Islamic Republic of Iran
Leader of the Islamic Republic of
Iran: Ayatollah Sayed 'Ali Khamenei
President: Hojjatoleslam val Moslemin
Sayed Mohammad Khatami
Population: 62.3 million
Official language: Farsi
Death penalty: retentionist
Hundreds of people, including possible
prisoners of conscience, were held without charge or trial following student
demonstrations in July against the growing restrictions on freedom of expression
and the closure of the daily newspaper Salam. Most were released
within two months, but hundreds remained in detention at the end of the
year and at least four people were sentenced to death. Numerous publications
were forced to close and scores of journalists faced arrest and interrogation.
There were continued reports of torture and ill-treatment, and judicial
corporal punishments continued to be imposed. AI recorded 165 executions,
although the true number may have been considerably higher. Religious minorities
continued to face persecution.
Issues relating to freedom of expression
dominated the year. Journalists began to address in print the political,
economic and social problems facing Iran and broached issues that had previously
been taboo. Political debate centred on the permissible level of freedom
for the press, accentuating divisions that already existed between the
two broad, but opposing, political factions that had supported and opposed
President Mohammad Khatami's 1997 election.
The different policy positions taken
by various elements of the two opposing factions were vigorously debated
both inside and outside the Majles (parliament). This political
tension exacerbated the rivalry for power that already existed between
different elements of the administration. It was due in part to the Majles
elections scheduled for February 2000 and led to an increasingly inconsistent
and arbitrary application of policy and law. As the year progressed, a
pattern of intimidation, harassment and administrative detention emerged
as a mechanism for silencing a range of opinion.
The Special Representative of the
UN Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Islamic
Republic of Iran continued to be denied access to the country during the
year. A resolution adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights in April
expressed concern at continuing human rights violations in Iran and "the
apparent absence of respect for internationally recognized legal safeguards".
Widespread student protests in Tehran
and other cities in July resulted in serious clashes with the official
Law Enforcement Forces (LEF), the basiji (mobilization units) and
a militant group Ansar-e Hezbollah, Partisans of the Party of God.
The violence began on 8 July when the students, who had gathered outside
their university dormitories in Tehran to protest peacefully against the
closure of the daily newspaper Salam, were attacked by armed members
of Ansar-e Hezbollah. Security forces posted at the scene failed
to protect the students and some hours later members of Ansar-e Hezbollah
and the LEF, having fired teargas, forced their way into the student residences.
There was one confirmed death and reports of several others. Hundreds were
The scale of the demonstrations changed
dramatically in the following days and the levels of violence escalated.
Demonstrations were officially banned in Tehran, but the unrest continued
and spread to provincial cities. Hundreds were arrested throughout the
country, most of whom were held without charge or trial. The majority had
been released by the end of August, but scores of people remained in detention
at the end of 1999, where they continued to be at risk of torture. Four
men, whose identities were not disclosed, were reportedly sentenced to
death after unfair trials by the Tehran Revolutionary Court, and at least
12 people were sentenced to between three months' and nine years' imprisonment
by a Revolutionary Court in Tabriz in September for their role in the protests.
One of those sentenced to death was believed to be Akbar Mohammadi, who
was reportedly tortured while in detention.
* Student activists Manuchehr Mohammadi
– the brother of Akbar Mohammadi – Gholamreza Mohajeri-Nezhad and Malous
Radnia, also known as Maryam Shansi, were arrested in Tehran on 13 July
and initially held in incommunicado detention. Manuchehr Mohammadi was
accused of having connections with "a fugitive counter-revolutionary element"
and of seeking "to initiate and spread disorder and violence". In July
Iranian state television broadcast two separate video recordings of his
"confessions", which were thought to have been made under duress, and which
resulted in the detention of four members of the Hezb-e Mellat-e Iran,
Iran Nation Party, on similar charges. Manuchehr Mohammadi was reportedly
sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment in October. Gholamreza Mohajeri Nezhad
and Malous Radnia were reportedly released in November, possibly on bail.
Restriction of freedom of expression
Numerous publications were forced
to close, particularly those established after President Khatami came to
power in 1997. They included the cultural journals Adineh and
Zan, the newspapers Salam, Neshat, Khordad, Rah-e
No, Iran-e Farda and the bi-weekly Hoveyat-e Khish. Scores
of journalists, editors and publishers were arrested and interrogated,
and many were convicted and banned from journalism after unfair trials.
* Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, editor of
Khish, was detained in June in connection with articles that were alleged
to have insulted "the principles of the Islamic Republic". He was reportedly
tortured by having the soles of his feet whipped with cable (see below).
He was released on bail in November.
* Mohammad Musavi Khoeiniha, publisher
of Salam, was tried by the Special Court for the Clergy. The jury
found him guilty of "publishing classified material" but the judge suspended
a prison sentence and punishment of flogging on the grounds that Mohammad
Musavi Khoeiniha was a former revolutionary leader. He was banned from
journalism for five years.
Unfair trials by special courts
Government critics, including Shi'a
clerics, journalists and students, were tried and sentenced after trials
in which procedures did not conform to international standards for fair
trial. The Special Court for the Clergy, the Press and the Revolutionary
Courts followed inconsistent and often summary proceedings. Juries in the
Press Court were sometimes dismissed prior to trial and on other occasions
their decisions were ignored. Press Court judgments were occasionally issued
prior to jury consultation. Defendants were generally tried in camera
in the Revolutionary Courts and denied legal representation of their choice.
Public criticism of the special courts
was unprecedented and they were widely perceived as a mechanism for silencing
* Abdollah Nouri, a former Minister
of the Interior and publisher of the daily newspaper Khordad, was
tried by the SCC in November on 20 charges, including insulting government
officials. In his defence he reportedly upheld the constitutional rights
of a variety of groups and theologians to present their views in his newspaper;
he also claimed that the Special Court for the Clergy was "unlawful and
incompetent" to try his case. The judge brought the proceedings to an end
11 November when he prevented Abdollah
Nouri from completing his defence and gave him 10 days to submit a written
text of the defence. However, on 17 November the jury reportedly found
Abdollah Nouri guilty of 15 of the 20 charges against him. He was sentenced
to five years' imprisonment and disqualified from standing in the parliamentary
elections in February 2000.
* Mashallah Shamsolva'ezin, editor
of the daily newspaper Asr-e Azadegan, was tried in November on
charges of "insulting Islam" in articles printed in the subsequently banned
newspaper, Neshat. The Press Court judge dismissed the jury prior
to the trial and sentenced Mashallah Shamsolva'ezin to three years' imprisonment.
Mashallah Shamsolva'ezin questioned the absence of the jury and observed
that the Court had "no legal basis".
'Abbas Amir Entezam
Prisoner of conscience and former
Deputy Prime Minister 'Abbas Amir Entezam continued to be held in Evin
prison despite the 1998 recommendations of a trial judge that he be released
on bail. A hearing to answer charges of defamation was held in February,
but 'Abbas Amir Entezam was refused permission to appear in court and his
lawyers were excluded from the proceedings. He was released on bail for
medical treatment in October, but rearrested in December after the authorities
claimed that he violated his bail conditions by giving an interview to
a journalist. He remained in Evin prison at the end of 1999.
The death penalty continued to be
passed routinely in connection with charges of murder, drug trafficking
and armed robbery. It was occasionally imposed for affiliation with armed
opposition groups. AI recorded 165 executions, although the true number
may have been considerably higher. Seventeen-year-old Ebrahim Qorbanzadeh
was hanged for murder in October.
* In February the Supreme Court reportedly
overturned the death sentence against Helmut Hofer, a German businessman
who had been convicted of having illicit sex with an Iranian woman, and
ordered a retrial. He was rearrested in August and charged with having
"links to foreign elements".
* Up to 20 members of the Baha'i religious
minority detained in previous years continued to be held, and among them
five remained under sentence of death.
* Twenty-one people, including 13
members of Jewish communities in the southern cities of Shiraz and Isfahan,
were arrested in March. They were thought to include rabbis, religious
teachers and community leaders. No official explanation was provided for
the arrests, but news reports citing the Iranian authorities stated that
they were accused of spying for Israel and the USA and would be tried for
espionage before a Revolutionary Court. Most were denied family visits
and access to legal counsel. All 13 remained in detention without charge
at the end of 1999.
Flogging and amputation
AI recorded 26 cases of flogging and
16 cases of amputation, although the true number may have been considerably
* Two women, identified only as Jamileh
and Zahra, were convicted of theft and murder by a Tehran court in February
and sentenced to the amputation of a hand. Jamileh was also sentenced to
death by hanging and Zahra to 15 months' imprisonment.
Torture and ill-treatment
Several defendants facing trial before
Revolutionary Courts stated that they were tortured during detention, prior
to trial or release on bail. Methods of torture included repeated beatings,
flogging on the soles of the feet with metallic cables and being suspended
upside-down from a ceiling (see Akbar Mohammadi and Heshmatollah Tabarzadi
Investigations into allegations of torture and the
A military court in Tehran tried Brigadier
General Gholamreza Naqdi and 10 colleagues on charges of torture in May,
after allegations made by 30 Tehran district mayors who were detained in
March 1998 on charges of corruption. It was believed to be the first time
that charges of torture were brought against a serving officer and military
personnel since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979.
All were acquitted of torture, but cautioned for ill-treatment of prisoners
In February the National Security
Council, led by President Khatami, established a committee to investigate
the 1998 murders of numerous writers and intellectuals. Initial inquiries
led to the identification of suspects within the Ministry of Intelligence.
In February the Minister of Intelligence, Qorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi, resigned
along with some other senior officials. Sa'id Emami, one of the officials
implicated in the murders, was detained in February and died in custody
in June, reportedly due to suicide. By the end of 1999 no charges had been
laid and no one had been brought to trial.
Communications with the government
AI wrote to the government on nine
occasions in 1999. In February it sought details about the composition
of the committee investigating the 1998 murders and the terms of reference.
It called for the findings to be made public and sought permission to observe
any trial proceedings which may result from these investigations. In August
AI expressed concern about restraints on freedom of opinion and expression
and sought information about a number of the students detained in July.
The organization had not received a response to any of its letters by the
end of the year. AI was not permitted to visit the country.