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Iran rejects U.N. call to free political prisoners
GENEVA (Reuters)
Wednesday February 17, 2010

Iran PrisonGENEVA (Reuters) - Iran rejected calls to release all political prisoners and accept an international inquiry into violence after last June's contested presidential elections, an official U.N. report said.

The Islamic Republic also refused to end the death penalty and said it would not make torture as an offence under its laws, according to the report on a discussion of its rights record in the world body's Human Rights Council.

In the discussion, held on Monday as part of the Universal Permanent Review (UPR) process which all U.N. members undergo every four years, it said many recommendations, including one from Chile urging guarantees of political and civil rights for all, including dissidents, were already in effect.

In Wednesday's report, approved by the 47-member Council, Iran had already declared it was an open democracy under the rule of law, pledged it would comply fully with international rights pacts and ensure that torture was eliminated.

The Council also registered Iranian promises to ensure religious freedom, freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate peacefully.

Critics of the UPR system, including many activist NGOs, say it gives too much room for countries to fend off detailed criticism on specific issues and allows them to make vague promises of future action.

"The proof of this pudding produced today will be in the eating," said one European diplomat asking for anonymity in referring to the Iran report. "We have seen promises like this before, but not much action to follow them up."

Despite agreeing to a Netherlands recommendation to "take measures to ensure that no torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment takes place," Iran rejected another from Spain to sign the U.N. anti-torture pact.

And it rejected a U.S. proposal that it allow the U.N. special investigator on torture, Austrian lawyer Manfred Nowak, to visit the country and have access to detention facilities -- although it has accepted a visit next year by Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay.

Asserting earlier that the Iranian media was free and that the state did not block access to the Internet, it dismissed recommendations to "end severe restrictions on the right to free expression" and to stop harassment of journalists.

The Council has no mechanism to enforce implementation of pledges made in the UPR process, although countries are expected to report back on what they are doing.

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