will have been taken away.