Authorities arrest HRDs, target family members and sentence journalists to lashings & imprisonment

Association

Iranian authorities continue to target human rights defenders. On 4th September 2018, human rights defender Reza Khandan, husband to detained prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested at his home after he refused to appear for questioning. Khandan is facing three charges: assembly and collusion against national security, propaganda against the system, and spreading and promoting [the wearing] of no hijab in society. He is detained in Evin prison, the same prison as Sotoudeh, after he rejected a bail amount of 700 million Iranian Toman (USD$16,630) issued to him.

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, Soutoudeh was arrested and detained in June for criticising the judiciary, and for acting as a lawyer for women who had been charged for removing their hijabs in public. On 15th August 2018, Sotoudeh was sentenced to five years in prison in absentia. She refused to appear in court to protest her unjust detainment.

On 25th August 2018, Sotoudeh went on a hunger strike to protest against poor treatment of friends and family. Among her complaints was the arrest of Dr. Farhad Meysami, a doctor and human rights defender, who supported the protests against forced hijab. In a letter signed by Soutoudeh, she also protested the illegal searches in her home and her relatives’ homes by authorities looking for evidence on the protests against the hijab

In September 2018, the Iranian authorities arrested four women human rights defenders. According to reports from the Centre for Human Rights in Iran, lawyer Hoda Amid, sociologist Najmeh Vahedi, and gender studies student Rezvaneh Mohammadi were arrested in connection with training workshops on equal marriage rights and other activities in defence of women’s rights. Amid and Vahedi were arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Intelligence Organization in Tehran on 1st September 2018, three days before a scheduled training workshop on marriage laws. They were taken to an unknown location. Mohammadi was arrested from her home two days later.

No information regarding the charges or where they are being held have been disclosed, and the families have been denied visits or phone calls. 

In what is seen as a worrying spate of arrests targeting women human rights defenders, on 25th September 2018, women’s rights advocate Maryam Azad was arrested by security agents at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, after boarding a plane scheduled to fly to Istanbul. The reason for her arrest is not known.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said:

“Iranian authorities continue to dig a hole for their domestic and international credibility as they lock up scores of lawyers and activists for the ‘crime’ of defending citizens’ fundamental rights…at a time when everyday life is increasingly difficult for millions of Iranians, rights advocates should be an essential part of solving collective problems, instead of a primary target of the government’s crackdown.”

Human rights defenders currently in detention in Iran have also been targeted. According to Amnesty International, jailed human rights defender Arash Sadeghi, who is suffering from cancer, has been deliberately deprived of the specialist medical care health professionals which he desperately requires. Sadeghi has been in imprisonment since June 2016, serving two separate prison terms totalling 19 years. Amnesty International describes Sadeghi's ill-treatment as punishment by authorities for his human rights work, including communicating with Amnesty International and providing the organisation with information on the human rights situation in Iran.

Amnesty international’s Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for Middle East and North Africa said:

“The Iranian authorities’ treatment of Arash Sadeghi’s is not only unspeakably cruel; in legal terms it is an act of torture.”

In a similar incident, it is also reported that student activists have been deprived of their education in Iran. According to Human Rights Watch several students have been prevented from registering for graduate school or have been forced to sign pledges stating they will not engage in any activism. Over the years, authorities barred student activists from getting into graduate school, by marking their applications with a 'star' indicating that the applications are missing documents. This year, since January 2018, the intelligence Ministry authorities have also reportedly arrested a total of one hundred and fifty students, seventeen of whom have been convicted and sentenced by the courts.

Peaceful Assembly

On 18th August 2018, lawyer Qasem Sholehsaadi was arrested by authorities after he said in a video message that he was going to protest outside the Iranian parliament against the Guardian Council’s “approbatory supervision”. He described the approbatory supervision as ‘the root cause of Iran’s problems’. Another lawyer, Arash Keykhosrqavi, who accompanied him in his peaceful protest was also arrested.

The Guardian Council is an un-elected body of twelve Islamic jurists charged with ‘supervising the elections of the Assembly of Experts for Leadership, the President of the Republic, Parliament, and the direct recourse to public opinion and referenda’.  Over the years, the council has reportedly extended its powers to bar political candidates from running for office. 

On 31st August 2018, two more human rights defenders; Farokh Forouzan and Payam Derafshan, who had attended a gathering at the house of imprisoned lawyer, Keykhosrqavi (mentioned in above paragraph), were reportedly arrested by Iranian authorities. Derafshan represents Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been in detention since 13th June 2018.

Expression

As Iranian authorities continue to target human rights defenders, journalists too have not been spared. According to Reporters without borders (RSF), on 22nd August 2018, journalist Amir Hossein Miresmaili was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for a post on social media. The post on Twitter, indirectly criticized Ayatollah Sayyid Ahmad Alamolhoda who is the supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s representative in the city of Mashhad. Miresmaili was convicted for “insulting the sacredness of Islam,” “insulting government agents and officials,” “publishing false information designed to upset public opinion” and “publishing immoral articles contrary to public decency.” He was also sentenced to a two-year ban on journalistic activity on social networks on completing the jail term.

Reza Moini, the head of RSF Iran/Afghanistan’s desk said:

This utterly excessive sentence is clearly designed to intimidate journalists active on social networks”. Afflicted by corruption and the current crisis, the Islamic Republic is using all possible means to silence independent media voices. But it is precisely its censorship of the media, control of Internet content and arrests of journalists – in other words, the policy of suppressing media freedom in effect since the 1979 revolution – that is one of the causes of this crisis.”

Authorities also continue to tighten the reins on online censorship. Shoja Hossein Zadeh, a journalist in Baneh, a city in Kurdistan province, was sentenced to seventy four lashes by a local criminal court in July on a charge of insulting President Hassan Rouhani. Zadeh, who runs the Baneh News channel on the Telegram messaging service, had published a satirical article accusing the president of not keeping his election promises.