(Beirut) – Iranian authorities should drop all charges brought against protesters for peaceful assembly and release those detained on that basis, Human Rights Watch said today. Since August 2, 2018, authorities have detained more than 50 people during protests in Tehran.

A still from video shows handcuffed detained protestors in front of Evin prison in Tehran, Iran, August 26, 2018.

© 2018 Private

Since January 2018, at least 30 people have been killed in protests, but officials have not shown any sign of conducting impartial investigations either into those deaths, or into law enforcement officials’ use of excessive force to repress protests.

“The Iranian government is using the authoritarian playbook to respond to protests, criminalize peaceful dissent, and protect security forces from scrutiny,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Rather than blaming ‘foreign elements’ for protests, Iranian authorities should allow citizens to critique the government through their right to peaceful dissent.”

On July 31, a new wave of protests against the deteriorating economic conditions and perceptions of government corruption began in the city of Esfahan and quickly spread to other cities, including Karaj in Alborz province and Tehran, the capital. On August 3, a protester identified by social media accounts as Reza Otadi was shot and killed during protests in Karaj. Authorities announced the establishment of a special committee to investigate his death, comprised of Revolutionary Guards, police counter intelligence units, and a prosecutor.

Informed sources told Human Rights Watch that about 50 people who were arrested during the August 3 protests are detained in Fashafuyeh prison. These detainees have to pay a high price for essentials such as water in the prison, where hygiene is dismal. On August 21, Nader Fotourehchi, an activist who spent a night in detention in the quarantine ward of Fashafuyeh prison on charges unrelated to the protests, tweeted about the poor conditions of that ward. According to Fotourehchi, there is no running water in the prison ward from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m.

On August 11, Mehdi Mahmoudian, a journalist, tweeted that authorities had detained 15 women they had arrested during the August protests in Qarchak prison in Tehran. Sources who preferred to remain anonymous stated that when prisoners were taken to the prosecutor’s office, their families saw signs of bruising on their bodies. On August 12, Mahmoudian tweeted that authorities had found the body of a detainee who had apparently died by suicide in Fashafuyeh prison. On August 18, Mostafa Mohebbi, the head of prisons in Tehran province, confirmed a detainee’s suicide, claiming the man was not a protestor and had been charged with robbery and was addicted to drugs. In two cases of suspicious deaths that happened in January in prisons in Tehran and Arak, authorities made similar claims and declared the causes of death as suicides. Authorities have also claimed that Seved Kavous Emami, a prominent environmentalist who died under suspicious circumstances in Evin prison on February 9, died by suicide.

A video published on social media on August 28 shows families of detainees gathered in front of the Evin prosecutor’s office seeking information about their loved ones.

Iranian law restricts the rights of detainees charged with national security crimes to see a lawyer during the investigation period. In June, the judiciary released a list of 20 lawyers permitted to represent detained individuals facing national security charges in the province of Tehran during investigations.

Since December 2017, several waves of protest have occurred across Iran. During the December and January protests, authorities arrested about 4,000 protesters. During and after the protests, the Intelligence Ministry authorities also arrested at least 150 students, and courts have sentenced 17 to prison terms.

Under international law, everyone has the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that security forces should apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force, should use restraint and minimize injury.

Torture, as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, is banned at all times, and evidence obtained by torture or other coercion cannot be submitted as evidence in a trial. The covenant also requires the right to a fair criminal trial, including the right to be informed promptly of the nature and cause of the charges; to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of a defense; to communicate with counsel of one’s choosing; to be present at the trial; and to examine the prosecution’s witnesses.

“Iranian authorities have repeatedly failed to investigate serious alleged abuses against protesters,” Whitson said. “While global attention is centered on the nuclear deal and the possible impact of US sanctions, the EU and UN in particular should make clear that human rights are critical to Iran’s international standing.”