Freedoms of expression, association and assembly
The authorities cracked down further on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, arbitrarily arresting and imprisoning peaceful critics on vague national security charges. Those targeted included human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, bloggers, students, trade union activists, film makers, musicians, poets, women’s rights activists, ethnic and religious minority rights activists, and environmental and anti-death penalty campaigners.
As the year closed, many prisoners of conscience undertook hunger strikes to protest against their unjust imprisonment, exposing the abusive nature of Iran’s criminal justice system.
The authorities intensified their repression of human rights defenders, sentencing them to long prison terms for their peaceful activities. Courts increasingly cited criticism of Iran’s human rights record on social media and communicating with international human rights mechanisms, particularly the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran and human rights organizations based abroad including Amnesty International as evidence of “criminal” activism deemed threatening to national security.
The authorities also cracked down on musical expression, disrupting and forcibly cancelling performances, including some licensed by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance; and repressed activities such as private mixed-gender parties that they deemed “socially perverse” or “un-Islamic”, arresting hundreds and sentencing many to flogging.
Opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi and the latter’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, remained under house arrest without charge since 2011. They were subject to frequent extreme intrusions on their privacy and inadequate access to medical care.
The authorities continued to censor all media, jamming foreign satellite TV broadcasts, closing or suspending newspapers including Bahar and Ghanoun and forcing the women’s rights magazine Zanan-e Emrooz to suspend publication.
In February, a judicial order added WhatsApp, Line and Tango to the list of blocked social media sites, which already included Facebook and Twitter. The Cyber Crime Unit of the Revolutionary Guards blocked or closed down hundreds of Telegram and Instagram accounts and arrested or summoned for interrogation the administrators of more than 450 groups and channels in Telegram, WhatsApp and Instagram, including several hundred fashion designers and employees of fashion boutiques, as part of a massive crackdown on social media activities deemed “threatening to moral security”.
The suspended Association of Iranian Journalists addressed an open letter to President Rouhani urging him, unsuccessfully, to honour his 2013 election campaign pledge to lift its suspension, while 92 student groups urged the President to release universities from the grip of fear and repression. The authorities did not permit the Teachers’ Trade Association of Iran to renew its licence, and sentenced several of its members to long prison terms on charges that included “membership of an illegal group”.
The authorities continued to suppress peaceful protests and subject protesters to beatings and arbitrary detention. Numerous individuals remained convicted of “gathering and colluding against national security” for attending peaceful protests.
A new Law on Political Crimes, which was adopted in January and took effect in June, criminalized all expression deemed to be “against the management of the country and its political institutions and domestic and foreign policies” and made “with intent to reform the affairs of the country without intending to harm the basis of the establishment”.