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Statement by Ms Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

 at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council  -  Item 4
Geneva, 13 March 2016

Thank you Mr. President

Excellency, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

I thank you for this opportunity to address the Human Rights Council for the first time since I took up my functions as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, in November 2016.

In ensuring continuity of the work of my predecessor, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the report, which I am presenting to the Council today covers the last six months of 2016. It is based on information, which I received from Iranians living both inside and outside of Iran as well as communications, which were sent to the Government on alleged human rights violations and the responses that I received from them. I also held consultations with civil society organisations and various stakeholders.

Some promising developments have taken place in the country, which need to be acknowledged. Among them is the signature by President Hassan Rouhani of the Citizens’ Rights Charter in December. The Government has increased its cooperation with the mandate as is also reflected by the higher number of communications, which received a response. I hope that this is a positive signal and that there will be deeper engagement between the mandate and the Government. So far, I have not been granted access to the country.

Mr. President,

There are challenges, which need to be addressed in a more positive and constructive way.

At least 530 executions took place in 2016. 156 have been registered since January. So far, the promise to amending the Anti Narcotic Law has not materialized. The majority of these executions continue to be for drug related offences, which are not the most serious crimes under international law.

It is urgent to accelerate the adoption process of the “Juveniles and Children’s Criminal Procedure Bill” which the Government introduced in August with the view to abolishing the death penalty for children and to institute a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. Despite the 2013 amendments to the Islamic Penal Code, courts continue to sentence children to death and to execute them once they reach 18 years. Five young men convicted as children were hanged in 2016; two since the beginning of the year. Dozens remain on death row with many having languished for years under a death sentence.

The use of torture and ill treatment, in many forms, including blinding and flogging, remains legally condoned. I call on the authorities to put an end to any punishment, which constitutes torture and ill treatment. I urge the Government to release the prominent Kurdish filmmaker, Mr. Keywan Karimi who is currently jailed in relation to his artistic activities and awaiting to receive 223 lashes on the charge of “illicit relations falling short of adultery”.

As did my predecessor, I received a large amount of documented cases of persons allegedly subjected to torture and ill treatment with the view to extracting confessions from them. My report describes many instances where prisoners were subjected to prolonged solitary confinement, sometimes during years of detention, as in the case of Mohammed Ali Taheri. Deprival of family visits and medical care were also widely reported. In the case of Ms. Akbari Monfared, who is currently serving a 15 years prison sentence, this denial took place after she published a letter demanding justice for her brothers and sisters who were reportedly executed in 1988.

Mr. President,

Independence of lawyers and the legal profession is essential for the promotion and protection of human rights and a fair administration of justice. Regrettably, this independence has yet to be achieved in the Islamic Republic of Iran and I am concerned by recent developments in this field, notably by a Bill, introduced in July, which, if adopted, could further undermine the independence of the Iranian Bar Association. A high number of lawyers who represented prisoners of conscience, political detainees or “national security” prisoners continue to be detained. Among them is Mr. Soltani a prominent human rights lawyer who received the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute’s Award in 2012.

The judiciary in the Islamic Republic of Iran is neither independent nor free from influence from the executive. An independent judiciary is the primary guarantee for the respect of the rule of law.

Broad and vague definition of certain offences, disrespect for the right of any accused to be promptly informed about charges against him or her, preventing the accused from freely choosing their legal representation are all contributing factors to violations of the right to fair trial and due process of law.

Over the past two years, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) ruled that the detention of seven individuals was arbitrary. All expect one remain in detention as of today. I am concerned by the fragile psychological and health condition of Mrs. Nazanin Rattcliffe a British-Iranian charity worker whose prison sentence was recently upheld by an Appeals Court. Since her arrest, her daughter, who only holds the British nationality, has been deprived of her right to be visited by her father and still has her identity document confiscated.

Mr. President,

All reports indicate a high level of control over citizens and that democratic space is severely limited. National security-related charges still constitute the most powerful tool to silence any dissenting voice in the country.       

While I was encouraged by the declaration made by President Rouhani in November about the necessity for news media to feel safe while doing their jobs, I have not received any report that this declaration was followed by concrete measures to change the current situation.

The second half of 2016 has been marked by a new series of arrests and detention of journalists, writers, social media activists and human rights defenders, in particular women’s rights activists. At the end of the year, at least 24 journalists, bloggers and social media activists were reportedly either in detention or sentenced for their peaceful activities. Eight human rights defenders were on a life threatening hunger strike to contest the legality of their detention. For the last six years, many former presidential candidates and opposition figures have been under house arrest in the absence of charges. Concerns have been expressed that the situation might deteriorate further in the context of the upcoming presidential elections.

I am disturbed by the level of fear of those who try to communicate with me. Several interlocutors living outside and inside the country expressed fear of reprisals against them or their family members living inside the country.

It is regrettable that often dissent or difference of opinion with the authorities is viewed as unpatriotic. Those who criticize or disagree with the Government are dubbed as enemies or spies.

Mr. President,

I sincerely urge the Government to consider the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience so that the climate of fear is replaced by an atmosphere that creates confidence and hope.

Violations of women’s rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran remain a matter of serious concern and deserve the full attention of this Council. Allow me to refer you to simply one provision of the Penal Code which illustrates the continuous second class status of Iranian women: According to the Penal Code of the Islamic of Iran, the value of a woman’s life is equal to half of a man.

Another issue of concern is the new legislation which restricts women’s labour rights. Other pending bills could negatively affect their right to sexual and reproductive health care services and their freedom of movement.

Women continue to be chased and subjected to violence and harassment for “ improper hijab” in accordance with rules established to supposedly protect their “modesty and virtue” and which enable simple citizens to become guardian of the “morality”. They also remain inadequately protected from all forms of violence.

Mr. President,

Adherents to the Baha’i faith continue to be systematically discriminated, harassed and targeted, their religious sites and cemeteries are destroyed and their shops are shut down. 90 Bah’ais are currently in jail in Iran. Other religious minorities such as Iranian Christians from Muslim backgrounds and members of various Sufi groups, including the Nematollahi Gonabadi order and members of Yarsan also experience violations of their fundamental rights.

There is also blind use of lethal force towards Kurdish Kulbaran. In 2016, Iranian border security forces reportedly killed 51 of them and injured 71 others, which is about twice as much as the previous year.

Mr. President,

I feel encouraged as the Iranian Government provided me with extensive comments to my report but remain dismayed, as these did not address the serious human rights violations that were raised in my report. I acknowledge that the Government has faced serious challenges resulting from economic sanctions but the people of Iran have faced an even greater challenge and deserve full respect for their human rights by all concerned and in particular from their own Government.

Thank you Mr. President