Report: No Improvement in Human Rights

January 27, 2016
Iran’s human rights situation did not significantly improve in 2015, according to a new report by Freedom House. The brokering of the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers in July 2015 raised hopes that President Hassan Rouhani would gain enough leverage to enact domestic reforms that he had promised. But the monitoring group noted that hardliners “in control of key state institutions, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the judiciary, appeared determined to prevent any attempts at reform.”
For both civil liberties and political rights, Iran received a score of 6 out of 7, with 7 being the worst. Iran has received the same scores each year since 1998, when Freedom House first assessed the situation there. For 2015, Iran received an aggregate score of 17 out of 100, with 100 being the most free, based on 25 indicators. The monitoring group classified Iran as “not free” along with most other countries in the region. The following are excerpts from the report on Iran.

With elections for the parliament and the Assembly of Experts scheduled for February 2016, hard-liners launched a new crackdown in 2015. At least four journalists were arrested, while several intellectuals, artists, and human rights activists were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American, was sentenced to an unspecified prison term following a closed-door trial on widely criticized espionage charges. There was also a surge in executions during the year, with estimates indicating that the number easily exceeded the reported total for 2014.

Political Rights: 7 / 40
A. Electoral Process: 3 / 12
The supreme leader, who has no fixed term, is the highest authority in the country. He is the commander in chief of the armed forces and appoints the head of the judiciary, the heads of state broadcast media, and the Expediency Council—a body tasked with mediating disputes between the Guardian Council and the parliament. He also appoints six of the members of the Guardian Council; the other six are jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary and confirmed by the parliament, all for six-year terms. The supreme leader is appointed by the Assembly of Experts, which also monitors his work. However, in practice his decisions appear to go unchallenged by the assembly, whose proceedings are kept confidential. The current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, succeeded Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.
Elections in Iran are not free and fair, according to international standards. The Guardian Council, controlled by conservatives, vets all candidates for the parliament, president, and the Assembly of Experts—a body of 86 clerics who are elected to eight-year terms by popular vote. The council has in the past rejected candidates who are not considered insiders or deemed fully loyal to the clerical establishment, as well as women seeking to run in the presidential election. As a result, Iranian voters are given a limited choice of candidates.
As the country prepared for the 2016 parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections in 2015, officials renewed a debate over the role of the Guardian Council. Rouhani suggested in August that the council’s proper function is to supervise rather than administer elections. His comments appeared to reflect concern that the body would bar moderate and reformist candidates from running. Hard-line officials hit back, including the IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jaafari, who warned against weakening the “pillars of the revolution.”
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 2 / 16
Only political parties and factions loyal to the establishment and to the state ideology are permitted to operate. Reformist parties and politicians have come under increased state repression, especially since 2009.
In 2015, two new reformist parties—Nedaye Iranian (Voice of Iranians) and Ettehad Mellat Iran (Iranian National Unity)—were established ahead of the 2016 parliamentary elections. Hard-liners were critical of the decision to allow the two parties to operate, noting that some of their members belonged to the banned Participation Front (Mosharekat). The head of Ettehad Mellat and at least one other member of the party were summoned to court in 2015 in what was seen as a warning to the reformists.
CFunctioning of Government: 2 / 12
The elected president’s powers are limited by the supreme leader and other unelected authorities. The powers of the elected parliament are similarly restricted by the supreme leader and the unelected Guardian Council, which must approve all bills before they can become law. The council often rejects bills it deems un-Islamic. Nevertheless, the parliament has been a platform for heated political debate and criticism of the government, and legislators have frequently challenged presidents and their policies.
Corruption remains endemic at all levels of the bureaucracy, despite regular calls by authorities to tackle the problem. Powerful actors involved in the economy, including the IRGC and bonyads (endowed foundations), are above scrutiny. In its 2014 Corruption Perception Index, Transparency International ranked Iran 136 out of 175 countries and territories.
Civil Liberties: 10 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 2 / 16
Freedom of expression and access to information remain severely limited both online and offline. However, some journalists and citizens say the situation improved slightly after Rouhani took office. The state broadcasting company is tightly controlled by hard-liners and influenced by the security apparatus. News and analysis are heavily censored, while critics and opposition members are rarely, if ever, given a platform on state-controlled television, which remains a major source of information for many Iranians. State television has a record of airing confessions extracted from political prisoners under duress, and it routinely carries reports aimed at discrediting dissidents and opposition activists.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 1 / 12
The constitution states that public demonstrations may be held if they are not “detrimental to the fundamental principle of Islam.” In practice, only state-sanctioned demonstrations are typically permitted, while other gatherings have in recent years been forcibly dispersed by security personnel, who detain participants. In what appeared to be a softening of the government’s stance, police did not disrupt protests by animal rights activists in Shiraz in April 2015, or a months-long protest by prominent lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh against a decision to ban her from practicing law. Sotoudeh said she and her supporters received threats but were allowed to continue their picketing outside the Iranian Bar Association in Tehran. 
Nongovernmental organizations that work on nonpolitical issues such as poverty and the environment are allowed to operate relatively freely. Reports suggest that their number has increased in the past two years. Other groups, especially those that have highlighted human rights violations, have been suppressed. …
Iran does not permit the creation of labor unions; only state-sponsored labor councils are allowed. Labor rights groups have come under pressure in recent years, and more than a dozen activists have been sentenced to prison. …
F. Rule of Law: 3 / 16
The judicial system is used as a tool to silence critics and opposition members. The head of the judiciary is appointed by the supreme leader for a five-year term. Under the current head, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, human rights advocates and political activists have been subjected to unfair trials, and the security apparatus’s influence over judges has reportedly grown.
Iran, after China, carries out the largest number of executions in the world each year, and the annual total has increased under Larijani. Convicts can be executed for offenses other than murder, such as drug trafficking, and for crimes they committed when they were less than 18 years old. According to the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, at least 694 individuals were reportedly executed in the first seven months of 2015, compared with 753 for all of 2014. Others put the total for 2015 at nearly 1,000. As in previous years, Iran refused to allow a visit to the country by the UN special rapporteur.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 4 / 16
Freedom of movement is restricted, particularly for women and perceived opponents of the regime. Women are banned from certain public places, such as sports stadiums, and can obtain a passport to travel abroad only with the permission of their fathers or husbands. Many journalists and activists have been prevented from leaving the country.
Iranians have the legal right to own property and establish private businesses. However, powerful institutions like the IRGC play a dominant role in the economy, and bribery is said to be widespread in the business environment, including for registration and obtaining business licenses.
The government interferes in most aspects of citizens’ private lives. Home parties are often raided and citizens detained or fined for drinking alcohol or mingling with members of the opposite sex. Women are regularly harassed and detained by the police for not fully observing the obligatory Islamic dress code. …
Scoring Key: X / Y 
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score

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