Despite warnings that attending the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran would legitimize the regime’s abusive behavior at home and abroad, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has decided to go. He seeks to meet with Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Responding to criticisms of Ban’s plans, his spokesman argued that to skip the summit “would be a missed opportunity.”
It will be Ban’s first visit to Iran. On Friday, Iran’s top tourism official, H.M. Ajabi, told local press (IRNA) that the NAM summit offers a great opportunity for “boosting Iran’s tourism industry” and the Tehran Times reports that Ban has been invited to attend a meeting of the Human Rights Committee of the Iranian parliament. Below are key sightseeing opportunities in Iran that the secretary-general should not miss if he is to be ready for this encounter:
Evin Prison: This is Iran’s best-known site of cruel and prolonged torture, particularly of political prisoners, and secret executions. Among the prisoners there were Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahvash Sabet, two of the seven imprisoned leaders of the Baha’i faith, Iran’s largest religious minority. American journalist Roxana Saberi met them while also detained in the notorious jail; she can help Ban identify them, should he seek their long-overdue release.
University of Tehran: On June 14, 2009, after widespread protests against the announced results of Iran’s presidential election, security forces broke open the gates of Tehran University and stormed campus dorms, indiscriminately arresting, beating and shooting students with pellet guns. Five students were reportedly killed and others seriously injured. Authorities reportedly buried the dead within hours, without notifying their family members. Student leaders currently imprisoned include Bahareh Hedayat, who called for holding security forces accountable. Ban might ask for her to be released to offer a guided tour.
Behesht Zahra Cemetery: Tehran’s largest Muslim cemetery contains the grave of Neda Agha-Soltan, 26, who was shot in the chest at a protest, and became the most recognizable victim of the post-election crackdown. Witnesses claim to have the ID card of a member of the Basij, a paramilitary volunteer militia implicated in crushing the 2009 protests, whom they alleged was responsible for her death. Ban could ask his hosts why no one has been held accountable for her murder.
Office of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (CHRD): CHRD, founded in 2000 by prominent Iranian lawyers and activists, was forcibly closed in 2008 and ransacked by Basiji. Cofounders Mohammad Ali Dadkhah and Abdolfattah Soltani were sentenced to long prison terms. In 2010, women’s rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, mother of two young children, was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, including for alleged membership in CHRD.
Azadi Square: In February 2011, thousands of demonstrators protested here against the government’s crackdown on dissent. Security forces began a wave of arrests. Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were placed under house arrest, and telephone and internet communications were restricted.
Qom: This Shiite holy city hosts clerics including Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, who has issued religious edicts permitting domestic violence against disobedient women and justifying executions of those who “insult” the Imam and the Prophet. Conveniently for the secretary-general, the underground Fordo nuclear facility, which the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency cited for medium-level enrichment, is nearby.
Rasht: This is the home town of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been sentenced to death for questioning the compulsory Islamic education of his children, and using part of his house for prayer services. Lakan prison, where Nadarkhani has been held, was the site of a 2009 execution of a convicted adulterer by stoning, despite the judiciary’s 2002 moratorium on stoning.
Choram: This is the site where four men were sentenced to death by hanging for the crime of sodomy in May 2012. The regime has reportedly executed more than four thousand gay men and women since 1979. President Ahmadinejad famously remarked at Columbia University in 2007 that there were no homosexuals in Iran.
National Virtual Space Center This new center will supervise matters relating to the control of the Internet. Attracting qualified staff may be difficult, as several of the most prolific users of the Internet in Iran have been imprisoned, including blogger Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, who was sentenced to fifteen years for establishing Iran Proxy, an anti-censorship organization.
UN human rights bodies have long demanded that Iran end these egregious human rights abuses, but the regime resists reform, this year even denying access to the new UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran.
Secretary-General Ban should personally acquaint himself with these places, people, and institutions associated with human rights abuses in Iran. They have been well-documented in UN human rights reports. Unless he and other diplomats visiting the country do more to pressure the regime to release prisoners, hold perpetrators accountable, and curb future abuses, this trip will indeed have been a “missed opportunity.”
This article also appears on the Council on Foreign Relations blog, The Internationalist, and The Atlantic.