State Department Report 6: Iran's Human Rights Abuses

State Department sealOn September 25, the State Department's Iran Action Group released a report detailing Iran’s support of terrorism, missile program, illicit financial activities, threat to maritime security, threat to cybersecurity, human rights abuses, and exploitation of the environment. “Today, the United States is publishing a full record of the Islamic Republic’s hostile behavior abroad and its repression at home beyond the continued threat of the nuclear program,” wrote Secretary of State Pompeo in the report’s introduction. “It is important for the world to understand the scope of the regime’s recklessness and malfeasance.” The following is the section on human rights abuses. 


Chapter Six: Human Rights Abuses in Iran 


Iran has an abysmal human rights record, and the outlook remains dire. The Iranian regime continues to violate the human rights of its own people, frequently targeting political and civil society activists as well as religious and ethnic minorities. The regime’s legal systems fall woefully short of providing due process and foreign and dual nationals are regularly targeted for arbitrary detention. 


The Iranian government targets its citizens for peaceful civic activities and the exercise of freedom of expression and belief. Currently, there are more than 800 prisoners of conscience detained in Iran. The regime regularly targets journalists and restricts the online exercise of freedom of expression, including through the arrests of bloggers and social media users. In July 2018, Reporters Without Borders estimated that 20 journalists and nine Internet activists remain in prison for expressing their views online. The regime also restricts the travel and speech of high-profile figures, including political candidates. Former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi as well as Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, have been kept under house arrest without formal charges since February 2011. 

The Iranian regime continues to crack down on activism of all kinds. Women’s rights activists, for example, have faced arbitrary arrests and detentions following protests that gained significant momentum in 2018 against compulsory hijab. Government agents arrested participants in these protests, and courts issued harsh and excessive punishments against many of them, including prison sentences of up to 20 years. The regime also targets workers for engaging in trade union activity. Since the beginning of the year there have been several cases of workers who have been detained or arrested for demanding unpaid wages. Environmental activists have also come under increasing scrutiny, as they speak out in greater numbers against the government’s corruption and mismanagement. Iran’s numerous ethnic minorities are also targeted by the regime, routinely facing harassment and arbitrary arrests and detention. Deaths in custody are reported to occur under suspicious circumstances and enforced disappearances of members of 
Iran’s Ahvaz, Baloch, Kurd, and Azerbaijani communities, among others, continue to take place. The regime also continues to mistreat Afghan refugees, including through physical abuse by security forces, detention in unsanitary conditions, forced labor, and even forced separation from families. As noted earlier, credible reports assert that the regime unlawfully recruits Afghan refugee children as young as age 14 to fight alongside Syrian government forces in Syria, and that Afghan children have been killed fighting in the Syrian conflict. 


The Iranian government represses religious freedom by directly engaging in the harassment and targeting of religious minorities, particularly religious minorities not recognized in the Islamic Republic’s constitution. Minority religious communities such as Baha’is, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Sunni and Sufi Muslims face widespread persecution, discrimination, and unjust imprisonment.

The regime has escalated persecution of the Gonabadi Sufi community, jailing at least 300 Sufis this year for protesting the arbitrary detention of other Sufi activists. Courts reportedly handed down sentences that included long prison terms, flogging, and internal exile in unjust trials. Human Rights Watch characterized the trend as, “one of the largest crackdowns against a religious minority in Iran in a decade.” Dr. Noorali Tabandeh, the Gonabadi’s 91-year old spiritual leader, remains under house arrest. 

Other religious minorities continue to suffer harsh treatment as well. Christians, particularly evangelicals and converts from Islam, experience high levels of arrests and detention. For example, in July 2018, the government detained Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian convert and house church leader, along with three members of his congregation, after a court upheld their 10-year prison sentences for “assembly and collusion against national security,” organizing home churches, and preaching “Zionist Christianity.” Individuals belonging to the minority Sunni population are reported to face government repression, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest, and torture in detention, and are routinely denied permission to build houses of worship on account of their faith. Baha’is face severe persecution by the government because of their beliefs, including harsh jail sentences for members of their leadership, limited access to public education and employment, confiscation of property, closure of businesses, and desecration and destruction of cemeteries. There were 67 Baha’is in prison in Iran as of July 2018. 


Court proceedings in Iran regularly fall short of the country’s own legal standards as well as international obligations to ensure fair trial guarantees, including access to legal counsel and a credible appeals process. The government frequently subverts efforts to protect individual freedoms by limiting access to lawyers and directly targeting human rights lawyers in particular. For example, the government arbitrarily arrested prominent human rights attorneys Nasrin Sotoudeh and Zeynab Taheri in June 2018 for undertaking regular work on behalf of clients, claiming – without providing evidence – that their work endangered national security. In another example, in June 2018, the government hastily executed Mohammad Salas, a Gonabadi Sufi, for allegedly killing three police officers. This followed a trial in which the only piece of evidence used to convict Salas was a “confession,” allegedly obtained from Salas under torture and broadcasted on Iranian state television. Iranian authorities also barred Salas from accessing his lawyer at any point before or during his trial. 

Detainees in Iran face appalling conditions in prison. Credible reports indicate the Iranian regime regularly uses torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading forms of punishment, particularly in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, which hosts many of Iran’s political prisoners. This includes allegations of amputations, blinding, and flogging. The Iranian government also uses physical and mental torture to coerce confessions. Political prisoners are routinely denied access to medical care or family visitation. In May 2018, the U.S. Treasury designated Evin Prison for its serious human rights abuses. Despite Iran’s denial of torture in its detention facilities, there is little transparency or accountability even to Iran’s elected officials. In January 2018, the prison granted limited visitation access to about ten parliamentarians following weeks of parliamentary inquiries and national media coverage. 

Reflecting the dire circumstances of prisoners of conscience in Iran today, several suspicious “suicides” occurred in Iranian prisons in 2018, including the death in custody of environmental activist Kavous Seyed Emami. To date, no transparent or credible investigations have occurred, nor has any Iranian official been held accountable for these deaths. The regime frequently claims custodial deaths were the result of drug addictions, although the individuals in question often do not have a history of drug use. 

The Iranian government continues to deliberately target and detain U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals, particularly dual-citizens, on fabricated national-security related charges. Iran has unjustly detained several Americans, including Siamak Namazi, and Xiyue Wang. Bob Levinson remains missing in Iran for more than 11 years. “The peopl Iran’s per capita execution rate remains among the highest in the world, despite recent reforms to reduce the number of executions for drug-related offenses. The government continues to execute persons for crimes that do not meet Iran’s international obligation to impose the death penalty for only “the most serious crimes,” and executions are often carried out in a manner contrary to Iran’s international human rights obligations. The Islamic Republic’s penal code continues to permit the execution of juveniles, starting at age nine for girls and 13 for boys. Iran continues to execute juvenile offenders convicted of crimes committed before they were eighteen years of age. 
Nearly 80 juvenile offenders remained on death row as of 2018, and at least three minors were executed in January of this year. 


Iran’s negligence for human rights extends well beyond its borders. In Syria, Iran-backed groups, including Lebanese Hizballah, have repeatedly targeted civilians. Since the Syrian conflict broke out in 2011, Iran has been among Bashar al-Assad’s most reliable partners, extending almost $5 billion in lines of credit to the Syrian regime and pouring resources and military personnel into the region. Iran has continued to back the Assad regime, despite its egregious use of chemical weapons and indiscriminate targeting of civilians. Tehran has deployed as many as 2,500 soldiers on the ground—including Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Ground Forces and Artesh (Iran’s regular army)—and utilizes locations like Tiyas and Shayrat airfields in Homs and Al-Kiswah base south of Damascus to launch attacks. 

In Iraq, Iran directly supports hardline elements associated with Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), including the designated foreign terrorist organization Kata’ib Hizballah. PMF units officially report to the Iraqi National Security Advisor, but several undisciplined units in practice are also responsive to the IRGC. There are numerous reports of intimidation, arbitrary detentions, and disappearances of Sunni persons by Iran-backed Shia militias. For example, Kata’ib Hizballah is reported to have kidnapped and intimidated local Arab Sunni residents in Diyala and Babil Governorates and prevented Arab Sunni internally displaced persons from returning to their homes.

Iran continues to provide military and financial support to Houthi rebels in Yemen. Since 2012, Iran has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this endeavor. Iran’s support of the rebels is helping to prolong the country’s civil war and worsen an already devastating humanitarian tragedy. According to the NGO Save the Children, Iran-backed Houthi militants reportedly engaged in the intentional targeting of dozens of hospitals in Yemen. 

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