In 2015, Iranian authorities “severely curtailed the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, arresting and imprisoning journalists, human rights defenders, trade unionists and others who voiced dissent, on vague and overly broad charges,” according to Amnesty International’s annual report on the human rights situation. The following are excerpts.
Freedoms of expression, association and assembly
The authorities continued to severely restrict freedoms of expression, association and assembly. They blocked Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites, closed or suspended media outlets including the Zanan monthly women’s magazine, jammed foreign satellite television stations, arrested and imprisoned journalists and online and other critics, and suppressed peaceful protests.
In August, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology announced the second phase of “intelligent filtering” of websites deemed to have socially harmful consequences, with the support of a foreign company. The authorities continued efforts to create a “national internet” that could be used to further impede access to information via the internet, and arrested and prosecuted those who used social media to express dissent. In June, a spokesperson for the judiciary said that the authorities had arrested five people for “anti-revolutionary” activities using social media, and five others for “acts against decency in cyber-space”.
Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard and Mehdi Karoubi remained under house arrest without charge or trial. Scores of prisoners of conscience continued to be detained or were serving prison sentences for peacefully exercising their human rights. They included journalists, artists, writers, lawyers, trade unionists, students, women’s and minority rights activists, human rights defenders and others.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Detainees and prisoners continued to report acts of torture and other ill-treatment, particularly during primary investigations mainly to force “confessions” or gather other incriminatory evidence.
A new Code of Criminal Procedures, which entered into force in June, introduced some safeguards including central electronic registers of detainees held in each province. However, the new Code did not provide adequate protection against torture and failed to bring Iranian law into conformity with international law and standards. The Code failed to guarantee individuals adequate access to an independent lawyer from the time of arrest, a legal requirement for protection against torture and other ill-treatment. No specific crime of torture is defined in Iranian law and the new Code failed to establish detailed procedures for investigating torture allegations. Moreover, while the Code excludes statements obtained through torture as admissible evidence, it does so only in general terms, without providing detailed provisions.
Detainees and sentenced prisoners were denied adequate medical care; in some cases, the authorities withheld prescribed medications to punish prisoners, or failed to comply with medical doctors’ recommendations that prisoners should be hospitalized for treatment.The authorities also frequently subjected detainees and prisoners to prolonged solitary confinement amounting to torture or other ill-treatment.
Cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment
Courts continued to impose, and the authorities continued to carry out, punishments that violate the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. These were sometimes carried out in public and included flogging, blinding and amputations. On 3 March the authorities in Karaj deliberately blinded a man in his left eye after a court sentenced him to “retribution-in-kind” (qesas) for throwing acid into the face of another man. He also faced blinding of his right eye. The authorities postponed punishment of another prisoner scheduled for 3 March; he was sentenced to blinding and being made deaf.
Many trials, including some that resulted in death sentences, were grossly unfair. Prior to trial, the accused were frequently detained for weeks or months during which they had little or no access to lawyers or their families, and were coerced into writing or signing “confessions” that were then used as the main evidence against them in unfair proceedings. Judges routinely dismissed defendants’ allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in pre-trial detention without ordering investigations.
After years of deliberation, the new Code of Criminal Procedures took effect in June. It brought about some improvements, including stricter regulation of interrogations and the requirement that detainees be informed of their rights, but it was seriously weakened by amendments approved only days before its entry into force. These included an amendment that restricted the right of detainees in national security cases to be represented by lawyers of their own choosing during the often lengthy investigation phase; instead, they can only choose a lawyer approved by the Head of the Judiciary. The Code applied the same restriction to suspects in cases of organized crime, which can result in sentences of death, life imprisonment or amputation.
Freedom of religion and belief
Members of religious minorities, including Baha’is, Sufis, Yaresan (Ahl-e Haq), Christian converts from Islam, Sunni Muslims, and Shi’a Muslims who became Sunni, faced discrimination in employment and restrictions on their access to education and freedom to practise their faith. There were reports of arrest and imprisonment of dozens of Baha’is, Christian converts and members of other religious minorities, including for providing education for Baha’i students who are denied access to higher education.
Discrimination – ethnic minorities
Iran’s disadvantaged ethnic groups, including Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen, continued to report that the state authorities systematically discriminated against them, particularly in employment, housing, access to political office, and the exercise of cultural, civil and political rights. They remained unable to use their own language as a medium of instruction for primary education. Those who called for greater cultural and linguistic rights faced arrest, imprisonment, and in some cases the death penalty.
Women remained subject to discrimination under the law, particularly criminal and family law, and in practice. Women and girls also faced new challenges to their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Parliament debated several draft laws that would further erode women’s rights, including the Bill to Increase Fertility Rates and Prevent Population Decline, which would block access to information about contraception and outlaw voluntary sterilization. The general principles of another draft law, the Comprehensive Population and Exaltation of Family Bill, were passed in Parliament on 2 November. If enacted, the law would require all private and public entities to prioritize, in sequence, men with children, married men without children and married women with children when recruiting staff. The law also risks further entrenching domestic violence as a private “family matter.”
The authorities continued to use the death penalty extensively, and carried out numerous executions, including of juvenile offenders. Some executions were conducted in public.
The courts imposed numerous death sentences, often after unfair trials and for offences such as drugs offences that did not meet the threshold of most serious crimes under international law. The majority of those executed during the year were sentenced on drugs charges; others were executed for murder or after being convicted on vague charges such as “enmity against God”.
Many detainees accused of capital offences were denied access to legal counsel during the investigative phase when they were held in detention. The new Code of Criminal Procedures repealed Article 32 of the 2011 Anti-Narcotics Law, which had denied prisoners sentenced to death on drugs charges a right of appeal. It remained unclear, however, whether those sentenced before the Code took effect would be eligible to appeal.
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