Latest Update: 31 March 2013
There was no improvement in the extremely poor human rights situation in Iran between January and March 2013. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, updated the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 11 March. During the presentation of his report, the UK raised concerns about torture, the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and women, and condemned reported reprisals by the Iranian Government against individuals interviewed by Dr Shaheed. Iran responded to the report in writing, rejecting its contents and personally attacking the Special Rapporteur in public statements. The UK continues to support the work of Dr Shaheed and in late March we successfully lobbied UN Human Rights Council members to renew his mandate for another year.
On 11 March the EU reviewed and extended the list of Iranian individuals and entities subject to an EU-wide travel ban and asset freeze under EU human rights sanctions. The EU added nine individuals and one entity (the Cyber Police) responsible for serious human rights violations in Iran.
One of these individuals, Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, and the Cyber Police, were listed for their involvement in the death in custody of Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti. On 13 March the Iranian Parliament’s special representative for the case, Mehdi Davatgari, closed the investigation into Beheshti’s death, which was attributed to “physical and mental shock”, despite the 35-year-old’s good health prior to his arrest.
The Iranian authorities announced in late February that interrogation of suspects in police detention centres was no longer legal and that detainees could not be held in custody by police for longer than 24 hours. However our understanding is that detainees will instead be handed to the judicial authorities about whom we also have concerns regarding mistreatment.
In January Iran’s Supreme Court upheld death sentences for five members of the minority Ahwazi Arab community. We have made clear that we believe these sentences to be unjustified and part of the ongoing persecution of ethnic minorities. The UK has publicly condemned the sentences, including in the Foreign Secretary’s statement of 24 August and on our website on 18 January.
On and around 27 January at least 17 journalists were arrested and many were warned against reporting about the forthcoming elections and other “sensitive” subjects. The Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, condemned the arrests in a statement on 29 January. Although some of those detained were later released, reports state that extremely high amounts were set for bail and other reports suggest five more journalists were subsequently arrested in Ilam Province.
Other media-related developments include reports of the blocking of Virtual Private Networks, which many Iranians have previously used to evade the regime’s filtering of the Internet. On 12 March it was reported that the deputy head of Iran’s Judiciary had referred to Iran’s ability to monitor mobile text messages, an alleged capacity which could be misused further to restrict freedom of expression. We are monitoring these developments closely.
The Minister for Europe participated in a House of Commons adjournment debate on human rights in Iran on 16 January. This covered a wide range of issues, including minority rights, the death penalty, controls on freedom of expression and torture.