State Department on Human Rights in Iran

April 20, 2018

On April 20, the U.S. State Department released its annual country reports on human rights practices. The following are excerpts from the report on Iran, which covers 2017.

 

Executive Summary

DoS sealThe most significant human rights issues included a high number of executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard of “most serious crimes” and without fair trials of individuals, including juvenile offenders; disappearances by government agents; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention and imprisonment; hundreds of political prisoners; unlawful interference with privacy; severe restrictions on freedom of expression, including criminalization of libel and suppression of virtually all expression deemed critical of the regime or its officials; severe restrictions on the press, including imprisonment of reporters, and of the internet which the government disrupted and censored, as well as on academic and cultural freedom; severe restrictions on the rights of assembly and association to block any activity it deemed “anti-regime”, including repression of nationwide protests that began on December 28; egregious restrictions on religious freedom; refoulement of refugees; elections where the regime pre-selected the candidates and that otherwise did not meet international standards and severely limited political participation; pervasive government corruption in all branches and at all levels of government; trafficking in persons; and governmental restrictions on the rights of women and minorities. LGBTI status and/or conduct remained criminalized and subject to the death penalty and LGBTI persons faced arrest, official harassment, and intimidation, as well as cruel and degrading treatment by security officials. There were severe restrictions on independent trade unions.

The government took few steps to investigate, prosecute, punish, or otherwise hold accountable officials who committed these abuses, many of which were perpetrated as a matter of government policy. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.

The country materially contributed to human rights abuses in Syria, through its military support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and for Hizballah forces there, as well as in Iraq, through its aid to certain Iraqi Shia militia groups.

 

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

The government and its agents reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, most commonly by execution after arrest and trial without due process, or for crimes that did not meet the international threshold of “most serious crimes.” As noted by the UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Asma Jahangir, Revolutionary Courts continued to issue the vast majority of death sentences in the country, and trials lacked due process. Legal representation was denied during the investigation phase, and in most cases no evidence other than confessions, often reportedly extracted through torture, was considered.

The government made few attempts to investigate allegations of deaths that occurred after or during torture or other physical abuse or after denying detainees medical treatment. The death penalty may also be imposed on appeal, which deterred appeals in criminal cases.

In the context of the severe fair trial limitations mentioned above, there were at least 437 reported executions as of October, according to NGO Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC). The government officially announced 70 executions through October but did not release further information on many of those executions, such as the execution dates, names of those executed, or crimes for which they were executed.

In August parliament passed an amendment to the 1997 Law to Combat Drugs that would raise the threshold for the death penalty for drug-related offenses. Under the amended law, capital punishment applies to the possession, sale, or transport of more than approximately 110 pounds of natural drugs, such as opium, or approximately 4.4 to 6.6 pounds of manufactured narcotics, such as heroin or cocaine. According to the old law, capital punishment applied to similar offenses involving slightly more than 11 pounds of natural drugs or two-thirds of a pound of manufactured drugs. Capital punishment, however, still applies to drug offenses involving smaller quantities of narcotics, if the crime is carried out using weapons, employing minors, or involving someone in a leadership role in a trafficking ring or someone who has previously been convicted of drug crimes and given a prison sentence of more than 15 years. The Guardian Council approved the law, and it went into effect on November 14.

The Islamic Penal Code allows for the execution of juvenile offenders starting at age nine for girls and age 13 for boys.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Statistics regarding the number of citizens imprisoned for their political beliefs were not available. United for Iran estimated there were 746 prisoners of conscience in the country during the year, including those jailed for their religious beliefs.

The government often charged political dissidents with vague crimes, such as “antirevolutionary behavior,” “corruption on earth,” “siding with global arrogance,” moharebeh, and “crimes against Islam.” Prosecutors imposed strict penalties on government critics for minor violations.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Freedom of Expression: Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions, as well as those who publicly criticized the president, cabinet, and parliament.

The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and insulting the regime based on letters, emails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.

Former president Mohamed Khatami remained barred from giving public remarks, and media remained banned from publishing his name or image. According to national and international media reports, the former president was further barred in October from making public appearances for three months, including at meetings, theater performances, and concerts. Activists reportedly said this ban was one of the latest signs of the continuing crackdown within the regime on reformists.

Press and Media Freedom: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or did not renew for individuals facing criminal charges or incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (“Ershad”) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country by requiring foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limiting their ability to travel within the country, and forcing them to work with a local “minder.”

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution permits assemblies and marches of unarmed persons “provided they do not violate the principles of Islam.” The government restricted this right and closely monitored gatherings such as public entertainment and lectures, student and women’s meetings and protests, meetings and worship services of minority religious groups, labor protests, online gatherings and networking, funeral processions, and Friday prayer gatherings to prevent anything it considered as antiregime.

According to activists the government arbitrarily applied rules governing permits to assemble, with proregime groups rarely experiencing difficulty, while groups viewed as critical of the regime experienced harassment regardless of whether authorities issued a permit.

 

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose the president, as well as members of the Assembly of Experts and parliament, peacefully through elections based on universal suffrage. Candidate vetting conducted by unelected bodies, however, abridged this right in all instances. Reported government constraints on freedom of expression and the media; peaceful assembly; association; and the ability to freely seek, receive, and impart information and campaign also limited Iranians’ right to freely choose their representatives in elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential and local council elections were held in May. The country’s electoral system continued to fall short of international standards for free and fair elections because of the Guardian Council’s controlling role in the political process, including determining which individuals could run for office, and in certain instances, arbitrarily removing winning candidates.

Voters re-elected Hassan Rouhani as president. The Interior Ministry announced that Rouhani won 57 percent of the votes, with a 73 percent turnout of eligible voters. The Guardian Council approved six Shia male candidates for president from a total candidate pool of 1,636 individuals (0.37 percent of total applicants).

Candidates for local elections were vetted by monitoring boards established by parliament, resulting in the disqualification of a number of applicants. Observers asserted that reformist candidates like Abdollah Momeni, Ali Tajernia, and Nasrin Vaziri, previously imprisoned for peacefully protesting the 2009 election, were not allowed to run due to their political views.

 

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government implemented the law arbitrarily, sometimes pursuing apparently legitimate corruption cases against officials while bringing politically motivated charges against regime critics or political opponents. Most officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with impunity. Many expected bribes for providing routine services or received bonuses outside their regular work, and individuals routinely bribed officials to obtain permits for otherwise illegal construction.

Endowed religious charitable foundations, or “bonyads,” accounted for a quarter to a third of the country’s economy, according to some experts. Government insiders, including members of the military and clergy, ran these tax-exempt organizations, which are defined under law as charities. Members of the political opposition and international corruption watchdog organizations frequently accused bonyads of corruption. Bonyads received benefits from the government, but no government agency is required to approve their budgets publicly.

Numerous companies and subsidiaries affiliated with the IRGC engaged in trade and business activities, sometimes illicitly, including in the telecommunications, mining, and construction sectors. Other IRGC entities reportedly engaged in smuggling pharmaceutical products, narcotics, and raw materials. The domestic and international press reported that individuals with strong government connections had access to foreign currency at preferential exchange rates, allowing them to exploit a gap between the country’s black market and official exchange rates.

 

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The government restricted the operations of and did not cooperate with local or international human rights NGOs investigating alleged violations of human rights. The government restricted the work of domestic activists and often responded to their inquiries and reports with harassment, arrests, online hacking, and monitoring of individual activists and organization workplaces.

By law NGOs must register with the Ministry of Interior and apply for permission to receive foreign grants. Independent human rights groups and other NGOs faced continued harassment because of their activism, as well as the threat of closure by government officials following prolonged and often arbitrary delays in obtaining official registration.

During the year the government prevented some human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, and scholars from traveling abroad. Human rights activists reported intimidating telephone calls, threats of blackmail, online hacking attempts, and property damage from unidentified law enforcement and government officials. Government officials sometimes harassed and arrested family members of human rights activists. Courts routinely suspended sentences of human rights activists, leaving open the option for authorities to arrest or imprison individuals arbitrarily at any time on the previous charges.

 

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and subject to strict penalties, including death, but it remained a problem. The law considers sex within marriage consensual by definition and, therefore, does not address spousal rape, including in cases of forced marriage.

Most rape victims likely did not report the crime because they feared retaliation or punishment for having been raped, including charges of indecency, immoral behavior, or adultery, the last of which carries the death penalty. Rape victims also feared societal reprisal or ostracism.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal protection for women under the law in conformity with its interpretation of Islam. The government did not enforce the law, and provisions in the law, particularly sections dealing with family and property law, discriminate against women.

Women may not transmit citizenship to their children or to a noncitizen spouse. The government does not recognize marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, irrespective of their citizenship. The law states that a virgin woman or girl wishing to wed needs the consent of her father or grandfather or the court’s permission.

The law permits a man to have as many as four wives and an unlimited number of “sigheh” (temporary wives), based on a Shia custom under which couples may enter into a limited-time civil and religious contract, which outlines the union’s conditions.

The law provides that a woman who appears in public without appropriate attire, such as a cloth scarf veil (“hijab”) over the head and a long jacket (“manteau”), or a large full-length cloth covering (“chador”), may be sentenced to flogging and fined. Absent a clear legal definition of “appropriate attire” or of the related punishment, women were subjected to the opinions of various disciplinary and security force members, police, and judges.

February media reports stated that morality police beat and detained a 14-year-old girl for wearing ripped jeans. Authorities released the girl and her friends only after they signed pledges promising to dress modestly.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution grants equal rights to all ethnic minorities, allowing minority languages to be used in the media. Article 101 of the Charter on Citizens’ Rights grants the right of citizens to learn, use, and teach their own languages and dialects. In practice, minorities did not enjoy equal rights, and the government consistently barred use of their languages in school as the language of instruction.

The government disproportionately targeted minority groups, including Kurds, Ahvazis, Azeris, and Baluchis, for arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, and physical abuse. In its January 2016 panel review on the country, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reported “widespread discrimination against children of ethnic minorities,” as well as “reported targeted arrests, detentions, imprisonments, killings, torture, and executions against such groups by the law enforcement and judicial authorities.”

These ethnic minority groups reported political and socioeconomic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, job opportunities, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable by death, flogging, or a lesser punishment. The law does not distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual same sex intercourse, and NGOs reported this lack of clarity led to both the victim and the perpetrator being held criminally liable under the law in cases of assault. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Click here for the full report.