(CNSNews.com) – An Iranian whose fiancée’s death by gunfire became a symbol of opposition to the regime during post-election protests last year made an impassioned appeal Tuesday for Tehran to be denied a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in elections this spring.
Addressing a gathering of dissidents and human rights advocates in Geneva, Caspian Makan, a photojournalist who fled Iran late last year after being detained for more than 60 days, said Iranian membership in the U.N.’s top human rights body would be a “slap in the face” of other members.
It would encourage other countries that have a tendency to flout human rights and undermine the credibility of the U.N. and the council, he said, according to a translation provided by event organizers.
“I feel furthermore that if the Iranian regime became a member, that would legitimize the inhuman and cruel acts the regime has perpetuated against its population,” Makan added. “Giving it legitimacy would encourage them to go further still.”
The U.N. has confirmed that Iran has submitted in writing its candidacy to become a member of the HRC.
On May 13, the General Assembly will vote by secret ballot to fill 14 of the Geneva-based council’s 47 seats. Iran and four other countries – Thailand, Qatar, Malaysia and the Maldives – will compete to fill four available seats set aside for the Asian regional group.
Makan was speaking Tuesday at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy, a two-day event that brought together some 500 people from more than 60 countries, to discuss issues organizers say are mostly neglected by the HRC.
He told the gathering about Neda Agha-Soltan, the 26-year old “deep thinker” and “artist at heart” with whom he had fallen in love after meeting her on a trip.
Makan, 38, said they had tended in the past not to vote in elections because they were seen as a charade, and taking part would be seen as “participating in the regime to some extent.”
But the 2009 election had seemed to offer in the shape of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi a “lesser evil” for young Iranians who “above all else wanted to get rid of Mr. [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad.”
Once it became clear that the election was rigged in favor of the incumbent, he said, Agha-Soltan had joined the protests.
Makan said that while trying to do his job he was an eyewitness to the violent clampdown by “the mercenaries of the regime” and “saw firsthand that the army of the revolution was shooting and killing the demonstrators from a helicopter.”
Four days before she died, he had urged Agha-Soltan to keep away from the demonstrations. “She said, ‘You know Caspian, I love you, I love being with you, but what is most important to me is the freedom of our people.”
On June 20, Agha-Soltan was shot in the chest on a Tehran street, apparently by a Basij militia sniper. Amateur video footage capturing the moments after the shooting was posted online and seen around the world.
“We have seen many people who have been wounded and killed, but this struck the world particularly hard,” Makan said of his fiancee’s death.
“We were able to see in the footage how good and kind she was and admire her attitude when faced with death, to admire her courage as a symbol of liberty, as she died hoping for a better life for the millions of Iranians who remained behind.”
Human rights researchers say at least 40 Iranians died during June and that the number more than doubled in the months that followed. The official figure stands at 44.
Last month, Mahmoud Abbaszadeh Meshkini, director-general of Iran’s Interior Ministry – whose functions including policing and overseeing elections – told the HRC that the June 2009 presidential election had been “an exemplary exhibition of democracy and freedom.”