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Iranians gather during a protest after their province's river dried up due to drought and diversion, in the central city of Isfahan, on November 19, 2021.  © Fatmeh Nasr/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images

(Beirut) – Iranian intelligence and judicial authorities continued their crackdown on dissent in 2021, while lawmakers passed and debated laws that further violate human rights, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2022.

Over the past three years, security forces have responded to widespread protests stemming largely from economic rights issues with excessive and unlawful force, including lethal force, and arrested thousands of protestors while using prosecution and imprisonment as the main tool to silence the voices of prominent dissidents and human rights defenders. Authorities have shown no willingness to investigate serious human rights violations committed under their control.

“Iranian authorities repressing popular demands for civil and political as well as economic, social, and cultural rights is causing an entire nation irreplaceable harm,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Change, of course, is necessary, unavoidable, and urgent.”

In the 752-page World Report 2022, its 32nd edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. Executive Director Kenneth Roth challenges the conventional wisdom that autocracy is ascendent. In country after country, large numbers of people have recently taken to the streets, even at the risk of being arrested or shot, showing that the appeal of democracy remains strong. Meanwhile, autocrats are finding it more difficult to manipulate elections in their favor. Still, he says, democratic leaders must do a better job of meeting national and global challenges and of making sure that democracy delivers on its promised dividends.

Deteriorating economic conditions due to government mismanagement, the Covid-19 pandemic, and US sanctions have increased poverty and reduced living standards for millions in Iran. The government has mismanaged and politicized its response to the pandemic, especially its national vaccine procurement plan that was slow and untransparent during the first months of 2021. Since August, Iranian authorities have detained Mehdi Mahmoudian, Mostafa Nili, and Arash Keykhosravi, three prominent human rights defenders who were preparing to file a complaint against the government’s mismanagement of the crisis. On November 16, Iranian authorities arrested prominent human rights defender Narges Mohammadi to serve a 30-month sentence in prison and 80 lashes for charges including “propaganda against the political system” relating to allegations against her over events during her last imprisonment.

Iranian authorities’ criminal investigation into the January 2020 shooting down of the Ukrainian plane has been handled by the judicial organization of the armed forces and remains shrouded in secrecy, with families of victims receiving very few details.

In 2021, Iran’s legislative branch moved to further curtail citizens’ rights. On November 1, the Guardian Council passed the “rejuvenation of the population and support of family” bill, which the president signed into law on November 15. The bill further limits access to contraception and abortion, putting women’s health and lives at risk. Iran’s parliament has also been working on a draft bill that seeks to impose further restrictions on internet access for people in Iran. Iranian authorities have long surveilled users and prosecuted them for views they expressed online, as well as censored online spaces.

Iran continues to be one of the world’s leading implementers of the death penalty. According to rights groups, in 2021 Iran had executed at least 254 people as of November 8, including at least seven people on alleged terrorism-related charges.

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