Monday, July 25, 2005

UK Foreign Ministry Annual Report on Human Rights 2005 (IRAN)

UK Foreign Ministry Annual Human Rights Report 2005 - Chapter 2, Iran Section: The entire FCO's Human Rights Annual Report 2005 is available for download in PDF format:
There has been no significant progress in Iran since our last Annual Report; human rights have deteriorated further in many areas. We remain concerned about the limits imposed on freedom of expression and assembly, the lack of freedom of religion and the extensive use of the death penalty. READ MORE

Recent developments

One outstanding area of concern is the punishment of children.

We have received an increasing number of reports of juvenile offenders being sentenced to death or lashing.

In several instances, these barbarous punishments have apparently been carried out. A 16-year-old girl, Atefeh Rajabi, was reportedly hanged in public in August 2004 for ‘‘acts incompatible with chastity. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and other ministers have expressed our strong concern. These punishments violate Iran’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In January 2005, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child also made clear its concern; we urge Iran to comply with the Committee’s recommendations.

In October 2004, Iranian officials assured the EU that a moratorium was in place on all lashings and executions for crimes committed by those under the age of 18, pending consideration by the Majlis (parliament) of new legislation. We hope that the government will soon adopt and fully implement a law abolishing these punishments regardless of the crime. Sadly, we continue to receive reports of juvenile offenders receiving death sentences and we have asked the Iranian authorities to look into them as a matter of urgency.

Iran has not respected freedom of expression.

The government is increasing its censorship of all the main media and particularly the internet. It has blocked many websites and weblogs that provide news or comment critical of the regime and has closed down a number of reformist newspapers. The authorities have arrested and imprisoned journalists, internet technicians and webloggers. They sentenced Arash Sigarchi to 14 years in prison for alleged espionage and insults to the country’s leaders. Shortly before his arrest he had been in contact with the BBC Persian Service and other western media. Mr Sigarchi has been released on bail while his appeal is heard.

Other journalists remain in prison.

In late 2004 several webloggers claimed that they had been beaten, kept in solitary confinement and tortured. The government set up a presidential commission to investigate. A former vice-president of Iran said their testimonies had “made committee members weep”. Tehran’s chief prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, reportedly threatened those who gave evidence with lengthy prison sentences and harm to their family members.

NGOs have come under pressure.

The authorities have intimidated and arrested activists and human rights defenders, including some when they returned from conferences overseas.

Several people engaged in human rights work have been banned from travelling outside Iran, despite not having been convicted of a crime, as have lawyers, journalists and reformist politicians. The authorities have used the courts to harass reformers. In January 2005 Shirin Ebadi, a lawyer who in 2003 became the first Iranian and first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, was ordered to answer questions before a revolutionary court or face arrest. A judiciary spokesman later admitted that there were no grounds for summoning her.

The authorities continue to restrict the labour movement.

Workers do not have the right to organise or strike. The international trade union movement has expressed concern at the arrest of activists in Saqez in May 2004, apparently for trying to celebrate Labour Day. The activists had earlier had contact with representatives of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). The Iranian authorities have not acceded to ICFTU’s request to send observers to the trial.

Lack of religious freedom remains a serious problem.

The constitution recognises Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian populations as religious minorities but in practice they face discrimination. Under Iranian law, conversion from Islam to any other religion is a crime and may be punishable by death.

We continue to hear of the arrest and detention of Christians seeking to practise their faith. In September 2004 the authorities arrested around 80 Christians at Karaj. They released many soon afterwards but a lay pastor, Hamid Pourmand, remains in prison. Pourmand, an army colonel, received a three-year sentence from a military court for supposedly failing to tell his superiors he was a Christian. He subsequently faced charges in other courts, which carry longer sentences and even the death penalty, but was acquitted of these in May 2005.

Iran does not recognise the Bahá’ís as a religious minority. International representatives of the Bahá’í faith report that the Bahá’í community in Iran now faces even greater intimidation from officials and quasi-official bodies. Sites of religious significance have been destroyed. Bahá’í leaders have reportedly received orders to suspend all social and community related activities and there have been instances of arbitrary arrest and detention. Bahá’ís have restricted opportunities for advancement and do not, for instance, have normal access to higher education. It is deeply disappointing that the Iranian authorities have not acted on repeated calls by the UN General Assembly to ensure that the Bahá’ís enjoy full and equal rights.

Despite regular pledges to respect human rights, the Iranian authorities have not taken sufficient steps to address the legislative and institutional shortcomings that allow violations to occur.

There are basic failures in the administration of justice.

Iran’s judicial system does not guarantee due process of law or provide fair, public hearings and the right to counsel. The judicial authorities regularly use national security laws to deny individuals their rights. While some parts of the judiciary seem open to ideas for change, there has been little actual reform to date.

Arbitrary detention following arrest, solitary confinement, torture and the use of unofficial prisons are still features of the Iranian penal system. Last year’s statement by the Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroudi, that “any torture to extract a confession is banned and confessions extracted through torture are not legitimate and legal” and subsequent legislation does not appear to have been implemented.

The authorities continue to detain political prisoners, who are often held with prisoners convicted of violent crimes. Some, such as the lawyer Nassar Zarafshan, and Akhbar Ganji, a journalist, are in ill health. The EU has called for their immediate release. The authorities still detain a number of people arrested following large-scale demonstrations in June 2003 along with others such as Ahmed Batebi, who was arrested after student protests in 1999.

The courts frequently apply the death penalty. The government does not provide statistics of the number of executions carried out each year, but respected international human rights NGOs claim the total exceeds 150, a large increase over last year. Only China executes more people.

Lashings are common
. In 2002, the authorities announced a moratorium on stoning and amputation. This moratorium appears in fact to be advice to judges to find an alternative sentence. Reports indicate that courts still occasionally sentence offenders to these punishments; it is not clear whether any sentences have been carried out.

In our last Annual Report we mentioned the case of Ms Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian journalist who suffered a violent death in police custody in June 2003. In July 2004 the trial against the intelligence officer accused of her ‘‘quasi-intentional murder” ended abruptly after its second day. Despite assurances that the trial would be open, the authorities barred Canadian and EU observers on the second day. The intelligence officer was acquitted. The EU expressed concern that the trial concluded in such a short time and in a way that did not do justice to the seriousness of the circumstances under which Ms Kazemi died. We understand that the case is currently with the court of appeal in Tehran. In April 2005 a doctor who claimed to have seen Ms Kazemi just before her death said she had horrific injuries indicating torture and rape. We hope that the Iranian authorities will investigate and resolve in a transparent manner all the outstanding issues surrounding her death, bring criminal prosecutions as necessary and make future hearings open and public.

Women in Iran have certain rights and freedoms that they lack elsewhere in the region: they have the right to vote and work and they make up over half of the university intake. But discrimination is pervasive. A woman’s testimony in court is worth half that of a man. Married women need their husband’s permission to get a passport and travel overseas. Domestic violence is a serious problem. Women’s participation in the labour market is low. Over the last year, the authorities have enforced the dress code more strictly: more women are stopped for ‘‘bad hejab” (inappropriate clothing) and for wearing too much make-up.

Iran’s cooperation with UN mechanisms has been patchy.

It hosted visits by the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Human Rights of Migrants in February 2004 and on Violence Against Women in February 2005. However, in July 2004 the government cancelled a visit by the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances at the last minute, without giving a reason. The UN General Assembly has called on Iran to set a new date for the visit but no date has yet been confirmed. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief said in March 2005 that she was still waiting replies to communications related to several cases, as well as to her request for an invitation to visit Iran.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Iran in February 2003 and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Expression and Opinion visited in November 2003.

We have called on Iran to implement their recommendations in full.

Progress so far has been disappointing.

In 2003 the council of guardians rejected bills providing for Iran’s accession to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT). The council is an unelected body of clerics and jurists that vets legislation passed by the Majlis. Both bills are being considered by the expediency council, which mediates disagreements between the Majlis and the council of guardians. Iran has not lifted its reservations to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. (Iran has reserved the right not to apply any provisions or articles of the convention that it regards as incompatible with Islamic laws.)

UK/EU action Promoting respect for human rights is a priority in UK policy towards Iran.

Ministers press Iranian interlocutors frequently on human rights issues. We raise individual cases nationally and through the EU. The EU has said that its relations with Iran can only move forward if Iran takes action to address political concerns in areas such as human rights. The UK will make human rights a priority issue in our relations with Iran during our EU Presidency in the second half of 2005.

The UK and other EU countries co-sponsored a resolution on human rights in Iran adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2004. The resolution highlighted international concern at continuing human rights violations, including executions in the absence of respect for internationally recognised safeguards, torture, increased persecution for the peaceful expression of political views and discrimination against women, girls and religious minorities. With our support the EU issued a strong statement at the UN Commission on Human Rights in March 2005 reiterating our concern at human rights violations in Iran.

Since 2002 the EU and Iran have maintained a human rights dialogue. The most recent meeting was in June 2004. An evaluation by the EU Presidency in October 2004 found that there had been little overall progress in human rights since the start of the dialogue and recommended ways that the dialogue process could become more effective. The EU is encouraging Iran to renew its commitment to the dialogue and to agree improvements to the process.