Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Iran

Political context

Since Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005, following elections whose result was a foregone conclusion as the reformers had been excluded automatically by the Council of Guardians, a body appointed by the Supreme Guide, the Iranian President has constantly made use of extreme nationalism to distract the attention of the Iranians from the serious problems to which they are confronted.

2007 was a particularly dark year for freedoms in Iran, and was marked by the unprecedented repression of all actors of civil society.1 All dissident voices continued to be targets of repression, especially journalists, students, trade unionists, political opponents, university teachers and intellectuals, and moderate religious leaders, with recurring waves of arrests and arbitrary sentences. A number of newspapers and Internet publications were also banned and journalists were arrested and given extremely harsh sentences, especially those from the Kurdish province.

Use of the death penalty also increased considerably, with 265 people executed in 2007 (as opposed to 177 in 2006),2 including persons who were minors at the time of the offence, in flagrant violation of international law. Aside from the application of capital punishment for so-called "sexual" crimes (adultery, homosexuality), there was also a considerable increase in the recourse to sentences of amputation and stoning.

The year 2007 also witnessed an increase in the repression of ethnic and religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran: three Baha'is, arrested in Shiraz in May 2006 were sentenced to four years in prison in November 2007, allegedly for propaganda against the regime. One year suspended prison sentences were given to 51 others, conditional on attending classes given by the Islamic Propaganda Organisation. In reality, these people had taken part in a humanitarian project to provide educational support to poor children in Shiraz. The Azeri, Arab and Kurdish ethnic minorities were also targeted.

Despite the increasing level of repression by the authorities, civil society nevertheless remained dynamic and the "One Million Signatures Campaign", a movement calling for equal rights for men and women, continued to gain in popularity.

Repression of the "One Million Signatures Campaign"

The organisers of the One Million Signatures Campaign, officially launched in August 2006, continued to be subject to harsh repression. In 2007, the Observatory documented the cases of 44 men and women activists who were prosecuted for their activities on behalf of women's rights in Iran.3

It may be recalled that repression against them began in June 2006, when several dozen activists took part in a peaceful gathering on Hafte-Tir Square in Tehran to call for changes in the laws discriminating against women. This peaceful gathering had been violently repressed and several activists arrested then released on bail. In 2007, twelve of the women were sentenced to jail or to lashing. They appealed against these decisions. It may also be noted that the most severe sentences were handed out to young students with no activist record, probably to discourage young people from joining the movement.

Once arrested, activists are detained arbitrarily, charged, and then released on very high bail, until their trial. Bail may be as much as 250,000 Euros, a sum that in principle is applied for the most serious crimes. Such amounts are in themselves a form of repression and intimidation.

Four activists of the Campaign were still behind bars at the end of 2007: Ms. Ronak Safarzadeh and Ms. Hanna Abdi, also members of the Azarmehr association in favour of Kurdistan womens' rights, and Ms. Maryam Hosseinkhah and Ms. Jelveh Javaheri. These activists have been the targets of an intimidation and defamation campaign in pro-Government media.

Repression of defenders who are journalists from minority groups

At the end of 2007, many journalists who promote minority rights in the framework of their activities remained in prison, including four Kurdish journalists who defend human rights: Mr. Mohammad Sadegh Kaboudvand, Chairperson of Voice of the People of Kurdistan, a newspaper that defends the rights of Kurds, was detained awaiting trial; Mr. Ejlal Ghavami, from the same newspaper, was given a three year prison sentence in June 2007; Mr. Abdolvahed Boutimar and Mr. Adnan Hassanpour, two Kurdish journalists, were given death sentences in July 2007 in response to their articles demanding cultural rights for the Kurdish minority.4

Ongoing repression of trade union leaders

Repression of trade union movements continued in 2007. In March 2007, for instance, demonstrations called for by several trade unions were held, condemning the Iranian Parliament's refusal to adopt a draft law on equal pay. As a result, in April 2007, several union headquarters were the target of attacks and closures. During these operations, several dozen union leaders were arrested, including Mr. Mahmoud Salehi, Spokesperson for the Organisation Committee to Establishment Trade Unions and former leader of the Saqez Bakery Workers' Union, who was sentenced on March 11, 2007 to one year prison and a further three years' suspended sentence following his involvement in the organisation of the May 1, 2004 celebration in Saqez, and whose poor state of health in detention required urgent medical treatment at the end of 2007.

On July 10, 2007, Mr. Mansour Osanloo, President of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed), was also imprisoned after being abducted on the orders of the Iranian authorities. He was subsequently charged with "threatening national security". He was still held in arbitrary detention at the end of 2007, despite needing constant medical attention due to his state of health. Mr. Ebrahim Madadi, Vice-President of the Syndicate, was also detained from August 9 to December 16, 2007. Mr. Reza Dehghan, a member of the Committee of Painters' Unions, was also jailed from November 18 to December 16, 2007 for having publicly supported Mr. Mansour Osanloo.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 In its Resolution P6_TA (2007) 0488, adopted on October 25, 2007, the European Parliament expressed its deep concern "about the dramatic increase in the repression of civil-society movements in Iran over the past year" and called on "the Iranian authorities to put an end to harsh repression against women's rights defenders, [...] student movements, minority rights defenders, intellectuals, teachers, journalists, web loggers and trade unionists".

2 See the website of Mr. Emmadeddin Baghi, a human rights journalist: www.emmadbaghi.com.

3 On April 5, 2007, Ms. Yakin Ertürk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Mr. Ambeyi Ligabo, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Ms. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, expressed their concerns on being informed that Iranian security agents had arrested four women and one man in Teheran on April 3 while collecting signatures for a campaign to change laws that discriminate against women. They noted that "the arrest of the five persons [...] is not a singular incident, but forms part of an ongoing, worrying trend", insofar as "women and men who have peacefully demonstrated or otherwise stood up for gender equality and women's rights have been arrested or attacked [...]" (See United Nations Press Release, April 5, 2007).

4 On August 3, 2007, the European Union expressed its especial concern "about the death sentences on the two Kurdish journalists, Adnan Hassanpour and Abdolvahed Boutimar [...] [as well as] by the growing repression against all groups which exercise their right to freely express their opinions, in particular in Kurdish and Arab minority regions" (See EU Presidency Declaration on death sentences of Adnan Hassanpour and Abdolvahed Boutimar).


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