PR stunts and power struggles – not at the expense of human lives

The press team has been pretty busy here at the Human Rights Action Centre in Shoreditch as we’ve played host to near on 100 students from up and down the UK who have a keen interest in journalism and human rights. 

It’s been encouraging to meet so many people who are keen to throw a spotlight on human rights through journalism and also to demonstrate to them how journalism play such a vital role in the work of human rights.  We had a number of veteran journalists there sharing their wisdom.  I was also struck by this at an event I attended yesterday evening hosted by The Times. 

Through a host of speakers, including Mohammad Mostafaei – the lawyer of Sakineh Ashtiani who was forced to flee Iran, Omid Djalili and Foreign Secretary William Hague, The Times sought to draw attention to the real human situation facing men and women in Iran. One thing that was noted was the fact that there are certain stories which are more likely than others to get covered in the news relating to Iran, and the US hikers story is a classic example. 

News of the potential release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal spread across news wires at great speed yesterday, as has today’s news that the courts have suggested their release may take a ‘bit longer’ than the two days promised.

Amnesty has been monitoring this situation and has today reiterated its call for the US hikers to be immediately released.  TIME blogger Tony Koran suggests that the US hikers are caught in Iran’s domestic power struggle.   Others note that it is no surprise that Ahmadinejad has declared this ‘pardon’ just days before he is due to attend the UN General Assembly where the human rights record of Iran is likely to be closely scrutinised.

Playing politics with human lives is, quite frankly, inexcusable.  The US hikers have generated ample media attention, but they are not the only victims of appalling human rights abuses in the country.  On a daily basis in Iran, people are subjected to unfair trial, unlawful arrests, torture, and secret (and public) executions.   The UN General Assembly should indeed make every effort to scrutinise Iran’s human rights record. And any attempts made by Iran to clean up its human rights record must not be a PR tool, but a move toward a freer, fairer society.  Unfortunately I fear that too might take a “bit longer” than we’d hope.

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