What do Geneva II and the Sochi Olympics have in common?

In a rare and unusual occurrence, Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned some famous political prisoners. Former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is considered a political rival of Putin, spent about a decade in prison on what many considered to be politically motivated charges. He was released last week.

It is worth mentioning that the sudden amnesty letter did not include freeing Khodorkovsky alone. It included a number of prominent figures, including two singers from the Pussy Riot band and 30 Greenpeace activists who were jailed after protesting against oil drilling in an area of the north pole.

The pardon was a huge surprise but many considered that Putin’s act came within the context of improving Russia’s image before the 2014 winter Olympics kick off in Sochi in February. However, the Russian government said: “the amnesty came on the occasion of the annual memory of approving the constitution in post-communist Russia in 1993.” After a draft law to release female and children prisoners and all those who committed non-violent acts was passed, Putin issued a pardon for about 20,000 prisoners.

It doesn’t really matter whether the amnesty was granted due to the upcoming Sochi Olympics or for the occasion of the approval of the constitution in 1993. This measure was exceptional and unfamiliar for the Russian government to the point that it will be interesting to look into the reason behind the motive that made Putin make such a decision.

Leverage

At the current time, it’s important for many countries to play a big role in the international community. The Sochi Olympics is one of the many prominent international gatherings which human rights activists can exploit to pressure their governments to take measures against the hosting country or embarrass any country in the international arena.

The Geneva II conference may be considered an opportunity to pressure the Iranian government

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Enhancing Russia’s image before holding the Sochi Olympics may have kept Putin busy lately and eventually pushed him towards issuing amnesty. On the other hand, many presidents announced they will not attend the Sochi Olympics in what appears to be a protest against Russia’s violation of human rights.

Taking this amazing measure in a country like Russia sometimes makes us think that this international event is a good reason to visit countries that have a very bad human rights’ record. This can also be used as a tool to attract attention towards deep seated domestic problems. Some activists were hopeful of the possibility that this pressure may push rulers in Iran - which is well-known for imprisoning journalists - to improve the country’s human rights’ record.

No international event is set to be held in Iran which can be used as a tool to pressure the regime. However, Iran is greatly interested in attending an international gathering that will be held soon - a gathering on the peace talks on Syria.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced his desire that Iran attends the discussions of the second Geneva Peace Conference which will discuss the Syrian crisis and the means to resolve it. If the Geneva II conference is very important to Iran, the same way the Olympics are important to Russia, then the Geneva II conference may be considered an opportunity to pressure the Iranian government. Iran will celebrate the 35th anniversary of its revolution in February, at a time when its economy is under tough sanctions due to the controversial nuclear program. Therefore, Western powers that care about human rights as much as they care about the nuclear program must say that if Putin is capable of releasing 20,000 prisoners because of an Olympics round, then it is possible for Iran to do the same in order for it to return to the international community.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 18, 2013.

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Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:42 - GMT 06:42
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