TEHRAN 27 Feb. (IPS) A human rights delegation accused Wednesday the Islamic regime of Iran of imprisoning people for expressing their views on “a scale unmatched by any other country yet examined”.

The five-member team from the United Nations Human Rights Commission also criticised the Iranian government' use of solitary detention, "practiced on a large scale for long periods", particularly in the notorious Evin prison.

"It is the first time the working group has been confronted with such a practice on such a scale", said Mr. Louis Joinet, a French jurist who heads the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention team.

The group, invited by the Iranian authorities after the U.N. Human Rights Commission decided in April to lift its 18-year censure of Iran, spent 12 days reviewing Iran's judicial and penal system.

The Islamic Republic has long come under fire from Iranian dissidents and international human rights activists for its arrests of political activists, closed-door trials, and torture and executions of prisoners.

Tens of thousands of political dissidents have been imprisoned or killed since the victory of the Islamic revolution of 1979, bringing clerics to power after deposing the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and ending Iran’s 2500 recorded history of monarchy.

In a press conference held at the Laaleh Hotel, Mr. Joinet praised the Iranian authorities' cooperation with the delegation, saying the mission had been able to go to whichever prison it wanted and speak to any prisoner it chose.
“Prison staff was sent away to assure privacy”, he said.

Among leading prisoners the delegation talked to were Hojjatoleslam Hasan Yoosef Eshkevari, an outspoken defender of reforms in Islam, student’s leaders Ali Afshari and Mohammadi brothers, lawyers Naser Zarafshan, Abdolfattah Soltani and Mohammad Ali Daadkhah, imprisoned for taking the defence of the victims of “Chain Murder” case.

The delegation also met officials and members of the judiciary, which is controlled directly by Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the leader of the Islamic Republic, blamed for most of the crackdown on dissidents.
Mr Joinet said that major problems do remain, particularly regarding political prisoners in isolation.

He also spoke of sentences that were quite disproportionate with the nature of the crimes committed and that there was not so much a problem of freedom of expression, rather than of a freedom after expression.

“Iranians suffer large-scale arbitrary detentions and some prisons operate outside the control of the government”, he said, while raising concern about unaccountable prisons, detainees being held without access to legal defence, violations of freedom of expression and other abuses.

The UN group said it believed prisoners in one wing of Tehran's Evin prison were being held in solitary confinement for long periods without due process.

Mr Joinet said his team had been told that some prisoners were being held in "unofficial detention centres". MPs had promised that these jails would be placed under regular judicial authority, he said.

However, families and friends of political prisoners gathered for three successive days outside the Laaleh Hotel, trying to meet the delegation and protesting against the detention of political prisoners.

Eyewitnesses said, security forces and plainclothes men, controlled by the hard liners, arrested several of the demonstrators, preventing them to go inside the hotel.

During the team's visit, two prominent dissidents in Mr. Mohsen Sazegara and Mr. Qasem sho’leh Sa’di, both outspoken critics of the regime and its leader, were detained.
Mr. Sazegara was freed on Monday, replaced by Mr. Sho’leh Sa’di, who was arrested at Mehrabad international airport on his return from Paris.

In open letters, both had called for constitutional reform and accused Mr. Khameneh’i of wielding dictatorial power. ENDS UN RIGHTS MISSION ENDS 27203