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Briefing to the 59th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights on Iran

Objective

Human Rights Watch calls on the Commission on Human Rights to re-establish a Special Procedure to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Iran. The Commission should call upon the Iranian authorities to facilitate visits by thematic Special Procedures and working groups, and make public and time-based commitments to implementing their recommendations.

Background

The political standoff between reformists, in control of the directly elected elements of the government, and the conservatives who exercise authority through the office of the Leader, the Judiciary and the armed forces continues to hamper human rights progress. Political tensions have mounted. Of particular concern are the activities of shadowy underground paramilitary forces, linked to hardline conservative clerical leaders unwilling to relinquish their continuing grip on power.

Unfair Trials

The Revolutionary Court in Tehran, following patently unfair trials, sentenced more than thirty members of the Iran Freedom Movement (IFM) to prison terms, following the forcible dissolution of the party. Many defendants had been held incommunicado for months and coerced into making incriminatory statements. No credible evidence was presented that they had done anything except engage in legitimate, peaceful political activity. Fifteen National Religious Alliance (NRA) activists were also tried before the Revolutionary Court on spurious charges of seeking to overthrow the government after being held incommunicado for months in a secret Tehran detention center known as Prison 59. Detention conditions for several elderly prisoners have been a particular cause of concern.

Freedom of Expression

Prominent writers and journalists such as Emadedin Baqi, Akbar Ganji, Mohssen Youssefi Eshkevari, Ali Afshari, Khalil Rostamkhani and Saeid Sadre either remain in prison or face imprisonment charges solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. The judiciary has confirmed the sentences of several lawyers associated with reformist causes, including cases relating to the assassinations of writers and intellectuals in 1998. One lawyer, Nasser Zarafshan, was sentenced to five years in prison and fifty lashes after he probed the involvement of Ministry of Intelligence officials in the 1998 murders. A Revolutionary Court in Hamedan sentenced Hashem Aghajari, a prominent academic, to death for alleged blasphemy and insulting the clergy.

Behrouz Geranpayeh, the Head of the National Institute for Opinion Polls, is awaiting his sentence after publishing a poll showing a majority of Iranians favor restoring relations with the United States. The heads of the private research institutes that conducted the poll, Abbas Abdi and Hossein Ali Ghazian, have been sentenced to eight and nine years of imprisonment respectively. They have been charged with "collaboration with U.S. elements and British intelligence" and of conducting "psychological warfare" against the government.

Senior Shi'a religious leaders and their supporters who dissent from the ruling clerical establishment remain targets of official persecution. Grand Ayatollah Hossain Ali Montazeri, the former designated successor to Ayatollah Khomeini as Leader of the Islamic Republic, cannot, among other things, meet with representatives from independent political groups under a restriction of freedom directive issued by the Iranian judiciary.

The government assault on the independent news media in which more than eighty-five newspapers have been closed and scores of journalists imprisoned since April 2000 has continued unabated. Recent cases include: Mohammad Salamati, editor of Our Era (Asr-e Ma), sentenced to 26 months in jail for views he expressed in the journal; Ali Hamed Iman, publisher of Shams-i Tabriz weekly, sentenced to seven months in jail and 74 lashes for allegedly publishing lies, stoking ethnic tensions, and "insulting Islamic sanctities and officials"; Mohsen Mirdamadi, managing editor of Norouz, a daily newspaper in Tehran, sentenced to six months in jail; and the closing of two major reformist newspapers, Hayato-no and Bahar.

Discrimination Against Religious and Ethnic Minorities

The lack of public school education in the Kurdish language remains a perennial source of Kurdish frustration. Followers of the Baha'i faith also continue to face persecution, including being denied permission to worship or to carry out other communal affairs publicly. At least four Baha'is are serving prison terms for their religious beliefs.

Recommendations

The Commission on Human Rights should:

  • Re-establish a special mechanism to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Iran.
  • Call on Iranian authorities to facilitate visits by the U.N. Special Rapporteurs on violence against women, torture, and freedom of religion; and make public and time-based commitments to full implementation of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and other Rapporteurs' recommendations.
  • Call on Iran to:
    • ratify the CEDAW, CAT and ICC treaties, and announce an official review of reservations entered upon ratification of other major human rights instruments;
    • release all political prisoners;
    • abolish of the death penalty for juvenile offenders (persons convicted for offences committed under the age of 18) as a first step towards total abolition of the death penalty;
    • amend the press law to safeguard freedom of the press that has been tabled for discussion in the parliament and permit publications closed by unlawful judicial procedures to reopen;
    • establish and enforce strict limits on incommunicado detention, and ensure prompt access to lawyers and family members for detainees. Courts should not admit as evidence incriminatory statements obtained through use of coercion; and
    • initiate a program of action to identify and address discrimination against minority groups.

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