Ms. Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, addressed the UN Human Rights Council on March 13, giving her first report to that body since her appointment in November 2016.
Her report covered the end of 2016 and was based on information that she received from Iranians living in and outside of Iran, various civil societies, and other stakeholders, as well as responses from the government on questions about human rights violations. Ms. Jahangir has no access to Iran itself, as the government does not permit that. While she did appear to receive more engagement, there are still challenges that need to be addressed “in a more positive and constructive way”.
One of the first items she mentioned was the 530 executions that were committed in 2016 and the 156 executions that have been registered since January 2017. The amending of the anti-narcotics law has not materialized. The majority of these executions continue to be for drug related offenses, which are not the most serious crimes under international law. She also noted that the adoption of the Juvenile and Children Criminal Procedures Bill needs to be a priority. The bill was introduced in August 2016. This law was meant to abolish the death penalty for children and to institute a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
Despite changes to the penal code in 2013, Jahangir noted that “judges continue to sentence children to death and to execute them once they reach 18 years.” Five young men, who were sentenced as children, were hung in 2016. Two more were executed earlier this year and Jahangir noted that dozens more remain on death row.
Torture and ill-treatment, including blinding and flogging, remain legally acceptable within Iran. “I call upon the authorities to put an end to any punishment which constitutes torture or ill-treatment. I urge the government to release the prominent Kurdish filmmaker, Keywan Karimi, who is currently jailed.” He is in jail for his artistic activities, serving a year in prison and awaiting 223 lashes, which is another part of his sentence.
She acknowledged that she has received a large number of documented cases regarding individuals who were allegedly subjected to torture and ill-treatment with a view towards getting a confession out of them. “My report described many instances were prisoners were subjected to prolonged solitary confinement, sometime during years of confinement,” said Jahangir. She also mentioned that cases of family visits and medical care being denied were widely reported.
The legal and justice system in Iran are not able to function independently of the government, which is essential to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as an administration of justice. Jahangir expressed concerns about recent developments, particularly a bill introduced in July that was aimed at lawyers who defend prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, and are themselves being detained.
Currently, accused individuals are not told their charges promptly, often are unable to choose their own legal representation and due to the influence of the executive branch of government on the judiciary, fair trials are unlikely for a majority of citizens. There are seven individuals being held arbitrary detention without knowing what they were being charged for or at the discretion of the authorities. As of this date, six of those seven are still being detained.
“All reports indicate a high level of control over citizens and that democratic space is severely limited,” said Jahangir. “National security charges still constitute the most powerful tool to silence any dissension voice in the country.”
While President Rouhani has spoken of the need for freedom for the press, the end of 2016 was marked by an increase in arrests of editors, journalists, human rights defenders and social media activists, in particular women’s rights activists. Eight human rights activists were on life-threatening hunger strikes within their prisons to contest the legality of their detention. House arrest has also been used in the absence of charges for a variety of presidential candidates or opposition election candidates.
“I am disturbed by the level of fear of those that try to communicate with me,” said Jahangir. There is a fear of reprisals, against themselves and their families, especially those that are still living in Iran. Disagreement with the authorities or differing views are often viewed as unpatriotic and those that criticize or disagree with the government are deemed enemies of the state or spies.
She urged the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience to ease the environment of fear within the country.
Jahangir also discussed women’s rights, which she indicated were a “matter of grave concern”. Legally, women continue to be restricted in terms of employment and movement. New laws may also limit their access to reproductive health care. Jahangir pointed out that women are second class citizens, as evidenced by the Iranian Penal Code, which places the value of a woman as half that of a man. Women also must deal with being chased and harassed on the streets for improper hajib. These rules were put in place to protect their modesty, but allow average citizens to now become the guardians of these women’s morality.
Religious freedom is also severely limited. Those of minority faiths are harassed and their homes and shops are subject to destruction or being shut down. Persecution of the individuals continues to increase and the violence against minorities appears to be on the rise.
Despite receiving replies from the Iran government in response to her report, Jahangir noted that many of these responses did not address the human rights violations that were raised in her report. While she noted the challenges the government faced with various sanctions, she noted that the people of Iran have dealt with much more and deserve to have their rights respected, especially “by their own government.”