United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Report: Iran's Human Rights Abuses

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.
Click here for the full report
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."

Khamenei: Red Lines on Nuclear Deal

On June 23, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seemed to harden his stance on nuclear talks with the world’s six major powers. “All economic, financial and banking sanctions, either by the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Congress or [Obama] administration must be lifted on the same day a deal is signed,” he insisted in a speech on national television. The address came exactly a week before the deadline for a final agreement.

Khamenei issued seven specific red lines for the talks, some of which contradicted the White House fact sheet on the framework announced on April 2 by Iran and the so-called P5+1 countries —Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. For example, the supreme leader rejected long-term restrictions of 10 years or more on research and development. 

The supreme leader also reiterated his support for Iran’s negotiating team, led by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, which has been under fire from hardliners. “I recognize our negotiators as trustworthy, committed, brave and faithful,” said Khamenei.
Secretary of State John Kerry, however, said Khamenei’s remarks would not affect the talks. “This is something that's been going on throughout the negotiations,” he said the next day. “It is not new. We are not going to be guided by or conditioned by or affected or deterred by some tweet that is for public consumption or domestic political consumption.”
The following are excerpted remarks from Khamenei's speech.
“While we were skeptical [of the Americans], we were ready to pay the price if the Americans kept their word because logical negotiations would have had consequences-- but shortly after the negotiations they started bringing excuses.”
“During the negotiations, the Americans promised 6 months [for lifting sanctions] but then they changed it to one year, and then by asking too much , they prolonged the negotiations and even spoke of more sanctions and military action.”
“We have said from the beginning that we want the cruel sanctions to be removed, and of course in return, we are willing to give concessions on the condition that our nuclear industry is not halted.”
“None of the nuclear powers sold us the 20 percent [enriched] fuel for medical purposes, and they even prevented others to sell the fuel to us. However, our young scientists produced the fuel rods and checkmated the other side. In addition to [production of ] the fuel, we had other achievements as well; in fact our resistance strategy worked, and the Americans concluded that sanctions don't have satisfactory results, and that they would have to find another solution.”
“They say the Agency [IAEA] has to be certain; what nonsense this is. How can they be certain? Only by inspecting every ‘inch’ of this country.”


Poll 1: Majority of Iranians Support Deal

Some 57 percent of Iranians support a deal that would curtail Iran’s nuclear program for a number of years in exchange for sanctions relief, according to a new poll by the University of Tehran’s Center for Public Opinion Research (UTCPOR) and IranPoll.com, working in conjunction with the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM). 
“While there is majority support for continuing to pursue a deal, it is sustained in part by expectations that besides the UN and the EU, the US would also relinquish all its sanctions, that the positive effects of the deal would be felt in tangible ways fairly quickly, and that Iran would continue to develop its civilian nuclear program. President Rouhani may have difficulty selling a deal that would significantly deviate from these expectations,” explained Ebrahim Mohseni, a UTCPOR Senior Analyst and a CISSM Research Associate.
Iranians are optimistic about the prospects for an agreement. Some 49 percent believe the current talks are somewhat likely to result in a deal that is agreeable to both sides. And 22 percent believe that outcome is very likely.

At the same time, 57 percent of Iranians say they distrust the P5+1 countries —Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. Some 70 percent have an unfavorable view of the United States, yet overwhelming majorities support greater engagement with it in terms of trade, tourism, cultural exchanges and more.

Three in four Iranians believe that Parliament should be able to weigh in on a deal, and four in five say it should be able to prevent implementation of a deal if it finds it detrimental to Iran’s national interest.

The nuclear program is still widely popular. Some 83 percent of Iranians consider it “very important” and 11 percent consider it “somewhat important.” About 73 percent say it is only for peaceful purposes, but 19 percent say the program is also for seeking weapons.
The following are key findings from the telephone poll of 1,009 Iranians conducted May 12-28, 2015.
Views on the April 2 Lausanne Framework


Assumptions and Expectations of Framework






Blame Game




Iran-US Relations




Effect of Sanctions

Click here for more information.


Tags: Reports

Poll 2: Mixed Views of Rouhani in Iran

President Hassan Rouhani does not have sufficient support to guarantee that his allies would win a clear majority in the February 2016 parliamentary elections, according to a new poll. It was conducted by the University of Tehran’s Center for Public Opinion Research (UTCPOR) and IranPoll.com, working in conjunction with the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM). Most Iranians, however, believe Rouhani has been somewhat or very successful in improving the economy, reducing unemployment, improving national security, improving Iran’s relations with Europe and reducing sanctions.

The following are excerpted results from the telephone poll of 1,009 Iranians conducted May 12-28, 2015.




























Click here for more information.


Tags: Reports

Iran Beats U.S. in Volleyball

In the middle of nuclear diplomacy, U.S. and Iranian volleyball teams faced off in Tehran in the Volleyball World League competition. In both matches, on June 19 and June 21, Iran’s national team defeated Team USA in three straight sets.


The Iranians bested the reigning champions in front of some 12,000 spectators in Azadi stadium. And many more watched the games live on state television, though the network muted the U.S. national anthem.


American players reportedly did not drink before sundown out of respect for the fasting month of Ramadan.
After the second match, U.S. coach John Speraw complimented the Iranian team.
“We got beat by a better volleyball team by significant margin. They outplayed us in every facet of the game: block, defense, passing, serving, and offense. So there is only one thing we can do, and that is to learn from this volleyball match to hope that we can improve. We are a team and have some physical gifts, some big players who can jump high and beat the ball, but we have to play the entire game much better if we hope to be as a team as well-coached and skilled as Iran.”
He also spoke about Iranian hospitality and the U.S.-Iran relationship.
“I think we are all aware that the portrait of the relationship between Iran and the United States is inaccurate in the media. Probably on both sides, my guess... it was a great trip and we look forward to coming here again. And I think we have much better understanding of what the environment is both inside the arena and outside.”
Iran’s coach, Slobodan Kovac, also had kind words for the U.S. team.
“I respect the USA. They are the best team of the world because they are very disciplined and we should learn from them.”

Tehran erupted after Sunday night.




Tags: Offbeat

Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo