By Jamal Ekhtiar:
Freedom of expression and the safety of journalists captures special attention in the reports of United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed; these are mutually important and, along with this, rights to information for citizens is another vital issue.
The Special Rapporteur is generally concerned about freedom for journalists and their rights to information; and he is requesting an environment where writers and activists can safely carry out their activities.
Freedom for journalists is important, not only for a free, transparent flow of information, but it also further helps accountability and a healthy system of governing. Since the Iranian government has not been successful in respecting freedom of information and rights of expression, particularly for journalist and media networks, the world community, including the Special Rapporteur, voices its concerns about this.
The journalist community in Iran and in exile welcomes these efforts but, at the same time, there are deeper concerns to be addressed regarding rights to information and freedom of expression.
The rights to information apply to every human, regardless of whether they are a journalist or not. This notion makes it imperative to look at how the means of information work in Iran, and whether they inclusively guarantee rights of all citizens and different components in the country.
It is worthwhile to remind the reader, when speaking about rights to information, that it does not only concern laws defining access of journalists or other citizens to specific information. Rights to information are directly connected to fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, media, and education, including a responsive system where the government provides all the necessary means of information, moral and material requirements equally to all nationalities in Iran. This includes requirements for education in the mother tongue, free media broadcasting in languages spoken by the nationalities in Iran, and all other aspects connected with the rights to information. This emphasises free media: government should not counteract free media with its interventions.
These rights are indisputable. Hence information or knowledge is a resource which should be equally guaranteed for all citizens. This could be delivered by the education system, mass media or other means. Therefore rights to information are mutually connected to laws that give freedom to journalists to make administration and public life transparent, and freedom to the public to advance their knowledge, dignity and living standards through learning in the education system, and information they receive from the media and elsewhere. The second factor will be briefly discussed here in the context of Iran.
Iran is a multinational country and, as in other areas including socioeconomic, national, education and so on, rights to information for non-Persian nationalities have been severely violated. This is not a prejudiced view, but rather it reminds us how the rights of millions of peoples are not considered; instead the focus is only on few thousand media workers. Safety of journalists as special people is important, with their need for protection in difficult environments, but it does not override demands for an inclusive human rights model. Talk about the media, education and means of information should respond to the requirements of all citizens. Arbitrarily arresting or baselessly charging people, simply because of what they think, write or speak is unacceptable.
If the national media, education and information system is a mirror reflecting all citizens, then components and nationalities – such as the Baloch, Ahwaz, Turkomen, Kurds and, to some degree Azaris (although they are slightly better off compared to other groups) – are not reflected in this mirror in Iran. The national media and education is in Persian and the government does not cover the needs of these nationalities, violating the rights of millions of people to information. Additional to this, the situation of Kurdish journalists is much tougher than for their colleagues in central Iran. The government launches some programs in other languages just to pretend and mislead the world into thinking that it is respecting rights of non-Persian citizens. These programs cover the ideological objectives of the government instead of the needs of peoples. Where do Kurdistan and Balochestan stand in the national media, education and information system? Do they have the place they deserve?
If Mr. Shaheed looks deeper, he will find that truly the rights of millions of peoples have been ignored in the media, education and information system in Iran. Why does Iran not have Kurdish or Baloch education and media? Why don’t Kurds have mother tongue education? Why is non-central Iran so undeveloped? Regional Iran is marginalized in every area of life.
The bitter tease is that foreign-sponsored media for Iran, like VOA Farsi, BBC Farsi, Euronews, German Farsi service and other Farsi radio and television services, have the same habit of ignoring Iran’s regions. It is clear that Iran is not the Fars nationality only, and if foreign services broadcast for Peoples in Iran, millions of citizens do not see themselves in this mirror. The foreign media mostly have pro-Persian staff and, according to complaints on social media, in some cases they humiliate non-Persian nationals. Many individuals are angry with these media. Probably foreign governments have to probe their biased Farsi service providers. In some cases activists have launched campaigns on social media to protest this. Do taxpayers in these countries accept this unjust function of their imbalanced media? Foreign countries should have a balanced media for multinational Iran. Several components of the Iranian peoples are marginalized, in both domestic and foreign media and the information system, leading to the violation of their rights in this area.
The United Nations international human rights system, including Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed, have to closely monitor whether or not the rights of different components of the Iranian peoples to education, media and information has been properly and inclusively guaranteed. While this is a part of rights safeguarding in Iran, it will also be a good investment for the further development, promotion and protection of all human rights in the long term.
Jamal Ekhtiar is a journalist from eastern Kurdistan. He has been a writer and contributor to various English and Kurdish media over the past ten years. He also works with civil society organisations.