At least 550 prisoners of conscience were being held in jails up and down Iran last September, including members of minority religions, researchers for the US State Department have said.
The State Department’s latest report on the state of human rights in the country in 2020-21 was predictably bleak, re-hashing a litany of documented abuses by arms of the Iranian state – from the police to the Basij to the Supreme Leader’s office – throughout the year.
No Let-Up in Ill-Treatment of Detainees
Political prisoners, the report noted, remained especially vulnerable to torture and mistreatment behind bars. The last two years have seen more detainees, such as mother-of-two Maryam Akbari-Monfared, internally exiled to remote parts of Iran miles away from their families.
The report also highlighted the jailing of several more defense attorneys, including Javad Alikordi, Amirsalar Davoudi and Mohammad Najafi. In August officials in Tehran also arrested six prominent lawyers who sought to take Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to task over colossal, fatal failings during Covid-19.
The government and agents, the State Department noted, had meanwhile committed “arbitrary and unlawful” killings principally by deploying the death sentence for crimes that did not meet the international legal standard to permit it, such as drug-related offences. Last October UN Special Rapporteur told the General Assembly this was the case for “almost all” executions in Iran.
In January 2021 the activist Javid Dehghan was hanged in Zahedan on the vague charge of “war against God” after he had been horrifically tortured by the IRGC into giving a forced “confession”. His case was highlighted in the report, as was that of Zahra Esmaili, who was hanged in prison in February after confessing to killing her husband, a Ministry of Intelligence official.
Two men, Sajad Sanjari and Arman Abdolali, were hanged for offences committed as minors. Another, Hossein Shahbazi, is still on death row today. The State Department asserted at least six juvenile offenders were executed in 2020.
A large number of ethnic Arabs and Baluchis were killed by state forces both in custody and outside, the report stated. In February, it said, 10 fuel carriers on the border with Pakistan were known to have been killed in protests over cross-border blockades.
Elsewhere the State Department’s researchers were blunt on the extent of wider civic freedoms and democracy: “Neither 2021 presidential elections nor 2020 parliamentary elections were considered free and fair.”
One area of particular concern was the increasing restrictions on citizens’ ability to get online. The co-called User Protection Bill was not mentioned but the authors noted access to the global internet was cut off at points during water protests in Khuzestan last July.
The Iranian authorities, they wrote, have “employed a centralized filtering system that can effectively block a website within a few hours across the entire network.”
On censorship, the report summarized the Orwellian state of affairs as follows: “The law forbids government censorship but also prohibits dissemination of information the government considers ‘damaging’.”
In the last two years green activists Niloufar Bayani and Parisa Rafiei were punished for speaking out about rape threats they received in prison, the Kurdish language teacher Zara Mohammadi for endorsing a variety of mother tongues in the classroom, and the lawyer Mohammad Najafi for talking about one of his clients.
The government also censored all Wikipedia entries related to the LBGT community. The judiciary continued to persecute LGBT Iranians and in May, the family of 20-year-old gay man Alireza Fazeli Monfared killed him in cold blood without facing any form of reprisal.
“The constitution bars discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, and social status ‘in conformity with Islamic criteria’,” the report said, “but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions.”