Little hope for change: Iran, Democracy and an international war of words

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By Nicole Green

Far from approaching domestic or international equilibrium, Iran is instead facing further instability and a worsening human rights record following on from the Presidential election which shook the nation last June.

That was just one of the conclusions the audience took away from a lively debate at The Frontline Club, at June’s First Wednesday event – a monthly series of topical discussions.

Maziar Bahari, a journalist who was imprisoned in Iran last year; Ian Black, the Guardian’s Middle East editor; Ann Harrison, from Amnesty International; Afshin Rattansi, former BBC and Press TV producer and co-host of the Rattansi & Ridley online news programme, and the event was chaired by Pooneh Ghoddoosi, a journalist with BBC Persian TV.

So what, if anything, has changed since June last year?

Following on directly from the 2009 elections, the perceived success or waning influence of the Green Movement caused controversy, with Rattansi referring to the movement’s supporters as “rich kids from North Tehran” – for him its growth is a “morbid symptom” of developing Iran.

For Rattansi, Iran is the “most democratic nation in the region” and he provoked some heated comments by describing the BBC as a “mouthpiece for propaganda”.

Bahari however was confident that the movement was a collection of people “who wanted to be a nation with citizens” and the slow and steady change was underway.

With international debate in the West dominated by the issue of Iran’s potential nuclear threat, panelists argued that the issue of human rights may fall away. Seeing little change and a growing acceptance of imprisonment as the norm, Harrison demanded clear action from the international community with a depoliticisation of human rights in order to prevent further abuses and release “forgotten prisoners”.

Black agreed there is a clear preoccupation, especially from the UK government, on the nuclear issue. He said the hope for political change was depleted, with an overall impression that the new UK government will continue to do as little to “meddle” in Iran’s business as the last.

He argued  “by the trajectory of what [Iran] appears to be doing…they are creating nuclear capability.”

Bahari argued strongly that the only thing that can encourage a dynamic change is an “investment in the free-flow of information between Iran and the rest of the world.”

Social media, the internet, and TV channels such as BBC Persia will provide necessary voice for those who are currently campaigning for change, and it may well be the role of Western media to mobilise this.