NIAC Statement on Politically Motivated Sentencing of Prominent Human Rights Lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh

NIAC is deeply concerned by reports that prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh reportedly faces up to a 38-year prison sentence and 148 lashes on fabricated, politically motivated charges. NIAC unequivocally condemns the Iranian government for its arbitrary and politically motivated detentions in contravention of Iran’s human rights obligations, and reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of Sotoudeh, along with all prisoners of conscience.

Sotoudeh has for years defended those who have suffered rights abuses at the hands of the Iranian government. From her defense of Iran’s 2009 Green Movement protestors to her support for the anti-compulsory hijab activists of last spring, Sotoudeh remains one of Iran’s staunchest human rights advocates. Sotoudeh was released in September 2013—in what was widely seen as a good will gesture ahead of President Hassan Rouhani’s first trip to the UN General Assembly—after more than two years of imprisonment on politically motivated charges following her work highlighting juvenile executions in Iran and her defense of human and civil rights protestors.

News of Sotoudeh’s sentencing comes only days ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8th—and serves as a stark reminder of the restrictions and costs Iranian women continue to pay in their fight against compulsory hijab and systemic gender inequality. Since her arrest last June for representing three activists protesting compulsory hijab, Sotoudeh has endured two hunger strikes and refused to participate in her trial after being prevented from selecting her own lawyer. Her husband, fellow imprisoned human rights activist Reza Khandan, noted that she is being prosecuted on seven charges, most of which relate to her opposition to Iran’s compulsory hijab laws.

While the fault for Sotoudeh’s incarceration lies squarely with Iranian authorities, U.S. policymakers must carefully weigh the impact of pressure policies on empowering Tehran’s most reactionary forces and reducing our ability to hold Iran accountable to its human rights obligations. The Trump administration’s abrogation of the nuclear deal, imposition of inhumane sanctions, and ratcheting up of tensions with Iran has further emboldened Iran’s hardline forces that are not accountable to elected institutions. As hardliners seek to match Trump’s bellicosity and undermine moderates and the will of the Iranian people, human rights proponents like Sotoudeh often become the first victims.

Yashar Soltani Sentenced

Today, investigative journalist Yashar Soltani was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Two years ago, Soltani had released a report documenting corruption in the Tehran municipality having to do with giving away government property for political purposes.

According to his lawyer, his charges include “collecting and publishing classified information related to the Judiciary’s General Inspection Office and publishing false information with the aim of disturbing public sentiment.”

Soltani has 20 days to appeal his sentence.

Update in Esmail Bakshi Case

In the aftermath of the rearrests over the weekend of activist Sepideh Gholian & labor leader Esmail Bakhshi, 21 Iranian judiciary lawyers have signed a letter saying that Bakhshi can’t get a fair trial in Shush.

The lawyers say that to try him in Shush would have no “legal justification” given Bakhshi’s allegation of torture while in the custody of Shush judicial authorities.

Esmail Bakshi Rearrested

Labor leader Esmail Bakhshi was rearrested last night in Iran.

He was first held for a month over his role in the Hafte Tapeh worker protests in the city of Shush. Upon release, he alleged he was tortured, leading to public outcry and investigations by various government institutions.

Officials eventually stated that Bakhshi was not tortured and state television aired a film of Bakhshi’s “confession” on Saturday.

Another former detainee alleging torture, activist Sepideh Gholian, was also arrested again over the weekend. She has since called for a public trial.

Arrest of Amir Amir-Goli

Today, BBC Persian reported Amir Amir-Goli, a member of the editorial board of the leftist Gam magazine, was reportedly arrested. Previously, on January 9th, the magazine’s editor-in-chief Amir Hossein Mohammadi-Far and Sanaz Allah-Yari, another member of its editorial board, were arrested.

The magazine supported and wrote reports on the recent labour protests by workers of the Hafte Tapeh factory and Ahvaz Steel companies.

NIAC Statement on Recent Demonstrations in Iran

Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement on ongoing protests in Iran:

“Like many, we are monitoring the demonstrations reported in parts of Iran. We are particularly disturbed by reports of clashes between protestors and police forces in Isfahan and a heavily securitized atmosphere in Shiraz. We reiterate our call to the Iranian government to uphold its international human rights obligations, including to allow the right to free expression, to respect the dignity and safety of every Iranian and to refrain from violence.

“We stand in solidarity with Iranians who seek a government that prioritizes the economic prosperity of Iranians, respects their human rights, and democratically represents them.

“Ultimately, like any other country, it is up to Iranians living in Iran to decide their country’s destiny. Outside countries or interests who seek to exploit the legitimate grievances of Iranians in order advance their own ulterior agendas only undermine the will of the Iranian people. As outside observers, we will continue our efforts to defend universal human rights and hold the Iranian government accountable to its international human rights obligations.”

NIAC Welcomes Appointment of New Iran Human Rights Rapporteur

Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408

Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, Vice President for Policy of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement welcoming the appointment of Dr. Javaid Rehman as the next UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran:

“The appointment of Dr. Rehman to serve as the next Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran will ensure the continuation of important and neutral work aimed at holding Iran’s government accountable to its international human rights obligations. The recent arrest of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer who had previously been unjustly imprisoned in Iran, underscores the continuing failure of Iran to live up to its international obligations and the need for Dr. Rehman to pick up on the important work of his predecessors. The Special Rapporteur position had been vacant following the tragic passing of the last Special Rapporteur, Asma Jahangir, in February.

“NIAC was a key supporter of the reestablishment of the Special Rapporteur mandate in 2011 and has supported its subsequent extension in recent years. The reports produced by the Special Rapporteurs have helped document human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, discriminatory treatment of women and religious minorities, and deeply concerning executions. These balanced reports provide an important opportunity for the Rapporteur, backed by the UN and broader international community, to press Iran to abide by the recommendations of the report and move toward compliance with its human rights obligations.

“It is ironic that the appointment of Dr. Rehman follows the withdrawal of the U.S. from the UN Human Rights Council just last month. Rather than work through multilateral mechanisms that have proven successful at pressuring and engaging Iran, the Trump administration has chosen to isolate itself and reduce its leverage. Fortunately, the work of the Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran will continue in spite of this administration’s preference for unilateral demands over patient and good-faith multilateral diplomacy.

“We urge Iran to comply with the requests of Dr. Rehman, including any requests for meetings with Iranian officials and visits to the country. Moreover, we urge Iran to fully implement the recommendations of Dr. Rehman and past reports.”


NIAC Condemns Spate of Executions in Iran

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) released the following statement after the Iranian government carried out a spate of approximately twenty executions:

“NIAC condemns the Iranian government’s recent spate of executions and reiterates its call for Iran to uphold its international human rights obligations. The execution of a teenager who was arrested as a juvenile, Hassan Afshar, was in gross violation of international law. His execution violates protections against capital punishment for minors. The execution of as many as twenty people that went forward despite grave concerns over the use of torture, solitary confinement and forced confessions raises further major concerns that Iran violated its international human rights commitments as well as domestic laws. NIAC condemns these executions and urges Iran to implement the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, in his latest report.”


NIAC Condemns Human Rights Violations in Iran

Press Release - For Immediate Release




Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council released the following statement on the trial of Jason Rezaian, the recent arrests and prosecutions of social media activists, and ongoing human rights violations within Iran:

NIAC condemns the Iranian government’s recent violations of its international human rights obligations, including the closed trial of Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian and the recent actions against social media activists.

NIAC reiterates its serious concerns regarding the Iranian government’s detention of Jason Rezaian, as well as Iranian Americans Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedeni. NIAC calls on Iran’s government to either provide for fair trials or to release them. We are deeply troubled by the opaque nature of Rezaian’s trial, the insufficient access granted to legal counsel, and the fact that news organizations have been punished for publishing details of the proceedings. The Iranian government must at an absolute minimum afford basic human rights as related to their detention and ongoing judicial proceedings, in accordance with Iran’s domestic laws and international obligations.

NIAC condemns the arrest on June 7th of five bloggers, as well as the recent prosecution of Iranians for their presence on social media–including artist Atena Farghadani and filmmaker Mostafa Azizi. NIAC calls for their immediate release. These arrests and prosecutions were made under the auspice of tighter Internet controls as announced by the deputy interior minister and are a gravely concerning development that runs contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party. These actions show disrespect for basic freedoms of expression and dissent within Iran and must be reversed.
It is clear that the progress on multilateral negotiations between Iran and UN powers has provoked fear among hardliners within Iran’s government. These arrests are further evidence, in addition to the continued high rate of executions and other high profile detentions, that hardliners seek to commit abuses to undermine efforts to improve Iran’s external relations and intimidate political opponents and silence dissent inside of the country.
We remain hopeful that, as human rights defenders inside Iran have attested, a nuclear deal can open new opportunities to begin improving the human rights situation inside the country. We hope that those within Iran’s government who have promised a new direction, both in Iran’s foreign relations as well as in the relationship between the state and its citizens, utilize the political capital gained from a prospective nuclear deal to end these violations and secure a brighter future for the Iranian people.


House Advances Resolution on Americans Detained in Iran

Kildee Amir

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) pushing for the release of his constituent, Amir Hekmati. Photo via Politico

Washington, DC – On Tuesday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs heard testimony from family members of Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian, Saeed Abedini, and Robert Levinson before advancing a resolution sponsored by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) calling for the release of Americans detained in Iran.

All of the witnesses expressed dismay over the treatment of their relatives under Iranian detention, emphasizing their concerns about the psychological wellbeing of the prisoners. Witness testimony described the opaque nature of the Iranian justice system, routine physical and emotional torture, as well as inadequate access to legal counsel. All of the witnesses, with the exception of Sara Hekmati, had not spoken to their relatives in over a year.

The detentions are widely believed to be part of an effort by hardline elements inside Iran who oppose rapprochement with the West and seek to undermine the nuclear negotiations. Some legislators were careful to not take the bait. Kildee, who represents the family of Amir Hekmati, an Iranian American who has been imprisoned in Iran for more than four years, has led intensive efforts to condemn the detention and demand the former Marine’s release. “The release of Amir and the other American prisoners should be unilateral and separate of any agreement,” Kildee said at the hearing. 

Kildee warned that Iran could never achieve its place as a serious member of the global community if it persisted with the unjustified detentions. But he also cautioned his colleagues, “we should not conflate the freedom of these Americans with the items that are being negotiated regarding the nuclear capabilities of Iran.”

However, many lawmakers in attendance argued otherwise. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) pointed out that Congress recently passed a law giving it the right to review any agreement reached during the nuclear negotiations. “Any deal with Iran is dead on arrival that doesn’t include the release of these prisoners,” he said. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), along with many of his Republican colleagues on the committee, said that negotiations on the nuclear issue should be stopped until these prisoners are released.

“While our focus this morning is the release of these Americans, these cases do call into question the integrity of the diplomacy surrounding Iran’s nuclear program,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the committee chairman. 

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) went even further. “I would like to propose legislation that would suggest that if the mullah regime continues to hold these hostages, that any representative of the mullah regime that goes outside the borders of Iran would be susceptible of being taken into custody and held until the hostages are free,” he said.

Following the testimony the committee unanimously passed House Resolution 233, which calls for the immediate release of all Americans currently detained in Iran, and for the Iranian government to cooperate in providing information in regards to the whereabouts of any Americans who have gone missing within its borders. The resolution is co-sponsored by more than 160 members of the House and is expected to pass easily barring controversial changes. The Senate passed a similar resolution last month.


NIAC Statement on Congressional Human Rights Resolution

Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6325

 The National Iranian American Council issued the following statement on H.Res.754, a non-binding resolution introduced in the House of Representatives condemning the government of Iran for its gross human rights violations:

“NIAC and the Iranian-American community continue to have serious concerns regarding the systemic violation of human rights in Iran, and want to see these concerns addressed.  That is one of the many reasons why NIAC supports diplomacy towards a nuclear agreement that removes the threat of war and begins the process of removing punishing sanctions.  Such a deal, as Iranian human rights defenders have continuously attested, can benefit the human rights situation by helping eliminate the supposed justifications for the harsh security atmosphere in Iran and by lifting pressure that is squeezing ordinary Iranians, particularly in Iran’s middle class.  Moreover, a deal can open up new diplomatic channels through which to address human rights concerns.

“NIAC supports H.Res.754 in principle, but has strong reservations regarding the timing of the measure and fears that opponents of negotiations in both Washington and Tehran will use the non-binding resolution as a justification for undermining negotiations.  The nuclear talks have already created new channels to address other issues of concern with Iran, including human rights and Americans imprisoned in Iran.  As the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran stated, the nuclear negotiations ‘have opened up more communications channels with Iran and…greater potential to communicate interests on human rights through these channels.’   A non-binding resolution can be an important gesture by Congress, but it should not be allowed to create barriers to the tangible benefits created by diplomacy. 

“The human rights situation in Iran is deplorable. Any effort to exploit the situation as a means to scuttle a diplomatic agreement that can actually improve human rights in Iran are doing the Iranian people a grave disservice. Those in Congress who care about Iranian human rights should support a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute and ensure this non-binding resolution is not used as a platform for those seeking to block a deal.”


NIAC Statement on Human Rights Report, Executions and Acid Attacks in Iran

Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6325

The National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”) issued the following statement in response to the release of a new report from the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran:

NIAC welcomes the recent report from Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The monitor is a critical international mechanism to investigate and address the human rights situation in Iran. NIAC condemns the continued violations of human rights in Iran and hopes that the United Nations Human Rights Council will continue to renew the Special Rapporteur’s mandate until Iran fully resolves outstanding international concerns with regard to its human rights situation.

Dr. Shaheed’s report once again highlights that Iran has yet to systematically address the human rights abuses raised by the monitor. Critically, the rate of executions has continued to spike at an alarming rate. Tragically, this past Saturday, Iran proceeded with the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari, despite an international call pressing for a stay on her sentence. Jabbari was charged with murder after she killed an attacker who allegedly attempted to rape her. Jabbari’s case is one in a series of troubling executions over the past year, and NIAC condemns this particular execution and reiterates its call for a halt on all executions.

The Special Rapporteur’s report likewise calls for Iran to unconditionally release all those suffering under arbitrary detention in Iran, including journalists, human rights defenders, and religious minorities. In this context, NIAC reiterates its particular concern over the detentions of Washington Post journalist, Jason Rezaian, and two other Iranian Americans, Amir Hekmati and Pastor Saeed Abedini. NIAC calls on Iranian authorities to uphold their international human rights obligations especially with respect to these cases.

NIAC is also gravely troubled by the spate of acid attacks directed at Iranian women in Isfahan. Over the past few weeks, Iranian women have been terrorized by these attacks. While NIAC appreciates the recent statements from Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani promising to bring the attackers to justice, NIAC is concerned by the suppression of peaceful protests regarding the acid attacks in Isfahan over this past weekend. Echoing the Special Rapporteur’s call for Iran to respect Iranians’ civil and political rights, NIAC calls on Iranian authorities to bring the attackers to justice and permit peaceful political activities directed against the acid attacks to take place.

NIAC further continues to urge the international community to support a multilateral, diplomatic mechanism — like that of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate — to effectively address Iran’s human rights situation. Moreover, as the Special Rapporteur notes in his latest report, Iran “possesses the basic tools necessary to address a wide range of recurrent human rights concerns,” and NIAC reiterates its call for Iran utilize those tools to create a more favorable climate for human rights.