Iran: On one-year anniversary of Jina Mahsa Amini’s death in custody, heightened repression of women and girls and reprisals against protesters and victims’ families is deeply troubling, UN Fact-Finding Mission says
GENEVA (14 September 2023) – One year after nationwide protests began in Iran following the death in custody of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini, State harassment of women and girls is on the rise. Authorities are exacerbating punitive measures against those exercising their fundamental rights, including freedom of religion, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran warned today.
Jina Mahsa was arrested and forced into a van by Iran’s “morality police” in Tehran on 13 September 2022 for alleged non-observance of Iran’s law on mandatory veiling. She died in custody on 16 September. Her death sparked a wave of protests throughout the country. According to information received, which is under investigation by the Fact-Finding Mission, the State responded to the protests with unnecessary and disproportionate force, arbitrary arrests and detentions, unfair trials, extra-judicial executions and harassment of family members of victims, which continues until today.
“Jina Mahsa should never have been arrested in the first place,” said Sara Hossain, Chair of the Fact-Finding Mission.
“Since Jina Mahsa’s death in custody, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has failed to ensure truth, justice and reparations to her family, or to families of other victims, women, girls and all protesters who have been subjected to violations of fundamental human rights,” Hossain said. “Instead, the Islamic Republic is doubling down on repression and reprisals against its citizens and seeking to introduce new and more draconian laws that severely restrict further the rights of women and girls.”
A draft bill now under consideration before the Iranian Parliament, would – if passed - expose women and girls to increased risks of violence, harassment and arbitrary detention. The legislation proposes increased fines and prison terms for women and girls found in breach of mandatory veiling provisions. It also proposes harsher punishments including travel bans, vehicle confiscations, the denial of education and public services, including medical facilities, and sanctions against businesses.
Iranian authorities have stated that they have concluded investigations into Jina Mahsa’s death, finding it was not caused by an injury to the head or the body, but by underlying medical conditions. However, the Fact-Finding Mission said Government probes have fallen far short of international human rights norms and standards, including the requirements of independence and transparency.
“We are appalled that over the past year several protesters have died in custody following reports of torture, including Javad Rouhi, a young protester who was reportedly subjected to torture and remained detained even after his death sentence had been overturned,” said Shaheen Sardar Ali, Member of the Fact-Finding Mission.
“The onus remains on the State to clarify the circumstances and cause(s) of Jina Mahsa’s death in custody as well as that of other protesters, including Javad Rouhi, with full transparency and accountability,” said Sardar Ali. The Fact-Finding Mission notes that under international human rights law, there is a general presumption of State responsibility where a person dies in that custody.
In the run up to the one-year anniversary of Jina Mahsa’s death, authorities have also escalated the harassment and intimidation of protesters’ family members, including children. Dozens of family members, including those who have been publicly mourning and seeking truth and justice for their loved ones killed in the protests, have reportedly been arrested or summoned for questioning in recent weeks.
In a deeply disturbing development, there are reports that authorities have reportedly intimidated and harassed Jina Mahsa’s family, including Ahmjad Amini, her father, to prevent the family from mourning her death. Jina Mahsa’s uncle, Safa Aeli, was arrested on 5 September 2023 by security forces in Saqqez, and his fate and whereabouts remain unknown. Meanwhile, Jina Mahsa’s gravesite has been damaged on at least two occasions, according to media reports.
Furthermore, according to official sources, Jina Mahsa’s family’s lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, has been summoned for questioning and is standing trial on charges of "propaganda activity.” Two journalists who covered her case, Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammedi, remain detained and are undergoing trials on charges of “collaborating with a hostile government,” “gathering and colluding with intent to commit crimes against national security,” and “propaganda activity against the system.” Another journalist, Nazila Maroofian, has reportedly been convicted of “propaganda against the system” and “spreading lies in order to disturb the public opinion” and is now facing charges of “promoting vice.”
“Victims’ families have a right to mourn and commemorate their loved ones according to their cultural and religious beliefs, including through the holding of public ceremonies. Under international human rights law, the State must respect and ensure the right to seek truth, justice and reparations of victims and their families and refrain from intimidation, harassment, and reprisals,” Viviana Krsticevic, Member of the Fact-Finding Mission, said.
The information received by the Fact-Finding Mission preliminarily suggests that, rather than upholding human rights, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has refined and reinforced its capacity and actions to quell dissent, including with the use of surveillance technology. Anyone who participates in the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement, including through protesting or sharing their support publicly for instance on social media, is at risk of arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment and prosecution for serious crimes that may lead to the imposition of the death penalty.
The Fact-Finding Mission urges the Government’s “Special Committee,” established on 7 May 2023, to investigate the protests to examine these allegations of harassment and intimidation, and of alleged violations of the human rights of protesters, journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders and to make their findings public, in accordance with international human rights standards.
The Fact-Finding Mission also reiterates its call to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to fully cooperate with its investigations and ensure that all those affected have unhindered and safe access to providing evidence, including referral of their cases to the Fact-Finding Mission.
The Government has until now not responded to repeated requests for information by the Fact-Finding Mission, which will present a comprehensive report on its findings to the Human Rights Council during an interactive dialogue at its 55th session in March 2024.
Background: The UN Human Rights Council mandated the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran on 24 November 2022 to investigate alleged human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran related to the protests that began there on 16 September 2022, especially with respect to women and children. On 20 December 2022, the President of the Human Rights Council announced the appointment of Sara Hossain (Bangladesh), Shaheen Sardar Ali (Pakistan) and Viviana Krsticevic (Argentina) to serve as the three independent members of the Mission and appointed Sara Hossain as its Chair.
The Fact-Finding Mission takes this opportunity to thank all those, in particular victims and witnesses, who have already provided it with information. It renews its call to individuals who have information on human rights violations in the context of the protests that began on 16 September 2022, as well as the root causes of the alleged human rights violations, to make submissions (in English or Persian) at [email protected].