In a special message for the Persian New Year Nowruz, President Obama listed the names of Iranian political prisoners for the first time since he took office.
“The world has watched these unjust actions with alarm,” said Obama, in a filmed message posted on the White House website. “We’ve seen Nasrin Sotoudeh, jailed for defending human rights. Jafar Panahi, imprisoned and unable to make his films. Abdul Reza Tajik, thrown in jail for being a journalist. The Bahai community, Sufi Muslims punished for their faith. Mohammad Valian, a young student sentenced to death for throwing three stones. These choices do not demonstrate strength; they show fear. For it’s telling when a government is so afraid of its own citizens that it won’t even allow them the freedom to access information, or to communicate with each other.”
Obama’s message came just a few days after the Iranian government ruled that several political prisoners would not be allowed the customary temporary leave for the Nowruz holiday. Last year, high profile political prisoners were permitted to spend New Year’s eve with their families, after posting up to $960,000 in bail.
The tone and substance of the message also indicate an important shift in the administration’s policy toward Iran. After the uprisings across the Middle East, Obama is making it clear that the Iranian government can no longer avoid human rights reforms. It looks like the administration may be taking a page from Bush’s freedom agenda, by beginning to make human rights and democratic reforms a stronger focus of its foreign policy.