Violations of human rights continue unabated in Iran
Amnesty International “again” called on the Iranian authorities to uphold their obligations under international law and ensure that no one is detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression or association.
Paris, 15 Jul. (IPS) Amnesty International and other human rights organizations expressed concern at the increasing violations and disregards of the Iranian Islamic regime for human rights, freedom of the press and the civil society, as seen by the recent closure of two pro reform newspapers and one news agency, the arrest of several women activists, 16 students and a popular union leader, described by the authorities as “hooligans”.
In a statement, the London based Amnesty International said it “greatly concerned by continuing human rights violations in Iran, including new arrests of human rights defenders and the high rate of executions, including the first execution by stoning confirmed by the authorities since a moratorium on stonings was announced in 2002”.
For its part, the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) “deplored the arbitrary and repressive methods of a regime whose Culture Minister recently accused the media of promoting a “creeping coup” against the government”.
In its statement, Amnesty International “again” called on the Iranian authorities to uphold their obligations under international law and ensure that no one is detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression or association, and to impose an immediate moratorium on all executions and take steps to remove the death penalty from Iranian law.
Human rights defenders arrested
Two Iranian Kurdish journalists and human rights defenders were arrested earlier this month. Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand, Chair of the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization (RMMK), was taken from his workplace in Tehran by plain-clothed security officers on 1 July. He was facing a one-year prison sentence because of articles he had published in the now banned Payam-e Mardom-e Kurdestan (Message of the People of Kurdistan), but it is not clear if this is the reason for his current detention.
Ajlal Qavami, a member of the RMMK board and former journalist of Payam-e Mardom-e Kurdestan and member of the editorial board of the bilingual weekly Didgah (Viewpoint), was arrested on or around 9 July after being summoned to the Revolutionary Court in Sanandaj. He had previously been sentenced to three years' imprisonment by Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Sanadaj for organizing a demonstration in July 2005 in protest at the killing of Showan Qaderi, a member of the Kurdish minority, by security forces. He had appealed against this sentence but his appeal is reported to have been rejected, although this outcome had not been communicated to either Ajlal Qavami or his lawyer before Ajlal Qavami's arrest.
Sa'id Sa'edi, another Kurdish journalist who was sentenced to two and a half years' imprisonment in the same case, may also now be at risk of arrest.
Students and others arrested on anniversary of '18 Tir' student demonstrations
Sixteen people were arrested on 9 July -- 18 Tir in the Iranian calendar -- the eighth anniversary of student demonstrations in 1999 which were violently suppressed by security forces.
Behareh Hedayat, the head of the Women's Commission of the Office for the Consolidation of Unity (Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat -- a student body), and five other members of the OCU's Central Council -- Mohammad Hashemi, Ali Nikou Nesbati, Mehdi Arabshahi, Hanif Yazdani and Ali Vafaqi -- were detained opposite Amir Kabir University of Technology. At the time, they were holding a demonstration to protest against the continued detention of eight other students arrested in May and June 2007 in connection with the publication of articles regarded as insulting to Islam. The eight deny any connection to the articles.
Ten other people were arrested on 9 July at the offices of the Alumni Association of Iran (Sazman-e Danesh Amukhtegan-e Iran-e Eslami [Advar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat]). Those held reportedly include members of the association and the mother of Mohammad Hashemi, who had gone there to enquire about her son. The arresting officials reportedly fired guns in the air, and confiscated computers and documents before sealing the office.
The 16 arrests were confirmed by Alireza Jamshidi, a spokesperson for Iran's Judiciary: "They are in prison and the investigation is ongoing regarding their participation in illegal gatherings and acting against security,"
Trades unionists targeted
Trade unionists are also being targeted. Mansour Ossanlou, head of the unrecognized Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed), was reportedly pushed into a car at around 7pm on 10 July by men in plain clothes who beat him. On 12 July it was reported that he was being held in Section 209 of Evin Prison in Tehran. Mansour Ossanlou spent eight months in detention between December 2005 and August 2006, and a further month between November and December 2006 in connection with his trade union activities. He had recently traveled to Europe in order to build international support for an independent trades union movement in Iran.
Women human rights defenders
Women's rights activists also continue to face reprisals for their activities demanding an end to laws which discriminate against women. At least three more women have recently been sentenced for participating in a June 2006 demonstration calling for reform of Iran's discriminatory legislation.
Delaram Ali was sentenced to 34 months of imprisonment and 10 lashes after being convicted on charges of "participating in an illegal gathering", "propaganda against the system", and "disrupting public order and peace". Aliyeh Aghdam Doust was reportedly sentenced to three years and four months of imprisonment and 20 lashes. Both are currently believed to be at liberty pending the outcome of appeals.
A third woman activist, Nasim Soltan Beigi, was sentenced on or around 7 July to two years' imprisonment, suspended for five years, for "participating in an illegal demonstration".
If imprisoned, Amnesty International would consider all three women to be prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate, unconditional release. Amnesty International is also calling for their flogging sentences to be commuted immediately. Amnesty International believes that the use of corporal punishment such as flogging constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment amounting to torture.
Women's rights activists also continue to face reprisals for their activities demanding an end to laws which discriminate against women.
Iran continues to have one of the highest rates of executions in the world. Amnesty International has recorded at least 120 executions since the beginning of 2007, suggesting that by the end of this year the total number of executions could exceed the total of 177 executions that Amnesty International recorded in 2006.
Two recent victims of the Iranian authorities' use of the death penalty were child offenders, whose alleged crimes were committed before the age of 18, and a third was a man who was stoned to death. The two child offenders -- Mohammad Mousavi and Sa'id Qanbar Zahi -- were executed in April and May respectively, in direct contravention of international law, which requires that no-one should be executed for crimes committed while under the age of 18.
The stoning execution of Ja'far Kiani was carried out on 5 July in the village of Aghche-Kand, near Takestan in Qazvin province, despite a 2002 moratorium on the use of stoning issued by the Head of the Judiciary, and a stay of execution which had been ordered in his case.
The stoning was confirmed by Judiciary Spokesperson Alireza Jamshidi on 10 July, who said it had been carried out because it was a final sentence, and judges in Iran are independent. It was the first confirmed stoning since the moratorium, although a woman and a man were reportedly stoned to death in Mashhad in May 2006.
There are grave concerns that Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, a woman sentenced in the same case, will suffer the same fate unless Iran's Head of the Judiciary intervenes immediately. On 11 July the Islamic Students News Agency reported that a judiciary official had said that the actions of the judge in the case were to be investigated by the Judges' Disciplinary Court.
The Judiciary Spokesperson said that a further 20 executions would be carried out in the coming days of people convicted of crimes such as "repeated rape, 'sodomy' and violent assault and battery".
While Amnesty International recognizes the right of governments to bring to justice those suspected of serious crimes, it opposes the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.
The organization does not have any details of those whose executions the Judiciary Spokesperson said were imminent, but is appealing to the Iranian authorities to stay the executions and commute all the death sentences of all of them.
Amnesty International opposes the criminalization of consensual adult sexual relations conducted in private and urges the Iranian authorities to review legislation with a view to decriminalising such acts, although there is no evidence available to Amnesty International that any of these 20 individuals at risk of execution have been sentenced solely for such consensual sexual relations.
On the other hand, Reporters Without Borders deplored the “arbitrary and repressive methods” of a regime whose culture minister recently accused the media of promoting a “creeping coup” against the government.
Judicial officials have in the past 10 days ordered the suspension of the daily Ham Mihan and the permanent closure of the daily Moshareket, while the new agency ILNA’s future seems uncertain after government pressure forced its director, Masoud Heydari, to resign.
“Iranian officials accuse the media of conspiring against the regime and of trying to destabilise it by means of investigative reporting”, the press freedom organisation said. “Such paranoid discourse is used to justify censorship and the closure of news media. Blocking access to news, summoning journalists for questioning, arresting them or making them pay exorbitant amounts in bail - the harassment takes many different forms”.
Reporters Without Borders added: “The president’s office, government ministers and the judicial system all work together to silence the remaining independent news media. After putting government supporters in charge of most news organisations, the regime is cracking down with increasing determination on all the others who do not swear allegiance.”
Ham Mihan was suspended on 4 July at the request of Tehran prosecutor general Said Mortazavi, who argued that it was illegal because there were procedural “errors” in the trial in 2000 when it was suspended for calling for an improvement in relations between Iran and the United States. The day it resumed publishing, on 13 May of this year, it ran a front-page story about the US-Iranian talks in Baghdad. It also defied a government ban on reporting the disturbances that followed the introduction of petrol rationing on 27 June.
The next day, another judicial decision confirmed the definitive closure of Mosharekat, a daily which had also been suspended since 2000. The former mouthpiece of the pro-reform Islamic Iran Participation Front, it was suspended during a judicial campaign against the opposition press. Defending its closure, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s press adviser, Mohammad Ali Javanfekr, said: “When a news media puts itself at the service of a political group opposed to the government, it becomes a tool for sabotaging and weakening the government, aiming to quietly overthrow it.”
ILNA director Heydari resigned on 3 July after several months of government harassment. A pro-reform news agency founded in 2003, ILNA has covered government crackdowns on women’s movements, students and workers in great detail. It has also been the target of bureaucratic sanctions ranging from a ban on attending government events to harassment of its reporters. Another Iranian news agency reported that a judge’s order was responsible for the fact that ILNA’s website can no longer be accessed.
Journalist Ejlal Ghavami of Payam-e mardom-e Kurdestan (a weekly that has been suspended since 2004) was meanwhile arrested on 9 July, exactly one month after a court in Sanandaj (in Iran’s Kurdish northwest) sentenced him to three years in prison for “inciting the population to revolt” and “working against national security.” He had been arrested two years ago while covering a peaceful demonstration.
Iran’s Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Islamic Republic’s president, Ahmadinejad, are both on the Reporters Without Borders list of press freedom predators. A total of seven Iranian journalists are currently in prison. HUMAN RIGHTS DENOUNCED 15707