Authorities Step Up Targeting of Lawyers, Opposition
Correction: Authorities have so far not allowed opposition parties and candidates affiliated with the reformist movement to officially meet in order to decide whether to participate in the June 14 presidential election.
(New York)– Authorities arrested, detained, and harassed some of Iran’s most celebrated rights lawyers, and stepped up their assault on critical journalists, bloggers, and their families in 2012, HumanRightsWatchsaidtodayinits World Report 2013.The government also prevented reformists and opposition leaders from participating in parliamentary elections, and is holding the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Zahra Rahnavard under house arrest as Iran prepares for its presidential election in June 2013.
The judiciary issued death sentences based on non-serious, vague, or ill-defined crimes such as moharebeh, or enmity against God, and authorities executed several hundred prisoners, many of them alleged drug offenders. Discrimination, both in law and in practice, against Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities led to the arrests of dozens of Baha’is, Christians, and Sufi Muslims. Iran’s government refused to cooperate with United Nations bodies and denied entry to the specialrapporteuronhumanrightsinIran, Ahmed Shaheed, who released two reports providing a “deeply troubling picture of the overall human rights situation” in Iran. Thousands of Iranians, including many journalists and activists, have fled the country since 2009.
“The Iranian authorities’ obsessive clampdown on rights defenders, journalists, and the internet suggests they are intent on clearing the field of all opposition for the upcoming presidential election,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, MiddleEastdirectoratHumanRightsWatch. “The lesson that free and fair elections, not increasing repression, will lead to legitimacy and long-term stability seems to be lost on them.”
In its 665-page report, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including an analysis of the aftermath of the Arab uprisings. The willingness of new governments to respect rights will determine whether the Arab uprisings gives birth to genuine democracy or simply spawns authoritarianism in new clothes, Human Rights Watch said.
In February 2012, Iran’s Guardian Council, an appointed body of 12 religious jurists, disqualified more than 2,000 prospective candidates for the March 2 parliamentary elections, on ill-defined grounds such as “lack of adherence to Islam and the Constitution.” Weeks earlier, the Iranian judiciary had announced that calls for an election boycott constituted “a crime.”
Authorities have so far not allowed opposition parties and candidates affiliated with the reformist movement to field candidates for the June 14 presidential election.
Iran remained one of the world’s foremost executioners, with more than 500 prisoners hanged either in prisons or in public in 2012. Many had been convicted of drug-related offenses, including trafficking and possession, which internationally are not considered sufficiently serious to warrant execution. The UN Office of Drug Control (UNODC) continued financial support for law enforcement projects to combat drug trafficking in Iran although its guidelines require it to freeze or withdraw assistance to countries carrying out executions for drug-related offenses.
Iranian authorities have executed dozens of people since January 2010, many of them ethnic minorities, for moharebeh because of their alleged ties to armed or terrorist groups. Currently, more than 20 members of Iran’s Kurdish minority are on death row, sentenced on politically motivated charges. They include Zaniar and Eghbal Moradi, who are at imminent risk of execution. Since May 2011, authorities have executed at least 11 Iranian-Arab men and a 16-year-old boy for alleged links to groups involved in attacking security forces. On January 9, 2013, authorities informed the families of five Arab activists that Iran’s Supreme Court had affirmed their death sentences for moharebeh.
In January 2012, the Guardian Council approved the final text of an amended penal code, but the bill has not yet been signed into law. Lawmakers and judiciary officials have repeatedly portrayed the proposed code as a serious step toward compliance with Iran’s international human rights obligations, but it retains the death penalty for child offenders and for crimes not considered serious under international law.
As of December, 43 journalists and bloggers were in prison in Iran, according to Reporters Without Borders. On November 6, authorities notified family members of Sattar Beheshti, a blogger, that he had died in custody following his arrest by Iran’s cyberpolice on October 30. In response to international and domestic pressure, and allegations that Beheshti had been tortured, Iran’s judiciary announced on November 11 that it would open an investigation and hold anyone responsible for wrongdoing accountable. A parliamentary committee announced in January that several arrests had been made in connection with Beheshti’s killing, but that his initial arrest was lawful and warranted. The committee said investigations were ongoing.
The government systematically blocked websites, slowed internet speeds, and jammed foreign satellite broadcasts. Iranian security forces significantly increased their targeting of family members of Iranian journalists working for foreign media organizations. In September, the government announced that the first phase of a “halal,” or legitimate, internet to protect users from socially and morally corrupt content had been carried out in most provinces.
On March 4, Abdolfattah Soltani, a prominent rights lawyer, learned that a revolutionary court had sentenced him to 18 years in prison, barred him from practicing law for 20 years, and ordered that he serve his sentence in Borajan, a city more than 600 kilometers south of Tehran, where he lived. Prosecutors charged Soltani with “propaganda against the state,” assembly and collusion against the state, and establishing the Center for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), which Soltani co-founded with the Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi. An appeals court reduced Soltani’s sentence to 13 years and reversed the ban on practicing law. On the same day, an appeals court issued a six-year prison sentence against Narges Mohammadi, a CHRD spokesperson, on similar charges.
A month later, an appeals court informed Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a defense lawyer, that it had upheld his nine-year prison sentence on charges related to interviews he had given to foreign media and membership in the CHRD. The court also sentenced Dadkhah to fines and corporal punishment (in the form of lashes) and banned him from teaching for 10 years. Mohammad Seifzadeh, Houtan Kian and Nasrin Sotoudeh, other defense lawyers, are also in prison. In December Sotoudeh and the filmmaker Jafar Panahi were awarded the Sakharov Prize.
The government denied freedom of religion to Baha’is, Sufi Muslims, and evangelical Christians. Security forces particularly targeted Baha’is in the northern city of Semnan. According to the Baha’i International Community, the government has shut down at least 17 Baha’i-owned businesses, and 22 Baha’is have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 6 months to 6 years since 2009, with 111 Baha’is in prison as of September.
The government also targets Sufis, particularly members of the Nematollahi Gonabadi sect. It detained and prosecuted prominent lawyers and adherents affiliated with the group on a range of national security charges. Shaheed said authorities have arbitrarily arrested and detained over 300 Christians, the majority of them evangelicals or Protestants, since June 2010.
“The Iranian people will neither forget nor forgive the abuses that the government has committed against human rights and minority activists, journalists and opposition leaders when it is time to head to the polls in June,” Whitson said. “Nor will they forget those such as Sattar Beheshti who have been made to pay the ultimate price in the struggle for a free Iran.”