U.N. Update on Human Rights in Iran

August 16, 2017

Iran’s human rights record did not significantly improve in first half of 2017, according to report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Asma Jahangir. From January to June, Jahangir transmitted 21 communications to Iran’s government on behalf of 81 victims of alleged violations. “The Government responded to three of these communications, considerably reducing its rate of reply compared with the previous six months,” according to the report. The following are excerpts.

Information received continues to highlight serious human rights challenges in the country, including the arbitrary detention and prosecution of individuals for their legitimate exercise of a broad range of rights; the persecution of human rights defenders, journalists, students, trade union leaders and artists; a high level of executions, including of juvenile offenders; the use of torture and ill-treatment; widespread violations of the right to a fair trial and due process of law, especially before revolutionary courts; and a high level of discrimination against women and religious and ethnic minorities. The report also addresses the widespread impunity that authorities responsible for past and current human rights violations continue to enjoy.

Rights to freedom of expression, opinion, information and the press

By ratifying international human rights instruments, the Islamic Republic of Iran has committed itself to protecting human rights defenders and to ensuring freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly, which constitute indispensable conditions for the full development of the person and the foundation for every free and democratic society. The Charter on Citizens’ Rights recognizes the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression (article 26), the right to freely seek, receive and publish views and information pertaining to various issues, using any means of communication, and the right to communicate and obtain information without restriction, unless by explicit legal authority.

Nevertheless, since the beginning of the year, the Special Rapporteur has received a large amount of evidence that these rights continue to be disrespected and were particularly violated during the electoral period.

At least 12 journalists as well as 14 bloggers and social media activists reportedly either were in detention or had been sentenced for their peaceful activities as of June 2017, including Morad Saghafi, Ehsan Mazandarani, Zeinab Karimian and Tahereh Riahi. Many others remain subjected to interrogation, surveillance and other forms of harassment and intimidation. The Islamic Republic of Iran was ranked 165th out of 180 countries on the 2017 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters without Borders.

Freedom of association and assembly and the situation of human rights defenders

The situation of human rights defenders, including anti-death-penalty campaigners, women’s rights activists, trade unionists, human rights lawyers, minority rights activists and relatives of those summarily executed or forcibly disappeared during the 1980s who are seeking accountability, remains deeply concerning.

In January, the Special Rapporteur raised alarm over the critical health situation of several prisoners of conscience on a life-threatening hunger strike in the Islamic Republic of Iran to contest the legality of their detention. 18 Among them were Saeed Shirzad, Ali Shariati, Mohammad Reza Nekounam, Hassan Rastegari Majd, Mehdi Koukhian, Nezar Zaka, Mohammed Ali Taheri and Arash Sadeghi. All of them were still in jail as of June. Omid Alishenas, an anti-death-penalty activist, was also still in detention in June.

Arrest and detention of dual nationals

In 2016, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention identified an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals in the Islamic Republic of Iran.22 That pattern was confirmed during the first half of 2017.

In April, the Special Rapporteur alerted the Government to the rapid deterioration in the physical and mental health of Siamak and Baquer Namazi, both of whom hold dual Iranian-American citizenship. Baquer Namazi, an 80-year-old former official of the United Nations Children’s Fund, arrived in the Islamic Republic of Iran in February 2016 with a view to securing the release of his son Siamak and was arrested upon his arrival. Both were sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of “collusion with an enemy State” in October 2016. 23 In March, an appeal hearing in their case was held; however, at the time of reporting, the decision remained pending.

In April, the Supreme Court rejected the second appeal of Nazanin ZaghariRatcliffe, an Iranian-British project manager for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, who had been arrested by security agents in April 2016 as she was returning to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland with her 22-month-old daughter. Her detention was found to be arbitrary by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in August 2016. 24 She was sentenced in September 2016 to five years’ imprisonment on “secret charges” following a trial in which her lawyer had only five minutes to argue her defence and she was prohibited from speaking. At the time of reporting, the passport of her daughter remained confisc ated. The Iranian authorities placed her in the care of her grandparents, with no possibility for her British father to visit.

Right to life

Death penalty

The Special Rapporteur notes with concern that, since the issuance of her first report, the application of the death penalty has continued at an alarming rate. At least 247 persons, including 3 women, have reportedly been executed since January 2017.

As in previous years, the majority of these executions have been carried out for drug-related offences. Many of those executed are poor and belong to marginalized groups in Iranian society.

Women’s rights

While President Rouhani appointed three women as members of his Cabinet, there are currently no female ministers. Women were excluded from running in presidential elections, and only 6.3 per cent of the candidates in the city and village council elections held in 2017 were women. Women’s participation in the job market remains as low as 16 per cent, and women earn 41 per cent less than men for equal work. Unemployment among women is twice as high as it is among men, with one out of every three women with a bachelor’s degree currently unemployed. 55 Women remain excluded from certain occupations, including from serving as judges who issue rulings, although they may be appointed as assistant judges.

Ethnic and religious minorities

Since the issuance of the Special Rapporteur’s first report, members of the Baha’i community have continued to suffer multiple violations of their human rights. Despite the fact that they have been documented for years, these violations continue unabated and with full impunity, as shown by the release of the murderer of a Baha’i referred to above. Over 90 Baha’is were in detention in prison as of June.

Sunni Muslims in the Islamic Republic of Iran continue to assert that Iranian authorities do not appoint members of their communities to or employ them in high - ranking government positions, including Cabinet-level ministerial positions. Other Muslims belonging to various minority religious groups, such as the Nematollahi Gonabadi order and Yarsan, reportedly continue to face a range of human rights violations, including attacks on their places of worship, the destruction of community cemeteries and the arrest and torture of their community leaders. During the reporting period, several university students and professors who are followers of the Gonabadi dervishes were banned from various universities. Others were reportedly victims of attacks carried out by security forces and subjected to threats by the intelligence unit of the Revolutionary Guards.

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