(New York) – Member states of the United Nations should use President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance before the UN General Assembly to highlight the Iranian government’s gross and systematic human rights violations against its own people, Human Rights Watch said today. Member states should press the Iranian leader to allow the newly appointed UN special envoy on Iran and independent human rights organizations to visit the country. The Iranian president is scheduled to address the Assembly in New York on September 22, 2011.
On September 21, Iranian authorities publicly executed 17-year-old Alireza Mollasoltani, according to Iranian state media. The judiciary convicted Mollasoltani for the July 2011 murder of Ruhollah Dadashi, champion of Iran's "strongest man" competition. International law strictly prohibits the execution of anyone who was under the age of 18 when the offense was committed.
“President Ahmadinejad should not go unchallenged using the UN bully pulpit to praise pro-democracy protests in the Middle East while his government crushes dissent at home,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Member states of the UN should respond to his speech by shining a light on Iran’s appalling rights record, which includes the abhorrent practice of juvenile executions.”
Human rights conditions have worsened considerably in Iran since the government crackdown on largely peaceful protests that followed the disputed June 2009 presidential election, Human Rights Watch said. This year, authorities continued their brutal campaign to crush dissent inside the country, using lethal force against peaceful protesters, arresting hundreds, and killing dozens. Authorities detained opposition leaders, lawyers, journalists, and rights activists on politically motivated charges. Hundreds of prisoners have been executed, often after unfair trials or on the basis of dubious charges. Officials at both the national and local levels have engaged in systematic discrimination against the country’s ethnic and religious minorities, including Sunni and Sufi Muslims.
On September 17, 2011, two days before Ahmadinejad arrived in New York, Iranian security forces arrested six independent filmmakers for allegedly cooperating with BBC Persian on a documentary. They were transferred to Evin prison’s notorious Ward 240, which is controlled by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry. Two days earlier, on September 15, prison authorities subjected Somayeh Tohidlou, a campaigner for opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, to 50 lashes. On September 10 security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained Abdolfattah Soltani, a prominent lawyer and cofounder of the Center for Defenders of Human Rights with Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.
Human Rights Watch identified key concerns in Iran in a recent submission to the UN Human Rights Committee, prepared in response to the government’s claims that it is in compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Iran continues to refuse access to UN special envoys and human rights monitors, despite many longstanding and repeated requests for invitations to visit. None have visited since 2005. The government has also failed to implement UN expert bodies’ recommendations. In July 2011 the government said it would not cooperate with or allow access to the newly appointed special rapporteur on Iran, Ahmed Shaheed.
Key rights violations identified by Human Rights Watch in its recent submission to the UN Human Rights Committee include:
Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly and Association
In February and March 2011, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to show support for pro-democracy movements in neighboring Arab countries and protest the detention of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. The authorities’ violent response led to at least three deaths and hundreds of arrests. In April security forces killed several dozen protesters, mostly ethnic Arabs, in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, and arrested dozens.
The government has systematically harassed civil society organizations – including student, women’s, labor, journalist, legal, and human rights groups – preventing them from meeting or conducting activities. In response to calls by former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi for mass protests in February and March 2011, security forces arbitrarily arrested dozens of political opponents and placed Mousavi and Karroubi under house arrest, where they remain.
Death Penalty and Extrajudicial Killings
There has been an alarming rise in the number of executions carried out by the government since the beginning of 2011 – 86 prisoners were hanged in the first 45 days of 2011 alone. Most of those executed were convicted of drug possession and trafficking offenses, but several were charged with politically motivated offenses. Human Rights Watch believes that the government has executed several hundred prisoners so far in 2011.
In 2010 Iranian authorities recorded 252 executions, but human rights groups believe that they executed several hundred more without official acknowledgement.
Targeting of Rights Defenders
Government efforts to intimidate human rights defenders, especially lawyers, and prevent them from effectively advocating on behalf of victims of abuses has continued unabated. Today, many prominent defenders are in prison or exile. Security forces routinely harass and detain them without charge, and few if any independent human rights organizations openly operate in the country.
Since June 2009 authorities have arbitrarily arrested and detained, harassed, and prosecuted dozens of lawyers. Nasrin Sotoudeh, Mohammad Seifzadeh, and Houtan Kian are currently serving prison sentences on politically motivated charges, while Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi has effectively been forced into exile after authorities shut down her Center for Defenders of Human Rights.
On September 10, 2011, security forces arrested Abdolfattah Soltani, a colleague of Ebadi’s and cofounder of the Center for Defenders of Human Rights.
Torture and Ill-Treatment in Prisons
Agents of the Ministry of Intelligence, Revolutionary Guards, police, and Basij paramilitaries have been responsible for numerous cases of torture, particularly of political prisoners. This torture includes beatings, prolonged sleep deprivation, mock executions, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. In May, 26 prominent political prisoners wrote to authorities alleging routine violations of Iranian law which protects prisoners against torture, ill-treatment, and due process violations during arrest, interrogation, and detention. Since 2003, at least 17 political prisoners have died in Iran’s prisons, apparently due to torture, abuse, or neglect.
Restrictions on Freedom of Expression
Dozens of journalists and bloggers are currently behind bars or free on short-term furloughs. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, as of December 2010 there were 34 journalists and bloggers in Iran’s prisons. More than 60 journalists have been forced into exile in 2011 alone, and authorities have shut down at least 40 publications since 2009. Prosecutors have charged journalists with offenses that on their face violate the right to freedom of expression, such as “propaganda against the regime.” Courts in these cases have handed down heavy prison terms, flogging, and work bans. Arrests and prosecutions based on these laws make Iran one of the largest prisons for journalists and bloggers in the world.
Arbitrary Arrest and Detention
Security forces routinely arrest and detain Iranians without cause. Officials acknowledged that they arrested more than 4,000 people during and after the post-election unrest in 2009. Authorities arrested hundreds of others following major anti-government demonstrations in February, March, April, August, and September 2011. Human Rights Watch believes that several hundred people are currently being held in Iran’s prisons solely for the peaceful expression of their political views.
Security and intelligence agents, often in plainclothes, have routinely raided homes and arrested individuals and seized their belongings, and transferred them to secret locations. Victims or their family members have repeatedly told Human Rights Watch that they were either not shown arrest warrants, the warrants were blank, or were “general” warrants that authorized the arrest of anyone thought to be involved in anti-government protests.
Lack of Due Process and Unfair Trials
Trials, especially in Iran’s revolutionary courts, fall far short of international fair trial standards. Defense lawyers are only allowed to review case files and meet with their clients shortly before their trials commence. Prolonged pretrial detention is the norm in politically motivated arrests. Most revolutionary court trials convene behind closed doors despite a constitutional provision requiring that political and press offenses be tried in public and before a jury. Judges sometimes prevent lawyers from speaking in court or effectively defending their clients. This frequently results in convictions for which little or no evidence is produced.
Representing political detainees has become even more difficult since the 2009 post-election crackdown, partly because the Judiciary has set up a prosecutor’s office inside Evin Prison.
Discrimination and Mistreatment of Minorities
The Iranian government restricts cultural and political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, and Arab minorities, including organizations that focus on social issues. In April security forces killed several dozen protesters, most of them ethnic Arabs, in Iran’s southwestern province of Khuzestan. Dozens of others were arrested. Security forces also arrested hundreds of environmental and Azeri civil society activists in the Azerbaijan region following large demonstrations in August and September. The activists contend a network of dams are diverting water from Lake Urmia, the largest lake in Iran, causing it to dry up.
Iranian law continues to discriminate against Muslim religious minorities, including Sunni Muslims, who account for about 10 percent of the population, in employment and education sectors. Laws also prevent Sunni Iranians from constructing mosques in major cities. Authorities have repeatedly prevented Sunnis from conducting Eid prayers in Tehran and other cities.
On September 5, members of the paramilitary Basij force attacked members of Iran’s largest Sufi sect, the Nematollahi Gonabadi order, in Fars province. The attack killed one Sufi and led to a campaign of arrests against members of the group in several cities throughout the country.
The government denies adherents of the Baha’i faith – Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority – freedom of religion. On May 21, security forces arrested at least 30 Baha’is in a series of coordinated raids in several major cities. All those arrested were affiliated with the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, a correspondence university established in 1987 in response to the policy depriving Baha’i students of the right to pursue higher education.
Authorities targeted converts to Christianity for questioning and arrest. In September 2011 a revolutionary court convicted six members of the Church of Iran to one-year prison terms on charges of “propaganda against the state,” presumably allegedly because they engaged in proselytizing.