Women human rights defenders face intimidation, harassment and persecution


On 8th March 2017, 20 human rights organisations issued a joint statement urging the Iranian authorities to stop the harassment, intimidation and persecution of women human rights defenders (WHRDs), including Mansoureh Behkish, Maryam Akbari-Monfared and Raheleh Rahemipour. These Iranian WHRDs have been actively seeking justice in cases of individuals who were executed or forcibly disappeared during the 1980s, and therefore have been repeatedly targeted by the authorities for their activism. 

At the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, civil society and human rights organisations called for a renewal of the mandate given to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran. In a letter from 40 human rights groups to the Human Rights Council, the signatories emphasised the importance of this UN-mandated role:

"In the past six years, the Special Rapporteur's actions have helped to trigger calls for reforms from inside the country, particularly with respect to the use of the death penalty for drug offences. the Special Rapporteur has also provided crucial support for the work and protection of Iranian human rights defenders and, in a number of cases, improvements in the treatment of individual detainees.

Renewal of the Special Rapporteur's mandate will send a powerful signal to the Iranian authorities that human rights violations and lack of accountability remain of concern, globally and for the Council, and that the international community expects meaningful and tangible improvements in that matter".

In addition, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) released its annual report on 14th March 2017 highlighting the situation for WHRDs in Iran. According to the report, the rights of women in Iran remain seriously restricted, and women fighting for the promotion and protection of human rights have been harassed and threatened by the authorities. Several WHRDs have been arrested and sent to the notorious Evin Prison, where some of them - including Atena Daemi and Nargess Mohammadi - remain imprisoned to this day. 

In Iran, where civic activism can put one in serious danger, there are some success stories. For example, civil society organisations and women’s rights defenders successfully campaigned to allow greater participation of women in sports in Iran. The campaigns - #Watch4Women and Open Stadiums (@OpenStadiums) - as reported on by the GCHR - advocated for allowing women to watch sporting events. As a result of the campaigns, women were permitted to watch beach volleyball matches on the resort island of Kish, though there were still strict rules in place for the women attending the events. 


In the run up to the May 2017 presidential elections, Iranian authorities have more severely cracked down on freedom of expression. On 9th March 2017, Hengameh Shahidi, a contributor to the Etemad newspaper and the news website, Gooya, was arbitrarily detained and charged with unspecified security crimes.

On 11th March 2017, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that security officers had assaulted journalist Issa Saharkhiz on his hospital bed in Tehran Heart Centre. Saharkhiz, a founding member of the Iranian Association for the Defence of Freedom of Press, was hospitalised for a heart condition. He was arrested in November 2015, three months before parliamentary elections, and then sentenced to 21 months in prison for "insulting the Supreme Leader" in September 2016.

On 12th March 2017, the authorities once again arrested Ehsan Mazandarani, a reporter from the Etemad newspaper. He had been released from Evin prison on 11th February 2017 after serving 15 months of a two-year prison sentence on charges of propaganda against the state and "collusion against national security". 

In a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed grave concerns over violations of freedom of expression in Iran, specifically the deliberate targeting of journalists, bloggers and activists. As of 13th December 2016, at least 24 journalists, bloggers and social media activists were reported either in detention or facing legal charges. The report also detailed the severe restrictions on access to information, including cases of the state blocking websites as well as intimidation and persecution of Internet users, bloggers and social media activists.

Peaceful Assembly

As reported by the Centre for Human Rights in Iran, on 9th March 2017, teachers held rallies in several cities to demand better wages and educational resources for students. In some cities, police and security forces tried to prevent protesters from taking pictures or carrying banners, but no arrests were reported. At many of the rallies, teachers displayed placards with the image of labour activist, Esmail Abdi, the former secretary general of the Iranian Teacher’s Trade Association, who is currently serving a six-year prison sentence for disseminating “propaganda against the state” and colluding "against national security”.