AhwazHuman RightsPictureReportsStatement

Human rights situation in Iran in 2011, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Iran

In Khuzestan, reports indicated that several hundred protestors were arrested and live ammunition was used, with more than 30 people killed.e

There has been no improvement in the human rights situation in Iran in 2011, and in some areas there has been deterioration. The rate ofexecutions over the last 12 months continued at an exceptionally high level, with the minimum standards required in international law rarely applied. Iran regained the status of having more journalists in prison than any other country in the world. A number of political opposition leaders remain detained without charge since February. Non-government sponsored protests were brutally crushed. Ethnic and religious minorities faced systematic crackdowns. Human rights defenders and lawyers continued to be detained or forced to flee the country. Iran still displays a lack of will to cooperate with the international community on human rights issues. Despite assurances to the contrary, Iran has not accepted any visits by UN special rapporteurs or the High Commissioner for Human Rights since 2005, has responded to only 30% of correspondence from rapporteurs, and has

failed to focus on implementing the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review carried out in 2010. Our objectives for 2011 centred on persuading Iran to meet its international obligations on respecting the human rights of its people. In response to its failure throughout 2011 to do so with any serious intent, the international community has increased its scrutiny of Iran’s human rights record. In the UN Human Rights Council, the UK supported the establishment of a Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran. This passed by 22 votes to seven, and Dr Ahmed Shaheed, former Foreign Minister of Maldives, was appointed to the role in June. At the UN General Assembly in December, the annual resolution on human rights in Iran passed by an increased majority of 89 votes to 30. In the EU, the UK supported the introduction of restrictive measures against individuals in the regime responsible for human rights violations. In 2012, we are not expecting an improvement in the human rights situation, though we will continue to work for this. The Irania authorities have indicated that they

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intend to accept the visit of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the visits of two special rapporteurs in 2012. It is important that the country-specific Special Rapporteur for Iran is one of the visits permitted, and that all are given full and completely unrestricted access to any areas or persons they request. In 2012, the UK will support the renewal of Dr Shaheed’s mandate as Special Rapporteur in the UN Human Rights Council. Additional constraints have been placed on our human rights work as a result of the closure of the British Embassy in Tehran and the Iranian Embassy in London – a necessary step following the invasion of our Embassy compounds by Iranian regime-backed paramilitaries. However, the UK will continue to highlight abuses publicly and ensure that Iran’s record is subject to international scrutiny. The UK will work with EU partners to ensure that the perpetrators of human rights abuses do not enjoy impunity. We will support the extension of existing restrictive measures against individuals where

evidence of their involvement in abuses is available. Freedom of expression and assembly Iran drew worldwide condemnation for its crackdown on peaceful, legitimate protest in 2011. In February, Iran praised protests carried out across the region, while at home, several people were killed and hundreds arrested in a heavy-handed response by security forces to protests on February 14 by opposition groups in Tehran. For months following these protests, gatherings were met by a pre-emptive deployment of security forces. Prior to the start of these protests, two opposition leaders (and presidential candidates in 2009), Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, were detained in their homes. They have been held incommunicado since, with only sporadic visits by family members permitted. Despite a large security presence at their homes to prevent them from leaving, there have been several instances of gunfire targeting their properties, with no arrests made. On 15 February, Iranian parliamentarians chanted in parliament for them to be tried and executed – with the call for a trial echoed by the president. These moves to undermine the opposition were condemned in a statement by the Foreign Secretary, who called for their release and warned of strong consequences if their safety was threatened. This call was mirrored by the EU, G8, international NGOs and politicians around the world.

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The detention of these two leaders is all the more concerning given the parliamentary elections in 2012 and presidential elections in 2013. It is important for the credibility of both elections that they are held in a transparent manner, with all potential candidates free to participate.

Iran witnessed other protests and subsequent violence by security forces throughout the year. The worst of these was seen in Khuzestan, where local Arabs planned to march in solidarity with other protests across the region. Reports indicated that several hundred protestors were arrested and live ammunition was used, with more than 30 people killed. Protests occurred in Azerbaijan province in north-western Iranagainst the Iranian parliament’s rejection of a bill to maintain a natural salt-lake in the

area, Lake Orumiyeh. In August, Iran released over 100 political prisoners who were thought to have been arrested following the protests over the disputed elections in 2009. While a positive move, we remain concerned about the fate of the thousands of others arrested for

their part in protests since 2009 and call for their release. Iran should initiate a full investigation into the deaths and violence that have occurred during peaceful protests since the start of 2009, releasing the full findings. We are not aware of charges having been brought against many of those responsible for violently suppressing peaceful protests, nor of those that were detained following protests having served a sentence. We are aware of sentences being handed to a number of security personnel at the Kahrizak Detention Facility, though again we are not aware that the sentences were ever served. During 2011, the authorities further tightened controls on media and the internet. At least seven national newspapers and magazines were closed, some temporarily and some permanently. Restrictions on viewing foreign satellite broadcasts continued, with intensified jamming of broadcasts and destruction of satellite dishes by the security forces. Satellite companies confirmed that jamming of international

broadcasters, including the BBC Persian Service, emanated from Iranian territory.

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The Iranian authorities worked to reduce access to information through the blocking of further internet pages, including the British Government’s Farsi language website. Other tactics included banning and blocking the use of virtual private networks

(VPNs) and software used to evade censorship controls. Journalists and bloggers were targeted by the authorities. In addition to the

suspension of Etemad newspaper for printing an interview criticising conservative politicians and elements of the regime, a large number of journalists were detained in 2011. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists released a report at the end of 2011 showing that Iran has once again more journalists in jail than anywhere else in the world. The arrests of six journalists in September and October, accused of

working for the BBC and of espionage, were particularly concerning. We understand that all have now been released. However, too many others remain in prison. Human rights defenders The crackdown on human rights defenders and lawyers continued in 2011 with

arrests and detentions and the targeting of family members as a means of exerting pressure. As the year progressed, the pattern moved from the detention of highprofile lawyers, many of whom had already been imprisoned or forced to flee Iran, to journalists. In one example, two reporters, Maryam Majd and Pegah Ahangarani, known for their activism, were arrested and detained when attempting to travel to Germany to cover the Women’s Football World Cup as journalists. The increasing use of a prison term followed by a ban on a lawyer or journalist exercising their

profession is a particularly disturbing form of sentence, and ensures that human rights defenders are unable to resume their work long after they have been released from jail. The year began with the sentencing of two high-profile human rights defenders, Nasrin Sotoudeh and Shiva Nazar-Ahari, to eleven- and five-year jail terms respectively for their work in promoting human rights. Due to the nature of her charges, treatment in custody and the sentence passed down, the case of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent lawyer, was of particular concern. She was arrested in August 2010 and held in solitary confinement. On 9 January, she was sentenced to 11 years in prison with a further 10-year ban on practising law on charges of acting

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against national security, spreading propaganda against the regime and cooperating with a banned organisation (Nobel Prize Winner Dr Shirin Ebadi’s Defenders of Human Rights Centre). This sentence was later reduced to a six-year jail term on appeal. Narges Mohammadi, deputy head of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, first arrested and detained for one month in 2010, was also sentenced to 11 years in jail in September. Similarly vague and illegitimate charges are often levelled against human rights

defenders in Iran. The UK government continues to draw attention to these two key

cases as they are symptomatic of the persecution of human rights defenders in Iran.

Minister for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt called for both Nasrin

Sotoudeh and Shiva Nazar-Ahari to be released. FCO and EU officials have

requested further updates from the Iranian authorities throughout the year. The EU

High Representative, Catherine Ashton, also released a statement at the time of

their sentence, and has referred to them in other statements throughout 2011. The

Foreign Secretary gave a keynote speech at the “Imprisoned in Iran” event

organised by The Times newspaper in London in September, and met a number of

human rights defenders at the event, including Shadi Sadr, winner of the Dutch

government’s human rights award, and Mohammad Mostafaei, former lawyer to

Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani.

Access to justice and the rule of law

Lack of access to justice continues to underpin the majority of human rights abuses

in Iran. A large proportion of cases are highly politicised, with reports of intimidation

used as a means to extract confessions, lack of access to legal counsel, failure to

disclose the charges to the defence or accused, restricted consular access and

arbitrary sentencing from judges. There have been numerous reports in 2011 of

cases where the application of the death penalty by local courts has been rejected

by the Supreme Court, only to have the same application continuously returned until

accepted. Televised confessions in high-profile cases have continued, prejudicing

trials prior to their hearing. Many courts still operate in a closed fashion, with some

refusing even to issue written orders of a sentence until after it has been carried out.

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Corporal punishment in Iran has again been under the spotlight in 2011. In May,

reports emerged of the imminent blinding of two convicts by having drops of acid put

in their eyes, and in one of the cases, having part of their ear removed by a surgeon.

The barbaric nature of these punishments prompted an international outcry.

Although the sentence was postponed in one case, that of Majid Movahedi, the

courts attempted to proceed with the punishment in July. The punishment was

withdrawn at the last moment at the request of the accuser, who has the right to

request, or withdraw the “qisas” – an eye for an eye – punishment as they wish.

Death penalty

We were once again extremely concerned by Iran’s use of the death penalty in 2011,

including the scale of its use, methods of implementation and its application to

juveniles. Reliable NGO reports and local media reporting suggest at least 650

people were executed in Iran in the course of the year. This once again gives Iran

the highest rate of executions per capita in the world and puts them second in overall

figures, behind China. The vast majority (roughly 85–90 %) of executions were once

again related to drugs trafficking, with the vast majority of the remainder related to

violent crime or terrorist charges. NGOs again presented strong evidence that such

charges had been falsely applied to secure the death penalty for opponents of the

regime, including in the execution of a Dutch-Iranian dual national in January, who

was arrested during political protests in December 2009.

Iran continues to implement the death penalty in ways that contravene international

law. The most frequently used example of this is suspension strangulation, in which

the condemned is winched slowly upward. This barbaric method prolongs the

suffering of the condemned and is frequently used during public executions. Despite

public assurances from all levels of the Iranian government, at least 14 people

remain under stoning sentence in Iran. Although a stoning sentence has not been

carried out by Iran for three years, the threat of a sentence being implemented

remains. The British Government has consistently called on Iran both bilaterally and

in the UN to remove the sentence from its penal code.

We have seen the disturbing practice of the execution of juveniles continue in 2011.

This included the public execution of Alireza Molla-Soltani, a 17-year-old boy

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accused of murder in July, who was hung by suspension strangulation in front of a

reported crowd of 15,000 people. The practice of executing minors is prohibited

under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on

Civil and Political Rights, both of which Iran is a party to. This was specifically

mentioned once more in the annual UN General Assembly Resolution on Human

Rights in Iran.

Torture

NGOs reported numerous cases of torture and other ill-treatment against detained

persons in 2011. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in

Iran highlighted in his report of 23 September that he had received reports that

“frequently communicated the use of physical and psychological mistreatment and

torture”. In one of the most serious of the cases reported by NGOs, Javad Houtan

Kian, former lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, who was condemned to death

by stoning for adultery and whose case received international media attention, wrote

an open letter about his experience in jail detailing the horrific conditions and brutal

abuse received at the hands of his interrogators. The mistreatment described in his

letter matches that described in other letters and testimonies of those imprisoned in

Iran and it is likely that such treatment is state-sanctioned rather than the

independent actions of prison officials. FCO officials have highlighted concerns over

the alleged treatment of Mr Kian to the Iranian government, urging them to ensure

his safety while in custody and to investigate thoroughly any accusations of

mistreatment.

Migrants and refugees

Iran remains home to the second-largest group of long-staying refugees in the world,

the majority of whom are Afghans. The most recent estimates from the Iranian

Ministry of Interior and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees put the

number of registered Afghan refugees in Iran at 1,027,339. There are estimated to

be a further two million refugees who remain unregistered. Many of these have been

in Iran since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Iran continues to provide

some level of support to Afghans living in Iran, assisted by the office of the UN High

Commissioner for Refugees. However, shifts in economic policy, and the removal of

blanket subsidies on basic food stuffs, means many of the most vulnerable groups

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within the refugee population faced particular hardship in 2011. Iran’s attempt to

better regulate the refugee and economic migrant population shifting between Iran

and Afghanistan has also had a negative impact on the refugee population.

Uncertainty, and a lack of transparency in the means by which Afghan refugees can

apply to remain in Iran legally, has resulted in many refusing to re-register as legal

refugees, losing access to education, healthcare and livelihood support provided to

them by the Iranian government. Through the Office of the UNHCR, the international

community continues to encourage Iran to maintain support for its refugee population

and to continue to improve its regulation of economic migration in the region.

Freedom of religion or belief

The year began with the continuation of the arrests of a large number of Christians

involved in the setting up of house churches, and those worshipping at them. NGOs

focusing on religious freedom in Iran report that in 2011 over 400 Christians were

arbitrarily arrested for forming and attending house churches. A number of reports

and quotes from those detained also indicate that the majority of these were put

under pressure to recant their faith and convert to Islam. The Foreign Office raised

these concerns with the Iranian authorities throughout the year, making clear that

such behaviour is entirely unacceptable and contradicts the Iranian constitution and

international conventions to which Iran is a party.

The troubling case of Christian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani highlighted the plight of

Christians and other religious minorities in 2011. He was arrested and sentenced to

death in 2010, by a judgment delivered orally, on apostasy charges. At the time, the

Foreign Office raised concerns about this sentence directly with the Iranian

government, making clear that such a charge and sentence contravened

international law, urging Iran to rescind the sentence, or face an international outcry.

Iranian interlocutors for their part denied the sentence and said his case was

ongoing. In September 2011, an official written version of his verdict surfaced and

fears were raised that Pastor Nadarkhani’s sentence would be carried out

imminently. The Foreign Secretary released a statement condemning this sentence,

and Foreign Office officials summoned the Iranian Chargé d’Affaires in London to

protest at the sentence once more. A global campaign to save Pastor Nadarkhani

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began. Current information suggests that his case is under review by the Iranian

judiciary.

The Baha’is have remained a target for persecution from the Iranian authorities

throughout 2011. They are not recognised as a religion in Iran and are regarded

with extreme hostility and suspicion by the state. In April, the Iranian courts decided

to re-try and re-sentence seven Baha’i spiritual leaders who had been sentenced to

20 years in prison in September 2010, on allegations of security-related crimes, but

later had the terms reduced, with a number of charges overturned. Their re-trial

happened suddenly and behind closed doors, with NGO reports stating that the

accused were not given the opportunity to discuss their case with their lawyers.

Their original 20-year sentences were reinstated. The Foreign Secretary released a

statement condemning this and calling for the leaders’ release. They remain in jail,

with Iran ignoring international requests for information on their case. The Iranian

authorities also stepped up their campaign to close the premises of Baha’i Institute of

Higher Education (BIHE) across Iran. BIHE was set up in 1987 as a result of the

Iranian authorities’ attempts to prevent declared Baha’is from receiving Iranian state

education. In 2011, there was an increase in the frequency of raids on the homes

and workplaces of faculty members. Seven key faculty members were tried and

convicted, reportedly on the grounds of practising the Baha’i faith and on charges

relating to national security. They were all sentenced to between four and five years

in prison. A request by EU embassies to observe the trial, which the Iranian

authorities claimed was open, in line with Iranian law, went unanswered. In July, it

was reported that Baha’is in Sanadaj were summoned by authorities and warned

against taking part in “the 19-day feast”, a regular Baha’i devotional gathering.

Foreign Office officials highlighted these reports to the Iranian Embassy in London,

pointing out that this would breach international law protecting freedom of religion or

belief.

Sunni Muslims continue to face repression from state authorities who continue to

refuse to allow construction of a Sunni Mosque in Tehran. Reports from worshippers

indicate that the authorities are actively trying to prevent them from being able to

worship in acceptable alternative locations.

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There have been a number of incidents reported in 2011 against other recognised

religious minorities. Several occurrences of the desecration of graves in Jewish

cemeteries were reported, including in a cemetery in Damavand in April. NGO

reports have also suggested that Jewish worshippers also continue to be monitored

closely under suspicion of spying for Israel – a charge that is frequently used against

religious minorities during arrests.

Women’s rights

Iranian law discriminates against women, whose testimony is worth only half that of a

man’s. Gender discrimination also remains prevalent in employment, with only 20%

of Iranian women graduates finding employment in their sector upon completion of a

degree. Many of the country’s top political positions are also closed to women. Of

particular concern, the new Iranian penal code, which was still awaiting clearance at

the end of 2011, continues to prescribe the age of criminal responsibility for girls at

nine years old.

Women’s rights activists and journalists were targeted for harassment and

intimidation in 2011. Maryam Majd, a photojournalist, was detained at the airport on

her way to Germany to cover the Women’s World Cup. Her family were not informed

of her whereabouts until after it became clear she had not left Iran. She was held

over a month without charge and then released when her physical condition

deteriorated. Fereshteh Shirazi, a prominent member of the Million Signatures

Campaign for women’s rights, was detained in September. On 31 December,

reports emerged that she had been sentenced to three years in prison for her

women’s rights-related work. We are concerned by her arrest, detention and the

poor prison conditions she has been subjected to. Both of these cases are higherprofile

examples of the intimidation that activists and peaceful protesters alike have

faced in 2011. In July, the Foreign Secretary condemned this behaviour, highlighting

the cases of several other women’s rights activists, whose conscientiousness and

achievement should be celebrated, but instead they are behind bars.

Gender inequality in the workplace, in law and in society continues. Iran has made

no progress in addressing this in 2011.

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Minority rights

Iran is an ethnically diverse country. Along with a Persian (51%) majority, the

population is made up of Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, Turkmens, Armenians,

Assyrians, Jews, Afghans and Georgians. Despite this diversity, Iran’s ethnic

minorities regularly suffer discrimination on account of central and local-level

government policies. Although the constitution guarantees equality, ethnic minorities

in Iran are subject to discriminatory practices, including property confiscations, denial

of state education and employment, and cultural and linguistic restrictions. Iran’s

ethnic minorities continue to be affected by apparent government bias, fuelling

ethnic-based political violence, in particular among Iranian Kurds and Baluchi

communities.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights

LGBT people continued to be repressed by the law and in society. We received

numerous reports in 2011 of people who had been executed under article 108 of the

Iranian penal code, which prohibits sexual intercourse between men. In addition to

the clear objections that we have about such persecution, we also remain concerned

by the propensity for these charges to be falsely applied by those seeking to

manipulate the courts. While we continue to call for Iran to remove all discriminatory

laws, it is important that Iran safeguards the rights of all to a fair trial.

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