Iran Human Rights Monitor – Monthly Report, December 2018

Iran Human Rights Monitor – Monthly Report, December 2018

Introduction

December was replete with numerous violations of human rights.

Death penalties, brutal forms of punishment such as flogging and denial of medical treatment to prisoners continued, while Iran suppressed the freedom of speech and assembly by arrest, detainment and mistreatment of labor activists.

There were also other news which concerned human rights circles in Iran.

Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, a senior Iranian cleric and a former chief justice, died in Tehran in late December after a long illness.

Shahroudi, 70, was the chairman of the Expediency Council, a body that resolves disputes between the Iranian regime’s parliament and the Guardian Council. He was a close ally of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and had been seen by analysts as a possible successor to him. During his tenure as the head of the judiciary, Shahroudi ordered executions and torture of thousands of political prisoners and members of ethnic and religious minorities.

Iranian state media said that three girls died after suffering burns over more than 90 percent of their bodies in a December 18 fire at an all-girls preschool and elementary school center in Zahedan, capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province, one of Iran’s most underdeveloped regions. A fourth girl was rushed to a hospital but succumbed to her burns hours later.

A few days later, a bus carrying students from the Science and Research unit of Tehran’s Azad University veered off a steep, mountainous road and crashed into a cement block, causing the deaths of 10 passengers and injuring 28 others.

The toll is widely blamed on aged bus fleet and lack of road maintenance with some people saying that the bus brakes had failed.

Students said the university buses were extremely unsafe and that officials did nothing to improve the fleet.

While both incidents at the preschool in Zahedan and the university in Tehran indicate that the regime has not resolved safety issues, many Iranians complain that the regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei declared a day of national mourning for Hashemi Shahroudi, but sufficed to offer his condolences over the “tragic accident” in a brief statement on Tuesday.

Iran Human Rights Monitor Monthly Report – December 2018 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

Reports indicate 23 inmates were executed.  This include three public executions in Shiraz and mass execution of 12 prisoners in Kerman.

A young woman identified only as Noushin, 25, was hanged on December 22, 2018, the Iranian state-run ROKNA news agency reported. She is the 86th woman to be executed during Rouhani’s tenure.

It is not clear in which city and prison the execution took place.

This figure could be higher as the country is known for carrying out executions in secret.

Iranian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence against a child offender, identified as Mehrdad, who was sentenced to death at the age of 14.

Freedom of expression, association and assembly

December showed a rise in the number of demonstrations in various cities across Iran, especially by laborers demanding their unpaid wages. Iranian authorities however suppressed freedom of assembly by arrest of labor activists and leaders of the protesting workers.

Iranian authorities detained at least 41 of steel mill workers after five weeks of protests over delays in salaries.

According to Iran’s Free Labor Union (FLU), security forces arrested the worker mostly during home raids after midnight. The raids carried out in a violent manner, dragging workers out of their homes, according to FLU.

The arrested workers were taken to Sheyban prison in Ahvaz, capital of the oil-rich Khuzestan province.

Reports received from Ahvaz indicate that many other workers spend their nights in the streets to avoid being arrested in raids on their homes.

Thirty-five of the workers were released on bail days later but seven workers, considered the most active during the protests, are still in prison.

One day after the arrest of the workers, a Khuzestan provincial official defended the arrest and said that the workers had “broken the law”.

The Khuzestan Governor’s Political and Social Deputy implied that striking Ahvaz steelworkers violated the law by carrying out strike action and that the arrest of the more than 40 workers was the natural consequence of their actions.

There are growing concerns regarding the abuse and torture of the jailed Iranian workers following reports that labor activist Esamail Bakhshi was severely tortured while in prison. 

In a statement published on its Telegram channel, the workers of the National Steel Group said that government and provincial officials were responsible for the safety and health of the prisoners and demanded their unconditional release.

Families of the jailed Iranian workers and a number of the steel factory workers have been gathering outside the Khuzestan Governor’s Office for weeks demanding the jailed workers’ release.

Another labor activist Ali Nejati was sentenced to “disrupting public order” and “spreading propaganda” against the Iranian government.

His laywer Farzaneh Zilabi said that her client was sentenced to disrupting public order for “leading the Haft Tappeh sugarcane workers’ strike action and gatherings.”

Ali Nejati was detained on November 29 while the sugarcane workers were still on strike in the southern town of Shush.

Reports at the time indicated that he was violently detained and beaten upon arrest despite suffering from a serious heart condition.

The Judiciary said that the Iranian labor activist was arrested in relation to his previous records but his lawyer said that the two new charges were brought against him.

Torture, inhuman or degrading punishment

Brutal forms of punishment such as flogging and denial of medical treatment to prisoners continued.

  • Iran sentenced 15 Ilam Petrochemical workers in the western province of Ilam to lashes and prison terms. The workers of the Ilam Petrochemical Plant were charged with “disrupting public order and peace” on October 14 by the 104nd Branch of the Ilam Penal Court. The workers had staged a sit it for a few days outside the factory in spring closing all the roads leading to the factory. They were protesting the non-employment of local workers and the layoff of 11 experienced workers of the Ilam Petrochemical Plant.
  • Poet, satirist and Telegram channel administrator Mohammad Hossein Sodagar received 74 lashes on Monday, December 24, 2018 after being charged and convicted of “dissemination of false information.” The verdict followed a complaint from a city council member, Majid Moqadam. The 103rd Branch of the Criminal Court of Khoy founded him guilty and sentenced him to being lashed in public.
  • The state-run IRIB (The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Broadcasting) reported on December 4, 2018 that a man had been publicly flogged in Zeberkhan District. The man who had not been identified by the state media, was convicted of drug charges.

Inhumane treatment of prisoners

An Iranian political activist jailed for his messages on social media has died after spending 60 days on hunger strike.

Vahid Sayadi Nasiri, 38, had been accused of insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other offences. He was released last March after serving two-and-a-half years in prison but detained again five months later.

The activist demanded his transfer from a high-security unit of a prison in the city of Qom to a different location. Vahid Sayadi Nasiri was initially arrested in September 2015 and sentenced to eight years in prison for “insulting the supreme leader” and “propaganda against the state.”

The charges were related to posts he had made on his Facebook page. He was later pardoned and released early.

However, he was arrested again in August, just months after his release, reportedly on similar charges. He began his hunger strike in October in protest at the conditions of his imprisonment and his lack of access to a lawyer.

He also said the principle of separation of prisoners’ crimes was being violated as he was being held with ordinary criminals.

The activist had reportedly been taken to hospital in the wake of his hunger strike. His sister, Elaheh, said the family had been informed by authorities of his death.

Denial of treatment

Iranian political prisoner Saeed Shirzad could lose a kidney if Iranian authorities continue to refuse to hospitalize him outside of Rajaee Shahr Prison where he has been held for the past three years. After sonographic tests, doctors said one of his kidneys has shrunk and the other is suffering issues from a cyst and if this trend continues, he could lose one of them.

Shirzad’s requests for hospitalization were being denied by the prosecutor’s office in the city of Karaj, where the prison is located.

Lack of due process

  • On December 24, Iran’s Appeals Court upheld a conviction against Mohammad Habibi, a member of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA) who in August 2018 had been sentenced by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran to 10.5 years in prison, of which he would have to serve at least 7.5 years.

He was also sentenced to 74 lashes as well as two years abstinence from political and social activities and prohibited from leaving the country for two years.

Habibi was convicted of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state” and “disturbing public orde”r.

  • Imprisoned defense attorney Mohammad Najafi was taken to court in the Iranian city of Shazand, Markazi Province, on December 19, 2018, to face an additional charge for criticizing Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in a letter.

“We are very surprised by the latest charge,” his lawyer Payam Derafshan said.

“Previously, he had been sentenced by the Revolutionary Court to two years in prison for the charge of ‘insulting the supreme leader,’” he added. “Now another branch has charged him with ‘disturbing public opinion’ for writing a letter to the supreme leader. This is all just harassment.”

Derafshan continued: “Mr. Najafi is currently in prison and he has also received a 10-year prison sentence for another case. Why should he be dragged to court to be issued a similar charge for writing a letter?”

  • Mostafa Daneshjoo, a lawyer from Iran’s persecuted Gonabadi Dervish religious minority was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

According to his attorney Ali Sharifzadeh, he received five years for “assembly and collusion to act against national securiey,” two years for “disturbing public opinion,” and one year for “spreading propaganda against the system.”

Indefinite solitary confinement

Iran Human Rights Monitor was informed that the prison guards of Zahedan Central Prison in Iran’s Baluchistan province has broken the legs of political prisoner Arzhang Davoudi. The reports pertain that the prison guards throw him off a staircase and broken his legs while torturing him.

The Iranian regime transferred Davoodi to Zahedan prison in January. Since then, the prison authorities have kept him in the prison’s quarantine and under constant, severe torture. Davoudi went on hunger strike. He was subsequently summoned to the office of the prison’s chief while his hands and feet were enchained. When he left the room the deputy chief of the president shoved him and threw him off the stairs of the second floor.

Having chains on his feet and hands, the 65-year-old prisoner wasn’t able to maintain his balance and fell hard. As a result, he broke his right thigh bone, his left tibia. He also dislocated a shoulder and suffered from bruises to his spinal cord.

Medical diagnoses have shown that he will not be able to walk for the rest of his life. Presently he can barely walk with a walker.

Freedom of religion and belief

Baha’is

  • Yekta Fahandej Sa’di was sentenced to 11 years and nine months in prison for her Baha’i religious beliefs by a preliminary court in the city of Shiraz in south-central Iran on December 30, 2018.

The sentence, which Sa’di will be appealing, was issued by Branch 2 of the local Revolutionary Court for the charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state” for her faith.

  • Formerly imprisoned Baha’i faith member Ali Ahmadi has been arrested for a third time in Iran on the charge of “propaganda against the state,” this time for having a holy book inside his home.

The latest arrest took place on November 18, 2018, in the city of Sari by the Caspian Sea where the 60-year-old works as a rice trader. He was taken into custody by agents of the Intelligence Ministry and is currently being held in solitary confinement at the Kachouie Detention Center in Sari.

A source with knowledge about his case said, “While searching the house, the agents repeatedly cursed and insulted him and called him a ‘Baha’i dog’ and warned him not to make contact with them with his ‘filthy’ body.” “They even pointed at a portrait of the Baha’i prophet, Abdu’l-Baha, on a wall and ordered him to bring that ‘filthy man’ down. Then they took away his personal belongings including some holy books,” added the source.

Christians

Christian leaders in Iran have said that pressure on Christians increases every year around Christmas but that this year it is particularly severe.

Many of the 114 detained were converts to Christianity from a Muslim background, accused of “proselytising”.

They had to report the history of their Christian activities and were told to cut contact with any Christian groups, according to Open Doors UK, a charity which speaks out on persecution against Christians.  

  • Tasnim news agency connected with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards reported that nine evangelical Christians have been arrested in Alborz province, neighboring the capital Tehran.

Tasnim had already reported the arrest of four Christians on Saturday and on Sunday it said five more were arrested on December 26, a day after Christmas. It is not clear when exactly the first four were detained.

  • Shima Zanganeh, 27, and her sister, Shokoufeh, 30, were arrested by Intelligence Service officials in their homes in Ahvaz, capital of Iran’s western Khuzestan province, on December 2. The sisters told their family in a phone call that they had been beaten during one of the interrogation sessions.
  • On the same day the Zanganeh sisters were arrested, security authorities also raided the homes of Farzad Behzadizadeh, 30, and Abdollah Yousefi, 34, and confiscated Christian books, phones and computers.

Behzadizadeh was first apprehended while at work in a customer-support center for Tejarat Bank and Yousefi was arrested at his home.

After their homes were searched they were both taken in for interrogation and are currently held at a prison in Mollasani, 43km north of Ahvaz.

  • On 6 December, intelligence agents arrested Amir Taleipour, 39, and his wife Mahnaz Harati, 36, at their home in Mashhad, northeast Iran, in front of their seven-year-old daughter, according to Middle East Concern.

Persecution of ethnic minorities

Arabs

  • The Iranian authorities continued to crackdown on the Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority, arresting at least 12 of people in Khuzestan province, southern Iran. The sweeping crackdown against the Awazi Arabs began in September with the arrest of more than 700 across the province. Most of the detainees were denied the right to legal representation and were not allowed to contact their families.

Amnesty International had previously issued a statement, condemning the wave of arrests, saying, “The scale of arrests in recent weeks is deeply alarming. The timing suggests that the Iranian authorities are using the attack in Ahvaz as an excuse to lash out against members of the Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority, including civil society and political activists, in order to crush dissent in Khuzestan province.”

Baluchis

  • At least three Baluchis have been killed while smuggling gas-oil to make ends meet in unemployment-stricken Sistan and Baluchestan Province.

Kurds

  • More than 20 Kurds were arrested on political charges in various cities of Iran’s Kurdistan. The authorities did not reveal the status and whereabouts of the detainees.

According to reports by Kurdish human rights activists, some detained who were arrested on charge of cooperating with Kurdish opposition parties, were taken to the Revolutionary Guard’s al-Mahdi barracks detention center.

Human rights activists consider al-Mahdi’s barracks detention center to be one of the secret detention centers of the Revolutionary Guard Corps in the province of Urumia where most political and human rights activists, women, students, workers and other activists are initially taken to following their arrests.

  • At least five porters were killed by direct fire of security forces while 13 others were wounded.

Discrimination against women and girls

The parliamentary judicial and legal committee rejected the plan to increase the minimum age of marriage for girls in Iran.

Allahyar Malekshahi, chair of the judicial and legal committee of the mullahs’ parliament, elaborated on the committee’s meeting on Sunday evening, December 23, 2018, and said, “The plan to reform Article 1041 of the Civil Code to increase the age of marriage was discussed in today’s meeting. The plan proposed to ban marriages of girls under 13 years of age, and in order to wed girls between 13 and 16, it should be contingent on the father’s consent and endorsement of the court. Sponsors of the plan sought to increase the age of marriage for girls.”

Malekshahi also added, “The judicial and legal committee held several meetings to discuss this issue… Ultimately, the committee reached the conclusion that it is not possible to discuss this plan any further since it contains religious and social deficiencies. So, it was decided that a delegation made up of the committee members propose another motion which could resolve some of the problems brought up by the (rejected) plan.” (The state-run Fars news agency – December 23, 2018)

On December 23, 2018, Tayyebeh Siavoshi, a member of the regime’s parliament, said in this regard, “We are waiting for a report on the voting to see what we should do. Previously, the plan had been brought to an open session and an urgent ban on marriage of girls under the age of 13 ratified.” (The state-run Khabar Online News Agency – December 23, 2018)

Lawyers, human rights defenders

  • On December 10, 2018, the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) reported that a revolutionary court had sentenced Qasem Sholehsadi and Arash Keykhosravi, human rights lawyers arrested during a gathering in front of parliament on August 18, to six years in prison.
  • Mohammad Najafi, a human rights lawyer who is serving a three-year sentence for exposing torture in prison, has been sentenced to an additional 13 years for two other sets of charges.
  • Authorities have detained Amir Salar Davoudi, another human rights lawyer, since November 20.

Davoudi’s lawyer has not been able to meet with his client or read the charges against him. He believes Davoudi, who is in Evin prison, is facing charges of “propaganda against the state” and “insulting the Supreme Leader” and that authorities are also trying to charge him with “assembly and collusion to act against national security.”

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