Amnesty International

Iran



Background

A new parliamentary session started in May, following controversial and flawed parliamentary elections in February which were marked by mass disqualification of sitting deputies. The elections resulted in a comprehensive victory for groups opposed to social and political reform. Some of the statements from the new parliamentarians included attacks on women said to be “improperly attired”. Incoming women parliamentarians rejected previous policies aimed at gender equality.

The emerging political trend in parliament gave impetus to members of the semi-official Hezbollah, which occasionally attacked gatherings of people they believed supported opposition political movements. It also encouraged the judiciary and its security force to limit public dissent, resulting in arbitrary arrests and the detention of prisoners in secret centres. In the latter half of the year in particular, practices employed by the judiciary – including arbitrary arrest, denial of legal representation and detention in solitary confinement – were responsible for most of the human rights violations reported in the country.

International concern over Iran’s obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) dominated the year. IAEA reports throughout the year suggested that Iranian officials were not always presenting the entire scope of the country’s nuclear programmes. In November, following an agreement with the European Union (EU), Iran committed itself to suspending uranium enrichment.

The ongoing Human Rights Dialogue process between the EU and Iran led to few lasting benefits. In March, the EU stated that it had seen little improvement in human rights and that violations remained widespread. Several Iranian human rights defenders criticized the process for its lack of transparency and effectiveness. In a concluding statement, the EU reiterated long-standing human rights concerns including the use of torture, unequal rights for women, the use of the death penalty, religious discrimination and the lack of an independent judiciary. Iran’s judiciary rejected these comments, while newspaper interviews given by the deputy head of the judiciary, Mohammad Javad Larijani, expressed contempt for the process and human rights.

In November, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the human rights situation in Iran. It drew attention to Iran’s “failure to comply with international standards in the administration of justice, the absence of due process of law, the refusal to provide fair and public hearings and right to counsel…” and forms of systematic discrimination. It urged the authorities to appoint an independent and impartial prosecutor in Tehran and to fulfil Iran’s international commitments. A proposed visit by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances was postponed at the government’s request.


Discriminatory law and practices

Discriminatory laws and practices continued to be the source of social and political unrest and of human rights violations. People continued to be denied state employment because of their religious affiliation and political opinions under gozinesh, or “selection” provisions which serve to prohibit individuals from working for state bodies. Analogous laws applied to professional bodies such as the Bar Association or trades unions.

In January, gozinesh criteria were deployed by the Guardians’ Council, which reviews laws and policies to ensure that they uphold Islamic tenets and the Constitution, in order to disqualify around 3,500 prospective candidates from standing in the February parliamentary elections. The exclusion of around 80 incumbent parliamentarians attracted domestic and international condemnation.

The gozinesh provided the legal basis for discriminatory laws and practice. Religious and ethnic groups which were not officially recognized – such as the Bahai’s, Ahl-e Haq, Mandaeans (Sabaeans) and Evangelical Christians – were automatically subject to gozinesh provisions and faced discrimination in a range of areas, including access to education.


Freedom of expression and association

Freedoms of expression and association came under attack throughout the year as a result of flagrant flaws in the administration of justice, coupled with a deeply politicized judiciary. Journalists faced politically motivated and arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, unfair trials and imprisonment. The laws used to arrest and imprison journalists, relating to defamation, national security and disturbing public opinion, were vaguely worded and at variance with international standards. 2004 saw an increase in the harassment or intimidation of the relatives of detainees or people under investigation.

A report published in January by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression concluded that there was a “climate of fear induced by the systematic repression of people expressing critical views against the authorized political and religious doctrine...”

Impunity

Impunity for human rights violations resulted in political instability and mistrust of the judiciary, which was perceived by many human rights activists as unwilling to uphold the law in an impartial manner.

Human rights defenders

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to human rights defender Shirin Ebadi in 2003 contributed to the growth and increasing self-confidence of civil society. Nevertheless, independent non-governmental organizations were hampered by a registration process that was open to undue influence. Human rights defenders also faced limitations on their movements.

Defenders of women’s rights protested against discrimination against women in the justice system and in some criminal cases secured last-minute suspensions of executions or pardons.

Legal reform

In March, following repeated rejection, President Khatami withdrew bills that proposed extending the powers of the President and prohibiting the Guardians’ Council from disqualifying parliamentary candidates. In May, parliament again voted to ratify the UN Convention against Torture. Parliament’s previous attempt to ratify the Convention had been rejected by the Guardians’ Council in August 2003.

In April the Head of the Judiciary issued a judicial directive reportedly prohibiting the use of torture. In May, a little known law concerning “respect for legitimate freedoms and preservation of civil rights” was enacted. This also contained provisions against forms of torture.

Laws giving recognized religious minorities and women more rights were enacted in 2004 but in June the incoming parliament rejected the previous parliament’s passage of a bill granting women equal inheritance rights with men. In August, the Guardians’ Council rejected a proposal to make Iran a state party to the UN Women’s Convention.


Death penalty, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments

At least 159 people were executed in 2004, including at least one minor. Scores of others, including at least 10 people who were under 18 at the time the crime was committed were sentenced to death. It was not known how many of these sentences had been upheld by the Supreme Court. The true figures were believed to be considerably higher. The death penalty continued to be handed down for charges such as “enmity against God” or “morality crimes” that did not reflect internationally recognizable criminal charges.

At least 36 people were sentenced to flogging, although the true figure was thought to be significantly higher.
Torture continued to be routine in many prisons.
AI country visits

AI did not receive replies to a request to send a trial observer to Iran. In June, an AI delegate took part in a session of the EU-Iran Human Rights Dialogue in Tehran, despite the initial opposition of the Iranian authorities.

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