Latest Update: 31 December 2013
There was no substantive improvement in the human rights situation in Iran between October and December 2013. The Iranian government continued to make positive public statements on civil rights issues, but there has been no sign of institutional change to improve the human rights situation, including for minority religious and ethnic groups, journalists and human rights defenders, prisoners and women.
Iran continues to have the second highest execution rate per capita in the world. On 26 October, 16 convicted prisoners were executed in retaliation for the killing of 14 Iranian border guards the day before. It is reported that the prisoners were not connected to the deaths of the border guards and were executed without due process. The UK opposes the use of the death penalty as a matter of principle. On 28 October, Minister for the Middle East, Hugh Robertson, released a statementurging Iran to place a moratorium on the death penalty.
The lack of freedom of religion and belief in Iran continues to be of serious concern. In his 4 October report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, noted the continued persecution of religious minorities. The report specifically highlights the targeting of Iranian Christian converts, the Baha’i community and Dervish Muslims.
Intimidation and censorship of journalists continues. A Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report of 18 December confirmed Iran as having the second highest number of journalists in prison in the world. There are anecdotal reports of ongoing efforts to close down news websites and other publications, and between 16 and 24 internet bloggers and experts were arrested at the beginning of December.
There have been reports of an escalation in the persecution of Kurds and the execution of Kurdish political prisoners. On 2 November, three Kurds were sentenced to death by the 28th Branch of the Revolutionary Court for alleged connections to Salafi groups. One of the men was only 17 at the time of his arrest. On 4 November, Kurdish civil and political activist, Shirkoo Moarefi, was executed. Neither his lawyer nor his family were informed prior to his execution and his lawyer released a statement recounting how he had learnt of his client’s death through media channels. Iran’s law stipulates that the authorities must serve the lawyers with notice of the impending execution of their clients. This is further evidence of Iranian authorities disregarding their own laws.
Lack of medical care for prisoners and poor prison conditions also remains of great concern. On 28 November, Hootan Dolati, a prisoner in Evin prison with a chronic heart problem began a “wet” hunger strike in protest at not being allowed to receive the treatment he needs. It has been reported that he may also have been tortured following his arrest in March and held in solitary confinement for a month. He was sentenced for 18 months on national security charges including being a member of a banned political group and the “publication of statements” by them. In addition to poor prison conditions, the use of “exile” terms for political prisoners continues, placing prisoners hundreds of miles from their families
On 20 November, Human Rights Watch released a report on the plight of Afghan migrants in Iran. It is estimated that there are almost one million Afghan citizens recognised as refugees by the Iranian government in Iran. Although Iran has played an important role in providing shelter for Afghan citizens for over thirty years, many suffer discrimination and ill treatment. A lack of due process limits opportunities for Afghans fleeing conflict in their own country to apply for asylum or even attempt to prove their right to remain in Iran. Summary deportations are common and there are reports of ill treatment such as beatings, forced labour and detention in poor, unsanitary conditions. Even where refugees are relatively settled in Iran, access to education, employment and social rights are curtailed through discriminatory laws and bureaucracy. Of particular concern are reports of the abuse of unaccompanied migrant children by Iranian security forces. These children make up large number Afghan refugees, a problem further exacerbated by forced separation of migrant families. Iran voluntarily signed up to the1951 Refugee Convention and such policies violate the terms of this convention.
On 26 November, in line with promises made during his election campaign, President Rouhani released a draft Charter of Citizens’ Rights. Although this is a welcome exercise, without changes to the law or the approach taken by the judiciary and security forces, there is unlikely to be any real change. The Charter addresses, inter alia, cultural, ethnic and religious rights, freedom of thought and expression, and the right to privacy. However, it does not provide concrete ways to improve the rights for all Iranian citizens and places the rights it refers to “within the framework” of Iran’s current laws, which hitherto have not provided sufficient protection.
A positive development came at the end of November when the city council of Kalat in the south of Iran unanimously elected a Sunni woman as mayor. Samiyeh Balouchzehi is a 26-year-old Baluch widow with an engineering degree and a Masters in natural resources management. Although she is not the first female mayor in Iran, her election in such a strongly conservative province is encouraging.
Mr Robertson welcomed the UN 3rd Committee resolution that was passed on 19 November calling on Iran to improve its human rights record. The resolution was later passed at the UN General Assembly Plenary vote on 19 December with 86 votes in favour, 36 votes against and 61 abstentions. This is the tenth consecutive year that the Third Committee has passed a resolution in support of human rights in Iran, and is a clear statement by the international community that Iran must live up to its international obligations and take concrete steps to improve the human rights situation of all its citizens. While welcoming some developments, including President Rouhani’s pledges to eliminate discrimination against ethnic minorities and to promote freedom of expression, the resolution expressed deep concern at the ongoing human rights violations in Iran. It referred specifically to Iran’s high execution rate and use of corporal punishment; the use of torture and lack of due process; Iran’s treatment of human rights defenders and journalists; and the systematic persecution of religious minorities, particularly those of the Baha’i faith and evangelical Christians. It also called for substantive improvements to the rights of women and minority ethnic and linguistic groups in Iran.
Latest Update:17 October 2013
The period of July to September of 2013 continued to show no substantive improvement in Iran’s poor human rights record. However, President Rouhani’s election in July has brought a degree of optimism. During his election campaign he called for social equality and said “discrimination among men and women will be eliminated.” He also stated that “All Iranian people should feel there is justice. Justice means equal opportunity. All ethnicities, all religions, even religious minorities, must feel justice.” These words are encouraging, and we have seen small signs of improvement, such as the release in September of some prominent political prisoners. However, we remain deeply concerned about the situation, and have yet to see any institutional change.
Iran continues to have the highest execution rate per capita in the world, second only to China in terms of overall numbers. The UK opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle. From July to September there were no fewer than 100 executions. In just one week in August, at least 35 people were executed, with reports suggesting that several of these executions were carried out in public. Many of these executions were for drug-related charges; these do not constitute the “most serious of crimes” which, according to international consensus, are the only crimes for which death sentences may be imposed. On 26 September, Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, spoke publicly about the imminent execution of six Iranian Kurds who were sentenced to death for vaguely-worded charges including “enmity against God” and “corruption on earth”.
On 10 July, the head of the Iranian Coroner’s Office announced the closure of the coroner’s investigation into the death of blogger Sattar Beheshti who was killed whilst in custody. They concluded that the mistreatment endured by Beheshti was not lethal in nature and could not lead to death. They added that none of the blows he received were to vital parts of the body nor was there any trace of lethal toxins in his body. There are yet to be any convictions in this case, once again highlighting the level of impunity that regime officials are afforded in Iran.
July marked the 25th anniversary of the 1988 prison massacres where thousands of political prisoners were executed across Iran over a period of five months. Reports vary, but Amnesty International list 4,842 deaths with some suggesting as many as 30,000. It has been described as one of the worst single human rights abuses since World War 2, yet no one has been held responsible for this massacre.
We continue to be concerned about poor prison conditions, with many prisoners resorting to hunger strikes in protest. In July we received reports that Arash Sadeghi, an imprisoned student activist, had been on a hunger strike for 47 days after being subjected to almost 20 months of solitary confinement. In late July, another imprisoned activist, Abolfazl Abedini, who had given a testimony on Sattar Beheshti’s case, was transferred to Ahwaz prison with no clear explanation. In protest against this decision, Abedini went on a hunger strike.
Another concerning trend is the denial of proper medical care to those in prisons. For example, despite his long-term ill health and lack of adequate medical equipment in the prison infirmary, authorities refused for over a week to grant medical leave to detained blogger and activist Hossein Ronaghi Maleki.
This period saw the continuation of persecution against minorities in Iran, including against religious minority groups; the UK continues to urge Iran to stop the systematic persecution of the Baha’i community and the repression of any group on the grounds of their religion or belief. In late July, Mostafa (Mohammadhadi) Bordbar, a Christian convert who had been arrested at a Christmas ceremony in Tehran in December 2012, was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment for charges of “gathering to conspire through participation at meetings held in home-churches”. 26 September marks one year since Pastor Saeed Abedini was incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin prison. He was sentenced to eight years because of his Christian faith.
On 13 July, seven Dervishes involved in running a website dedicated to news about Sufi orders as well as human rights-related stories were collectively sentenced to over 56 years of imprisonment, after originally being arrested in 2011 for “insulting the Supreme Leader,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propagating falsehoods,” and “membership of a deviant group”. Hamidreza Moradi Sarvestani (website manager) was sentenced to 10 years and six months; Reza Entesari (website photographer) was sentenced to eight years and six months; Mostafa Daneshjoo, Farshid Yadollahi, Amir Eslami, Omid Behrouzi, Afshin Karampour (lawyers) were sentenced to seven years and six months each.
However, there have been some positive signs of change. On 29 August, Iran’s Foreign Ministry appointed career diplomat Marzieh Afkham as its new spokesperson, the first time the Islamic Republic has appointed a woman in this role. The Islamic Republic has also committed to appointing its first female Ambassador overseas.
On 12 September, Iran’s House of Cinema was allowed to re-open, almost two years after it was closed down by the previous government. It is the main film industry guild which has supported a series of internationally acclaimed Iranian films.
Perhaps the most welcome change was on 19 September when 80 political prisoners were released from prison. One of the most prominent people released was human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh. Soutodeh was arrested in September 2010 on charges of ‘spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security’. The Foreign Secretary welcomed her release and called for the release of all political prisoners in Iran.
The release of political prisoners and positive statements from the new President are welcome. The UK wants to see further systematic concrete steps for the improvement of the rights of all Iranian citizens, including Iranian cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms. Until such time the UK will not stop urging Iran to uphold its international obligations and will continue to highlight cases of concern.