Feature

U.N. Rips Iran's Human Rights Record in New Report

An important reminder that the Islamic Republic's greatest victims are its own citizens.

A forthcoming U.N. report, obtained by Foreign Policy in advance of its publication later this week, condemns the Iranian regime for wide-ranging human right abuses, including the secret killings of hundreds of prisoners under mysterious circumstances.

The report, compiled by Ahmed Shaheed, the new U.N. "Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran," makes for dismal reading: a compendium of violations of basic rights ranging from lack of free expression and assembly to summary executions and torture of detainees.

Iran's authoritarian rulers have abused their people for centuries; thousands died during and in the immediate aftermath of the 1979 revolution. The picture improved somewhat under the 1997-2005 presidency of Mohammad Khatami but has darkened again in recent years.

Hundreds of political activists, journalists, students, filmmakers, lawyers, environmentalists, women's advocates, members of ethnic and religious minorities, dissident clerics, and Iranians with ties to Western countries have been swept into the prisons of the Islamic Republic since the disputed 2009 presidential election. The government has freed some but replaced its stockpile with others. About 500 activists remain detained.

Those convicted of crimes -- both political and otherwise -- faced the ultimate penalty more often in Iran than any other country except China. According to the U.N. report, there have been more than 200 "officially announced" executions in 2011 and at least 146 secret ones in a prison in the eastern city of Mashhad. Last year, 300 people were secretly executed there, the report says.

Hadi Ghaemi, director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, says that those put to death in Vakilabad prison in Mashhad appear to have been charged with offenses that would not merit the death penalty elsewhere. "The Iranian government claims they are drug offenders, but they don't give the names, so there is no way to know," Ghaemi said.

Those whose executions have been announced include juveniles. More than 100 Iranians under age 18 remain on death row, despite the fact that executing minors is forbidden by international covenants that Iran has joined, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The new report was made available to FP days before Shaheed is to present the findings to the U.N. General Assembly on Oct. 19. Shaheed, a former foreign minister from the Maldives who assumed his position Aug. 1, has been rebuffed so far in his efforts to travel to Iran.

The United States and other Western countries lobbied hard in the U.N. Human Rights Council for the appointment as a way to pressure Iran to improve its record on human rights. Shaheed is the fourth such envoy to Iran. All have received little cooperation from the Iranian government, though Shaheed's predecessor, Maurice Copithorne, was allowed to visit Iran once during the Khatami years.

According to the report, Shaheed received a letter Sept. 19 from Iran's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva expressing "a willingness to exchange views and discuss his methodology of work." Shaheed has asked to visit Iran in late November and "looks forward to a positive response to that request, as it would further signal the cooperative and constructive intentions of the Islamic Republic," the report says.

If Iran does not work with Shaheed to address his concerns, the next step may be to request referral to the International Criminal Court, Ghaemi said, perhaps focusing on Iran's use of summary and excessive executions.

Asked about this, Shaheed wrote in an email that he would "likely consider all options at his disposal" if Iran does not cooperate and the U.N. Human Rights Council renews his mandate in March.

Barred from direct access to Iran, Shaheed and his staff put together the report with material from local and international human rights organizations, witnesses, and relatives of detainees.

A number of individuals and organizations provided the Special Rapporteur with first-hand testimonies, the preponderance of which presents a pattern of systemic violations of the aforementioned fundamental human rights," the report says.

The 21-page document discusses more than 50 specific cases, including those of Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, the Green Movement leaders who ran against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009 and have been under house arrest since February.

Mousavi, a former Iranian prime minister, is said to have lost "a significant amount of weight."

Karroubi, a former speaker of parliament, "has not been allowed access to the family doctor, despite respiratory issues," and was allowed outside for fresh air only once for 10 minutes during a period of 186 days, the report says. He has been confined for the past few months in a two-room office occupied by security agents and psychiatrists who are trying to coerce him into making a televised confession, the report adds.

Besides Mousavi, Karroubi, and other relatively well-known detainees such as filmmaker Jafar Panahi and human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, the report mentions:

  • Bahman Ahmadi Amouee, a reformist journalist kept in solitary confinement in a cell that measures about 6 feet 6 inches by 4 feet 8 inches. He has been beaten and deprived of sleep, and his head was shoved repeatedly into a toilet.
  • Mohammad Davari, a journalist who videotaped statements from detainees who said they had been raped at the infamous Kahrizak detention center in Tehran. According to his mother, Davari has been tortured and is being held in solitary confinement.
  • Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand, a journalist and founder of the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan. Arrested in 2007, he suffered two strokes in prison last year but was denied adequate treatment, according to his wife.
  • Keyvan Samimi, managing editor of a defunct reformist magazine, who has developed liver disease but was denied treatment outside prison.

Another prisoner, journalist Reza Hoda Saber, suffered a heart attack after going on a hunger strike and died June 12. According to the report, Saber "complained of chest pains for hours before he was given access to medical care."

Even those who have been set free face continued punishment when bail of as much as $500,000 is not returned. According to the report, Iranian authorities hold onto deeds or promissory notes even when cases are resolved.

The Iranian mission to the United Nations had no immediate comment on the report.

The findings are likely to intensify the international outcry against Iran lately stoked by the U.S. charges that members of the Quds Force supported a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's U.S. ambassador using members of a Mexican drug cartel. Although those allegations have aroused skepticism, more significant bad news for Tehran could come early next month when the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to release new information about purported military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program.

Iran shows no sign of buckling to foreign demands on the nuclear front but has been sensitive to international campaigns regarding specific political detainees. Last year, for example, after a global outcry, Iranian authorities lifted a death penalty by stoning against a woman convicted of adultery, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Iran has also not carried out a death sentence against Yousef Nadarkhani, a Protestant pastor who converted to Christianity from Islam when he was a teenager.

Ghaemi said the new report could help alleviate the plight of detainees and perhaps keep others from being arrested. When it comes to human rights, Iranian authorities "only respond to pressure," he said.

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

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