The Islamic Republic continued to suppress freedoms of expression, religion, and the press in 2017, and failed to deliver promised progress on gender equality according to an annual report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) published January 17.
The report accuses “suppressive elements affiliated with the security forces, judiciary, intelligence entities, and unelected bodies like the Guardian Council” of exercising strict control over the country’s political environment. These groups arrested scores of journalists, labor activists, and civil rights defenders in 2017, according to the report.
Many of the detainees are still behind bars, among them prominent human rights activist Nargess Mohammadi, who is serving a ten-year prison sentence for campaigning against the death penalty. HRW also notes a disturbing trend of Revolutionary Courts sentencing Iranians with dual citizenship to prison on ambiguous charges.
President Hassan Rouhani secured a second four-year term in May 2017 in an election marked by vigorous debate on the state of human rights in the country, but HRW says authorities in the security apparatus and judiciary nevertheless continued to target journalists, online media activists, and human rights defenders in blatant disregard for international and domestic legal standards.
The report criticized Iran’s high rate of executions, pointing to a particularly high rate of executions for drug offences. At least 476 people were executed until November 27, 2017, according to the report, including five individuals who were sentenced to death for crimes they allegedly committed as children. Meanwhile, the judiciary recently announced that Iranian university professor Ahmad Reza Djalali, who lives in Sweden, has been condemned to death for espionage.
The report lauds the passage of a long-awaited amendment to the country’s drug law that “significantly raises the bar for mandatory death sentences for drug-related offenses.” Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said 3,300 individuals convicted of drug offenses have filed appeals under the new law.
Suppression of religious and ethnic minorities continued in 2017, according to the report, which cites at least 92 Baha’is held in Iran’s prisons as of November 2017.
“The government also discriminates against other religious minorities, including Sunni Muslims, and restricts cultural as well as political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, Arab, and Baluch ethnic minorities,” the report stated. Among the examples cited was the October 8 suspension by the Court of Administrative Justice of Sepanta Niknam, a Zoroastrian member of the Yazd City Council, because of his religion.
HRW found no improvement in the state of women’s rights in Iran in 2017, citing discrimination faced by Iranian women in matters marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody.
“A virgin woman needs her male guardian’s approval for marriage regardless of her age, and Iranian women cannot pass on their nationality to their foreign-born spouses or their children,” the report stated.
Iranian women also experience economic marginalization, the report explained, as they constitute only 16 percent of the workforce and their rate of unemployment is 20 percent, twice that of men. The report criticized President Rouhani for not being committed to the promises that were at the core of his reelection campaign.
“During his reelection campaign, President Rouhani criticized women’s marginalization in the economy and vowed to increase their presence in decision-making roles in his government. He did not, however, select a female minister despite expectations that he would do so by many, including members of parliament.”