Iran Human Rights Monitor Monthly Report – May 2019
Last month the mullahs’ supreme leader Ali Khamenei appointed the fiery General Hossein Salami as the new commander of the Revolutionary Guards. Earlier, he had appointed Ebrahim Raeesi, involved in the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988, as chief justice.
The regime’s officials are alarmed at widespread public discontent turning into street protests, as Iran’s economy is in shambles: inflation has hit near 50 percent, its currency has almost collapsed, labor and civil servant strikes are commonplace and the regime faces a growing women’s rights movement.
In addition, recent nationwide floods have also left farming lands of 26 provinces in ruins and various diseases are threatening millions in the rural areas.
The regime’s shuffling of the country’s judiciary and armed forces signal that it is poised to ramp up pressure on public, to prevent any challenge to the mullahs’ rule.
Authorities followed up on an Instagram ad and arrested around 30 people at a private yoga class in Gorgan, northern Iran. A local justice department official said those arrested were wearing “inappropriate outfits” and had “behaved inappropriately.”
The arrests come just a day after the social media accounts of three prominent Iranian street musicians were seized by authorities for publishing “criminal content.” The three artists, who had some 174,000 followers between them before their accounts were taken down, posted videos of their performances to the social media platform.
Meanwhile, singer Negar Moazzam is currently under investigation after performing for a group of tourists in Isfahan Province. The incident became a hot topic online with some Twitter users questioning the regime’s policies.
One user contrasted the speed with which the authorities opened the investigation into Ms. Moazzam with their handling of physical attacks on women – “when someone throws acid in a woman’s face nobody pursues it, and in the end it’s the woman who’s found guilty.”
Another was pithier: “Iran hasn’t been a country for 40 years – it’s a prison for 80 million people.”
“An establishment that finds even yoga harmful does not need the USS Abraham Lincoln warship to end its existence,” one Twitter user wrote.
The Iran Human Rights Monitor Monthly Report – May 2019 glances through the executions, breach of freedom of expression and assembly, cruel and degrading punishments, mistreatment of prisoners, breach of freedom of religion and belief, discrimination against women and ethnic minorities and lack of basic rights.
- Death Penalty
Executions in Iran did not even stop during the holy month of Ramadan. Islam advises against execution during the holy month of Ramadan but the Iranian authorities publicly hanged a prisoner in the fasting month.
A political prisoner was sentenced to death on charges of “waging war on God”, “assembly and collusion,” and “membership in the MEK.” The verdict was issued by the branch 28 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court presided by the notorious judge, Mohammad Moghiseh.
34-year-old Abdullah Ghasempour was arrested on May 21st, 2018 for setting fire to a Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Basij base, filming the event, and sending it to the MEK media.
Another three men, Mohammad Hossein Ghasempour (Abdullah’s brother), 32, Alireza Habibian, 30, and Akbar Dalir, 34, were sentenced to five and a half years each in prison for “assembly and collusion.” They currently being held in Ward 4 of Tehran’s Evin Prison. They were arrested along with Ghasempour, and are also affiliated with the opposition — The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the coalition which includes the MEK.
The Iranian regime has a long history of using the death penalty as a tool to stifle discontent.
- Torture and other ill-treatment
The legal and security officials of the Sepidar Prison of Ahwaz have prevented dispatch of political prisoner Ameneh Zaheri Sari to hospital.
Political prisoner Ameneh Zaheri Sari, 20 and a graduate of accounting, is incarcerated in the Sepidar Prison of Ahwaz.
She has been suffering from acute swelling of various parts of her body. The physician of the prison’s dispensary has not been able to diagnose the reason for the acute swelling and illness of Ameneh Zahersari and she must be dispatched to hospital as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.
Ms. Sari’s family have managed to receive a 300-million-toman bail bond from the 12th interrogation branch of the Court of Ahwaz to facilitate her transfer to hospital, but the legal and security officials in Sepidar Prison have been preventing the transfer of this political prisoner to hospital.
The family says, “Her health condition is deteriorating every day and she needs to receive emergency care and medical treatment in hospital.”
- Cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment
- Twenty-three prisoners convicted of theft are languishing in the Greater Tehran Prison, Fashafoyeh, awaiting hand amputation.
The hand of one of the prisoners is to be amputated in the coming days. The prisoner has been identified as Alireza Khan Baluchi and reports indicate that his sentence has been sent to the Sentence Implementation Department. Baluchi was convicted of theft seven years ago.
His hand is to be amputated despite the fact that he has paid back the stolen property. Investigations show that prisoners are sentenced to amputation on charges of petty crimes. Most of them have stolen property which amounts to 5-10 million tomans (Around 300-600 USD).
- Due Process Rights and Treatment of Prisoners
- Amnesty International says a proposed amendment to Iran’s Criminal Code could deny individual’s access to a lawyer while they are under investigation and facing serious charges.
Iran’s parliament is expected to vote on the proposed amendment in the coming weeks.
If approved by lawmakers, it would be a “crushing blow to Iran’s already deeply defective justice system,” the rights watchdog said in a statement released on May 16.
The amendment would allow the prosecution to instantly deny individual’s access to a lawyer if they are arrested on “national security” charges and other serious criminal accusations. Initially access would be denied for 20 days, which could then be prolonged to cover the entire investigation.
Dozens of human rights activists, independent journalists, and political dissidents have been facing national security charges.
“This is a regressive piece of draft legislation which would effectively remove the right to a lawyer in a wide range of criminal investigations and contravene Iran’s obligations under international law,” said Philip Luther, research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
Luther added that the move could “further consolidate patterns of torture and other ill-treatment against detainees to extract forced confessions during interrogations,” and said the denial of access to lawyer is a “serious violation of the right to a fair trial.”
The watchdog said Iranian authorities have for decades failed to ensure that the right to access a lawyer is respected.
- Freedoms of Expression, Association and Assembly
- Security forces in the town of Haft Tapeh, near Ahwaz, the capital of Khuzestan Province, responded to a protest rally held by local sugar cane workers. At least five workers were arrested while local police summoned another 15 for questioning. These sugarcane workers rallied and went on strike on Thursday, May 9, protesting not receiving their last two New Year bonuses and pensions. Iran’s semi-official Labor News Agency, ILNA, reported more Haft-Tappeh sugarcane workers were arrested on Tuesday, May 14. These arrested workers were moved to Dezful Prison, southwestern Iran. The exact number of detained workers remained unknown while some reports indicate at least six men were taken into custody.
- The authorities had arrested more than 35 people in a demonstration in front of Iran’s parliament that was organized by 20 independent local labor rights organizations. While the authorities released several of those detained, including Reza Shahabi, a prominent labor activist, security forces continue to detain others in Evin prison. They include the activists Neda Naji, Atefeh Rangriz, Nahid Khodajoo, Nasrin Javadi, and Farhad Sheikhi,Hassan Saeedi, and two journalists arrested at the protest, Marizeh Amiri and Keyvan Samimi.
“Instead of commemorating May Day by allowing labor activists to peacefully raise their demands to parliament, Iranian authorities arrested them and put them in jail,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “While Iranian authorities regularly highlight the potentially negative impact of US sanctions on Iranian civilians, they brook almost zero domestic criticism of their own economic policies by labor activists.”
- Human Rights Defenders and Political Prisoners
- In a statement issued on Thursday 16 May, Iran’s Writers’ Association (IWA), a civil society union, has protested for three Iranian writers receiving a total of 18 years in prison. IWA condemned the verdict as one “against all writers and everyone struggling for freedom of expression.”
Iran’s Judiciary sentenced Reza Khandan Mahabadi, Baktash Abtin, and Kayvan Bajan to a total of 18 years in jail, the writers’ defense lawyers told the press.
- Iran’s judiciary announced on May 13 that an unnamed Iranian woman who was in charge of the British Council’s Iran desk had been convicted of spying and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The British Council later said it “sadly seems likely” that the woman was one of its Iranian employees, Aras Amiri, who was arrested in March 2018 while visiting her elderly grandmother in her home country.
“We firmly refute the accusation levied against her,” Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Britain’s overseas cultural agency, said in a statement on May 14.
- Freedom of religion and belief
Religious minorities have always been a target of the Iranian regime. They have faced discrimination from authorities over the past four decades and have been prevented from practicing their faith freely.
In May 2019, A Presbyterian church in the city of Tabriz in north-western Iran was forced to close. Intelligence agents are said to have “stormed” the church. The Christian community is very concerned about this recent development. The intelligence agents told the churchwarden to leave the 100-year old building and changed the locks. The cross was taken down from the church tower and worshipers have been told they no longer have the right to attend services there.
It is believed that the regime’s Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) officers were joined by agents from the state run Eiko agency which is directly overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Eiko came to being as a result of a large number of properties that were seized after the 1979 revolution. As well as taking properties from ordinary people, Eiko seized property belonging to religious minorities.
- Treatment of ethnic minorities
The state security forces in Iran’s southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan Province shot dead a young Baluch man.
Local witnesses say the police were chasing the man, Mousa Shahbakhsh, on charges of not having a driving license. Police has confirmed the man’s death.
After police shot dead the man local people gathered in front of the governor’s office in the provincial capital Zahedan. Reports from the city say some 30 people of dozens gathered in protest to the incident have been arrested.