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U.N. Human Rights Day brings heightened scrutiny to abuses in Iran

World Human Rights Day, observed December 10, brings attention to the status of human rights in countries around the world. In countries like Iran, human rights abuses can go un-acknowledged due to lack of political will by Western governments.

Human rights observers have noted for decades that the Islamic Republic has engaged in systemic oppression of its inhabitants since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. For instance, Iran currently has the world’s highest execution rate per capita and regularly executes minors and women.

In its 2015 human rights report on Iran, Human Rights Watch said:

“Repressive elements within the security and intelligence forces, as well as the judiciary, retained wide powers and continued to be the main perpetrators of rights abuses. Executions, especially for drug-related offenses, increased sharply from previous years. Security and intelligence forces arrested journalists, bloggers, and social media activists, and revolutionary courts handed down heavy sentences against them.”

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The report also noted that nearly 1,000 prisoners were hanged in 2015. Additionally, torture remained a regular practice with prisoners often having limbs amputated for petty crimes.

Among offenses punishable by death were “insulting the Prophet”, same-sex relations, and drug-related offenses (the majority of executions in Iran now stem from drug charges).

Many had hoped that under the nominally reformist President Hassan Rouhani, elected in 2013, the practice of capital punishment would be reduced in Iran. However, during his tenure, over 2,500 individuals have been executed and torture has remained commonplace.

The treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in Iran has also been condemned by human rights groups. The National Council of the Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a political resistance coalition group, noted that Hassan Rouhani’s election in 2013 was almost immediately greeted by the arbitrary arrests of Christians and other religious minorities in Iran. Iran’s treatment of its large Afghan population, which has swelled since the early 2000’s, has also been condemned for its unfairness.

Suppression of journalistic activity has also increased in recent years. Reporters Without Borders has called Iran “one of the most repressive countries on Earth regarding freedom of information” and said that journalists often pay the price for internecine conflict in Iran’s government. Iran also scours social media website for dissent and has arrested individuals for asking questions about Iran’s actions online.

Violence against women in Iran is also among the most severe in the world.

Shala Lahiji, director of Roshangaran, a publisher of women’s books in Tehran, said in an interview with Radio Free Europe that abuse is interwoven into the fabric of Iranian life.

“It happens in private life and a legal complaint can destroy the life of a woman. In Iran, I think this is one of the main points, and then [there is] the culture that makes some forms of violence legal, meaning part of the population thinks [abuse is in keeping with the] traditions of society and of love. Women, who are victim of domestic violence, think that that their husband’s jealous reactions that turn violent are a sign of love and attention,” Lahiji said.

While outside observers had hoped that the end of the ultra-conservated Mahmoud Ahmadenijad’s presidency would usher in a new era of improvements in human rights in Iran, the opposite has occurred. While the world has been slow to respond to this realization, groups like the NCRI and human rights watchers have worked tirelessly to promote awareness of human rights abuses by Tehran.

More information about the NCRI, including their recent conference on human rights at the European Parliament, can be found on their website.

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