Iran facing coordinated diplomatic efforts to end its treatment of political prisoners and WHRDs

Peaceful Assembly

At 3am on 8th October 2020, woman human rights defender Narges Mohammadi was releasedfrom Zanjan prison after her sentence was commuted. In 2016, the Revolutionary Court of Iran sentenced Mohammadi to 16 years’ imprisonment on counts including ‘membership in the (now banned) Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty group’, for ‘taking part in assembly and collusion against national security’ and ‘committing propaganda against the state.’ Under the Islamic Penal Code, she was due for release after serving 10 years of her sentence. Her release follows extensive periods of ill-health, a recent diagnosis of COVID-19 and the ratification of a law on 11th May 2020 reducing prison sentences for political prisoners. 


On 26th September 2020, jailed woman human rights defender and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh ended her hunger strike due to her deteriorating health. Sotoudeh went on a hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin Prison on 11th August 2020 in protest at the continuing detention of political prisoners in Iran despite the risks they face due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On 19th September, after five weeks of hunger strike, she was hospitalised with a serious heart condition. However, after only four days in hospital she was returned to Evin Prison, a decision which was condemned by UN experts who stated that it was ‘unfathomable that the Iranian authorities would return Ms. Sotoudeh to prison where she is at heightened risk of COVID-19, as well as with her serious heart condition.’ On 11th September 2020, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights called for Sotoudeh’s release and further reported on reprisals against her daughter, Mehraveh Khandan, who was arrested at her home by five security guards on 18th August 2020 in apparent retaliation against her mother’s hunger strike. She was not informed of the reasons for her arrest and was subsequently charged with physically assaulting a woman security officer, before being released on bail.

On 23rd September 2020, The Guardian newspaper reported on coordinated diplomatic efforts by France, Germany and the UK in calling for an end to Iran’s detention of dual nationals and its treatment of political prisoners. According to The Guardian, this is the first coordinated move by the three countries on Iranian human rights abuses. It is thought that the ongoing judicial harassment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe may have played a role in accelerating the coordination of these diplomatic efforts. On 22nd September 2020, Revolutionary Guards Officers visited Zaghari-Ratcliffe at her parents’ home, where she remains under house arrest awaiting the date of a second trial. The officers falsely accused her of breaking the conditions of her temporary release from prison by tampering with the tag with which she was fitted upon release. In the week before this incident, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s second trial on recent and undisclosed fresh charges, was postponed without explanation. The only information provided to her lawyer by the prosecutor’s office was that Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be asked to come to court in the next few days to be informed of what would happen next.

Separately, detained human rights defender Atena Daemi was scheduled to be released on 4th June 2020 after serving five years in prison. However, in two other trials, she was sentenced to a total of five years in prison and 74 lashes after the reopening of malicious files by the Intelligence Organisation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. She is appealing a sentence of two years and one month in prison issued in July 2020 for "disturbing order" and "propaganda against the state", charges laid against her while in prison, according to the Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).