Report: Human Rights Abuses in Iran

January 27, 2016
In 2015, Iran executed significantly more people than in previous years, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. Authorities executed at least 830 prisoners from January to November 2015 compared with some 600 from January to October 2014. “Repressive elements within the security and intelligence forces, as well as the judiciary, retained wide powers and continued to be the main perpetrators of rights abuses,” according to the monitoring group. Iran’s revolutionary courts also imposed particularly harsh sentences on journalists, bloggers and social media activists. The following are excerpts from the chapter on Iran.
Death Penalty and Torture
Authorities executed at least 830 prisoners by hanging as of November 1, 2015, with almost 700 executed in the first six months of the year. Officials also carried out amputations of limbs for crimes such as theft.
Under Iranian law, many crimes are punishable by death, including some that do not involve violence, such as “insulting the Prophet,” apostasy, same-sex relations, adultery, and drug-related offenses. Convicted drug offenders sentenced after flawed trials in revolutionary courts formed the majority of prisoners executed in 2015.
Freedom of Expression and Information
Security authorities continued to clamp down on free speech and dissent, and revolutionary courts handed down harsh sentences against social media users, including death sentences in some cases. As of December, according to Reporters Without Borders, Iran held at least 50 journalists, bloggers, and social media activists in detention.
Freedom of Assembly and Association
Scores of people held for their affiliation with banned opposition parties, labor unions, and student groups were in prison. The judiciary targeted independent and unregistered trade unions, and security and intelligence forces continued to round up labor activists and leaders.
Political Prisoners and Human Rights Defenders
The authorities continued to imprison dozens of activists and human rights defenders, such as lawyers Mohammad Seifzadeh and Abdolfattah Soltani, on account of their peaceful or professional activities. Judiciary officials continued their efforts to further erode the independence of the Iranian Bar Association and restricted the right of criminal defendants to access a lawyer of their own choosing during the investigation phase of national security cases.  
Women’s Rights
In 2015, authorities sought to introduce or implement discriminatory laws, including restricting the employment of women in certain sectors and limiting access to family planning as part of official measures to boost Iran’s population. On April 22, the Guardian Council, an unelected body of 12 religious jurists, approved a controversial bill that empowers voluntary Basij paramilitary forces to “promote virtue and prevent vice,” including enforcement of the strict Islamic dress code, or hijab, for women. If passed, the bill would empower individuals to act outside of any official capacity and without any parameters for holding them legally accountable.
Treatment of Minorities
The government denies freedom of religion to Baha’is, Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, and discriminates against them. At least 74 Baha’is were held in Iran’s prisons as of November 20, 2015. Security and intelligence forces also continued to target Christian converts from Islam, Persian-speaking Protestant and evangelical congregations, and members of the home church movement. Some faced charges such as “acting against the national security” and “propaganda against the state.”
Authorities restrict political participation and public sector employment of non-Shia Muslim minorities, including Sunnis, who account for about 10 percent of the population. They also prevent Sunnis from constructing their own mosques in Tehran and conducting separate Eid prayers.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Same-sex conduct between men in Iran is punishable by flogging or the death penalty. Same-sex conduct between women is punishable by flogging. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are subjected to official harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, prosecution, and ill-treatment or torture. Although Iran permits and subsidizes sex reassignment surgery for transgender people, no law prohibits discrimination against them.
Afghan refugees and migrant workers, estimated at between 2.5 and 3 million in number, continued to face serious abuses. Authorities reportedly allowed Afghan children, including undocumented ones, to register for schools after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a ruling reaffirming the need for universal education.
However, Afghans continue to face barriers to receiving other forms of social services; are at higher risk for arbitrarily being stopped, questioned, and/or detained by authorities; and have little recourse when abused by government or private actors.
Key International Actors
On July 14, the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members, along with Germany and Iran, announced that they had reached a comprehensive agreement to monitor Iran’s nuclear program. The deal paves the way for gradually removing financial and economic sanctions against Iran. On July 28, during EU Foreign Affairs Chief Mogherini’s visit to Tehran, Iran’s foreign minister said Iran and the European Union had agreed to hold talks “over different issues, including … human rights.”
The government continued to block access to Iran by the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, and other UN rights experts. 

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