Human Rights News

Iran

Briefing to the 60th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights

January 2004  
 
Objective  
 
The Commission on Human Rights should build upon the United Nations General Assemblyís resolution on the human rights situation in Iran by re-establishing a Special Procedure to monitor and report on Iranís implementation of the resolutionís recommendations. The Commission should also call on the Iranian authorities to implement the recommendations made by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its June report.  
 
Background  
 
Iranís standing invitation to the Commissionís thematic mechanisms was a welcome development in 2002.

However, Iranís human rights situation has steadily deteriorated since the 59th session of the Commission. In June and July armed plainclothes security forces attacked peaceful protesters. The Office of the Chief Prosecutor ordered the detention of scores of students, writers and journalists throughout the year. The use of torture in interrogations of political prisoners was highlighted by the death in custody of photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in July. The visit of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression was undermined by the arrest and detention without charge of at least one activist who spoke with him in Tehran.  
 
Iran held its first two dialogues on human rights with the European Union, but the sessions have failed to produce results.  
 
Absence of Due Process. The Office of the Chief Prosecutor, led by Said Mortazavi, routinely ignored Iranian and international law by ordering the arrest of journalists, students and writers who criticized government policies. Few of those formally charged or tried had access to an attorney, and many trials occurred in camera. Human Rights Watch is especially alarmed by the routine use of prolonged solitary confinement in combination with videotaped confessions. Some political prisoners, including Taqi Rahmani, Hoda Saber and Reza Alijani, have been in detention without charge for at least six months, much of it incommunicado. Siamak Pourzand, a 74-year-old journalist and activist, has been held in detention for over nine months and his family members are greatly concerned for his health.  
 
Freedom of Expression. Many journalists and writers remain behind bars solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. These include Akbar Ganji, Hassan Youssefi-Eshkevari, Abbas Abdi, Iraj Jamshidi, Taqi Rahmani, Hoda Saber and Reza Alijani. Lawyers who defend writers, journalists, and activists who have spoken out against the government are also at risk of arrest and detention. Plainclothes groups have also threatened those who advocate publicly for human rights. The government has not held these groups to account, and law enforcement forces often stand aside during confrontations. Nobel Prize recipient Shirin Ebadi was recently threatened by Ansar-e Hezbollah members while addressing students at al-Zahra University.  
 
In 2003, following the attack on the reformist press launched three years earlier which resulted in the closure of all but two reformist papers, the authorities turned to the budding internet media. Chief Prosecutor Mortazavi ordered the arrest of several popular weblog writers, including Sina Motallebi, and the government attempted to block access to web publications. On January 7, 2003, it was reported that the judiciary ordered the blocking of reformist news website Emrooz to Iranian internet subscribers.  
 
Torture and Ill-Treatment in Detention. The routine lack of respect for basic due process, as well as the frequent use of solitary confinement and prolonged interrogations heighten the risk of torture and ill-treatment in detention. Many freed political prisoners report regular beatings with cables on the back and soles of feet, assault with boots and fists on the head and torso, and forced immobilization in contorted positions. These methods are often used during and prior to interrogations and demands for videotaped or signed confessions.  
 
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concern in its June 2003 report about lack of access to counsel, abuse of solitary confinement practices, and breaches of due process.  
 
Discrimination Against Religious and Ethnic Minorities. The lack of public school education in the Kurdish language remains a perennial source of Kurdish frustration. Followers of the Baha'i faith also continue to face persecution, including being denied permission to worship or to carry out other communal affairs publicly. At least four Baha'is are serving prison terms for their religious beliefs.  
 
Recommendations  
 
The Commission on Human Rights should:
  • Re-establish a special mechanism to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Iran.  
     
  • Call on the Iranian authorities to facilitate visits by the U.N. Special Rapporteurs on violence against women, torture, and freedom of religion; and make public and time-based commitments to full implementation of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and other Special Rapporteursí recommendations.  
     
  • Call on Iran to:
    • ratify the CEDAW and CAT treaties, and announce an official review of reservations entered upon ratification of other major human rights instruments;  
       
    • release all political prisoners;  
       
    • authorize an independent and impartial investigation into judicial abuses by the Office of the Chief Prosecutor;  
       
    • abolish of the death penalty for juvenile offenders (persons convicted for offences committed under the age of 18) as a first step towards total abolition of the death penalty;  
       
    • amend the press law to safeguard freedom of the press and permit publications closed by unlawful judicial procedures to reopen;  
       
    • establish strict limits on the use of solitary confinement in prisons, as well as the use of videotaped interrogations;  
       
    • establish and enforce strict limits on incommunicado detention, and ensure prompt access to lawyers and family members for detainees. Courts should not admit as evidence incriminatory statements obtained through use of coercion; and  
       
    • initiate a program of action to identify and address discrimination against minority groups.