Iran's Kurdish population of about 4.5 million, out of a total of nearly 69 million, is concentrated in the country's northwest regions particularly, in the provinces of Elam, Kermanshah, and Kurdistan as well as some areas in Western Azerbaijan. Virtually all Kurds speak a version of the Kurmanji or Surani dialects of Kurdish. The majority of Iran's Kurds, approximately 70 percent, are Sunni Muslims; 20 percent are Shia, and most of the remaining 10 percent belong to a Sufi ordercalled Ahle Haq with roots in Zoroastrianism.
Iran's government bases itself on the Shia doctrine of the velayat-e faqih (Rule of the Supreme Jurist), which places ultimate temporal and spiritual power in the hands of the most qualified religious scholar as the Supreme Leader of the country (which has been Ali Khamenei since 1989). Articles 5 and 107 through 112 of Iran's constitution set out the qualifications and duties of the supreme leader and the various bodies of religious experts that make up the leadership of the government. Since the 1979 revolution, Sunni Iranians, about nine percent of Iran's population and the majority of Kurds, have rarely been included in powerful governmental positions.
Political movements in Iran's Kurdish regions have consistently challenged the central government, under the Pahlavi shahs (who ruled from 1925-1979) as well as the Islamic Republic. In January 1946, the Iranian Kurdish leader Ghazi Mohammad declared Kurdish independence and named himself president of the new Republic of Mahabad. The central government of Mohammad Reza Shah quickly suppressed the self-declared independent government and publicly hanged Ghazi Mohammad. Thereafter Tehran tightly controlled the region with the help of the military and the secret police agency known as SAVAK.
In persecuting journalists, writers, and activists in the Kurdish region on security grounds, the government often accuses them of having connections with opposition Kurdish parties. Left-leaning Kurdish activists formed the Komala Party in Mahabad in the 1940s. In July 1945, Komala changed its name to the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI). Since 1984 the party has been based in Iraq. In 1991, the KDPI called off its armed activities in Iran, although its "self-defense units" have clashed with Iranian troops during Iranian military incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan. According to KDPI leaders, the party does not carry out armed operations inside Iran, a position that Mostafa Hejri, secretary-general of the KDPI reaffirmed as recently as July 2008.
After the 1979 revolution, another left-leaning movement, also calling itself Komala, took up arms against the central government in an attempt to gain Kurdish independence. Komala unilaterally laid down its arms in the 1990s. According to Hassan Rahmanpanah, a member of Komala's central committee, the group did so after realizing that government authorities were using the existence of an armed opposition as an excuse for suppressing the peaceful work of a range of activists. The Iranian government has not since alleged any armed activities by Komala members or sympathizers.
Currently PJAK, the Iranian branch of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an opposition movement fighting for the independence of Kurds in Turkey, is the only group engaged in armed struggle against the Iranian government. Based mostly in Iraqi Kurdistan, PJAK has claimed responsibility for a number of armed operations against Iranian security forces. In response, Iran launched armed incursions into northern Iraq, most recently in August 2007 and June 2008. The KDPI and other Kurdish parties claim that they have no relationship with PJAK.
While government restrictions on freedom of association, assembly, and speech were a problem during President Khatami's two administrations (1997-2005), the Ahmadinejad government has intensified these restrictions in the name of security. The latest security crackdowns in Iran's Kurdish regions can be traced to July 9, 2005, when students in the city of Mahabad held demonstrations in Esteghlal Square to mark the sixth anniversary of student protests in Tehran, which the government had violently suppressed. In response to the July 2005 gathering in Mahabad, security forces arrived at Esteghlal Square to arrest Shawaneh Ghaderi, a prominent Kurdish activist. After Ghaderi resisted arrest by running away, security forces pursued and shot him, tied him to a car and dragged him through the streets until he died. The event, and photos of Ghaderi's body that circulated afterwards, sparked eight days of sometimes violent protests in Mahabad and other Kurdish cities. Protestors expressed their anger at the killing and the lack of response by the government to calls for an investigation. According to local reporters who spoke with eyewitnesses, the demonstrations on July 9 were peaceful until security forces violently disrupted the gatherings. The clashes led to rioting and the destruction of property such as banks and shops. In response, the authorities arrested at least 50 protestors, according to local activists.
This report examines the government's systematic suppression of efforts by Kurdish activists and dissenters from peacefully exercising freedom of speech and association, and violations of Kurdish minority rights, since those events.
 Population figure from Kaveh Bayat, "Iran and the 'Kurdish Question'," Middle East Report 247 (Summer 2008), p. 29.
 On Kurdish language differences, see David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 1997), pp. 9-10.
Hamid Hamidi, Ghomiyat va Ghomiyatgerayi dar Iran [Nations and Nationalisms in Iran], (Tehran: Ney Publishers, 1990), p. 78-79.
Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, adopted October 23, 1979, amended July 28, 1989, Article 5, Articles 107-112.
 "The Week of Unity and the Issue of Shia and Sunni in Iran," BBC Persian, April 16, 2007, http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/story/2006/04/printable/060415_mf_week_of_unity.shtml, (accessed June 30, 2008). According to official Iranian sources, 89 percent of Iran's population is Shia Muslims, nine percent Sunni Muslims, and two percent are made up of Bahai, Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, Mandaeans, and others. For more information, please see the official website of the commercial attaché of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Kabul, Afghanistan, http://www.iranattache-afghan.ir/about-ir/#fgf.
 David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds, (London and New York, NY: I.B, Tauris,1997), pp. 240-46.
 Nader Entessar, Kurdish Ethnonationalism, (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1992), p. 20. SAVAK is the acronym for the Sazaman-e Etelaat va Amniat Keshvar, which translates as the Organization of Intelligence and National Security.
 Asked if the party had set aside armed struggle and adopted peaceful methods, Hejri answered, "today, that is correct, we have chosen the democratic method." See "Secretary General: We have Always Fought for our National and Democratic Rights in the Framework of Iran; Interview of Eleftherotipia with Mostafa Hejri," official website of Mostafa Hejri, Secretary General of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, http://sikirter.org/persian/index.php?id=154 (accessed September 1, 2008). Ahmad Batebi, an Iranian dissident who spent time in Iranian Kurdish areas before fleeing Iran in March 2008 and subsequently was in touch with Kurdish activists as part of his own human rights activities, told Human Rights Watch that the KDPI has not engaged in armed activities in Iran. Interview with Ahmad Batebi, New York, New York, August 29, 2008. See also "Iran's Kurdish Democratic Party Turned Sixty," BBC Persian, August 16, 2005, http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/story/2005/08/050815_mf_pdk.shtml, (accessed June 29, 2008). The Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran is to be distinguished from the Kurdistan Democratic Party, a party of Iraqi Kurds. Although both parties trace their founding to Mustafa Barzani and the declaration of the Kurdistan Republic of Mahabad, they function independently.
Hamid Hamidi, Ghomiyat va Ghomiyatgerayi dar Iran (Nations and Nationalisms in Iran), (Tehran: Ney Publishers, 1990, p. 100.
 "Komele Denies Arrest of its Members," BBC Persian, February 14, 2008, http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/story/2008/02/080214_dd_komele.shtml, (accessed February 19, 2008).
"Komole Denies its Members were Arrested in Iran," BBC Persian, February 14, 2008, http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/story/2008/02/080214_dd_komele.shtml, (accessed May 1, 2008). PJAK is the acronym for Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistan, which translates from Kurdish to the Party for Free Life of Kurdistan.
 "A Visit to a PJAK Camp," BBC Persian, December 19, 2007, http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/story/2007/12/071219_m_kurds.shtml (accessed July 14, 2008).
 "Iran's Attacks on Iraq's Kurdish Regions Continue," BBC Persian, August 23, 2008, http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/story/2007/08/070823_mf_kurds_attack.shtml (accessed July 6, 2008) and "Iran's Latest Attack on Iraqi Kurdistan Leaves Two Wounded," BBC Persian, June 4, 2008, http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/story/2008/06/080604_mf_shelling.shtml (accessed July 6, 2008).
 "Secretary General: We have Always Fought for our National and Democratic Rights in the Framework of Iran; Interview of Eleftherotipia with Mostafa Hejri," official website of Mostafa Hejri, Secretary General of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, http://sikirter.org/persian/index.php?id=154 (accessed September 1, 2008)
 Human Rights Watch, "You Can Detain Anyone for Anything: Iran's Broadening Clampdown on Independent Activisms," January 2008 Volume 20, No. 1(E), http://hrw.org/reports/2008/iran0108/ and Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmad Batebi, New York, New York, August 30, 2008, "Ahmadinejad's Two Year Report Card: the Government and Civil Liberties," Radio Farda, June 24, 2007, http://www.radiofarda.com/Article/2007/06/24/f7_Iran_Ahmadinejad_Political_Revenue.html (Accessed September 1, 2008).
 "Iran Press Reports Kurdish Riots," BBC News, July 26, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4718785.stm (accessed September 1, 2008).
 See, for example, "Canada Shahrvand Interview with Local Reporter Khosrow Kurdpour: The Death of Shawane and Unrest in Mahabad," Kurdish News Agency, http://www.mukrian.blogsky.com/?PostID=113, (accessed February 19, 2008).
 For an overview of other human rights issues in the Kurdish areas of Iran, see Amnesty International, "Iran: Human rights abuses against the Kurdish minority," MDE 13/088/2008.