Amnesty criticizes Iran’s mass arrests in ‘year of shame’

Iran's mass arrests

Amnesty International says Iran arrested more than 7,000 people last year last year in a sweeping crackdown that led to hundreds being jailed or flogged, at least 26 protesters being killed, and nine people dying in custody amid suspicious circumstances.

The Amnesty report said that among those arrested in 2018 were protesters, students, journalists, environmental activists, workers and human rights defenders. Some 50 detainees were media workers, of whom at least 20 “were sentenced to harsh prison or flogging sentences after unfair trials,” the report said.

“2018 will go down in history as a ‘year of shame’ for Iran,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director. “Iran’s authorities sought to stifle any sign of dissent by stepping up their crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and carrying out mass arrests of protesters.”

“The staggering scale of arrests, imprisonments and flogging sentences reveal the extreme lengths the authorities have gone to in order to suppress peaceful dissent.”

Iranian authorities beat unarmed protesters and used live ammunition, teargas and water cannon throughout the year – particularly in January, July and August – with thousands arbitrarily arrested and detained, new figures assert.

According to Amnesty, at least 112 women human rights defenders were arrested or remained in detention in Iran during 2018.

Luther said, “Throughout 2018, the Iranian authorities waged a particularly sinister crackdown against women’s rights defenders. Instead of cruelly punishing women for demanding their rights, the authorities should put an end to the rampant and entrenched discrimination and violence they face.”

The year 2018 also saw Iran engulfed in a deepening economic crisis which triggered numerous strikes and spurred workers to take to the streets in their thousands to call for better working conditions and protections by the government. Delays and non-payment of wages amidst high levels of inflation, skyrocketing living costs and poor working conditions also provoked protests.

Instead of addressing their complaints, however, the Iranian authorities arrested at least 467 workers, including teachers, truck drivers and factory workers, summoned others for questioning and subjected many to torture and other ill-treatment. Dozens were sentenced to prison terms. Iranian courts also handed down flogging sentences amounting to a total of nearly 3,000 lashes against 38 workers.

“From underpaid teachers to factory workers struggling to feed their families, those who have dared to demand their rights in Iran today have paid a heavy price. Instead of ensuring workers’ demands are heard, the authorities have responded with heavy handedness, mass arrests and repression,” said Philip Luther.

Amid a deepening economic crisis in the Middle East country that triggered worker-led protests that were brutally suppressed, Amnesty said Iran also intensified its discriminatory crackdown against religious and ethnic minorities, limiting their access to education, employment and other services.

At least 63 environmental activists and researchers were reportedly arrested in 2018. They stand accused, without evidence, of collecting classified information about Iran’s strategic areas under the pretext of carrying out environmental and scientific projects. At least five were charged with “corruption on earth”, a crime punishable by death.

“Throughout 2018 the Iranian authorities have sought to crush the spirits of protesters and human rights defenders demanding respect for human rights by carrying out mass arrests and even grotesque flogging sentences,” said Philip Luther.

“Governments which are engaged in dialogue with Iran must not stay silent while the net of repression rapidly widens. They must speak out in the strongest terms against the crackdown and forcefully call on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those jailed for peacefully expressing their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly, including through their human rights activism.”