Time to Act: Three Years Into the House Arrest of Iran's Opposition Leaders

This week marks the third anniversary of the illegal detention of Iran's most important political prisoners Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Ms. Zahra Rahnavard. As leaders of the Green Movement, Mousavi, Karroubi and Rahnavard have been under house arrest since they invited Iranians to participate in a mass demonstration, on February 14, 2011, in support of the Arab Spring and those in Egypt and Tunisia fighting for civil, political and democratic rights.

That day authorities stopped Mousavi, Karroubi and Radnavar from joining the peaceful demonstrators and have held them since. The next day, hardline members of Iran Parliament called for their deaths on the floor of Parliament. The Supreme Leader has called them traitors. State media and pro-government media have repeatedly used distorted religious rhetoric to demonize them.

These actions are particularly shocking because Mousavi is a former Prime Minister and Karroubi is a former Speaker of Parliament. Both were government-vetted candidates in the disputed 2009 presidential election. And, Radnavar, who is Mousavi's wife, is one of the most respected women's advocates in Iran and a former chancellor of Alzahra University.

In Iran, unfortunately, arresting individuals for expressing their views or participating in peaceful protests is common - but what many in Iran find most distributing is that authorities have held them without any legal justification. Without charges or a trial, in violation of Iran's own constitution, if these individuals can be stripped of their rights, anyone can.

Three years in, the detention of these individuals plays a central role in Iranian politics and stands as the symbolic litmus test for any human rights reform in the country. Support from the Green Movement was critical in electing Iran's moderate president Hassan Rouhani. During the campaign and since, Mr. Rouhani and his cabinet have repeatedly promised they would work to secure Mousavi, Karroubi and Radnavar's freedom. Yet seven months into the new presidency, nothing has changed. They are still under extra-judicial house arrest and worst of all Karroubi, who is 76-years-old, has become critically ill.

As a former Member of Parliament, Mr. Karroubi was my boss, a friend, and a mentor. I have seen firsthand who he is.

Karroubi has always been a kind, caring and social person. Human interaction is at the core of his personality. And for three years he has been cut off from socializing and interacting with others, even restricted from seeing his wife and children absent a handful of times. This is - and the Iranian government knows - a form of psychological torture for Karroubi.

Karroubi has often stood up for the rights of Iranians and in particular political prisoners. When I was a Member of Parliament, Karroubi frequently visited with the families of political prisoners to show his support. In at least two instances, Karroubi's support for prisoners sentenced to death led to their executions being stayed. As a young Member of Parliament, I was inspired by Karroubi's work. And I'm not alone - thousands of Iranians stand with him.

I and thousands stand with Mousavi and Radnvard also, as they stood in defense of the rights of Iranian people and for this paid the price.

We stand with them as over the past three years, they have had to endure severe hardship. We stand with them as they've been deprived of the basic rights of prisoners - access to fresh air, sunlight, weekly family visitation, telephone contacts and furlough. We stand with them as the harsh conditions have led to their hospitalizations and subsequent surgeries.

And now it is time for the international community to stand with them as well.

Iranians came out in droves to support Mr. Rouhani because of his more moderate platform and the hope he could deliver on human rights, chiefly the release of Mousavi, Karroubi, Radnvard and other political prisoners. The international community welcomed Mr. Rouhani's election for many of the same reasons. However, seven months later, Iran's Supreme Leader and the Judiciary have blocked any real progress on human rights including the release of Mousavi, Karroubi and Radnvard. It is time for the international community to act.

So now, on this, the third anniversary of their arrests, the same world leaders who applauded the election of Mr. Rouhani must put pressure on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran and his appointee, head of the Judiciary Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani to release the leaders of the Green Movement and all political prisoners.

As a former Member of Parliament, I understand the Iranian government. I know they will respond - when and likely only when - the world loudly raises its concern.

To start with, the United Nations Human Rights Council cannot ignore what is happening in Iran. The council's member states must stand together and tell Iran's Supreme Leader and Mr. Rouhani that Iran must improve its dismal human rights record if it wishes to be considered a legitimate international player.

In March, the UN Human Rights Council must adopt the resolution renewing the mandate of its Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed. From the floor, council members must call upon Iran to cooperate with him and the other UN human rights experts, including through unfettered access to the country. World governments, particularly heads of state and parliamentarians, should take the opportunity to call for the release of Mousavi, Karroubi and Rahnavard and other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Iran.

The release of Mousavi, Karroubi, Radnvard and the rest of the political prisoners is the test of Iran's ability and willingness to deliver on its human rights obligations. And it is the ultimate test of the Human Rights Council member states and their commitment to holding the international community accountable for human rights.

Dr. Fatemeh Haghighatjoo is a former Member of the Sixth Iranian Parliament. A co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Nonviolent Initiative for Democracy and a leading advocate for a civil, women's, and democratic rights in Iran.