Areas of Focus
Within the general topic of human rights in Iran, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) focuses on the following areas:
- Arbitrary arrests and detentions of prisoners of conscience
Official statistics indicate that at least 6,000 people have been arrested since the presidential election of June 2009 for peacefully demonstrating their political views, for holding reform-oriented views, or for being related to those who do. Today at least 500 prisoners of conscience languish in Iran’s jails, the majority in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. They include a number of human rights defenders, women’s rights activists, students, intellectuals, and journalists. Arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders and others have continued as authorities crack down on dissent.
- Violations of due process
The Iranian Judiciary is increasingly under the control of the Revolutionary Guards, Ministry of Intelligence, and other security apparatus. These institutions interfere in investigations, interrogations, and trials. Thousands of citizens have been arrested without proper warrants or sufficient legal basis in just the last few years. Dissenters facing prosecution are routinely denied access to lawyers, held for months without charge, denied access to information about charges or evidence against them, charged with capital offenses such as “enmity against God,” forced to confess in show trials after being tortured, and given disproportionately harsh sentences—including death—for “crimes” as petty as throwing rocks during demonstrations. Extremely short trials, secret executions, and forced televised confessions are far from unusual.
- Torture and prison conditions
Torture is routine, systematic, and widespread, and serves a judicial system in which the main evidence in criminal convictions is a coerced confession. The common use of prolonged solitary and incommunicado confinement and the denial of access to legal counsel contribute to the problem. Prisoners of conscience have reported rapes, beatings, threats to family members, and life-threatening interrogations. In a highly publicized series of events, several reports of torture and prisoner deaths led to the closing of the Kahrizak Detention Center in 2009.
Prisoners of conscience, many of whom are held in Tehran’s Evin prison and Karaj’s Rajai Shahr prison, are being denied needed medical care, putting some at grave risk. They are routinely held in unhealthy, unsanitary conditions, denied family visits and telephone calls, and given very low-quality food. Some are also held in cells with violent criminals.
Since the 2009 disputed presidential election, the Iranian government has instituted a hyped-up campaign of executions, virtually all of which have followed unfair trials. Amnesty International estimates that Iran executed 388 people in 2009, 112 of them in the two months following the election. In 2005, when Ahmadinejad took office, Iran executed 94 people. In 2011, the number of executions skyrocketed to 670. Iran executes the highest number of people per capita in the world, including juvenile offenders, in contravention of international law.
Since January 2010, the Center for Human Rights in Iran has published dozens of reports of unannounced secret group executions at Vakilabad Prison in the northeast city of Mashhad. These executions were largely in violation of international human rights law and domestic procedures. Judicial authorities have continuously evaded questions about these executions and the names of those executed have never been officially announced.
- Legal discrimination against women
Women suffer legal discrimination with regard to, among other things, their obligations to obey husbands; restrictions on travel; divorce; the management, legal custody, and nationality of children; and the right to work. “Blood money” legally required to be paid for the murder of or injury to a woman is half that of a man’s, and a wife may be legally murdered if she is suspected of adultery. Women are subject to more rigid restrictions than men with regard to their dress and behavior.
- Ethnic and religious discrimination
Ethnic and religious minorities, including Baha’is, Shia Sufis, Kurds, Baluchs, Azeris, Arabs, and other groups, are subject to discrimination. Members of the Baha’i faith, the largest non-Muslim religious minority group in Iran, face intensified persecution, including cemetery desecration, arbitrary detention, home raids, property confiscation, work expulsion, and denial of basic civil rights. Iranian Baha’i youth continue to be denied the right to higher education, and any university found to have Baha’i students is ordered to expel them. Baha’i professionals are denied government jobs and face discrimination. As of 2012, about 40 Baha’is are in jail, including seven leaders who have been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
- Religious freedom
Because Iranian law includes provisions that refer to such vague and subjective concepts as persons who “deserve death,” women, children, non-Muslims, dissidents, and critics do not enjoy equal protection under the law, as they may be harmed under the pretext of “safeguarding Islamic values.” Those who harm these non-protected classes enjoy virtual impunity under such circumstances. Iran’s criminal code deeply violates the principle of equality embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Freedom of expression and media censorship
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported in December 2011 that Iran leads the list of countries jailing journalists, holding nearly one-fourth of all detained journalists as of December 1, 2011. Iranian officials have restricted foreign journalists from observing and reporting on political demonstrations. They often threaten human rights victims and their family members with the most severe consequences if they communicate with foreign journalists. Iran’s highest authorities have publicly announced that dissent is a crime and will be prosecuted, and they have incited violence against dissenters. Numerous rights activists, political activists, students, and others have been prosecuted and jailed on the basis of their published articles and statements. Universities are being purged of professors whose views do not accord with government policies. Censorship of printed and electronic media is pervasive and all independent newspapers have been banned. Internet bandwidths have been reduced to restrict usage. Short Message Service (SMS) systems are routinely monitored and blocked, and social networking websites are routinely restricted.
- Crackdown on civil society and freedoms of association and assembly
Iran’s most important civil society organizations and movements have been shut down or neutralized in a process that began when President Ahmadinejad first took office in 2005. Around 70 percent of human rights defenders have been jailed or exiled as of 2012, while the remainder cannot work. Members of women’s rights groups peacefully campaigning to change discriminatory laws have been systematically repressed. Hundreds of students have been arbitrarily detained and ill-treated for their activism. Organizing independent labor unions is not permitted and leading labor organizers are in prison. Many civil society activists have been banned from travel. Activists’ and other citizens’ email and telephone communications are often monitored, violating their privacy. In some cases, the Iranian security agencies’ monitoring of citizens extends to those living abroad.
- Right to education
Since 2005, hundreds of students have been barred from higher education in Iran. Authorities tasked with managing the country’s institutions of higher education flag the academic records of student activists, government critics, and students of the Baha’i faith, barring applicants from gaining admission to bachelor degree programs or from continuing their education in graduate programs.
Two regulations issued by the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council—the Moral Selection Regulations for University Entrance Applicants, adopted in 1987, and the Student Selection Criteria, adopted in 1988—require that the national university selection committee gain approval for student admissions from non-academic government organs, including the Ministry of Intelligence and the Prosecutor of the General and Revolutionary Courts. These agencies can block, or make conditional, an applicant’s admission irrespective of his or her performance on standardized examinations or academic merits. Under the regulations, authorities can reject a university applicant if they are “reputed to be morally corrupt,” “enemies” of the Islamic Republic or do not belong to “Islam or other recognized religions” (i.e., Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism).