Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) strongly condemns the campaign of intimidation being carried out by the Iranian government against its citizens through the Basij paramilitary. NIAC calls on the Iranian government to disarm the Basij immediately and to end the violent repression of the Iranian people.
In the months following the disputed Iranian presidential elections, the Basij has been responsible for a brutal, escalating campaign of violence, both targeted and indiscriminate, aimed at silencing and intimidating Iranians attempting to express themselves freely and assemble peacefully.
The Basij is a volunteer paramilitary force that has evolved from a decentralized morality police into a full scale armed militia that receives orders from the highest levels of the Iranian government.
“To permit an armed, above-the-law, para-military group to roam the streets in the name of security is a contradiction in terms,” said Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council. “Security, free expression, free assembly and the full enjoyment of universal rights cannot occur as long as the Iranian government permits armed groups to suppress the Iranian people.”
Extensive documentation assembled by human rights organizations and the United Nations demonstrate that the Iranian government has utilized the Basij to terrorize its population through intentional physical harm, leading to scores of injuries and deaths. During the most recent events on the holiday of Ashura, witnesses described Basijis bloodying protestors with batons, wooden sticks and metal pipes, firing live rounds into crowds, and running vehicles over innocent demonstrators. Basijis on motorcycles use truncheons, tear-gas, pepper-spray, water cannons, chains, plastic bullets, and live ammunition to intimidate, injure, and kill peaceful demonstrators. In one instance, a protester was tied to the back of a van and dragged through the street. In other instances, students were thrown out of dormitory windows and off bridges.
The Basij’s repression is not limited to the acts of violence committed in public areas against demonstrators and bystanders, but also is carried out through violent nighttime raids in which they seek to suppress protesters chanting from their rooftops. Reportedly, Basijis break into homes, ruthlessly beat residents, destroy property and even shoot live rounds to silence people at their own residences.
It is apparent that the Basijis receive orders from the highest levels of the Iranian government and have significant access to arms, yet there has been no accountability for the violence they have inflicted upon innocent Iranians.
The United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 64/176 on December 18, detailing the “use of violence and intimidation by Government-directed militias” that have resulted in “numerous deaths and injuries.” The resolution expresses concern regarding the Iranian government’s “ongoing, systemic and serious restrictions of freedom of peaceful assembly and association and freedom of opinion and expression,” and calls on Iran to allow entry to and cooperate fully with UN human rights rapporteurs.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed shock following the upsurge in state supported violence during Ashura events and called on the government to restrain its security forces. “People have a right to express their feelings, and to hold peaceful protests, without being beaten, clubbed and thrown into jail,” Pillay stated.
Human rights organizations have submitted extensive documentation as part of Iran’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in February detailing the Iranian government and the Basij’s appalling abuses. These organizations have called on the UN Human Rights Council to address violations by Iran of several covenants to which the government is party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights (ICESR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provides that security forces must utilize nonviolent means before resorting to force, and such force must be proportionate and be subjected to an effective reporting and review process. The code also provides that firearms must not be used unless there is an imminent threat to life and only when strictly avoidable to protect life.
“Not only does the Basij paramilitary not abide by these international regulations, it is clear the force is being used in violation of international law as an armed pressure group to inflict fear, injury and death on those who disagree with the government,” said Dokhi Fassihian, of NIAC’s Board of Directors.
NIAC calls on the Iranian government to disarm the Basij, to instruct all security forces to refrain from the use of force against peaceful demonstrators, and to immediately halt state-sanctioned violence against the Iranian people.