WASHINGTON - Amnesty International says its new global report on human rights shows Iran’s record reflected some positive developments, but mostly remained poor, and in some areas worsened in the past year.
The London-based group’s annual State of the World’s Human Rights report for 2017-2018, released Thursday, accused Iranian authorities of “heavily suppressing” people’s rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and religious belief. It also said those authorities arrested and imprisoned “peaceful critics and others” after what it called “grossly unfair trials” before Islamic Revolutionary courts.
The Amnesty report said torture and other ill treatment of detainees “remained common and widespread” and were committed with impunity in Iran. It also said floggings, amputations and other cruel punishments “continued to be applied.”
Iran’s government had no immediate response to the rights group’s allegations.
In an interview with VOA Persian’s NewsHour program Thursday, Amnesty’s London-based Iran researcher, Raha Bahreini, said the blame for Iran’s perceived mistreatment of detainees lies with a series of official bodies: police, prison guards, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the judicial system.
These groups not only failed to uphold their responsibilities to ensure the safety of prisoners, Bahreini said, but in some cases made conditions for prisoners worse.
Iran has drawn particular scrutiny from rights activists in recent weeks for reporting three cases of Iranians committing suicide while in detention. Officials said two of those Iranians had been arrested during a wave of nationwide anti-government protests last month, while a third, Iranian-Canadian environmentalist Kavous Seyed-Emami, killed himself in Tehran’s Evin prison earlier this month.
Iranian authorities had arrested 63-year-old Seyed-Emami, managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Jan. 24, saying he was a suspect in a spying case.
Iranian prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi told a local news agency that Seyed-Emami committed suicide after confessing to the charge and learning that others involved in the case had accused him of being a spy. North America-based friends and family of Seyed-Emami disputed those claims and called for further investigation.
Iran-based callers to the Thursday edition of VOA Persian’s Straight Talk program also universally rejected Iranian officials’ assertions that the three recently reported prison deaths were cases of suicide.
Several callers, who said they had been detained in Iran, said it is virtually impossible to commit suicide in an Iranian prison.
One of those callers, who gave his name as Mohammad Hosein Heidari, said his prison uniform did not have a strap to hold up his pants. He said he initially thought the saggy pants were a form of psychological torture, but later realized that they were strapless to prevent prisoners from using straps to hang themselves. The man’s account of being in detention could not be independently verified.
Earlier this month, exiled Iranian rights activist Maryam Shafipour tweeted a similar point about steps taken by Iranian prison authorities to make it hard for prisoners to commit suicide.
Shafipour, who was detained at Evin Prison in 2013 and released in 2015, said Iranian prison guards do not give any metal objects to prisoners, do not allow women to wear hijabs or head coverings inside their cells, and do not allow detainees to stay in a bathroom for more than 15 minutes.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has not addressed the purported prisoner suicides directly. But he tried to strike a conciliatory tone on human rights in public remarks made during the anti-government protests of early January. He said the Iranian people have the right to peacefully criticize those in power, because the country “belongs to them.” He also said attention should be paid to demands of the people in the economic, cultural, social and security-related spheres.
Bahreini said one positive development in Amnesty’s annual report was its first mention of discussions between Iran and the European Union related to human rights. Iranian and EU officials who met in Tehran last November held what they called an “exploratory meeting” about renewing a bilateral human rights dialogue.
The Amnesty report criticized Iran for carrying out hundreds of executions in the past year after “unfair trials,” with at least two juvenile offenders confirmed by the group as among those executed. But Bahreini told VOA Persian that some executions were halted at the last minute because of additional information provided to authorities by family members and their lawyers. She said this was a sign that Iranian people are becoming better informed about human rights.
“More people are demanding respect for the rights of women, workers and minorities, despite government threats and oppression,” Bahreini said.
Behrooz Samadbeygi and Shahram Shahseta of VOA’s Persian Service contributed to this report.