Skip to main content

Iran: Human Rights Concerns for the 61st Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights

Objective  
 
The Commission on Human Rights should build upon the U.N. General Assembly resolution A/59/205 on the human rights situation in Iran by re-establishing a Special Procedure to monitor and report on Iran's implementation of the resolution's recommendations. The Commission should also urge the Iranian authorities to implement the recommendations made by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its June 2003 report.

Background  
 
Respect for basic human rights in Iran, especially freedom of expression and opinion, deteriorated in 2004. Torture and ill-treatment in detention, including indefinite solitary confinement, is used routinely to punish dissidents. The judiciary, which is accountable to Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i rather than the elected president, Mohammad Khatami, has been at the center of many serious human rights violations. Abuses are carried out by what Iranians call "parallel institutions": plainclothes intelligence agents, paramilitary groups that violently attack peaceful protests, as well as illegal and secret prisons and interrogation centers run by intelligence services.  
 
Absence of Due Process. The Office of the Chief Prosecutor, led by Saeed Mortazavi, routinely ignored Iranian and international law by ordering the arrest of journalists, students, and writers who criticized government policies. Few of those formally charged or tried had access to an attorney. Human Rights Watch is especially alarmed by the routine use of prolonged solitary confinement in combination with forced confessions. Some political prisoners, including Taqi Rahmani, Hoda Saber and Reza Alijani, have been in detention without charge for at least eighteen months, much of it incommunicado.  
 
Heshmatallah Tabarzadi, a student leader, was sentenced by Tehran's revolutionary court on December 26 to sixteen years in prison for "propaganda against the regime" and acting against national security. His trial was held behind closed doors and in the absence of his lawyer. The judge's final ruling cites "interviews with foreign radio," "writing letters to the Leader," and "disseminating statements against the regime" as the basis for the harsh sentence.  
 
The murder of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi while in custody in July 2003 remains unresolved. In October 2003, the Article 90 Commission of the Parliament presented a public report that placed responsibility for Kazemi's death squarely on agents of the judiciary. The judiciary accused a low-ranking official of the Intelligence Ministry, Reza Ahmadi, of killing Kazemi and proceeded with a hastily organized trial held in May 2004 which cleared Ahmadi of the charges. The judiciary has taken no further steps to identify or prosecute those responsible for Kazemi's death.  
 
Freedom of Expression. Shirin Ebadi, winner of 2003 Noble Peace Prize, has been repeatedly harassed by security forces and has received death threats. The Judiciary has summoned her to court without specifying charges; the latest summons required her to appear in court on February 24, 2005. She refused to appear in person and sent her lawyers to file protests against the illegal manner in which these summons were issued. Ebadi is extremely concerned regarding the increasing number of threats against her.  
 
In 2004, more than twenty webloggers and journalists were detained on the orders of Tehran's Chief Prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi. The detainees were held in solitary confinement and were routinely tortured and forced to make false confessions. They have been released recently but continue to receive threats of re-arrest. On February 22, a well-known weblogger, Arash Cigarchi, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his writings. Charges brought against Cigarchi included "insulting the leader." Another weblogger, Mojtaba Samii Nezhad, is currently in custody with no charges brought against him. Samii Nezhad has spent 88 days in solitary confinement.  
 
Many journalists and writers remain behind bars solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. These include Akbar Ganji, Abbas Abdi, Taqi Rahmani, Hoda Saber and Reza Alijani. Nasser Zarafshan, a lawyer who defends writers, journalists, and activists remains in prison, as well.  
 
Torture and Ill-treatment in Detention. Routine lack of respect for basic due process rights and the frequent use of solitary confinement and prolonged interrogation heighten the risk of torture and ill-treatment in detention. Many former prisoners report regular beatings with cables on the back and on the soles of feet, assault with boots and fists on the head and torso, and forced immobilization in contorted positions. These methods are often used during and prior to interrogation and demands for videotaped or signed confessions.  
 
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concern in its June 2003 report about lack of access to counsel, abuse of solitary confinement practices, and breaches of due process.  
 
Discrimination Against Religious and Ethnic Minorities. The Baha'i community continues to be denied permission to worship or to engage in communal affairs in a public manner. Also, in a rare public protest, eighteen Sunni parliamentarians wrote to the authorities in July 2003 to criticize the treatment of the Sunni Muslim community and the refusal to allow construction of a mosque in Tehran that would serve that community.  
 
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 the Iranian authorities to facilitate and expedite the requested visits by the U.N. Special Rapporteurs on torture, and freedom of religion, and to live up to their own commitment under the standing invitation for monitoring procedures with respect to all future requests by these procedures.  
  • Make public and time-based commitments to the full implementation of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and other Special Rapporteurs' recommendations.  
  • Call on Iran to:  
    • Ratify the CEDAW and CAT treaties, and announce an official review of reservations entered upon ratification of other major human rights instruments;  
    • Release all political prisoners;  
    • Authorize an independent and impartial investigation into judicial abuses by the Office of the Chief Prosecutor;  
    • Abolish the death penalty for juvenile offenders (persons convicted for offenses 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 and permit publications closed by unlawful judicial procedures to reopen;  
    • Establish strict limits on the use of solitary confinement in prisons, as well as on the use of videotaped confessions;  
    • 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 coercion; and  
    • Initiate a program of action to identify and address discrimination against minority groups.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country