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G8: Press Iran on Rights, Free Expression

Leaders Should Make Clear That Iranian Authorities Cannot Shift Blame for Abuses

(New York) - Leaders of the G8 group of industrialized nations meeting in L'Aquila, Italy on July 8, 2009, should condemn the violent attacks on peaceful protests, hundreds of arbitrary arrests, and harsh interrogations in Iran in the aftermath of the disputed June elections, Human Rights Watch said today. The G8 should demand impartial and credible investigations into these abuses and accountability for those responsible, Human Rights Watch said.

"The Iranian authorities are trying to blame ‘foreign powers' for their violent and abusive campaign against peaceful protesters," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "The G8 needs to make it clear to Tehran that it cannot shift the blame and that human rights concerns will be at the forefront of future G8 engagement with Iran."

Following the official announcement June 13 that the incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had won the June 12 election by a landslide, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran and other major cities to protest. After almost a week of mass rallies, Iran's political leaders gave a green light for a harsh crackdown.

Security forces and government-sponsored Basij militias have carried out violent attacks on protesters in which at least 20 people have been killed and many more injured. Hundreds of protesters have been detained, many of whom, according to those who have been released, have been severely beaten. Hundreds of well-known critics of the government - including academics, human rights activists, journalists, and opposition officials - have also been arrested, and severe reporting restrictions have been imposed, both on foreign journalists - who were forced to leave once their visas expired - and local journalists.

The authorities have engaged in a sustained propaganda campaign to provide "evidence" for their unsubstantiated allegations that the protests are part of a foreign-inspired plot to overthrow the government. They have intimidated, harassed, and arrested journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, and others who, in spite of the media restrictions, continue to report on the abuses. And they have carried out prolonged and harsh interrogations in an effort to secure false confessions from detainees.

"The Iranian authorities have followed up violent attacks on peaceful protesters with further abuses to force people to make fake confessions," said Roth.

Iran is bound by international human rights law, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which it ratified in 1975. The ICCPR prohibits arbitrary detention. Anyone arrested for a criminal offense must be immediately informed of the reasons and promptly brought before a judge and informed of any criminal charges. Under the covenant, Iran is also required to recognize and protect other key human rights, including peaceful assembly and freedom of association and expression.

The Iranian authorities are also required to respect the right to life. The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials in policing demonstrations provide that authorities shall, as far as possible, apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, the authorities are required to use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Where there is an allegation that someone was killed by the state forces, there should be an independent investigation that identifies and prosecutes those responsible for any unlawful killing.

G8 leaders should underscore that they expect the Iranian government to carry out impartial investigations into serious abuses and punish those responsible for grave violations, including killings, torture, and "disappearances." The G8 and other states concerned about the wave of abuses in Iran should further consider imposing targeted sanctions against those responsible for the violations and against those who are in positions to stop and remedy abuses but fail to do so.

"G8 leaders should make clear that Iran is violating international laws," Roth said. "They should also make clear that, unless Iran holds the people responsible for the abuses accountable, other countries are justified in imposing travel bans and other sanctions on those suspected of involvement."

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