- Iranian Man Arrested in Sweden for Alleged Role in 1988 Mass Executions November 13, 2019
The Associated Press reported today that an Iranian man has been detained in Sweden on suspicion of taking part in mass executions that occurred in Iran in the summer of 1988. Though exact numbers are unknown, estimates for the executions range from 3,000-5,000 killed in the span of four weeks in prisons across Iran.
The timing of the mass executions coincided with then Supreme Leader Khomeini’s decision to accept the UN ceasefire that ended the long and bloody Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a fringe Iranian opposition group, fought on the side of Saddam Hussein and continued their fight despite the ceasefire. Iranian authorities used the attacks and misdeeds of the MEK as a pretext to eliminate, in mass, political prisoners of all stripes, including former MEK.
The origins of the MEK in Iran in the 1960’s was a guerilla group resisting the authoritarian rule of the Shah, but most of its original leaders and founders had been killed by the time of the revolution. Their historical evolution to a cultish opposition group is complex. As historian Ervand Abrahamian notes , by 1987 the MEK “had its own revered leader…a rigid hierarchy in which instructions flowed from above…its own dress code and physical appearance” and “the burning conviction that its own radical version of Shiism was the one and only true interpretation of Islam.”
Upon ending the war with Iraq, Iranian special courts were set up to purge the country of dissent and instill fear in all political rivals. Former MEK were targeted, but political prisoners of all backgrounds suffered the same fate in a horrifying mass killing, in a brazen show of disregard for due process or law and order.
Though some officials vocalized their condemnation of this appalling episode, such as Ayatollah Montazeri who resigned in protest, Iranian authorities have never investigated or held culpable any of the criminal participants of the “prison massacre.” Amnesty International has repeatedly called on Iran’s government to do justice by the victims of this massacre and their families, through reparations and by holding to account those who participated in the killings.
If the man detained in Sweden was a party to this offense, then one small step towards justice has been taken. Ultimately, Iran’s government must stop trying to bury this injustice, undertake meaningful steps to acknowledge this tragedy and hold accountable those complicit in these crimes against humanity.
 Abrahamian, Ervand. Radical Islam : The Iranian Mojahedin. London: I.B. Tauris, 1989. Print.
- Iran Releases Several Political Prisoners November 4, 2019
In a welcome bit of news, a number of Iranian labor activists and journalists have been released from prison. This includes: Sepideh Gholian, Atefeh Rangriz, Marzieh Amiri, Sanaz Allahyari, Amir Amir-Goli, and Amir Hossein Mohammadi-Far.
These activists were a mix of labor protestors, journalists, and women’s rights activists. They were previously given heavy sentences and have now been released on large bails.
Earlier, a number of parliamentarians wrote a letter to Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi appealing for the release of some of these prisoners and others. They mentioned Rangriz, who had been sentenced to 11 years in prison and 74 lashes, and Amiri, who had been sentenced to ten-and-a-half years in prison and 148 lashes, among other political prisoners.
Rangriz and Amiri were arrested after being present during May Day labor protests in front of parliament this year. Amiri is a journalist for the reformist Shargh newspaper, while Rangriz is a women’s rights activist. (Read more about the May Day protests in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.)
The MPs stated Rangriz and Amiri had a constitutional “right” to join the demonstration and a duty to “report” on it. The signatories included MPs Ali Motahari, Elias Hazrati, Mahmoud Sadeghi, Mostafa Kavakebian, Parvaneh Salahshouri, Tayebeh Siavoshi, Fatemeh Saeedi, Hamid Zarabadi.
Days after these activists were released, labor activist Esmail Bakshi was also released on a heavy bail. Read more about the cases of Bakhshi and Gholian in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.
Many of these now-released labor activists were handed heavy sentences in September. At the time, Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi said the sentences would be revised after widespread outcry.
Raisi has attempted to portray himself as a supporter of worker rights, stating recently: “The grievances of laborers in the country are not small and we are in the process of addressing them. Hearing the grievances of those who have problems is our duty. The concerns of workers are understandable, and the responsible institutions must resolve the problems.”
He added: “However, sometimes some people under the cover of labor issues, have other aims they are seeking. We must not blame their actions on workers.”
While the release of these activists is welcome news, Iranian authorities must continue in this vain and allow for a free space for activists to express their grievances.
- Human Rights Watch Report on Impact of Sanctions on Iran October 30, 2019
According to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), U.S. sanctions, reinstated after the United States pulled out of the landmark Iran nuclear deal, have had a detrimental impact on the situation of human rights in Iran. The findings of this report are corroborated by the findings the United Nations Special Rapporteur, which also recently noted the negative impact of sanctions. Both reports indicate how sanctions have exacerbated economic hardship for Iranians, which in turn impede their access to vital resources such as medicines and food.
The report clearly shows how such impediments go against the “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) – ratified by Iran and signed by the United States – obliges states to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to ‘the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,’ as well as the right to an adequate “standard of living” that includes “adequate food.”
The HRW report notes that, despite stated exemptions for humanitarian goods by the United States, the nature of sanctions has prevented international banks from participating in any kind of financial transactions with Iran for fear of penalties due to secondary sanctions. The current sanctions system of the U.S. has thus made it nearly impossible for such humanitarian transactions to take place.
Contributing to this scenario is an atmosphere of hostile U.S. rhetoric, as the HRW report states, “US officials have indicated that the pain US sanctions are causing for ordinary Iranians is intentional, part of a strategy to compel Iranian citizens to demand their autocratic government to ‘change behavior’,” what HRW calls “a recipe for collective punishment that infringes on Iranians’ economic rights.” The aggressive language of some U.S. officials has created an environment of overcompliance, where companies and banks prefer not to risk U.S. punishment for facilitating even humanitarian transactions.
The HRW report discusses in detail the issue of medicine and medical supplies, a key human rights concern. While Iran manufactures 97% of its own medicines, critical life-saving medicines, especially for rare and complicated diseases are imported and now access to those medicines are affected by sanctions. In terms of medical supplies, 70% of supplies is reportedly imported, these imports are negatively impacted by sanctions and prevent the import of vital medical equipment such as MRI machines.
The full report from Human Rights Watch can be found here. While we continue to spotlight the issue of human rights in Iran and the reprehensible abuses of Iranian officials, we must also acknowledge abuses at the hands of foreign actors, especially when it is our government. It is incumbent upon us to call out these issues, particularly when we have the opportunity to make a real impact. As Americans, we can and must hold our government accountable when our policies violate human rights at home or abroad.
- Report of UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran October 23, 2019
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, has submitted a second report to the General Assembly. The full report can be found here. This second report is focused on the human rights situation of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, who are often treated as second class citizens and denied their full rights. The following is a brief summary of the report:
- The overall economic situation has created increased hardships for all Iranians, such as inflation, rising cost of living, and unemployment. The report notes that these challenges have been further exacerbated by the reimposition of U.S. sanctions and have affected the most vulnerable groups, which include minorities.
- The report further notes that the economic deterioration from sanctions have had secondary impact on access to basic human rights services, such as education and health.
- The flooding disaster from early spring has also contributed to economic hardship, with severe damage to infrastructure, housing, livestock and agriculture. The floods have negatively impacted millions of Iranians.
- The political situation is linked to increased repression and restrictions on basic rights, such as expression, press, and right to a fair trial.
- While the report notes a sharp decrease in executions in 2018 due to a change in law related to drug offenses, Iran’s execution rate is still one of the highest in the world and is especially appalling for including child offenders.
- The report also shows increased arrests of dual and foreign nationals, human rights lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, and workers assembling for legal protest.
- In the case of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities, the Special Rapporteur has raised concerns over disproportionate targeting for political activism, executions related to national-security charges, and discriminatory practices in business and employment.
- One issue leading to such discriminatory practices is rooted in the legal framework of the constitution, which only recognizes Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians as religious minorities. Under this legal structure, conversion from Islam is also prohibited.
- These inequitable practices have an impact on the daily life of minorities, for instance in the case of inheritance, in which non-Muslims cannot inherent from Muslims.
- The case of Baha’is in Iran is especially concerning as they do not have protected status and have often been the targets of discriminatory practices. Baha’is are the largest unrecognized minority group in Iran, which the report estimates at about 350,000 people. The treatment of Baha’is goes beyond discriminatory practices, wherein Baha’is face constant persecution.
- The report also notes the legal prejudice against the Iranian LGBTQ community, by highlighting not only the criminalization of same-sex relations, but the use of the death penalty in some cases.
- The Rapporteur has also expressed his concerns over the legal status and treatment of women, as well as increased repression of women’s rights activists and anti-hijab activists.
- In the case of ethnic minorities, Iranian Arab Ahwazis, Kurds, Baluchis, and Azeri Turks, which combined number approximately 30 million people, are sometimes subjected to discriminatory practices and are among the hardest hit by economic troubles.
The Iranian government’s continued repression of basic freedoms and discriminatory practices on the basis of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religion must be condemned. While the work of the UN Special Rapporteur is a welcome and needed step, more must be done to bring Iran into the international community so that it can be held accountable for its deplorable actions against its citizens.
- #WomenOfFreedom October 9, 2019
An online campaign organized yesterday by United for Iran, used the hashtag “WomenOfFreedom” to recognize courageous Iranian women, which have shown time and again that they will continue to fight for their rights to the last inch. Highlighting the activism of some in particular, the campaign honored Nasrin Sotoudeh, Sepideh Qoliyan, Niloufar Bayani, Atena Daemi, Azita Rafizadeh, Zeinab Jalalian, and Shekoufeh Yadollahi. Many groups and individuals participated in the campaign in a show of solidarity with these environmentalists, lawyers, and activists, who have been unjustly treated and unfairly detained.
Iranian women have seen two important recent developments for women’s rights in Iran. First was the citizenship law approved by the Guardian Council, and the second was Iranian women purchasing tickets for a soccer match at Azadi Stadium. Such policy changes are a consequence of the tireless efforts by these women to address the imbalances and repression of Iran’s gender-biased legal code.
Though these victories may seem small, they carry immense meaning to the women who bought tickets for the first in their lives to watch a soccer game, the mothers who will be able to apply for citizenship for their offspring, and the children who will finally receive the services they deserve. Of course, more sweeping reforms are needed to tackle the rightful grievances of Iranian women, beginning with the release of female activists who have done nothing but demand their basic rights.
- Iranian Women Buy Tickets for Soccer Match October 9, 2019
Iranian women have been allowed to purchase tickets to watch an upcoming soccer match between the national teams of Iran and Cambodia at Tehran’s Azadi stadium. As of October 4th, 3,500 seats in the stadium were allotted for women, which sold out immediately. This comes roughly one month after the self-immolation of Sahar Khodayari, a young woman who tried to enter a soccer match in Tehran.
On Persian social media, the hashtag “Come to the Stadium with Me” began trending. The government outlet ISNA stated: “Given the reception by women, more seats must be made available for women.”
The move to allow women to watch the Cambodia game comes after pressure from FIFA. After Khodayari’s death, FIFA said Iranian women were engaged in a “legitimate struggle to be allowed to watch soccer games in stadiums and called on the Iranian government to give Iranian women “freedom and security” to attend matches.
Youri Djorkaeff, FIFA’s executive officer, will be leading a FIFA delegation to Tehran to oversee the Cambodia game and the attendance of women at the match. Previously, a FIFA official had said that Iranian authorities had given a guarantee that women would be able to attend the match.
Despite there being no law forbidding women from watching soccer matches in stadiums, women have largely been prevented from doing so since the 1979 revolution. In recent years, there have been a few cases of women being allowed to enter Azadi stadium to watch soccer games. For years, Iranian women’s rights activists have campaigned to lift the ban, and have met pushback from Islamic Republic authorities and some clerics.
An official from Iran’s Football Federation has said no decisions have been made on allowing women to attend matches of Iranian domestic leagues.
- Iran Passes Citizenship Law in Favor of Women October 2, 2019
Iran’s legally codified patriarchy can be seen in its many laws that favor men to women. One such law has been on the question of citizenship. While Iranian law allows children born outside of Iran to become citizens based on parentage, this has only been applied to Iranian fathers with children born outside Iran. This discriminatory practice has barred Iranian mothers, who have married non-Iranians abroad, to apply for citizenship for their children.
More significantly, favoring male lineage has put children of ‘mixed marriages’ in Iran in a state of flux. Iran is home to millions of refugees and has a large migrant population, thus Iranian women married to non-Iranian men have not been able to secure citizenship for their children.
In May of this year, the Iranian parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing children of ‘mixed marriages’, in which the mother is Iranian, to become citizens. Of course, due to Iran’s complicated power structure, the bill required further approval from the Guardian Council—a 12-member body that interprets the constitution and reviews Majles approved bills according to Islamic rules.
After months of deliberation, the Guardian Council has reportedly approved the law, permitting Iranian women to pass their nationality to their offspring. The development is imperative to the lives of thousands of children in Iran who will gain access to public services, such as health-care. Though small, it is also a symbolic victory for women’s rights, but much greater measures must be taken by Iranian authorities to ensure equal treatment before the law for men and women.
- Family Members of Iranian Activist Detained September 30, 2019
Last week, Amnesty International reported that Iranian authorities arrested three members of a prominent Iranian activist and U.S. resident, Masih Alinejad, who is best known for her activism against compulsory hijab in Iran. Alienjad is also known for establishing “My Stealthy Freedom” an online platform for Iranian women to share photos of themselves without hijab. Those detained include her brother and the brother and sister of Max Lofti, Alinejad’s ex-husband. Lotfi’s brother, Hadi, was reportedly released 24 hours after being detained. However, Lofti’s sister, Leila, and Alinejad’s brother, Alireza, have yet to be accounted for. Before being arrested, Ali Alinejad made a video for his sister explaining the increased pressure on their family, especially on their parents to speak out against her activities.
The Iranian authorities’ detention of Masih Alinejad’s family underscores an all too common phenomenon of the Iranian government taking aim at activists’ families inside the country in order to silence individuals championing civil rights, both inside Iran and abroad. Alinejad is a vocal Iranian women’s rights activist and has afforded Iranian women space to join a social movement that simply calls for freedom of dress.
NIAC calls on the Iranian government to immediately halt its untenable practice of targeting the family members of Iranian activists advocating for improved human and civil rights inside the country. The interrogation and harassment of activists’ families is an intimidation tactic used by authorities to frighten and dissuade Iranians, like Masih Alinejad, from voicing their opposition against repression. The Iranian authorities must immediately release Alinejad’s remaining family members. Additionally, we call on Iran to respect the international human rights covenants to which it is signatory and allow for free expression—including the right to express dissent without fear of reprisals.
- Iranian Authorities Confirm Arrests of Three Australian Nationals September 17, 2019
While the detention of dual nationals of Iranian heritage have been on the rise over the last year, Iranian authorities have also been hasty in their treatment and arrests of foreign nationals. The arrest of British-Australian academic, Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, in September 2018, fits a pattern of arresting academics that work on the Middle East.
Moore-Gilbert taught Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute and has done research on Bahrain. Though some reports say that Moore-Gilbert had been sentenced to 10 years on charges of espionage, other sources report that Iranian judiciary authorities have said the conviction and sentence is yet to be determined.
In a separate case also involving Australian citizens, Iranian authorities have also confirmed the arrest of two travel bloggers, Mark Firkin and Jolie King. The couple was detained after allegedly flying a drone with a camera near an Iranian military facility without permission or a permit. The couple has been documenting their travels for over two years online, but reportedly went quiet ten weeks ago.
Though Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs recently denied that the arrests by Iran are politically motivated, such arrests have increased especially since the U.S. abrogation of the Iran deal. As tensions rise under the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, Iranian hardliners have taken more repressive measures and innocent people have continued to suffer the consequences. During the early stages of the deal, Iran announced easier visa programs to attract tourists from around the world. But such unjust arrests and brutal treatment deter visitors, reflected in the travel warnings page of the Australian government, which reads, “Iran overall, reconsider your need to travel.”
- Iranian Filmmakers and Artists Speak Out in Support of Nooshin Jafari September 13, 2019
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported last month that an Iranian photojournalist, Nooshin Jafari, was arrested by authorities in Tehran and had her home searched. Jafari has yet to be released and the reported accusations against her allege she was behind an anti-state Twitter account. Sources close to Jafari deny the allegations and argue she is the last person who would run such an account.
Jafari’s work has focused primarily on culture, arts, and films, which has evoked an outpouring of support from the Iranian film and art community. On September 1st Rakhshan Banietemad, a renowned Iranian filmmaker, took to her Twitter account to post a letter signed by 200 prominent Iranian artists. The tweet stated, “We, the family of cinema, theater, and art, express our deep concern for the safety and health of our colleague,” and further called for due process and legal rights to be upheld.
The accusation against Jafari also raises the issue of what is considered “criminal” behavior and the nature of free expression. Artists and filmmakers in Iran are limited by the moral restrictions of the state not only in their private capacity as citizens, but also as artists working in various mediums.
Despite these restrictions, Iranian cinema and arts have flourished, yet the growing crackdown and atmosphere of repression in Iran—especially since the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal–seems to have targeted artists in ways not long seen. These developments are particularly deplorable given the value and importance of arts and expression in any society.
- The Tragedy of a Female Iranian Soccer Fan September 9, 2019
For many Iranians, sports, especially soccer, are a source of great pride and joy. While Iranian fans gleefully cheer on their Men’s soccer team in Iran’s stadiums, Iranian women are painfully absent from the scene. Banned from watching soccer matches in stadiums, Iranian women have challenged the exclusion by calling for this basic right.
Some Iranian women have defied this restriction by dressing as men and sneaking into stadiums, an act for which they have been arrested. In fact, a 2006 film by Jafar Panahi, Offside, depicts the story of young female fans dressing up as men to enter the stadium. Unlike the film, the story in real life is much more tragic.
According to Human Rights Watch, Sahar Khodayari, also known as “Blue Girl”, was arrested in March for attempting to enter a stadium to watch a match. Suffering from bipolar disorder, Sahar’s health declined while in custody. After reportedly hearing that she would have to serve six months in prison, Sahar set herself on fire in an attempted suicide. Tara Sepehri Far, of Human Rights Watch, tweeted today that Sahar passed away from her injuries, rightly stating, “No woman, no girl, no human being should ever be arrested or put in jail for trying to watch the sport they love.”
- Women’s Rights and Anti-Hijab Iranian Activists Continue to Get Harsh Sentences August 30, 2019
According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Saba Kord-Afshari was recently sentenced to 24 years for peaceful protest against Iran’s mandatory hijab. Like many similar cases, Kord Afshari was charged with “propaganda against the regime” and “illegal assembly”. Authorities have also used cruel measures such as solitary confinement, to force “confessions” out of these activists.
Iranian women have long challenged their compulsory headscarf by pushing the boundaries and limits of the law. While Muslim women who choose to don the hijab often do so without exposing their hair, the mandatory nature of Iran’s hijab law has made Iranian women more creative about their fashion choices. The sight of Iranian women relaxing the way their scarves cover their hair has become commonplace.
However, in recent years Iranian women, with the support of many Iranian men, have protested more vigilantly against the compulsory dress code. Activists have come under more pressure and received harsh prison sentences, as Iranian authorities continue to enforce the repressive law. In fact, well-known human rights attorney, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has represented these activists, was given a sentence of over 30 years earlier this year.
- Iranian Court Sentences Journalist to 10 Years in Prison and Lashes August 30, 2019
As authorities in Iran continue a crackdown on all signs of dissent, journalists, dual nationals and activists have been further punished with harsh judgments. The case of Marzieh Amiri, a reporter for Iran’s reformist Shargh newspaper, illustrates the lack of due process and cruel penalties many Iranians have suffered for taking part in ordinary life.
As a journalist, Amiri is tasked with investigating and bringing news to people, however, Amiri was detained simply for doing her job. On May 1st, Amiri was taken by authorities while covering a strike by Iranian workers on Labor Day. As the Committee to Protect Journalists rightly stated, “With this heavy sentence, Iranian authorities are escalating their threats against journalists who report on economic issues amid the country’s ongoing crisis.”
Worse yet, Amiri is epileptic and is not receiving proper treatment for her condition, despite appeals by her lawyer. The charges against Amiri include “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security”. Such broadly described charges have often been used against Iranians for practicing freedom of speech, press and assembly.
- Iranian Activists Calling for Khamenei’s Resignation Arrested August 26, 2019
The General Intelligence Department of Mashhad and Khorasan province has announced the arrest of 12 people who wrote a letter calling for Ayatollah Khamenei’s resignation. The department claimed their arrests had nothing to do with their call for Khamenei’s resignation. It alleged they had connections with foreign forces and sought to topple the Iranian government.
The letter was released in early June and was signed by civil society activists. The relatives of the arrested signatories of the letter say they were pressured by authorities because of the letter.
Some of the signatories of the letter were arrested after they staged a protest in Mashhad on August 11th. They were protesting in support of Kamal Jafari, an Iran-Iraq War veteran who was one of the signatories of the letter and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. His charges included “insulting the Supreme Leader.” The protests were forcefully dispersed as authorities and protestors clashed.
Similar calls for Khamenei’s resignation have come from other Iranian activists, intellectuals and artists. In August, 14 women issued a different letter calling for the Supreme Leader to step down, grabbing the attention of many Iranians on social media. These women demanded not only a change in leadership, but also a fundamental shift in gender equality and women’s rights.
Though criticism of Khamenei in such an open fashion risks arrest and imprisonment, these activists have shown courage and a steadfast attitude toward the state of affairs in Iran. Rightfully believing that dissent is a right and duty of a citizen, these protestors are boldly challenging the status quo and the fixed position of the Supreme Leader.
- United Nations Special Rapporteur Report on Human Rights in Iran August 22, 2019
The United Nations Special Rapporteur’s (SR) report on the situation of human rights in Iran was released on August 16th. The following is a brief summary and analysis of Javaid Rehman’s report. The full text of the report can be found here.
- The flash floods in March-April 2019 devastated millions of Iranians, resulting in everything from displacement to infrastructure damage and harm to the agricultural sector.
- U.S. sanctions have devastated ordinary Iranians, triggered currency devaluation, and suffocated Iranian traders and businesses. This has resulted in increased inflation and austerity, which in turn exacerbated rising unemployment levels, poverty, and further limited the Iranian people’s access to health, education and other basic services.
- Freedom of expression in Iran remains a major issue, as do violations to the right to life, liberty, due process, and fair trials. The judiciary continues to implement the death penalty, including with regard to child offenders.
- Human rights activists and defenders, journalists, and women continue to be targeted, intimidated, harassed, and face unjust charges of acting against national security, among other tenuous charges.
- Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities, including members of the Baha’i, Christian, Azeri, and Kurdish communities, are continually targeted and prevented from fully celebrating their culture, religion, and language.
- While the number of executions has dropped, Iran still has one of the world’s highest execution rates. Though amending the anti-narcotics law helped to mitigate this, vague, politically driven charges like ‘moharebeh’ that carry the risk of the death penalty continue to exacerbate the issue.
- Iran’s government must adhere to its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Iran’s government must take seriously the Special Rapporteur’s current and previous recommendations–including his request to enter Iran on monitoring visits.