The visit to Iran of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and
expression should fully investigate the cases of those jailed for peacefully expressing their views, Human Rights Watch said today.
The November 4-10 visit of Ambeyi Ligabo, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, is the first by a U.N. expert on freedom of expression to Iran since 1996. Under the mandate created by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the special rapporteur gathers information on discrimination and threats or use of violence and harassment against persons seeking to exercise, or promote the exercise, of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Kenyan diplomat will meet with Iranian government representatives, journalists, academics and civil society groups.
"The U.N. Special Rapporteur has gone to Iran at a time when speaking freely incurs grave risks," said Joe Stork, acting director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "Iranians need to know that the international community will hold the government to account."
In the week leading up to Ligabo's visit, many Iranians have been attempting to highlight systematic repression of freedom of expression by the judiciary branch.
Mohsen Armin, an outspoken member of the Iranian Parliament's Commission for the Oversight of the Judiciary, said on November 3 that the Commission had heard testimony from numerous individuals who had been detained for expressing views critical of the government. Testimony was also heard from defense attorneys representing those jailed for their opinions.
Armin's comments came days after the October 28 release of a report by the parliament's Article 90 Commission, which hears individual complaints of violations of the Constitution committed by branches of government.
The commission's report investigated the death of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died of a brain hemorrhage from a blow to the head suffered in custody. The report identified Tehran Chief Prosecutor Said Mortazavi and other members of the judiciary branch as being directly involved in subjecting Kazemi to violent interrogations in the capital's Evin Prison and later attempting to cover up the cause of her death. The report noted that Kazemi had applied for and received official government permission to act as a journalist and photographer while in Iran in June and July, which highlights the risks faced by journalists working in Iran today.
"When Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize, the first thing she said was that freedom of expression is the most urgent human rights issue in Iran," said Stork. "Mr. Ligabo's trip provides an opportunity for the international community to press the Iranian government to investigate recent flagrant violations of that right."
Human Rights Watch urged the U.N. Special Rapporteur to investigate the cases of journalists and writers held in Evin Prison, such as Hoda Saber, Taqhi Rahmani and Reza Alijani, who have been held in solitary confinement since June.
Human Rights Watch also called on the special rapporteur to:
- Request visits to all persons jailed in Evin Prison for the peaceful expression of their views, including detainees in restricted sections of the prison;
- Meet with relatives of imprisoned journalists Hoda Saber, Taqhi Rahmani and Reza Alijani, whose families have been publicly demanding information from the government about the cases;
- Meet with defense lawyers representing imprisoned writers and journalists;
- Meet with university-based student newspapers and student organizations.