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Iran Again Chided on Human Rights Amid Efforts to Reach Nuclear Deal

WASHINGTON — The State Department issued a dismal assessment of Iran’s record on human rights on Thursday, saying that the Iranian authorities had stifled dissent and engaged in “unlawful killings.”

The assessment, part of a broad overview of human rights practices around the world, was published one day before Secretary of State John Kerry is to leave for Vienna to try to conclude a nuclear accord with Iran.

“During the year the government arrested students, journalists, lawyers, political activists, women’s activists, artists and members of religious minorities, many with crimes such as ‘propaganda against the system,’” the State Department report said.

“The government and its agents reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including, most commonly, by execution after arrest without due process,” the report added.

Interactive Feature | Key Developments on Iran Nuclear Deal An outline of major developments since the framework agreement in April that could influence the final round of talks before finalizing a deal by June 30.

This is the second time in two weeks that the State Department’s experts have asserted that Iran’s policies do not appear to have substantially changed since Hassan Rouhani was elected president in 2013.

Last week, the State Department said that Iran was still involved in “terrorist-related” activities and that it was providing broad military support to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for human rights, said there had been no discernible progress on Iran’s record on human rights since Mr. Rouhani became president.

“I can’t see any meaningful improvement in the human rights situation in Iran,” he told reporters at a news briefing.

The new report, not surprisingly, assailed longtime human rights violators like Syria and North Korea. But it also noted serious problems in nations like Cuba, with which the Obama administration is seeking to improve relations.

“The following additional abuses continued: short-term, arbitrary unlawful detentions and arrests, harsh prison conditions, selective prosecution, denial of fair trial, and travel restrictions,” the report said in reference to Cuba. “Most human rights abuses were committed by officials at the direction of the government. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”

The report also noted human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, partners with the United States in combating the Islamic State.

“In Saudi Arabia, authorities tried several human rights activists in specialized courts as terrorism suspects, executed an individual convicted of ‘sorcery,’ severely limited exercise of religious freedom, and continued to restrict women’s opportunities through its guardianship system and driving ban,” the report said.

In Kuwait, it added, Abdullah Fayrouz was sentenced to five years in prison followed by permanent exile for “defaming the emir” via Twitter.

The report provided a bleak appraisal of the human rights record in China, whose senior officials met this week with Mr. Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew in Washington. And it took note of a crackdown on political opposition by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

“Russia’s political system is increasingly authoritarian, and the government instituted a range of new measures to suppress dissent within its borders,” the report said.

Still, Iran’s record is likely to get special attention as the United States and its partners try to wrap up a nuclear agreement.

The expected deal has raised a question and a heated debate: Will the nuclear agreement be the first step in a long process that will lead to regional cooperation between the United States and Iran and less repression by Tehran? Or will such a deal provide Iran with billions more in funds to pursue an aggressive foreign policy while it represses dissent at home?

Mr. Kerry said that the report contained “a vast amount of objective research.”

He acknowledged that some countries with whom the United States has close relations could be expected to object to the report’s findings. But he said any leader unhappy with the conclusions should examine his own country’s human rights practices.

Mr. Kerry said that the United States was not without its own failings on human rights. “There is zero arrogance,” he said. “We couldn’t help but have humility when we see what we have seen with racial discord and unrest.”

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(via NY Times)