United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

House Leaders Pen Letter to Obama on Iran

      On March 3, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA, left) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD, right) released a letter expressing grave concern that “Iran's industrial-scale uranium enrichment capability and heavy water reactor being built at Arak could be used for the development of nuclear weapons.” The letter addressed to President Barack Obama notably did not include a call for new sanctions amidst ongoing nuclear negotiations, which some members of Congress had called for in recent weeks. But Cantor and Hoyer urged the president to consult closely with Congress on sanctions relief if an agreement is reached or implementing new ones if talks fail. The House leaders are gathering signatures before delivering the letter. The following is the full text.

Dear Mr. President:
As your partner in developing the broad-based sanctions that – in bringing Iran to the negotiating table – have played an essential role in your two-track approach to encourage Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program, we support your diplomatic effort to test Iran’s willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions and satisfactorily resolve all critical issues concerning its nuclear program.
Iran’s history of delay, deception, and dissembling on its nuclear program raises serious concerns that Iran will use prolonged negotiations as a tool to secure an economic lifeline while it continues to make progress towards a nuclear weapon. Iran’s leaders must understand that further sanctions relief will require Tehran to abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon and fully disclose its nuclear activities.
We are hopeful a permanent diplomatic agreement will require dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear weapons-related infrastructure, including enrichment-, heavy water-, and reprocessing-related facilities, such that Iran will not be able to develop, build, or acquire a nuclear weapon. We do not seek to deny Iran a peaceful nuclear energy program, but we are gravely concerned that Iran's industrial-scale uranium enrichment capability and heavy water reactor being built at Arak could be used for the development of nuclear weapons.
Because we believe any agreement should include stringent transparency measures to guarantee that Iran cannot develop an undetectable nuclear weapons breakout capability, Tehran must fully and verifiably implement its Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, ratify and implement the Additional Protocol, answer pending IAEA questions, and comply with the transparency measures requested by the Director General of the IAEA, as well as with any additional verification and monitoring measures necessary to ensure Iran is abiding by the terms of any agreement. Such measures should include an agreement granting the IAEA necessary access to inspect all suspect sites, including military facilities, and providing an unfettered ability to interview Iranian scientists and personnel associated with Iran’s nuclear program.
As negotiations progress, we expect your administration will continue to keep Congress regularly apprised of the details. And, because any long-term sanctions relief will require Congressional action, we urge you to consult closely with us so that we can determine the parameters of such relief in the event an agreement is reached, or, if no agreement is reached or Iran violates the interim agreement, so that we can act swiftly to consider additional sanctions and steps necessary to change Iran’s calculation.
Finally, although the P5+1 process is focused on Iran’s nuclear program, we remain deeply concerned by Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, its horrendous human rights record, its efforts to destabilize its neighbors, its pursuit of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and its threats against our ally, Israel, as well as the fates of American citizens detained by Iran. We want to work with you to address these concerns as part of a broader strategy of dealing with Iran.
We are hopeful your two-track strategy will convince Iran to change course and abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. None of us desires military conflict, but as you yourself have acknowledged, we must keep all options on the table to prevent this dangerous regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Eric Cantor
Steny H. Hoyer


UN Watchdog: Iran Implementing Nuke Deal

       On March 3, the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s director general reported that Iran has implemented the six measures contained in the interim nuclear agreement. “The measures implemented by Iran, and the further commitments it has undertaken, represent a positive step forward, but much remains to be done to resolve all outstanding issues,” Yukiya Amano (left) said during a quarterly Board of Governors meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

      The United States and other Western powers urged Iran to address the international community’s concerns about suspected atomic bomb research. “We expect Iran to fulfill its commitment under the Framework by providing all information related to its work on Exploding Bridge Wire detonators,” U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Joseph Macmanus said in the meeting. The European Union also called on Iran to “provide the agency with access to all people, documents and sites requested.” But Iran’s IAEA representative Reza Najafi said Tehran does “not recognize” the allegations. The following are excerpted remarks from the IAEA meeting.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano
            Concerning safeguards implementation in Iran, the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. However, the Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.
            Iran implemented, within the agreed three-month period, the six initial practical measures contained in the Annex to the Framework for Cooperation between Iran and the Agency. We are analysing the information provided by Iran and have requested some additional clarifications.
            Last month, the Agency and Iran agreed on the next seven practical measures, which are to be implemented by 15 May. One of these, concerning exploding bridge wire detonators, is related to information contained in the Annex to my report to the November 2011 Board.
            With the endorsement of the Board of Governors, the Agency has started to undertake monitoring and verification in relation to the nuclear-related measures set out in the Joint Plan of Action agreed between the E3+3 and Iran. As of today, measures agreed under the Joint Plan of Action are being implemented as planned, including the dilution of a proportion of Iran’s inventory of UF6 enriched up to 20 percent, which has reached the half-way mark.
            Let me briefly mention funding of the Agency’s activities related to the Joint Plan of Action. Seventeen countries have expressed interest in contributing extrabudgetary funds, for which I am grateful. As of today, we are still short of some €1.6 million. I invite Member States which wish to do so to make contributions.
            Mr Chairman,
            The measures implemented by Iran, and the further commitments it has undertaken, represent a positive step forward, but much remains to be done to resolve all outstanding issues.
            In particular, clarification of all issues related to possible military dimensions, and implementation by Iran of its Additional Protocol, are essential for the Agency to resolve all outstanding issues related to Iran’s nuclear activities.
U.S. Statement as Delivered by Ambassador Joseph Macmanus 
            The United States would like to offer our appreciation to the Director General and his staff for the February 20 report on the “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”  We commend the objective, expert, and professional manner in which the Agency continues to implement Iran’s safeguards agreement and other undertakings. This is reflected in the Director General’s latest report and in the Agency’s rigorous efforts to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.  In this regard, we welcome the Agency’s continued monitoring of the nuclear-related understandings contained in the Joint Plan of Action between the P5+1 and Iran. 
            In his report, the Director General confirmed that Iran has implemented the six practical measures pursuant to the November 11 “Joint Statement on a Framework for Cooperation” between the IAEA and Iran.  We note that the IAEA has requested clarification of information related to these issues, and urge Iran to cooperate fully with the Agency to that end.  Furthermore, we welcome the announcement by the IAEA and Iran of the next phase of practical measures under the Framework. 
            While Iran has committed to address one aspect of the possible military dimensions (PMD) of its nuclear program under the Framework, it remains critical for Iran to address substantively all of the IAEA’s and the international community’s outstanding concerns regarding its past and present activities, particularly those related to PMD.  As a step in this direction, we expect Iran to fulfill its commitment under the Framework by providing all information related to its work on Exploding Bridge Wire detonators the Agency needs to begin addressing the international community’s concerns about Iran’s program.  We note, however, this is but one of multiple interconnected issues related to PMD that Iran must address.   And as we have previously stated, and would like to underscore, a satisfactory resolution of PMD issues will be critical to any long-term comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear issue…
            In his report, the Director General confirms that Iran is continuing to fulfill its commitments pursuant to the Joint Plan of Action, thereby beginning to address some of our most urgent concerns regarding its nuclear program.  For example, Iran has halted uranium enrichment activities above 5-percent; it is taking steps to eliminate its stockpile of near-20 percent low enriched uranium hexafluoride; has not installed any new components at the IR-40 reactor; and has not manufactured or tested additional IR-40 fuel since January 20.  We look forward to further updates from the IAEA on the status of Iran’s fulfillment of the nuclear-related understandings in the Joint Plan of Action. 
            The Joint Plan of Action has given us time and space to pursue a diplomatic resolution with Iran, and, on February 18 here in Vienna, the P5+1, the EU, and Iran began talks on achieving a long-term comprehensive solution.  This round of talks was productive and helped clarify the framework for deliberations going forward, including a timetable for meetings in the weeks and months ahead.  As evidence of the immediacy and importance the P5+1, the EU, and Iran place on this effort, technical experts are meeting this week to prepare for the next round of Political Director-level talks which are scheduled for March 17 here in Vienna.  We know these negotiations will be difficult and complex, but we remain committed to our best efforts to achieve a long-term comprehensive solution which addresses the international community’s concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program and provides the necessary long-term confidence that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon.  
            As the Director General notes in his report, “The measures implemented by Iran and the further commitments it has undertaken represent a positive step forward, but much remains to be done to resolve all outstanding issues.”   We urge Iran to address all of these issues substantively and without delay.  Only with Iran’s complete and full cooperation will the IAEA be able to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, which remains central to the efforts to achieve a long-term comprehensive solution. 
Remarks to the Press by Iranian Ambassador Reza Najafi
            “In our view, those claims are baseless and we haven't received any substantiated document in that regard. However, we continue to work with the agency trying to remove ambiguities.”
European Union Statement
            “We urge Iran to cooperate fully with the agency regarding PMD [possible military dimensions] issues, and to provide the agency with access to all people, documents and sites requested.”


Photo credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website – www.dfat.gov.au [CC-BY-3.0-au (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons


Obama: Nothing to Lose from Nuke Talks

      On February 27, President Barack Obama told Bloomberg View that the world’s six major powers have nothing to lose from nuclear talks with Iran. If the two sides fail to agree, “the worst that will have happened is that we will have frozen their program for a six-month period. We’ll have much greater insight into their program,” argued Obama. He also warned Congress against imposing new sanctions, which could risk derailing negotiations. Obama emphasized that President Hassan Rouhani is under pressure from Iranian hardliners who do not trust the United States.
            The president also suggested that Iran may be able to change its relationship with the outside world and stop supporting extremist groups. He posited that the peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute could strengthen progressive voices in Iran. Iran’s further integration into the world economy could lead to “more travel and greater openness,” Obama suggested. The following are excerpts from his interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg.
Iran’s Nuclear Program
            There’s never been a negotiation in which at some point there isn’t some pause, some mechanism to indicate possible good faith. Even in the old Westerns or gangster movies, right, everyone puts their gun down just for a second. You sit down, you have a conversation; if the conversation doesn’t go well, you leave the room and everybody knows what’s going to happen and everybody gets ready. But you don’t start shooting in the middle of the room during the course of negotiations…
            Over the course of several years, we were able to enforce an unprecedented sanctions regime that so crippled the Iranian economy that they were willing to come to the table and, in fact, helped to shape the Iranian election, and that they are now in a joint plan of action that for the first time in a decade halts their nuclear program -- no centrifuges being installed; the 20 percent enriched uranium being drawn down to zero; Arak on hold; international inspectors buzzing around in ways that are unimaginable even a year ago -- what that all indicates is that there is the opportunity, there is the chance for us to resolve this without resorting to military force.
            And if we have any chance to make sure that Iran does not have nuclear weapons, if we have any chance to render their breakout capacity nonexistent, or so minimal that we can handle it, then we’ve got to pursue that path. And that has been my argument with Prime Minister Netanyahu; that has been my argument with members of Congress who have been interested in imposing new sanctions. My simple point has been, we lose nothing by testing this out.
Iran’s Potential to Change
            For years now, Iran has been an irresponsible international actor. They’ve sponsored terrorism. They have threatened their neighbors. They have financed actions that have killed people in neighboring states.
            And Iran has also exploited or fanned sectarian divisions in other countries. In light of that record, it’s completely understandable for other countries to be not only hostile towards Iran but also doubtful about the possibilities of Iran changing. I get that. But societies do change -- I think there is a difference between an active hostility and sponsoring of terrorism and mischief, and a country that you’re in competition with and you don’t like but it's not blowing up homes in your country or trying to overthrow your government…
            If… they [Iranians] are capable of changing; if, in fact, as a consequence of a deal on their nuclear program those voices and trends inside of Iran are strengthened, and their economy becomes more integrated into the international community, and there’s more travel and greater openness, even if that takes a decade or 15 years or 20 years, then that’s very much an outcome we should desire.
            So again, there’s a parallel to the Middle East discussion we were having earlier. The only reason you would not want us to test whether or not we can resolve this nuclear program issue diplomatically would be if you thought that by a quick military exercise you could remove the threat entirely. And since I’m the commander in chief of the most powerful military on earth, I think I have pretty good judgment as to whether or not this problem can be best solved militarily. And what I’m saying is it’s a lot better if we solve it diplomatically.
Iran’s Strategy
            I’m not big on extremism generally… What I’ll say is that if you look at Iranian behavior, they are strategic, and they’re not impulsive. They have a worldview, and they see their interests, and they respond to costs and benefits. And that isn’t to say that they aren’t a theocracy that embraces all kinds of ideas that I find abhorrent, but they’re not North Korea. They are a large, powerful country that sees itself as an important player on the world stage, and I do not think has a suicide wish, and can respond to incentives.
Iran's Involvement in Syria
            I threatened kinetic strikes on Syria unless they got rid of their chemical weapons. When I made that threat, Syria denied even having chemical weapons. In the span of 10 days to two weeks, you had their patrons, the Iranians and the Russians, force or persuade Assad to come clean on his chemical weapons, inventory them for the international community, and commit to a timeline to get rid of them.
            We’ve now seen 15 to 20 percent of those chemical weapons on their way out of Syria with a very concrete schedule to get rid of the rest. That would not have happened had the Iranians said, ‘Obama’s bluffing, he’s not actually really willing to take a strike.’
Sunni Fears
            I think that there are shifts that are taking place in the region that have caught a lot of them off guard. I think change is always scary. I think there was a comfort with a United States that was comfortable with an existing order and the existing alignments, and was an implacable foe of Iran, even if most of that was rhetorical and didn’t actually translate into stopping the nuclear program. But the rhetoric was good.
            What I’ve been saying to our partners in the region is, ‘We’ve got to respond and adapt to change.’ And the bottom line is: What’s the best way for us actually to make sure Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon?
Iran Sanctions
            If, in fact, they can’t get there [arrive at a nuclear deal], the worst that will have happened is that we will have frozen their program for a six-month period. We’ll have much greater insight into their program. All the architecture of our sanctions will have still been enforced, in place. Their economy might have modestly improved during this six-month to one-year period. But I promise you that all we have to do is turn the dial back on…
            95 percent of it [sanctions regime] never got turned off. And we will be in a stronger position to say to our partners, including the Russians, the Chinese and others, who have thus far stuck with us on sanctions, that it is Iran that walked away; it wasn’t the U.S., it wasn’t Congress, it wasn’t our new sanctions that jettisoned the deal. And we will then have the diplomatic high ground to tighten the screws even further. If, on the other hand, it is perceived that we were not serious about negotiations, then that ironically is the quickest path to sanctions unraveling, if in fact Iran is insincere.
            The logic of sanctions was to get them to negotiate. The logic of the joint action plan is to freeze the situation for a certain period of time to allow the negotiators to work. The notion that in the midst of negotiations we would then improve our position by saying, ‘We’re going to squeeze you even harder,’ ignores the fact that [President Hassan] Rouhani and the negotiators in Iran have their own politics. They’ve got to respond to their own hardliners. And there are a whole bunch of folks inside of Iran who are just as suspicious of our motives and willingness to ultimately lift sanctions as we are suspicious of their unwillingness to get rid of their nuclear program…
            So the logic of new sanctions right now would only make sense if, in fact, we had a schedule of dismantling the existing sanctions. And we’ve kept 95 percent of them in place. Iran is going to be, net, losing more money with the continuing enforcement of oil sanctions during the course of this joint plan of action than they’re getting from the modest amount of money we gave them access to.
            And, by the way, even though they’re talking to European businesses, oil companies have been contacting Iran and going into Iran, nobody has been making any deals because they know that our sanctions are still in place. They may want to reserve their first place in line if, in fact, a deal is struck and sanctions are removed. That’s just prudent business.
            But we’ve sent a very clear message to them and, by the way, to all of our partners and the P5 + 1 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany], that they better tell their companies that their sanctions are still in force, including U.S. unilateral sanctions. And we’re going to enforce them, and we’ve been enforcing them during the course of these discussions so far.
Military Option
            We have a high degree of confidence that when they [Iranians] look at 35,000 U.S. military personnel in the region that are engaged in constant training exercises under the direction of a president who already has shown himself willing to take military action in the past, that they should take my statements seriously. And the American people should as well, and the Israelis should as well, and the Saudis should as well.
            Now, that does not mean that that is my preferred course of action. So let’s just be very clear here. There are always consequences to military action that are unpredictable and can spin out of control, and even if perfectly executed carry great costs. So if we can resolve this issue diplomatically, we absolutely should.

Click here for the full interview.

Gallup:Iran No Longer Number One Enemy

            Half as many Americans view Iran as the United States’ greatest enemy as did two years ago, according to a new Gallup poll. Some 20 percent of Americans polled see China as the top U.S. enemy. About 16 percent of Americans see Iran as the greatest enemy. The same amount considers North Korea the number one enemy. The November 2013 interim nuclear deal brokered between Iran and the world’s six major powers “may be the main reason the American public is taking a less antagonistic view of Iran,” according to Gallop. The following are excerpts from the poll report.

After the top three countries, 9% of Americans mention Russia, 7% name Iraq, 5% Afghanistan, and 3% Syria.
Gallup first asked this open-ended question in 2001, and opinions have shifted over that time. In the 2001 survey -- 10 years after the Persian Gulf War but before the 2003 Iraq war began -- Americans named Iraq as the greatest U.S. enemy by a large margin.
By 2005, with the U.S. nearly two years into the Iraq war, Iraq and North Korea tied as the greatest enemy, with 22% mentioning each country. The next year, Iran surged to the top of the list, with 31% of all mentions, and it remained the most often cited enemy until this year.
The drop in mentions of Iran as the greatest enemy in this year's poll has been accompanied by increases in the percentages mentioning North Korea (from 10% in 2012 to 16%), Russia (from 2% to 9%), and Syria (from less than 1% to 3%). The percentage mentioning China, however, has stayed virtually the same. Thus, China now tops the list mainly because Americans' views on the nation's enemies are more divided among several countries rather than focused on one dominant country, as in recent years.
Iran reached an agreement last November with several of the world's largest nations, including the United States, to limit its nuclear activity. Those nations in return agreed to ease some of the sanctions on Iran. That agreement may be the main reason the American public is taking a less antagonistic view of Iran.
This week, Iran and the same countries agreed to a framework for continued negotiations toward a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear capabilities.
Importantly, although Americans are less likely to regard Iran as the greatest U.S. enemy, their basic favorable and unfavorable opinions of Iran have improved only slightly this year, and remain overwhelmingly negative.
Key Subgroups' Perceptions of the Nation's Greatest Enemy Are Similar
Americans in all major subgroups are less likely now than in 2012 to name Iran as the United States' greatest enemy. Groups that were among the most likely to view Iran as the top enemy, such as men, older Americans, and college graduates, tend to show the greatest declines.
There are not major differences by subgroup in current perceptions of the greatest U.S. enemy. Older Americans and Republicans are a bit more likely than younger Americans and Democrats to name Iran as the top enemy. In turn, younger Americans and Democrats more commonly view North Korea as the No.1 enemy.
Americans' perceptions of the United States' greatest enemy have varied over time, usually in response to developments on the world stage. As such, the sharp drop in their likelihood of naming Iran as the United States' top enemy is probably tied to Iran's continued willingness to agree to international limitations on its nuclear capabilities.
However, Iran's reluctance to agree to limitations in the past has made U.S. and world leaders cautious about whether Iran will uphold its end of any agreement. Indeed, the Senate is preparing a measure to impose new sanctions on Iran if it does not curtail its nuclear program.
With fewer Americans currently regarding Iran as the greatest enemy, China now tops the list, ranking just slightly ahead of Iran and North Korea. Americans in general view China much more positively than Iran, though on balance, still negatively. They may regard China's emerging economic power to be as threatening, if not more so, than the potential military threats from Iran and North Korea.

State Dept: 2013 Human Rights Report on Iran

            On February 27, the State Department released its annual country reports on human rights practices. The following are excerpts from the Iran chapter.
Executive Summary
Despite high popular participation in the country’s June 14 presidential election, candidate vetting conducted by unelected bodies based on arbitrary criteria, as well as limitations on civil society, print and electronic media, and election monitoring by credible nongovernmental observers, continued to undermine the freedom and fairness of the electoral system. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces frequently committed human rights abuses.
The most egregious human rights problems were the government’s manipulation of the electoral process, which severely limited citizens’ right to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, and press; and disregard for the physical integrity of persons whom it 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, such as beatings and rape; 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 security forces; denial of fair public trials, 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 of journalists; censorship and media content restrictions; severe restrictions on academic freedom; severe restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, association, and religion; 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, children, 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 prosecute, punish, or otherwise hold accountable officials who committed abuses. Members of the security forces detained in connection with abuses were frequently released soon after their arrest, and judicial officials did not prosecute offenders. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government and its agents reportedly committed acts of arbitrary or unlawful killings, including, most commonly, by execution after arrests and trials lacking in due process. The government made limited attempts to investigate allegations of deaths that occurred after or during reported torture or other physical abuse, or after denying detainees medical treatment. Members of ethnic minority communities were disproportionately victims of such abuses…
b. Disappearance
There were reports of politically motivated abductions during the year. Plainclothes officials often seized journalists and activists without warning, and government officials refused to acknowledge custody or provide information on those taken. In other cases authorities detained persons incommunicado before permitting them to contact family members…
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits all forms of torture “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information,” but there were several credible reports that security forces and prison personnel tortured and abused detainees and prisoners. On October 23, the UN special rapporteur cited allegations that members of religious minority communities, including Baha’is and Sufis, faced torture while in detention.
Common methods of torture and abuse in prisons included prolonged solitary confinement, rape, sexual humiliation, threats of execution, sleep deprivation, and severe and repeated beatings. There were reports of severe overcrowding in many prisons and repeated denials of medical care for prisoners…
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were reportedly often harsh and life threatening. There were reports that some prisoners committed suicide as a result of the harsh conditions, solitary confinement, and torture to which they were subjected. Prison authorities often refused medical treatment for injuries prisoners reportedly suffered at the hands of their abusers and from the poor sanitary conditions of prison life. Prisoner hunger strikes in protest of their treatment were common. Prisoners and their families often wrote letters to authorities and, in some cases, to UN bodies to highlight and protest their treatment. The July 31 annual report of the UN high commissioner for human rights noted cases in which authorities subjected prisoners to torture, threats, and solitary confinement after charging them with contacting the Office of the Special Rapporteur…
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, these occurred frequently during the year.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
Several agencies shared responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order, including the MOIS, law enforcement forces under the Interior Ministry, and the IRGC, which reported to the supreme leader. The Basij, a volunteer paramilitary group with local organizations in cities and towns across the country, sometimes acted as an auxiliary law enforcement unit subordinate to IRGC ground forces. Basij units often engaged in crackdowns on political opposition elements without formal guidance or supervision from superiors.
The security forces were not considered fully effective in combating crime, and corruption and impunity remained problems. Human rights groups frequently accused regular and paramilitary security forces, such as the Basij, of committing numerous human rights abuses, including acts of violence against protesters and public demonstrations. There was no transparent mechanism to investigate or punish security force abuses, and there were no reports of government actions to discipline abusers…
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides that the judiciary be “an independent power” that is “free from every kind of unhealthy relation and connection.” The court system was subject to political influence, and judges were appointed “in accordance with religious criteria.” The supreme leader appoints the head of the judiciary, and the heads of the judiciary, the Supreme Court, and the prosecutor general were clerics. International observers continued to criticize the lack of independence of the country’s judicial system and judges and maintained that trials disregarded international standards of fairness…
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Statistics regarding the number of citizens imprisoned for their political beliefs were not available. The ICHRI estimated there were 500 political prisoners in the country, including those arbitrarily detained for peaceful activities or the exercise of free expression. Other human rights activists estimated there could be more than 1,000 prisoners of conscience, including those jailed for their religious beliefs.
On September 19, the democracy promotion organization Freedom House reported that an estimated 800 dissidents, including journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists, were imprisoned in the country. The CPJ listed 35 journalists imprisoned as of December 1. The ICHRI reported on August 21 that at least 29 students remained in prison on charges related to their political activities and that several of the students had not been allowed any furlough despite a legal furlough requirement…
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” The law states that anyone who undertakes any form of propaganda against the state may be imprisoned for as long as one year; the law does not define “propaganda.” The law also provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam; the latter offense is punishable by death. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and press, and it used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights issues. According to the CPJ, the government continued a campaign of press intimidation throughout the year…
Internet Freedom
The government restricted access to the internet. The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 26 percent of individuals used the internet during the year.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers. The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the ministry, which, along with the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the MOIS, and the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office, composed the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites, the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. The same law that applies to traditional press applies to electronic media, and the Press Supervisory Board and judiciary used the law to close websites during the year. NGOs reported that the government continued its restrictions on access to the internet during the year, especially in advance of the June 14 presidential election, as more citizens used it as a source for news and political debate. Internet traffic over mobile communication devices, including cell phones, was reportedly subject to the same restrictions as traffic operating over fixed-line connections…
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by banning independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education based on political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula. Women were restricted from enrolling in several courses of study and faced limited program opportunities, quotas on program admission, and gender-segregated classes (see section 6, Women)…
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of 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 to prevent antiregime protests. Such gatherings included 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. According to activists the government arbitrarily applied rules governing permits to assemble, with proregime groups rarely experiencing difficulty and groups viewed as critical of the regime experiencing harassment regardless of whether a permit was issued. The government sometimes slowed internet speeds or blocked e-mail or text messaging services to disrupt potential public gatherings or demonstrations…
Freedom of Association
The constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional or political associations, and Islamic and recognized religious minority organizations, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of freedom, sovereignty, national unity, or Islamic criteria or question Islam as the basis of the country’s system of government. The government limited freedom of association through threats, intimidation, the imposition of arbitrary requirements on organizations, and the arrests of group leaders and members…
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Recent Elections: On June 14, voters elected Hassan Rouhani president. The Interior Ministry announced that Rouhani won 50.88 percent of the votes and that turnout was 72 percent of eligible voters. Although the government did not allow outside observers to monitor the election, several organizations observed that, while turnout was high and the official results appeared to be consistent with voter sentiment, the country’s electoral system continued to fall short of international standards for free and fair elections as a result of the supreme leader’s and Guardian Council’s preeminent roles in all political processes, including selecting which individuals were permitted to run…
Political Parties: The constitution provides for the formation of political parties, but the Interior Ministry granted licenses only to parties with ideological and practical adherence to the system of government embodied in the constitution. Registered political organizations that adhered to the system generally operated without restriction, but most were small, focused around an individual, and without nationwide membership. Members of political parties and persons with any political affiliation that the regime deemed unacceptable faced harassment, violence, and sometimes imprisonment…
Participation of Women and Minorities: Women faced significant legal, religious, and cultural barriers to political participation. According to the Guardian Council’s interpretation, the constitution bars women and persons of foreign origin from serving as supreme leader or president; as members of the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council (a body responsible for mediating between the Islamic Consultative Assembly and the Guardian Council and serving as a consultative council for the supreme leader); and as judges. On May 16, the Guardian Council disqualified all 30 women who registered as presidential candidates in the June 14 election. Women served as vice president for legal affairs, minister of environmental protection, minister of women and family affairs, and foreign ministry spokesperson…
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and corruption was a serious and ubiquitous problem. Officials in all three branches of government frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Many officials expected bribes for providing routine service. Individuals routinely bribed officials to obtain permits for illegal construction.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and subject to strict penalties, including execution, but it remained a problem, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. There were reports of government forces raping individuals in custody (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.). Sex within marriage is considered to be consensual by definition, and therefore spousal rape is not addressed, including in cases of forced marriage…
Reproductive Rights: The law recognizes the basic right of married couples to decide freely and responsibly the spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. By law health and maternity benefits are eliminated for a family after three children. There were no restrictions on the right of married persons to access contraceptives. It is illegal for a single woman to access contraception, although most single women had access to contraception, particularly in urban areas. Couples who plan to marry must take a class in family planning.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal protection for women under the law and all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights in conformity with Islam. The government did not enforce the law, however, and provisions in the Islamic civil and penal codes, particularly sections dealing with family and property law, discriminate against women. Discrimination restricted women’s economic, social, political, academic, and cultural rights. The governmental Center for Women and Family continued to publish reports on women’s rights with a conservative religious slant and limited the debate on women’s issues to matters related to the home. The center did not raise ideas contrary to the government or its interpretation of Islam…
National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities
The government disproportionately targeted minority groups, including Kurds, Arabs, Azeris, and Baluchis, for arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, and physical abuse (see also section 1.e.). These groups reported political and socioeconomic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights. Human rights organizations, including the ICHRI and the IHRDC, observed that the government’s application of the death penalty disproportionately affected ethnic minorities…
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which may be punishable by death or flogging. Security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals they suspected of being gay. In some cases security forces raided houses and monitored internet sites for information on LGBT persons. Those accused of sodomy often faced summary trials, and evidentiary standards were not always met. Punishment for same-sex sexual activity between men was more severe than for such conduct between women…
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not respected. The government severely restricted freedom of association and interfered in worker attempts to organize. The government imprisoned, harassed, and restricted the activities of labor activists…
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Conditions indicative of forced labor sometimes occurred in the construction, domestic labor, and agricultural sectors, primarily among adult Afghan men. Family members and others forced children to work. The government made no significant effort to address forced labor during the year.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits employment of minors younger than age 15 and places restrictions on employment of minors younger than 18, such as prohibitions on hard labor or night work; however, the law permits children to work in agriculture, domestic service, and some small businesses from the age of 12. The government did not adequately monitor or enforce laws pertaining to child labor, and child labor remained a serious problem.
There were reportedly significant numbers of children, especially of Afghan descent, working as street vendors in major urban areas. Child labor was also reportedly used in the production of carpets. Children also worked as beggars, and there were reports that some children were forced into begging rings.
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