The Amnesty International Report 2016/2017 painted a disturbing picture of human rights in Iran, particularly as it relates to women’s rights and the use of the death penalty. According to the report, authorities have renewed their crackdown on women human rights defenders and have increasingly likened any collective initiative relating to feminism and women’s rights as criminal activity.
Activists who campaigned for greater representation in parliamentary elections in February were subjected to lengthy, oppressive interrogations by the Revolutionary Guards. They were also threatened with imprisonment on national security charges. Discrimination is pervasive in law and practice, including in access to divorce, employment, equal inheritance, and political office and in the area of criminal law.
Several of the pending draft laws would further erode women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health. Women also have reduced access to affordable modern contraception as the authorities failed to restore the budget of the state family planning program, which was cut in 2012.
In September 2016, Khamenei issued national family policies promoting early marriage, repeated childbearing, fewer divorces and greater compliance to “traditional” roles of women as housewives and men as breadwinners. These policies have raised concerns that they would marginalize women who are victims of domestic violence even further, and increase the pressure for them to reconcile with abusers and remain in abusive marital relationships.
Women and girls are also inadequately protected against sexual and other gender-based violence, including early and forced marriage. The authorities have failed to adopt laws criminalizing these practices and other abuses, such as marital rape and domestic violence. Compulsory hijab laws continue to empower police and paramilitary forces to target women for harassment, violence, and imprisonment.
In addition, women who are being held in the prisons have limited access to their children, often just a few hours a week, and they live in horrific conditions, lacking basic necessities and enduring torture and mistreatment as part of their time in custody. Women’s rights to privacy, equality, and freedoms of expression, belief and religion are being targeted and continually eroded.
One of the key ways that the regime maintains its hold over the population is by use of executions. The death penalty is being used extensively against juvenile offenders and other offenders. Hundreds of executions were carried out after unfair trials and some of these executions were carried out in public. Human rights organizations, including the United Nations, have called for Iran to stop all executions, but the Iranian government has ignored the international concerns.
Despite Rouhani running as a “moderate”, executions during his presidency have actually increased. Those executed were mostly sentenced for drug offences, which do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” under international human rights laws. The Supreme Court ruled that those sentenced for drug offences had the right to appeal for any sentences that were handed down prior to the 2015 Code of Criminal Procedure adoption, but many death row prisoners remain unaware of this development and so have not attempted an appeal. Even those who do file an appeal, many find their sentences upheld. Others have been sentenced to the death penalty for vague offences, such as “enmity against God”.
After a mass execution of 25 Sunni men in August 2016, the authorities broadcast their forced “confession” videos, apparently to demonize the men and divert attention away from the flaws in their trials that led to their death sentences. At least two of the men were convicted of “insulting the Prophet” received death sentences, in violation of their rights to life and freedoms of belief, religion and expression.
Approximately 78 juvenile offenders remained on death row. They include 15 juvenile offenders who were sentenced to death under the revised juvenile sentencing guidelines of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code. Several also have been retried and still received death sentences.
Amnesty International was able to confirm that two juvenile offenders were executed during the year, although the total number could be much higher. Additionally, Iran has kept stoning as a method of execution and at least one woman remains under a sentence of death by stoning. Some consensual same-sex sexual conduct also remains punishable by death.
Members of minorities in Iran who spoke out against violations of their political, cultural, and linguistic rights are facing arbitrary arrest, torture, grossly unfair trials, imprisonment, and cases of the death penalty. Several foreign nationals and Iranians with dual nationality have been detained in Tehran’s Evin Prison with little or no access to their families, lawyers or consular officials. They have been sentenced to long prison terms based on vague charges, such as “collaborating with a hostile government” after trials before the Revolutionary Guards. The authorities also accused the prisoners of being involved in a foreign-orchestrated “infiltration project” pursuing the “soft overthrow” of Iran. But the convictions appeared to stem largely from a desire to limit their exercise of freedom of expression and association.
It is clear that Iran has not made significant changes to its human rights record, despite the campaign promises of their latest “moderate” president and increasing international pressure from human rights organizations. All the oppressive measures highlighted in this Amnesty International report showcase a fear of uprising by the Iranian regime. They are ruling by intimidation and fear, and their people are paying a hefty price for the mullahs to maintain their power base.