United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

US 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 2015 Country Report on Human Rights Practices. The report also criticized Iran's government for a wide range abuses, including cruel punishments, arbitrary violations of privacy, poor prison conditions, lack of due process, corruption and more. The government reportedly executed 964 people in 2015, including four individuals who were charged while they were under age 18. "Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces," the report noted. Since the United States does not have an embassy in Iran, the report draws heavily on non-U.S. government sources. The following is the executive summary followed by excerpts from the full report.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic republic with a Shia Islamic political system based on “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 government-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 2013 voters elected Hassan Rouhani president. Despite high popular participation following open debates, candidate vetting by unelected bodies based on arbitrary criteria and restrictions on the media limited the freedom and fairness of the election. In the last parliamentary elections in 2012, the government controlled candidate vetting and media reporting. Civilian 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, association, speech (including via the internet), religion, and press; limitations on citizens’ ability to choose the government peacefully through free and fair elections; and abuse of due process combined with escalating use of capital punishment for crimes that do not meet the threshold of most serious crime or are committed by juvenile offenders.
Other reported human rights problems included disregard for the physical integrity of persons, whom authorities arbitrarily and unlawfully detained, tortured, or killed; 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; harassment and arrest of journalists; censorship and media content restrictions; severe restrictions on academic freedom; 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, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) 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.


Arab Youth Survey: Iranian Influence Rising

For the third year in a row, a greater percentage of Arab youth have named Iran as their country’s biggest ally, according to the eighth annual ASDA’A Burson Marsteller Arab Youth Survey. In 2012 and 2013, only one percent of youth in 16 countries said Iran was their country’s biggest ally, compared with 13 percent of youth in 2016. Young people in the Levant were more likely to consider Iran an ally than in North Africa and the in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
Arab youth were divided on their views of the Iran nuclear deal that was announced in July 2015. Some 45 percent said they support the agreement, while 39 percent said they oppose it. About 17 percent of respondents said that the threat of a nuclear Iran is the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East. Nine other obstacles were cited by a higher percentage of youth. Half of respondents said the rise of ISIS was the greatest obstacle.
The survey was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland in 16 Arab countries. The firm conducted 3,500 face-to-face interviews from January 11 to February 22, 2016 with Arab men and women in the age group of 18 and 24. The following are key results related to Iran and Sunni-Shiite tensions because Iran is the largest Shiite country in the region.









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Tags: Reports

Karroubi's Letter to Rouhani

On April 9, former presidential candidate and opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi published an open letter to President Hassan Rouhani asking for a court hearing. Karroubi, along with former candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, has been under house arrest since 2011 for leading Green Movement protests after the disputed 2009 elections. But he has not been formally charged with any crimes. The following is the full text of the letter. 

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Esteemed Brother Hojatoleslam Mr. Rouhani
The President of the Islamic Republic of Iran,
First, I must thank your honorable colleagues and especially thank the attention of Dr. Ghazizadeh Hashemi, the Minister of Health, and also your esteemed brother.

As you know, after four terms as a representative of the people in the parliament and serving as the speaker in the third and the sixth parliaments, after founding and managing institutions such as the [Imam Khomeini] Relief Foundation and the Martyr’s Foundation, after acting as the plenipotentiary lawyer for the whole estate of the founder of the Islamic Republic, and after supervising Iranian Haj pilgrims, membership in the Constitutional Supervisory Council and representing the Supreme Leader in Lorestan, in 1384 and 1388 [2005 and 2009], I was a candidate for presidency on the suggestion of a group of reformist friends and my own choice. Unfortunately, both times the rights of the honorable people of Iran and myself were trampled on by the interference of certain sections of the Revolutionary Guards, the [paramilitary] Basij and the Intelligence Ministry. Instead, a liar and a dishonest individual who distorted the sacred and Shia beliefs were imposed on the country and on the people, and he was the cause of the most corrupt government since the Constitutional Revolution [of 1906] in the name of Islamic Revolution.

During this disastrous period, the country and the people suffered heavy losses. In the next few decades we might be able to compensate for the material losses — the plundering of the people’s assets, the squandering of $700 billion of oil and tax income, giving away or selling off resort and free-trade zone lands from Pardisan Park [northwest of Tehran] to Qeshm and Kish islands, the transfer of $22 billion to Dubai and Turkey, losing oil rigs and ships without registration —but there can be no doubt that moral damages, divisions, the distrust of the people toward the government and religious authorities and more importantly, damages were done to Shi’ism and the Hidden Imam (may he return soon) cannot be repaired as easily.
By being self-centered, ambitious and in love with power, a number of individuals — who fancy that they have the power to decide the destinies of other Muslim nations and countries— intentionally ensnared the country in sanctions. On one hand they destroyed national assets by plundering and squandering. On the other hand, they robbed the people and pushed the country to the edge of a precipice while the people were impoverished and helpless. Only the grace of god and the awareness of various segments of the society and the statesmen saved the country from disaster. Unfortunately, they are so overcome by ambition and greed for power that they recognize no boundaries for their base desires and have sacrificed the wealth and the children of this country to their high-flying ambitions in the region.
Fortunately the steadfast resistance of various segments of the people — especially the students and political and human rights activists involved in the events of 1388 [2009] — and also the role played by the free media in informing people taught a big lesson to those who, contrary to the wishes of the martyrs and the [aims of the] war [with Iraq] and the thinking of Imam [Khomeini], consider people’s votes as mere ornaments and wanted to change the role of the elections. I thank God that that in the 1392 and 1394 [2013 and 2014] elections, people gave a crushing answer to these totalitarians and drove out some regime favorites out of the arena. They intelligently protested the transformation of the Guardian Council to a mere tool under the auspices of its secretary-general, whose intelligence and wisdom is an interesting story by itself. The people still believe in the ballot box as the way to reform the structure of the regime.
Unfortunately, by shirking its inherent duties and taking actions that none of the people behind the constitution could have imagined, the Guardian Council has become a tool in the hands of the regime. That is why we witnessed in the elections that this council defames respectable people and violates people’s rights to ensure that one [political] tendency wins and others are eliminated. One day (in the elections of [2005]) it qualifies candidates for the presidency, which, according to Article 115 of the constitution requires different qualifications than other positions, in order to sow discord among the reformists. And another day (parliamentary elections in [February 2016]), it disqualifies the same people from running for parliament. The Guardian Council has gone so far that it has prevented the elected representative of the people of Isfahan from going to parliament by resorting to a strange and ridiculous innovation that ignores people’s votes. After the candidates are qualified and the elections have taken place properly, it is a dangerous innovation to revise their qualifications. The government and the parliament must definitely not yield to this illegal act because it is the members of parliament who must approve the credentials of an elected representative, not the Guardian Council.
Honorable President:
In [2009] when I entered the arena, I was aware of the problems inside the regime. In a debate, I talked about the problems and the obstacles and stated that facing them was equal to jihad in the way of god. After the ridiculous results of the [2009] election were announced, I stood against this dangerous movement, which had its roots in the [2005] election. Its only goal was the destruction of the republic and Islam. I said “this is only the beginning of the story” because I considered silence in the face of a power grab by the potentates the same as cooperating with the project to destroy the republic and the Islamic system. I stood by the people, aware of the heavy price that must be paid. With the help of God, I will continue to stand by them. For disclosing secrets and for defending people’s rights and liberties, my home has been repeatedly destroyed, I have been beaten, people close to me have been put under pressure and even one of my children was arrested and was beaten to near death. But I willingly accepted all these disrespects and said: “I am the son of Ahmad and I will not remain silent.”
If the corrupt previous regime [of the Shah] used thugs [in the coup d’état of August 19, 1953]  and [on June 5, 1963 when supporters of Khomeini rose up], these days, the regime uses thugs every day across the country to attack the homes of religious authorities, religious and political figures who have been critical of the regime, embassies and artistic and cultural centers in the name of “values”. They violate the sanctuary of mosques for their political ambitions and know no boundaries in their desperate behavior. They imposed self-censorship on eminent people, so much so that a prominent religious authority in Qom said when asked about the refusal to publish his views: “I don’t want to deal with them breaking my windows.”
Your Excellency Mr. Rouhani:
From [February 2011 to February 2014] I was moved from place to place and suffered many deprivations. Since [February 2011], I have been the subject of a house arrest without any rules, surrounded by security agents. In these years, I have been denied the right to defend myself in the face of charges against me and against the slurs of domestic media and other tribunes of the regime. The irony is that those who wasted the material and moral assets of the country, and the consequences of their vision, have become clear to everybody. They are now seen as insightful and honorable, and those who gave warnings and predicted these days — those who in the past few years have suffered illegal imprisonment and house arrest for their reformist activities — are now called dishonorable. How pitiful is this illusion of the potentate, who imagine that they can decide which among the God’s servants are high and which ones are low.
Today is the day for speaking out and standing up to law-breakers. The culture of sacrifice and martyrdom has taught the great nation of Iran to fight against injustice. Nobody should cooperate with injustice or stay silent in the face of oppression in the name of expediency. We must not present our own interests as the interests of the country. We must stand up against the idea of a regime with one single voice, made so through monopolizing an unaccountable power. We must not doubt that if today our elites procrastinate and fail to act, then tomorrow the country and the people will pay a heavy price.
I am not asking you to lift my house arrest, nor do I believe that it is in your power to do so. But according to the responsibility assigned to you by the people and the constitution, I want you to ask the despotic regime to grant me a public trial based on Article 168 of the constitution, even if the court is constructed the way that the potentates want. With the help of God and working with my lawyer, we will hear the indictment and we will present our evidence to the public about the fraudulent [2005] presidential election, the rigging of the [2009] presidential election and what happened to the children of this country in legal and illegal detention centers. The outcome of this trial will show which side in the [2009] election dispute has turned its back on the revolution and which side is dishonorable. It will show which side continues in the path of the revolution and is honorable. “Allah is sufficient witness between me and you,” I emphasize that I will accept the verdict of this court without reserve and welcome it without asking for the right to appeal because the world is god’s court and his deputies on this Earth are the people. And there are no better judges than  God and the people.
And Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.
Mehdi Karroubi
Jamarn [Tehran]
April 9, 2016
Translation via Iran Wire. Karroubi’s letter was originally published by Saham News.

Click here to learn more about the Green Movement.
Photo credit: Karroubi by Mardetanha via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Amnesty Report: Executions Rise in Iran

In 2015, Iran carried out at least 977 executions, according to a new report by Amnesty International. The organization estimates that at least 577 executions took place in addition to the 400 acknowledged by Iranian authorities – a 31 percent increase compared to 2014. China carried out the most executions in 2015, followed by Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The following is an excerpt on Iran from the report.
Iran carried out at least 977 executions in 2015. The Iranian authorities announced 400 executions through official and semi-official sources. However, credible sources confirmed that at least 577 more executions took place, in addition to those officially announced. At least 16 women and at least four juvenile offenders were executed. At least 58 executions known to Amnesty International were carried out publicly. Scores of death sentences were imposed in Iran during the year. However, Amnesty International was unable to confirm any credible figures.
The majority of executions carried out in 2015 were for drug-related offences. Iran’s AntiNarcotics Law stipulates mandatory death sentences for a range of drug-related offences, including trafficking more than 5kg of narcotics derived from opium or more than 30g of heroin, morphine, cocaine or their chemical derivatives.
In June, a new Code of Criminal Procedure came into force. The new Code repealed Article 32 of the Anti-Narcotics Law. This Article provided no right of appeal against death sentences imposed for drug-related crimes, in flagrant violation of international law. Under the repealed Article, all death sentences were subject to confirmation either by the Head of the Supreme Court or the Prosecutor General, who were entitled to revise or quash the sentence if they found it had contravened Islamic law or that the judge was not competent.
In December, several members of Parliament proposed a bill to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment for drug-related offences that do not involve armed activities.
Many death sentences in Iran were imposed after trials that fell short of international fair trial standards. Defendants often had no access to lawyers during pre-trial investigations, and courts generally dismissed allegations of torture and admitted as evidence “confessions” obtained under torture. As in previous years Iranian courts continued to sentence people to death for crimes that are vaguely worded and overly broad; not recognizably criminal offences under international human rights law; and do not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes”.
In July, a court sentenced Mohammad Ali Taheri to death for “spreading corruption on earth” by establishing a spiritual group called Erfan-e Halgheh and promoting beliefs and practices which the authorities said were “perverse” and would advance a “soft overthrow” of the government by weakening people’s religious convictions. The Supreme Court quashed the death sentence in December, after concluding that Mohammad Ali Taheri’s activities before he was arrested in 2011 had not amounted to “spreading corruption on earth” as defined in the old Islamic Penal Code (which was in force until 2013 when a new Islamic Penal Code was adopted). He remained under investigation for various allegations, including “apostasy” (ertedad) and “insulting the Prophet” (sabbo al-nabi) which could carry the death penalty.
Behrouz Alkhani, a 30-year-old man from Iran’s Kurdish minority, was executed on 26 August despite the fact that he was awaiting the outcome of a Supreme Court appeal. He had been sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court for “effective collaboration with PJAK” (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan) and “enmity against God” (moharebeh). His “confessions”, which he said were obtained through torture and other ill-treatment, were used against him.
On 4 March, six men from Iran’s Sunni minority, Hamed Ahmadi, Jahangir Dehghani, Jamshid Dehghani, Kamal Molaee, Hadi Hosseini and Sediq Mohammadi, were executed for the vaguely worded offence of “enmity against God” (moharebeh). The executions were carried out despite serious concerns about the fairness of the legal proceedings that led to the men’s convictions. The men had been held in solitary confinement during their pre-trial detention for several months without access to a lawyer or their families. They said they met their court-appointed lawyers for the first time, a few minutes before the start of their trials. The court proceedings were held behind closed doors and apparently lasted only 10 to 30 minutes.
Iran continued to impose death sentences on and execute juvenile offenders, in breach of its international obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).168 The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the ICCPR prohibit the use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders.
At least 160 juvenile offenders were on death row at the end of 2015. Some of them had been in prison for more than a decade. At least 73 juvenile offenders were executed between 2005 and 2015. Four of them were executed in 2015: Javed Saberi, Vazir Amroddin, Samad Zahabi and Fatemeh Salbehi. During the year, a number of juvenile offenders had retrials based on the provisions of the 2013 new Islamic Penal Code; the courts found that they had sufficient “mental growth and maturity” at the time of the crime and they were sentenced to death again.
Click here to read the full report

US & Iran Clash on Nuclear Deal Compliance

Since late March, U.S. and Iranian officials have accused each other of taking actions that undermine the nuclear deal. On April 1, President Barack Obama accused Iran of not following the “spirit” of the agreement by engaging in test launches of ballistic missiles on March 8 and 9. Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Hassan Firouzabadi countered by saying that "We studied the details of the nuclear agreement and didn’t see anything but its text, and don’t have any information about its spirit.” Although ballistic missiles are outside the scope of the nuclear deal, U.S. officials allege the launches are inconsistent with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which bans Iran from testing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on March 20 that “The Americans have not honored their promises," accusing Washington of only lifting sanctions "on paper." Iran still faces restrictions on certain financial transactions under remaining U.S. sanctions for terrorism and human rights violations. But State Department official Chris Backemeyer insisted that "We are a good faith partner…It is not in our interest just to sanction for no reason.” The following are recent remarks from U.S. and Iranian officials on compliance with the nuclear deal.
 United States
President Barack Obama
Obama“So let me say broadly that so long as Iran is carrying out its end of the bargain, we think it’s important for the world community to carry out our end of the bargain.”
“Iran, so far, has followed the letter of the agreement.  But the spirit of the agreement involves Iran also sending signals to the world community and businesses that it is not going to be engaging in a range of provocative actions that might scare business off.  When they launched ballistic missiles with slogans calling for the destruction of Israel that makes businesses nervous.  There is some geopolitical risk that is heightened when they see that taking place.
“If Iran continues to ship missiles to Hezbollah, that gets businesses nervous.  And so part of what I hope happens is we have a responsibility to provide clarity about the rules that govern so that Iran can, in fact, benefit, the Iranian people can benefit from an improved economic situation.  But Iran has to understand what every country in the world understands, which is businesses want to go where they feel safe, where they don't see massive controversy, where they can be confident that transactions are going to operate normally.  And that's an adjustment that Iran is going to have to make as well.”
– April 1, 2016, in a press conference
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew
“Since Iran has kept its end of the [nuclear] deal, it is our responsibility to uphold ours, in both letter and spirit.”
– March 30, 2016, in a speech
State Department Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon
“I believe it [the missile tests] violated the intent of [U.N. Security Council Resolution] 2231.”
– April 5, 2016, in a Senate hearing
"Any effort to step away from (the deal) would reopen a Pandora's box in that region that would be hard to close again.”
A U.S. rejection of the deal "would be grasped by hardliners in Iran to assert that we were an unreliable interlocutor” and would be seen as “a clear signal that they needed to return to their nuclear program."
– April 5, 2016, in a Senate hearing
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes
“Thus far we have seen Iran meet its major commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”
“We were also clear that they were going to continue to be engaged in behavior that we found counterproductive – ballistic missiles, support for terrorism, destabilizing activities in the region. That’s not the nuclear deal. It’s a separate set of issues on which we have the ability to respond.”
– March 31, 2016, in a press briefing
State Department Principal Deputy Coordinator for Sanctions Policy Chris Backemeyer
"We are a good faith partner…It is not in our interest just to sanction for no reason, so we're not going to be in a position where we're looking to trick someone, that's never been our objective."
"Snap-back is a mechanism that we negotiated in order to deter Iranian non-compliance, not one to give us some secret way of re-imposing sanctions on Iran because we felt like it."
– March 23, 2016, according to the press

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Khamenei“The Americans have not honored their promises and have not done what they should have. Of course, as our honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs said, they have done certain things on paper, but they have prevented the Islamic Republic from achieving its goals through many detours and short cuts.”
“Notice that today, in all western countries and in all those countries that are under their influence, our banking transactions have been blocked. We have a problem bringing our wealth - which has been kept in their banks – back to the country. We have a problem conducting different financial transactions which require the assistance of banks. And when we pursue the matter, follow it up and ask about it, it becomes clear that they are afraid of the Americans. The Americans have said that they would lift sanctions and they have actually done so on paper, but through other ways and methods, they are acting in a way that the result of sanctions repeal will not be witnessed at all.”
“What this political analysis of the enemy means is that if America wishes, the Islamic Republic should even forget about its own defense mechanisms. You see what uproar they have created in the world on the issue of our missiles. They say, “Why does the Islamic Republic have missiles? Why does it have long-range missiles? Why do the Islamic Republic’s missiles aim at and hit the target in a very precise manner?” They say, “Why have you carried out a military maneuver? Why do you have military exercises and why and why and why!”
“This is while the Americans themselves carry out maneuvers from time to time in the Persian Gulf – which is several thousand kilometers away from their country - and they do so along with some regional countries. They do this while they have no responsibility in the region. However, when the Islamic Republic carries out a military maneuver in its own home, in its own territory and in its own security zone, they create uproar about why we have carried out a military operation, why we have adopted such and such measures and why our Navy and our Air Force have adopted such and such courses of action.”
– March 20, 2016, in a speech
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Zarif“It does not matter which political party takes the helm. The nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is Washington’s commitment, and it has nothing to do with who is in power at the White House.”
“With the serious follow-up of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the US government is obliged to execute its commitments not only in theory but in practice.”
– March 2016, according to the press
Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi
"We studied the details of the nuclear agreement and didn’t see anything but its text and don’t have any information about its spirit.”
"Therefore, the US arrogant expectations and excessive demands are ungrounded and unacceptable and no one in the Islamic Republic of Iran cares about them.”
– April 5, 2016, according to the press
Judiciary Chief Sadeq Amoli Larijani
"The Americans are now acting in violation of the nuclear agreement.”
– April 4, 2016, in remarks to high-ranking judiciary officials
Revolutionary Guards Commander General Mohammad Ali Jafari
“To see JCPOA a panacea and a successful solution would be naïve and imprudence; those advertising now different versions of JCPOA, primarily at home, inadvertently deviated from the true path of Revolution and tilting toward anti-Revolutionary front.”
“JCPOA provides only the least part of nation’s rights and should not and won’t be lionized as a golden chapter and a cause for exhilaration.”
– April 5, 2016, according to the press
Defense Minister General Hossein Dehghan
“I am certain that the Security Council and the United Nations will not respond, as our actions are neither a breach of the JCPOA nor are they against resolution 2231.”
“[The] Americans are basically against any increase in the national power of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in any dimension.”
– March 31, 2016, according to the press
Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi
"Legally speaking, there is a possibility that the other side misuses a point in the nuclear deal, but the document enjoys such an integrity and power that the other side doesn’t allow itself to create any problems.”
"I firmly announce that we act upon the Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Khamenei)'s views in a way that if the other side does not comply with its undertakings appropriately, we will show a proper reaction."
– April 6, 2016, according to the press

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