The Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, presented his fourth and latest report to the United Nations’ 28th session of the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in an interactive dialogue this morning in Geneva, Switzerland, with disappointing results.

“Of particular alarm are the surge in executions over the past year,” began Dr Shaheed. “There were at least 753 executions in 2014 and 252 in the last 10 weeks, the highest total recorded in the past 12 years. And, at least 13 juveniles sentenced to death in 2014 in violation of international law.”

The rapporteur explained that the government continues to use drug trafficking as justification for its use of the death penalty, citing drug-related offences as “most serious crimes.”

However, “the fact remains that executions for drugs crime, adultery, sodomy, alcohol consumption and vaguely-worded national security offences, such as corruption, are illegal under international law,” he said.

The UN Special Rapporteur therefore recommended that the Iranian authorities place a moratorium on capital punishment and to reconsider using the death penalty for acts not deemed to be criminal offences or more “serious crimes” under international human rights law.

“Taking these steps would likely reduce the number of executions in Iran by more than half,” he said.

Dr Shaheed also emphasised to UNHRC members how, as the Islamic Republic of Iran prepares to accept a second round of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations, “the majority of UPR recommendations that the government accepted in 2010 are unfulfilled to date.”

“The authorities in Iran continue to harass, arrest and prosecute members of civil society who express criticism of the government publicly, despite the government’s stated position that it does not arrest journalists, lawyers or human rights activists for their activism,” Dr Shaheed said. “But more journalists are imprisoned than almost any country in the world, often on charges that do not meet international requirements for limits on freedom of expression.”

Journalists and activists are frequently detained in Iran on charges of “propaganda against the system,” “assembly,” “activities against national security and “offending government and theocratic leaders.”

“I reiterate my call on the government to immediately release all individuals currently detained for legitimately utilizing their right to freedom of expression or dissent,” Dr Shaheed told the UNHRC Assembly.

Currently, a minimum of 30 journalists, 100 Baha’is and 92 Christians are in jail on faulty or trumped-up charges, according to the rapporteur’s latest report, which also identifies shortcomings in the justice system, such as inefficient due process and abuse of solitary confinement, as contributing to continuing human rights abuses in Iran.

Dr Shaheed also put across to UNHRC members his concerns regarding legislation that is being considered by various government bodies and agencies, which has the potential to worsen the human rights situation in the country.

“Provisions that appear to expand government influence over the media, civil society, political organizations and the legal community will likely aggravate the situation,” he said. “This content will also further limit the economic opportunities for women and segregate them in the workplace. This is another serious cause for concern.”

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, who has occupied the position of Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran since June 2011 and compiled three previous reports on the situation of human rights in Iran, said country visits to Iran and cooperation with international human rights organizations, himself included, was vital for the situation to improve.

“Country visits would allow greater access to engage with civil society actors and government officials, including the judiciary, would strengthen my capacity and that of others to document a wide-range of issues,” he explained.

Dr Shaheed added, “We must continue to send a message to all Iranians whose rights have been violated that the international community cares and that it will take all necessary steps to coordinate with the authorities in Iran to address these violations.”

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