Iran: Iran: Safety of Human Rights Defenders at Stake

31.10.14

Update: On 03 November 2014, Arya Jafari has been released on bail.
On 28 January 2015, Mahdieh Golrou was released on bail.

Protestors demonstrating against a wave of acid attacks on women have been violently beaten and teargased in Iran, while photojournalists were also beaten and impeded from documenting the demonstrations. Many news outlets are attributing the acid attacks to the women not following “proper” Islamic dress codes following the recently introduction of the ‘Plan on Protection of Promoters of Virtue and Preventers of Vice’ and the ‘Plan to Protect Chastity and Hijab’ in Iran. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is alarmed by claims that the wording used in these plans could serve as excuses for extreme violence, such as the recent acid attacks, despite denials by the authorities.

On 22 October 2014, over 15 activists gathered in front of the Iranian Parliament in Tehran, and another group of activists and local citizens gathered in front of the Isfahan Judiciary complex, protesting the recent acid attacks against women. Though President Hassan Rouhani did state that: “national security and the administration will exert every effort for the establishment of security in the society,” the protesters seem to have lost faith in their government, chanting “Lies, Lies” when they were addressed. Both protests ended in the violent beating and arrest of several citizens and activists as well as the use of tear gas to disperse the crowds that had gathered. Photojournalists were beaten, their cameras taken away from them and confiscated, say eyewitnesses.

One day after the protests, Arya Jafari, a photojournalist working as a freelancer with close ties to the Iranian Students’ News Agency, was arrested by revolutionary guards at his home after having photographed the 22 October protests in Isfahan against acid attacks. His images were published worldwide through AFP and Getty Images after which they quickly spread across social media and news sites. Jafari had already documented the acid attacks by two men on motorbikes, who targeted women driving with their windows down. Agents searched his home and confiscated his personal belongings. His whereabouts as well as the charges against him are still unknown. The GCHR strongly believes that Arya Jafari’s ongoing detention is directly related to his journalistic activities and violates his right to freedom of information and expression.

Jafari is one of many media workers in jail in the country. “Today, at least 35 journalists are currently detained in Iran,” noted Ahmad Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, on 28 October 2014.

Not only were journalists targeted in the recent protest, but also women activists. Mahdieh Golrou, who is a student, human right’s and women’s activist as well as a member of the Council for Defense of Educational Rights, was arrested after a raid on her house following her rigorous participation in the acid attacks protests. She had stated on one of her Facebook posts after the protests: “I am a woman. I am an Iranian woman who is afraid and is always worried. […]I am a woman, and these days, my womanhood scares me.” The condition of women in Iran has somewhat improved from the time President Rouhani took office; however women continue to fear their status within Iranian society, especially seeing how violent the recent attacks were.

Several other prominent activists were arrested but then released in October after between seven and forty-eight hours. They include prominent human rights defender and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who not only participated in the acid attack protests but who has also been campaigning and demanding her right to work as a lawyer, after she was suspended from practicing law for three years on 18 October 2014 as a result of her human rights work. She protests daily in front of the Lawyers' Union headquarters in Tehran with a banner reading "Right to Work, Right to be different."

One day prior to the protests, members of Parliament added a new article to the “Plan on Protection of Promoters of Virtue and Preventers of Vice,” which stated, “No individual or group has the right to attempt criminal acts such as insults, libel, beating, injuring, or murder of others under the umbrella of ‘promoting virtue or preventing vice.’” Although several suspects were arrested for carrying out the acid attacks, the authorities denied there was any connection to the plans, reports the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

The GCHR is alarmed that the arrest of Arya Jafari, Mahdieh Golrou and the temporary arrest of Nasrin Sotoudeh, as well as other journalists and activists who participated in the peaceful protests on 22 October, might be part of an ongoing trend of harassment against human rights defenders and activists in Iran. Rather than detaining protestors in violation of their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, authorities should be concentrating on bringing the perpetrators of the acid attacks to justice.

The GCHR condemns any acts of violence and unfair detention of human rights defenders and activists standing up for the rights of Iranian women specifically, and the Iranian people in general. Without these very human rights defenders who went down on the streets to protest or document these protests, the world would have never known of the acid attacks. Without these human rights defenders who speak up for the rights of their peers, the perpetrators would never be sought and held accountable.

Thus, the GCHR urges the government of Iran:

  1. To immediately and unconditionally release Arya Jafari and Mahdieh Golrou, as well as any other human rights defender detained due to his/her human rights activity;
  2. To ensure the physical and psychological integrity and security of Arya Jafari and Mahdieh Golrou, which includes providing any necessary medical attention they might need;
  3. To guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Iran are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

The GCHR respectfully reminds the Iranian government that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (b and c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (b) As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, to freely publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”, and to Article 12 (1 and 2): “(1) Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. (2) The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”