BERLIN – The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council voted on Friday to extend by one year the mandate of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.

The special rapporteur, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, told The Jerusalem Post last week that in Iran “groups who hold dissident views, whether political or other groups, fall into difficulty on national security charges.”

Human rights groups have long asserted Iran’s judiciary imprisons religious and political dissidents based on trumped-up national security charges.

Shaheed’s most recent report, released in early March, alleges “widespread systemic and systematic violations of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran” and “a situation in which civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are undermined and violated in law and practice.”

The vote on Shaheed’s mandate resulted in 26 countries supporting the extension, two against the decision and 17 abstentions. Pakistan and Venezuela rejected the motion.

Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reza Sajjadi rejected the decision as “substantially flawed” and said it was aimed at the “short-sighted political interests of a few countries.”

The motion to extend Shaheed’s mandate was put forward by Sweden on behalf of the United States and other nations.

Shaheed said last week that Iran’s silencing of journalists and opposition leaders could jeopardize the legitimacy of the presidential election in June.

Iran has not allowed Shaheed to enter the country. His report was based on 169 interviews with people in and outside the country, by telephone and video-conferencing.

Shaheed’s report cited the incarceration of American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for practicing Christianity in Iran.

In an interview with the Post, US Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) called on the US government and Secretary of State John Kerry to “advocate for the pastor” and secure his release.

Wolf lamented that there is a “general failure of this administration to advocate for religious minorities in the region.”

He said the Baha’i religious minority “are having a very difficult time in Iran” and urged the administration of US President Barack Obama to enact a bill he cosponsored with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California), that would create a special envoy position within the State Department to monitor religious persecution in the Middle East.

The conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced earlier this month an Office of Religious Freedom and a religious freedom ambassador to protect the rights of religious minorities across the globe.

After Wolf held a congressional hearing in March, Kerry said last week, “I am deeply concerned about the fate of US citizen Saeed Abedini. I am disturbed by reports that Mr. Abedini has suffered physical and psychological abuse in prison, and that his condition has become increasingly dire. Such mistreatment violates international norms as well as Iran’s own laws.”

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, the organization representing Abedini and his family, said, “By becoming directly involved in this case, the US sends a powerful message to Iran and our allies – our government will not stand by and abandon one of our own.”

“I am very encouraged by Secretary Kerry’s statement demanding Saeed’s immediate release,” said Naghmeh, Saeed’s wife.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger