In 2018, the pressure upon and suppression of human rights activists in Iran intensified through detention, threats and imprisonment. Iranian authorities view human rights defenders as threats to the security of the state.
The report on the condition of Iranian human rights defenders in 2018 coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in February 1979. We have chosen the second half of February for publication of the report because it marks the start of the darkest era in modern Iranian history with regards to the persecution of human rights defenders. A historical analysis of the situation of human rights defenders in the last 40 years is beyond the scope of this report. But this report shows that the persecution and crackdown of human rights defenders continues and is even intensified 40 years after the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The report also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. 20 years ago, on December 19 1998, the UN General Assembly adopted Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, officially known as Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
The first Article of the Declaration states:, “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.”
At the declaration’s 20th anniversary, Iran Human Rights (IHR) provides the current report about the condition of 19 human rights defenders in Iran, their arrest, torture, unlawful imprisonments and authorities’ refusal of providing medical treatment during imprisonment. The gravity of the situation has been underlined in the recent report of Michael Frost, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
The following report does not name all of the suppressed human rights activists in Iran. Based on the definition of human rights defenders in a recent report by Amnesty International: “Human rights defenders come from all walks of life. They are students, community leaders, journalists, lawyers, victims of abuses and their families, health professionals, teachers, trade unionists, whistle-blowers, farmers, environmental activists and more. They can defend rights as part of their jobs or in a voluntary capacity”.
In this context, the number of human rights defenders in Iran are so high that we are afraid no report can count all of them. Moreover, human rights defenders in ethnic regions of Iran, such as Baluchestan and Khuzestan provinces, suffer from another problem. These areas are the black holes of Iran regarding human rights violations because the authorities impose tougher suppression over activists. The authorities suppress even peaceful voices, claiming they are connected to armed anti-government groups.
During the past year, we witnessed the further deterioration of the human rights defenders’ conditions. Lawyers, who played a progressive role in Iranian civil society, came under an unprecedented wave of repression. Some lawyers were arrested, tried, and some were consequently sentenced to long jail terms. You can read about them in this report.
In 2018 many human rights defenders were persecuted, arrested and sentenced to long jail terms for union activities or defending the rights of teachers, truck drivers, sugarcane workers or other workers. Likewise, many of those who protest against the compulsory hijab law and numerous environmentalists were arrested, tortured and imprisoned. We name only a few of them in this report and hope to be able to include more people in our future reports.
The imprisoned human rights activists are facing many problems in prisons, including lack of access to proper medical care. In many cases, they face more limitations in prisons than other prisoners. For authorities, it seems to be a systematic method of putting additional pressure on human rights defenders.
On the launch of this report, IHR calls on the international community to draw special attention to the condition of human rights defenders in Iran.
IHR director, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, says: “Unfortunately, the international community has not reacted properly in order to address the unprecedented repression against human rights defenders in Iran. Human rights defenders and the civil movements they represent, are the pillars of a peaceful transition towards the establishment of a system that can guarantee the respect of human rights in Iran.”
In 2019, Iran will have its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR). During the last UPR review in 2014, Iran received 16 recommendations relating directly or indirectly to human rights defenders. Iran either accepted or partially accepted 9 of the recommendations. However, there is no indication that the authorities have delivered on any of the accepted recommendations. On the contrary, the evidence shows that the situation has been deteriorated. This year’s UPR is an important opportunity for the international community to put the issue of human rights defenders on the agenda again.