In Iran, protesting can be a dangerous business. Those who stand up to their government, asking for change, run the risk of being imprisoned, physically abused, and tortured. They may spend years in prison before any trial and then more years in prison serving out sentences. According to the Human Rights Watch group, Iranian authorities have detained more than 50 people related to protests in Tehran since August 2.
They called for Iranian authorities to drop all charges and release these detainees. Since January 2018, approximately 30 people have been killed in the protests, but there are no signs of impartial investigations into those deaths or the use of excessive force used to repress protests.
Continued repression as regime blames foreign elements
“The Iranian government is using the authoritarian playbook to respond to protests, criminalize peaceful dissent, and protect security forces from scrutiny,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Rather than blaming ‘foreign elements’ for protests, Iranian authorities should allow citizens to critique the government through their right to peaceful dissent.”
She also noted that a wave of protests has grown in response to the economic tensions and the perceptions of government corruption. The regime continues to claim that it was the influence of foreign government attempting to overthrow the mullahs. The protests have spread throughout the country, from urban to rural areas.
On August 3, a protester was shot and killed during protests in Karaj. Authorities have established a special committee to investigate his death, but the committee is comprised of members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and police counter intelligence units, which makes it unlikely that anyone will be held to account.
Legal rights are limited
For many of those protesters, the reality is that once they are arrested, they are at the mercy of the authorities. Iranian law limits access to legal counsel and conditions in the prisons are poor at best. Some individuals die in the prisons under suspicious circumstances, leading families to doubt that suicide is the reason, as claimed by the Iranian authorities.
Two cases of suspicious deaths happened in January in prisons that were located in Tehran and Arak, but the authorities claim they were suicides. Environmentalists and human rights activists have also been died in unexplained ways while in custody of the Iranian government.
Under international law, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are protected, and security forces are not allowed to use excessive force to restrain individuals and minimize any potential injuries. However, in Iran, torture is used frequently, and excessive force is common as security attempts to end protests and limit large gatherings of the Iranian people.
“Iranian authorities have repeatedly failed to investigate serious alleged abuses against protesters,” said Whitson. “While global attention is centered on the nuclear deal and the possible impact of U.S. sanctions, the EU and UN in particular should make clear that human rights are critical to Iran’s international standing.”