Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Iran

Political context

In March and April 2008, Iran held parliamentary (or Majils) elections, which resulted in the conservatives, supportive of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, retaining control of Parliament. However, over a third of prospective candidates, predominantly reformists, were excluded from standing for election by the Council of Guardians on ideological grounds, on the basis that they were not sufficiently loyal to the Iranian revolution or Islamic values. Additionally, severe restrictions were imposed on media coverage of the elections, and independent election monitors were denied access to polling stations. The election process thus failed to comply with international standards and did not allow any genuine democratic choice for voters.1

2008 saw a surge in executions, with 29 people being hanged in one day alone, on July 27, 2008. This increasing recourse to the death penalty, and in particular Iran's lamentable position as the world leader in the execution of juvenile offenders, led to widespread condemnation by the international community.2 By the end of October 2008, Iran had executed six child offenders, with at least a further 130 on death row, in flagrant violation of international law.3 Additionally stoning continued to be used as a punishment.4

2008 was also characterised by a deterioration in the freedom of religion in Iran. The Iranian Constitution expressly provides that Islam is the official religion, but nonetheless recognises Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian Iranians as religious minorities, free to follow their religion within the confines of the law.5 Despite this, discrimination against religious minorities increased in 2008. In particular, Iranian converts to Christianity and members of the Baha'i community suffered persecution, including arrests, arbitrary detentions and violence. Concern for religious freedom grew in February 2008 when the Iranian Parliament began to consider a draft Criminal Code, which would include apostasy as one of the crimes punishable by death. This measure, thought specifically to target the Baha'i faith, would be in direct contravention of Iran's international human rights obligations including the right to change one's religion and the right to have no religion.6

Ongoing crackdown on the "One Millions Signatures Campaign" members

2008 saw no change in the systematic campaign of repression against women's rights activists. Since repression against them began in June 2006, when a peaceful gathering was violently repressed by the authorities, more than one hundred women's rights activists have been arrested, interrogated or sentenced.7 A particular target in 2007, the Campaign for Equality, which calls for the end of legal discrimination against women in Iran, was once again repressed by the authorities. Thus, human rights defenders who were active in the "One Million Signatures Campaign" (established in August 2006) were sentenced to prison or to lashings for writing and publishing articles and reports, holding private meetings at home, organising and attending peaceful gatherings and collecting signatures. Most were charged with the vaguely worded offences against national security under the Islamic Criminal Code. One of the activists, Ms. Hana Abdi, was given the maximum possible sentence of five years' imprisonment in exile on June 18, 2008, on charges of "taking part in a gathering" and "colluding to threaten national security". On October 7, 2008, her sentence was reduced to one year and a half in prison and her sentence to imprisonment in exile was nullified. She was however sent in October to a prison of Hamedan province, out of Iranian Kurdistan. Ms. Abdi was convicted solely based on interrogations by Intelligence Ministry officials during her detention, during which she had been held in solitary confinement, repeatedly tortured and denied access to her lawyer. At the end of 2008, Ms. Ronak Safarzadeh, another member of the Campaign, remained detained awaiting trial in Sanandaj prison, Kurdistan province. The Government also continued its trend of releasing women's rights activists on high bail until their trial. For example, bail of 2,000 million Rials (about 160,600 Euros) was set for the release of Ms. Esha Momeni, a student at California State University Northbridge, who was arrested on October 15, 2008 when visiting Tehran. She was held in solitary confinement until her bail was met on November 10, 2008. Through this action, which in itself is a form of harassment and intimidation given that many are unable to meet such high bail amounts, the Government has raised over one million Euros.

In addition to judicial harassment and harsh sentencing, these women human rights defenders also saw their freedom of movement restricted. For example, on March 3, 2008, Ms. Parvin Ardalan, who in April 2007 had been sentenced to three years' imprisonment (with two and a half years' suspended), was forced to get out of a plane en route to Stockholm where she was due to collect the Olaf Palme Human Rights Prize8 for her contribution to women's rights. Similarly, Ms. Sussan Tahmasebi's passport was retained at the airport on October 26, 2008 and she was prevented from travelling. Her home was also searched and her laptop, books and other materials seized on the same day. This was the fourth time she was prevented from travelling.

Repression was not only directed against individual women's rights activists. In an attempt to silence the voices of gender equality activists, the authorities blocked the website of the campaign Change for Equality twice in less than two weeks at the end of November/beginning of December 2008. The website has been blocked about twenty times since it was launched.

Repression of minority rights defenders

As in 2007, defenders of minority rights, both cultural and religious, faced repression by the authorities. Several notable human rights defenders and journalists who had promoted Kurdish human rights continued to be detained in prison at the end of 2008 as a result of exercising their right to freedoms of expression or assembly, including Messrs. Mohammed Sadigh Kaboudvand, Abdoulvahid (aka Hiwa) Boutimar, Adnan Hassanpour and Massoud Korpour. Human rights defenders continued to be targeted on the basis of having contact or collaborating with "illegal Kurdish organisations", a crime punishable by death. For instance, on November 6, 2008, Mr. Yasser Goli, a Kurdish rights activist and Secretary General of the Kurdish Students' Union of Iranian Universities, detained since October 9, 2007, was sentenced by the second branch of the Revolutionary Court of Sanandaj to 15 yearsin prison and to his banishment to Kerman, in the east of the country, for having contacts with "illegal Kurdish organisations" (Article 168 of the Islamic Criminal Code).

Those defending the rights of the Baha'i religious minority also came under attack. For example, one of Iran's most prominent human rights defenders and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Ms. Shirin Ebadi, a lawyer and Secretary General of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC), was the focus of a harsh slandering campaign by the State-controlled media in 2008, following her decision to defend seven members of the Baha'i minority in court. This campaign included articles criticising her for her support of the Baha'i, for defending homosexuals and for criticising Islamic punishments, as well as reports accusing her organisation of being financed by the US. Given that she had previously received death threats on April 5, 2008 for her human rights activities, this public attack could be perceived as an incitement to further harassment. Furthermore, on December 21, 2008, the DHRC headquarter in Tehran was closed by the police. A private meeting was scheduled on the very same day to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

No respite for labour activists and trade unionists

Anti-union attacks by the authorities continued in 2008. In the run-up to May Day, a number of arrests took place, intended to intimidate trade unionists and create a climate of fear. For example, Mr. Shays Amani, a founder of the National Union of Dismissed and Unemployed Workers (NUDUW), was arrested on April 23, 2008. On May Day itself, the authorities attempted to suppress all peaceful celebrations arresting a number of activists and imposing fines and flogging others. For example, Messrs. Javanmir Moradi and Taha Azadi, two members of the Free Union of Iranian Workers (FUIW), were arrested, together with a number of worker activists in Asalouyeh in the south of Iran.9 They were subsequently released.

A number of trade unionists also continued to be detained in prison. For example, Mr. Mansour Osanloo, President of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed), who had been arrested on July 10, 2007 by security services and subsequently sentenced to five years' imprisonment on grounds of propaganda and activities against the State, continued to be held despite serious health concerns.10 On April 6, 2008, Mr. Mahmoud Salehi, Spokesperson for the Organisation Committee to Establish Trade Unions and former leader of the Saqez Bakery Workers' Union in Kurdistan province, was released from Sanandaj prison reportedly on bail of 40 million Toman (approximately 32,120 Euros). Mr. Salehi had spent over five years in prison since mid-1980s for his trade union activities. This was a positive step in some respects, however, Mr. Salehi had been due to be released on March 23, 2008 but the authorities had refused to release him. New charges were brought against him on March 17, 2008 to justify his detention beyond his release date.

Urgent Interventions issued by The Observatory in 200811

Names of human rights defenders / NGOsViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
Mr. Emadeddin BaghiDeterioration of health conditions / Ill-treatment / Arbitrary detentionUrgent Appeal IRN 006/0807/OBS088.2January 3, 2008
Ms. Maryam Hosseinkhah and Ms. Jelveh JavaheriRelease on bailPress ReleaseJanuary 8, 2008
Press ReleaseSeptember 5, 2008
Ms. Ronak SafarzadehArbitrary detentionPress ReleaseJanuary 8, 2008
Press ReleaseSeptember 4, 2008
Ms. Hana AbdiArbitrary detention / SentencingPress ReleaseJanuary 8, 2008
Urgent Appeal IRN 013/1107/OBS 154.1July 4, 2008
Press ReleaseSeptember 4, 2008
Ms. Raheleh Asgarizadeh and Ms. Nasim KhosraviArbitrary detention / Judicial proceedingsUrgent Appeal IRN 001/0208/OBS 021February 20, 2008
Release on bail / HarassmentUrgent Appeal IRN 001/0208/OBS 021.1March 4, 2008
Ms. Ehteram Shadfar and Ms. Parvin ArdalanSentencing / Judicial harassment / Obstacles to the freedom of movementUrgent Appeal IRN 002/0308/OBS 030March 4, 2008
Mr. Mahmoud SalehiRelease on bailUrgent Appeal IRN 003/0805/OBS 074.4April 8, 2008
Ms. Khadijeh MoghaddamArbitrary detention / Judicial proceedings / Ill-treatmentsUrgent Appeal IRN 003/0408/OBS 051April 9, 2008
Ms. Shirin EbadiDeath threatsUrgent Appeal IRN 004/0408/OBS 056.April 14, 2008
Slandering campaignPress ReleaseAugust 8, 2008
Obstacles to freedom of expressionPress ReleaseOctober 14, 2008
Harassment / SearchPress ReleaseDecember 30, 2008
Ms. Nashrin Afzali and Ms. Nahid JafariSentencing / Ongoing harassmentUrgent Appeal IRN 005/0408/OBS 064April 23, 2008
Ms. Zeynab PeyghambarzadehSentencing / Ongoing harassmentUrgent Appeal IRN 005/0408/OBS 064April 23, 2008
Joint Open Letter to the authoritiesNovember 5, 2008
Ms. Rezvan MoghadamSentencing / Ongoing harassmentUrgent Appeal IRN 006/0506/OBS 073May 2, 2008
Ms. Parvin ArdalanUrgent Appeal IRN 006/0506/OBS 073May 2, 2008
Press ReleaseSeptember 5, 2008
Mr. Amir Yaghoub-AliSentencingUrgent Appeal IRN 007/0508/OBS 090May 28, 2008
Mr. Saman RasoulpourIncommunicado detentionUrgent Appeal IRN 008/0708/OBS 130July 31, 2008
Mr. Massoud KordpourIncommunicado detentionUrgent Appeal IRN 009/0808/OBS 138August 19, 2008
Press ReleaseSeptember 4, 2008
Messrs. Adnan Hassanpour and Abdoulvahid (Hiwa) BoutimarArbitrary detention / Judicial proceedings / SentencingPress ReleaseSeptember 4, 2008
Urgent Appeal IRN 007/0807/OBS 092.2September 5, 2008
Mr. Mohamad Sadigh KaboudvandArbitrary detention / SentencingPress ReleaseSeptember 4, 2008
Urgent Appeal IRN 003/0707/OBS 072.1July 4, 2008
Urgent Appeal IRN 003/0707/OBS 072.2October 28, 2008
Deterioration of health conditionsUrgent Appeal IRN 003/0707/OBS 072.3December 22, 2008
Mr. Yasser GoliSentencing / Arbitrary detentionPress ReleaseSeptember 4, 2008
Urgent Appeal IRN 012/1008/OBS 187November 12, 2008
Ms. Fatemeh GoftariSentencing / Arbitrary detentionPress ReleaseSeptember 4, 2008
Ms. Zeynab BayazidiArbitrary detentionPress ReleaseSeptember 4, 2008
Ms. Nahid KeshavarzSentencingPress ReleaseSeptember 5, 2008
Ms. Esha MomeniArbitrary detentionUrgent Appeal IRN 010/1008/OBS 166October 20, 2008
Joint Open Letter to the authoritiesNovember 5, 2008
Release on bail / Judicial proceedingsUrgent Appeal IRN 010/1008/OBS 166.1November 13, 2008
Ms. Negin SheikholeslamiArbitrary detentionUrgent Appeal IRN 011/1008/OBS 176October 31, 2008
Release on bailUrgent Appeal IRN 011/1008/OBS 176.1December 16, 2008
Ms. Parastoo AlahyaariSearch / HarassmentJoint Open Letter to the authoritiesNovember 5, 2008
Ms. Sussan TahmasebiObstacles to the freedom of movementJoint Open Letter to the authoritiesNovember 5, 2008
Ms. Masoumeh ZiaSentencing / HarassmentUrgent Appeal IRN 013/1108/OBS 189November 12, 2008
Mr. Youssef Azizi Bani-TorofSentencing / HarassmentUrgent Appeal IRN 014/1108/OBS 192November 17, 2008
Defenders Human Rights Centre (DHRC)Closure of an NGOPress ReleaseDecember 22, 2008

1 See EU Presidency Statement on the conduct of parliamentary elections in Iran, March 15, 2008; and US Department of State Press Statement, March 14, 2008.

2 The European Union issued a number of statements in 2008 condemning the rise in executions, in particular of minors. See, for example, the Declaration by the EU Presidency concerning death sentences in Iran, January 25, 2008 and EU Presidency Statements on the imminent execution of juvenile offenders in Iran, June 4 and 10, 2008. The UN Human Rights Committee also expressed concern over the "extremely high number of death sentences, many resulting from trials in which the guarantees of due process of law had not been properly applied". See UN Press Release, October 20, 2008.

3 See OMCT Press Release, October 17, 2008. No other country was known to have executed a juvenile offender in 2008. On October 16, 2008, the Iranian judiciary issued a directive abolishing execution sentences for juvenile offenders. However, two days later, a statement was released qualifying the ban, stating that death sentences could continue to be handed down in murder cases; the ban applying only to drug crimes and thus of limited application.

4 See UN General Assembly Resolution, UN Document A/RES/62/168. See also Declaration by the EU Presidency concerning death sentences in Iran, February 7, 2008.

5 Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution.

6 Whilst the death penalty has been handed down in the past for apostasy, it was not established by law. See Declaration by the EU Presidency concerning the consideration of a draft Criminal Code in Iran, February 25, 2008 and Declaration by the EU Presidency on the situation of people belonging to religious minorities in Iran, September 26, 2008.

7 In November 2008, the UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders and on Violence Against Women criticised Iran's harassment of women's rights activists including members of the One Million Signatures Campaign. The Special Rapporteurs also noted a lack of cooperation from Iranian authorities (See UN Joint Press Release, November 27, 2008).

8 The Olaf Palme Foundation is an independent and non-governmental entity, which awards annual prizes to human rights activists.

9 See International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Press Release, May 7, 2008.

10 See ITUC Press Release, July 10, 2008.

11 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.


This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.