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UN Monitor Cites Human Rights Abuses of Journalists, Lawyers in Iran

  • Margaret Besheer

Ahmed Shaheed (file photo)

Ahmed Shaheed (file photo)

The United Nations expert charged with monitoring the human rights situation in Iran warns that there are “alarming trends” in the country’s human rights situation, including the prosecution of human rights defenders and lawyers, executions in the absence of fair trials, and the detention of journalists and Internet commentators.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed says in his third report to the U.N. General Assembly that the overall human rights situation in Iran is “deeply troubling.”

The country has one of the highest execution rates in the world, often for crimes, such as drug offenses, which are not considered to be among the most serious and deserving of capital punishment under international standards.

Just this week, Tehran announced that 10 more persons were executed for alleged drug crimes. Minors also have been subject to the death penalty.

At a news conference Wednesday, Shaheed reported figures indicating that journalists and lawyers are among Iran’s most persecuted professionals.

“On the whole the human rights situation in the country still remains disturbing. For example, Iran currently detains one of the highest numbers of journalists anywhere in the world, with over 40 still in prison,” Shaheed said.

Shaheed's report says at least 19 journalists were arrested between January and May of this year, 10 of whom have since been released. He says prison conditions for reporters are poor and often include periods in solitary confinement.

Shaheed says other journalists have been subjected to constant surveillance, along with the threat of arrest and detention of family members, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

Citizen journalists and Internet commentators also have been detained under laws that regulate Internet content and activities and require Internet cafés to document and store information about users and their online histories for at least six months.

“New Cyber Crimes and Cyber Café laws seek to limit freedom of expression and the right to information and have apparently been employed to prosecute those who use media to criticize the government. Nineteen “Netizens” are reportedly detained, four of whom are sentenced to death,” Shaheed said.

Lawyers and other human rights defenders have fared equally badly under the current Iranian government.

Shaheed's report estimates that some 32 lawyers have been prosecuted since 2009, and that at least nine defense attorneys are currently imprisoned.

The Special Rapporteur, who receives his mandate to investigate and monitor human rights from the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, has not been allowed entry into Iran by the government. He said he conducted 99 interviews with persons inside and outside the country through other methods.

His report urges the Iranian government to pay special attention to domestic laws that infringe on rights guaranteed its citizens under the five international rights treaties to which it is a signatory and to properly investigate and remedy violations of human rights.

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