Iran's most significant human rights issue is the restriction of civil liberties, according to the State Department's 2014 Country Report on Human Rights Practices. The report also criticized Iran's government for a wide range of human rights abuses, including cruel punishments, poor prison conditions, lack of due process, and corruption. "Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces," the report noted.
On June 25, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski emphasized that human rights issues are a "separate concern" from the nuclear issue. But he noted that even if Iran and the world's six major powers reach a nuclear deal, human rights-related sanctions will remain in place. "Regardless of the outcome of the Iran talks, we are going to continue to speak up and stand out and stand up for human rights in Iran," he said.
The following are excerpts from the full report and Malinowski's remarks.
Country Report on Human Rights Practices: Iran
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic republic with a constitution that created a political system based on the concept in Shia Islam of velayat-e faqih (“guardianship of the jurist” or “rule by the jurisprudent”). Shia clergy--most notably the “supreme jurisprudent” (or supreme leader) and political leaders vetted by the clergy--dominated key power structures. While mechanisms for popular election existed within the structure of the state, the supreme leader held significant influence over the legislative and executive branches of government (through various unelected councils under his authority) and held constitutional authority over the judiciary, the state-run media, and the armed forces. The supreme leader also indirectly controlled the internal security forces and other key institutions. Since 1989, the supreme leader has been Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In June 2013 Hassan Rouhani won the election for president with more than 50 percent of the vote. Despite high popular participation in the election following open debates, candidate vetting by unelected bodies based on arbitrary criteria, as well as restrictions on the media, limited the freedom and fairness of the election. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most significant human rights problems were severe restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, religion, and press; limitations on the citizens’ ability to change the government peacefully through free and fair elections; and disregard for the physical integrity of persons, whom authorities arbitrarily and unlawfully detained, tortured, or killed.
Other reported human rights problems included: disappearances; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including judicially sanctioned amputation and flogging; politically motivated violence and repression; harsh and life-threatening conditions in detention and prison facilities, with instances of deaths in custody; arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes incommunicado; continued impunity of the security forces; denial of fair public trial, sometimes resulting in executions without due process; the lack of an independent judiciary; political prisoners and detainees; ineffective implementation of civil judicial procedures and remedies; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence; severe restrictions on freedoms of speech (including via the internet) and press; harassment and arrest of journalists; censorship and media content restrictions; severe restrictions on academic freedom; severe restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and association; some restrictions on freedom of movement; official corruption and lack of government transparency; constraints on investigations by international and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) into alleged violations of human rights; legal and societal discrimination and violence against women, ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity; incitement to anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; and severe restrictions on the exercise of labor rights.
The government took few steps to investigate, prosecute, punish, or otherwise hold accountable officials, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, who committed abuses. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.
Assistant Secretary Malinowski's remarks to the press
"On Iran – look, I mean, the nuclear talks – the purpose of the nuclear talks, as we have explained many, many times, is to deal with the nuclear issue. It is not to deal with the human rights issue. It’s a separate concern. But we have made it absolutely clear that we – regardless of the outcome of the Iran talks, we are going to continue to speak up and stand out and stand up for human rights in Iran; that if any sanctions are lifted as a result of a nuclear deal, the human rights-related sanctions will remain in place.
"With respect to Iran, I can’t say that we have seen any meaningful improvement in the human rights situation in Iran, and if you read the reports and compare them to previous years’ reports, you will find the details of what we are concerned about. And it involves, obviously, widespread reports of torture; political imprisonment; repression against ethnic and religious minority communities; government harassment of journalists, bloggers, activists, and so forth.
"On the dual citizens, we generally – and there’s not an absolute rule on this but we generally don’t mention American citizens by name when we mention them in this report. We followed this year the same practice with respect to Amir Hekmati, to Pastor Abedini, and to Jason Rezaian – we followed the same practice as last year with the exception that Jason’s case is new this year – in the sense that we describe them; it’s absolutely clear that these are the cases that we describe, but we didn’t name them.
I think one reason for that is that the report cannot be a comprehensive listing of people, of individuals who are detained around the world under these circumstances. So what we tried to do is to us the stories of the cases to illustrate a larger human rights problems. And so that really is the main point of naming them in the first place, to talk about the pattern in Iran or others in other countries of detaining people unjustly for reporting stories or the peaceful exercise of their opinions."