Excellent official statement by State Dept on their website
IRAN'S DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD
Iran is a great country with a unique history and culture. The Iranian people have made extraordinary contributions in many fields for thousands of years. Modern Iran will undoubtedly remain a significant country in the future of the broader Middle East.
The United States believes the future of Iran should be democratic and pluralistic. We support those who wish to see Iran transformed from a rigid, intolerant theocracy to a modern state. A peaceful, democratic Iran would be a key feature in a reformed, more democratic Middle East. We believe Iran is a country in the process of change. Some two-thirds of its people are below the age of thirty-five. Many young Iranians support the need for a more positive relationship with the U.S. In fact, the U.S. may have a more positive public image in Iran than in other countries of the region. We sense that the sentiment among ordinary Iranians for change for reform and democracy is strong. But that sentiment is ignored by the ruling clique.
Iran suffers from a deficit of freedom. The regime's human rights record remains abysmal and the government continues to commit numerous, serious abuses, including summary executions, disappearances, torture and other inhumane treatment. In the late 1990s, elements of Iran's secret services murdered a number of intellectuals and oppositionists. In 2000, a courageous journalist named Akbar Ganji was imprisoned for uncovering the truth and reporting it in his newspaper. Since Ganji was imprisoned, many journalists and even webloggers have been taken into prison where they have been abused and threatened. The Iranian government's actions have essentially eliminated the free press in Iran. In 2003, an Iranian Canadian photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, was beaten to death in detention. The investigation and trial have been a farce and the Canadian government has taken steps to scale back its relations with Iran.
During student protests in June 2003, 4,000 demonstrators were arrested; a few are still held. In December 2003, Parliamentarian Mohsen Mirdamadi was beaten by vigilantes as he started a speech in Yazd. Before the 2004 elections, when reformist members of parliament signed a petition to the Supreme leader asking for more democracy, they were threatened with arrest and arbitrarily stripped of their parliamentary immunity.
In fall 2004, for a second year in a row, the United States co-sponsored and actively supported a Canadian resolution at the UN General Assembly condemning the human rights situation in Iran. The Iran human rights resolution passed in the UN General Assembly's 59th Plenary, sending an important signal to the Iranian people that the international community recognized their suffering and to the Iranian Government that dialogue on human rights was no substitute for concrete action to improve its record, and that the serious concern about Iran's overall international behavior would not blunt the international community's focus on the internal human rights situation.
On the surface, the Iranian government points to a picture of an active democracy in which Iranians participate regularly in national and local elections. But this is a veneer behind which lies a perverted process whose integrity is severely compromised by the oppressive oversight exercised by hard-line clerical bodies. One of the most egregious recent examples of this extraordinary system was the rigging of the February 2004 Majles elections, in which the Guardian Council disqualified thousands of reformist candidates, including more than 85 sitting members of the Majles. We commend the bravery and dedication of the many ordinary Iranians who put their livelihoods at risk to advance the principles of democracy, religious tolerance, and the accountability of the government to its own people.
We are similarly very concerned that the upcoming June 17 Presidential elections will represent another setback for the democratic hopes of the Iranian people. Candidate registration started Tuesday, May 10 in Iran and ended May 15. At the end of the registration period, the names of the Presidential candidates will be forwarded to the 12-member Guardian Council, which then has up to 10 days to assess the eligibility of the candidates. There is every indication the June election will not result in a meaningful expression of the popular will, because the political process and the media are controlled and manipulated by an unelected few the clerical elite and their associates. These unelected leaders dominate Iran's political system, have the power to intimidate and disqualify candidates, and through the exercise of that power have stymied popular demands for freedom. Of the over 1,000 Iranians who have registered to run in the upcoming elections, the Guardian Council is likely to approve less than a dozen candidates. Indeed, in 2001, only 10 of the 814 registered candidates were allowed to run. The diminished role of women in Iranian political life since the February 2004 Majles elections is another clear indicator of the regime's effectiveness in stymieing free popular will and of its anti-democratic beliefs.
In November 2003 at the National Endowment for Democracy, President Bush outlined a forward strategy for freedom in the Middle East. He said that "sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty." In his 2005 Inaugural Address, the President reiterated America's support for the people of the broader Middle East and North Africa in their fight for freedom. "We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler in every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right." President Bush spoke directly to the Iranian people in his February 2, 2005, State of the Union Address, saying: "As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."
The freedom deficit and the severe restriction on free expression and fair elections is the first of our concerns with Iranian government policy.