U.N. Report on Protest Crackdown

Iran committed serious human rights violations during the crackdown on the “Women, Life, Freedom” protests, according to a U.N. fact-finding mission report released on March 8, 2024. Anti-government demonstrations broke out nationwide after the death of Mahsa Amini – young woman arrested by the morality police for an improper head covering – in police custody in September 2022. The report to the to the Human Rights Council also concluded that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to her death.

The government response included extra-judicial and unlawful killings and murder, unnecessary and disproportionate use of force, arbitrary deprivation of liberty, torture, rape, enforced disappearances, and gender persecution. “These acts form part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against the civilian population in Iran, namely against women, girls, boys and men who have demanded freedom, equality, dignity and accountability,” said Sara Hossain, chair of the fact-finding mission.

In November 2022, the U.N. Human Rights Council had mandated the independent mission to investigate alleged human rights violations in the Islamic Republic. The council repeatedly urged the Iranian government to fully cooperate with the mission and allow unhindered access to the country. But Tehran did not respond to 20 letters sent by the mission.

“We urge the Iranian authorities to halt all executions and immediately and unconditionally release all persons arbitrarily arrested and detained in the context of the protests, and to end the repression of protesters, their families and supporters of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement,” said Shaheen Sardar Ali, a member of the fact-finding mission. The following are excerpts from the report.


Report of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran

The right to peaceful assembly is severely restricted under Iranian law. The organization of and participation in protests is effectively criminalized in relation to public gatherings considered critical of the Islamic Republic. The authorities labelled protesters in the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement, as “rioters” or “agents of the enemy”, thus framing conduct protected under international human rights law as threats to public order or national security.  While international human rights law allows for restrictions on grounds of national security and public order, such measures must be the least intrusive possible and are only very exceptionally permissible in relation to peaceful protests. The mission acknowledges that security forces were killed and injured and found instances of violence by protesters, but concluded that the large majority of protests were peaceful.

Use of Force

The State authorities have not provided detailed figures or disaggregated data on the individuals killed and injured in the context of the protests. However, the Government announced that the protests had resulted in the deaths of 75 or more law enforcement agents and injuries to 7,000 of them.  As of September 2023, a credible figure was of 551 people killed, among them as many as 49 women and 68 children. Women and men were injured in similar numbers. Deaths were recorded in at least 26 of the 31 provinces, with the highest number of victims in regions with minority populations, in particular in Sistan and Baluchestan province, the Kurdish regions of the country (Kurdistan and Kermanshah) and parts of Western Azerbaijan. The highest number of deaths recorded in one day was 104 on 30 September 2022, during the protests following Friday prayers in Zahedan city, Sistan and Baluchestan province.

The mission established a pattern of the use of lethal force by the security forces against protesters in situations where there was no imminent threat of death or serious injury. Acts of violence by individual protesters, such as throwing stones, burning tyres or obstructing law enforcement, do not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury that would justify the use of lethal force. Equally, violence by protesters at an earlier stage, or in another part, of a protest does not justify the use of lethal force, as there is no imminent threat. Protesting in front of a government building or a security base, chanting slogans, helping others or driving a car nearby are inherently peaceful acts. Victims killed and injured by lethal force while they or others engaged in such activities did not pose an imminent threat. With respect to the incidents investigated, the use of lethal force was therefore unlawful and the targeted killings of protesters constituted extrajudicial executions.

Arrests and detention in the context of the protests

The mission found a widespread pattern of the security forces arbitrarily arresting or detaining protesters for a range of protected conduct, such as dancing, chanting or writing slogans on walls and honking car horns. The authorities also arrested members of the protesters’ families who were seeking redress, their supporters (lawyers, medical personnel) and those expressing solidarity, teachers, artists, athletes and social media influencers. The authorities also arrested and detained those seeking to uncover the truth about human rights violations, such as journalists and human rights defenders.

Thousands of women, men and children were arrested throughout the country. Without providing any public data on the numbers arrested and detained, in February 2023, the Government stated that 22,000 individuals had been pardoned in connection with the protests.  According to some human rights organizations, the number of persons detained during the protests may be as high as 60,000. The authorities stated that the average age of those arrested was 15.

Security and intelligence forces also conducted targeted raids on protesters’ homes and workplaces and at their schools and universities during and after the protests, for arrest, search and seizure purposes. These raids even took place during memorial ceremonies or funeral rites. Protesters were identified by using intelligence and surveillance tools, such as drones and surveillance cameras. Security and intelligence officials present in significant numbers around hospitals apprehended injured protesters who sought medical care.

Torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

The mission established that Iranian public officials had intentionally inflicted acts of torture for purposes such as extracting a confession, obtaining information, punishment, intimidation, humiliation, coercion or for reasons based on discrimination, and preventing participation in protests. In addition, due to the threat of such treatment, many of those arrested, often young people, confessed in response to the demands of their interrogators.

Torture and ill-treatment typically started upon arrest and continued during transfer to detention facilities, including police stations, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Ministry of Intelligence detention facilities, and prisons operated by the State Organization for Prisons and Correctional and Educative Measures (the Prisons Organization). Detainees, including children underwent long and repeated interrogation sessions, during which they were blindfolded or hooded and subjected to various forms of physical and psychological abuse amounting to torture. That included physical assault, such as punching, kicking, beating, flogging and burning, the use of electric shocks, suspension and stress positions. Numerous detainees, including children, were forcibly administered, or injected with, unknown substances. Most victims reported that they had no access to medical care, despite the injuries suffered resulting from torture. Detainees were systematically subjected to verbal abuse, including insults of a sexual nature or based on ethnicity and religion. The detaining authorities also used various forms of psychological torture and ill-treatment, including solitary confinement for periods ranging from one night to several weeks, and threats of death, rape and harm to family members. The most egregious forms of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, occurred in unofficial places of detention run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence.

The mission established a pattern of sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated by the State authorities in places of detention. That included rape, including with an object, threats of rape, electrocution to the genitalia, forced nudity, groping, touching and other forms of sexual violence. The mission found that sexual and gender-based violence was carried out on women, men and children who had been detained, including LGBTQI+ persons arrested in connection with the protests.


The mission established a pattern of prosecution and punishment of persons for protected conduct, including participation in peaceful protests, the legitimate expression of opposition to laws and practices that discriminate against women and girls by dancing and clapping to music, chanting slogans and posting on social media in relation to the protests.

Criminal and revolutionary courts convicted and sentenced protesters for such acts on the basis of vaguely defined criminal charges, including “spreading propaganda against the system”, “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against security”, “disrupting the public order”, “forming of and membership in a group or association with the intent to undermine the country’s security”, “spreading lies with intent to disturb the public opinion”, “insulting the leader” and “insulting the sanctities of Islam”.

Use of the death penalty in the context of the protests

While the Government has provided no information about the number of death sentences imposed on protesters, there is credible information that as of January 2024, the courts had pronounced death sentences on at least 28 persons in relation to the protests. Of those 28 individuals, 9 young men were executed in December 2022, January, May, November and December 2023 and January 2024, while at least another 6 men reportedly remained under sentence of death, with some at risk of imminent execution at the time of writing. The mission recorded the details of over 100 individuals, including 5 women, who had reportedly been charged with offences relating to the protests that could potentially carry the death penalty. The legal proceedings against nine individuals who were executed were marked by serious violations of their rights to a fair trial and due process. Others were sentenced for crimes that either would not fall into the category of the most serious crimes or would fall under protected rights. One example would be Javad Rouhi, who was given three death sentences, including on the charge of “apostasy”, all of which were overturned before he died in custody on 31 August 2023, following credible allegations of torture.

Family Members

The State authorities took concerted action to conceal the truth about the protesters who were killed and silence their families. The families were harassed after speaking, including to the media, about the killings of or injuries to their loved ones, holding memorials, or lodging official complaints. Such harassment escalated just before the traditional mourning rituals held on the third and fortieth days after the deaths (chehlom) and on the birthdays of the deceased, when the families attempted to gather at grave sites.

Repression linked to the protests and support for the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement

Since Ms. Amini’s death, women and girls have increasingly defied the mandatory hijab laws, opposing deeply rooted gender discrimination in law and in practice. The mission has established that since December 2022, State authorities have adopted new measures to strengthen enforcement of those laws and regulations, affecting the fundamental freedoms of expression, religion or belief and the autonomy of women and girls, as well their access to education, health and livelihoods. There has been an increase in the penalty for non compliance, amid a broader campaign of harassment, intimidation, surveillance and violence, carried out against those women and girls who have publicly defied such norms and those in support of them, particularly men.

Situation of ethnic and religious minorities in the context of the protests

The death of Ms. Amini triggered a broad spectrum of reactions among the ethnic and religious minority communities in the country. Her Kurdish identity and the Kurdish slogan “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” or “Woman, Life, Freedom”, was a rallying cry to ethnic groups across the country, bringing to the fore their long-standing grievances based on structural discrimination and marginalization in law and in practice.

Immediately after Ms. Amini’s funeral, protests started in her hometown, Saqqez, then spread to minority-populated regions, including Khuzestan, East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Lorestan, Ilam and Sistan and Baluchestan. Zahedan city in Sistan and Baluchestan, Sanandaj, Saqquez and Mariwan cities in Kurdistan and Mahabad city in West Azerbaijan became epicentres of the protest movement. Over a year since the protests began, people continue to gather and protest with regularity in Zahedan, especially following Friday prayers.

The mission found that ethnic, religious and other minorities, in particular the predominantly Sunni Kurds and Baluchis, were disproportionately impacted by the Government’s response to the protests. In the early days of the protests, the Government portrayed the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement as a breakaway uprising, threatening the nation’s unity, and blamed separatist groups. The mission found that officials in minority populated areas consistently repeated this rhetoric against ethnic minority protesters, including during detention, when they were called “terrorists” and “violent”, on the basis of their ethnicity and religion.

Digital space and the protests

During the protests, the Iranian authorities imposed restrictions on Internet connectivity and social media platforms, and used online surveillance to disrupt or prevent the protests.

The mission has established a pattern of Internet shutdowns and the blocking of social media platforms and messaging services at protest times and locations. According to credible information, Internet disruptions started once the protests began on 17 September 2022, predominantly in minority-populated regions. Internet connectivity was virtually shut down in Zahedan on 30 September 2022 during “bloody Friday” and such localized disruptions continued systematically during Friday prayers in Zahedan throughout 2023.

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