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Amnesty International: Iran Vilifies Rights Activists As 'Enemies Of The State'

The case of jailed human rights activist Narges Mohammadi was on of those featured in the report. (file photo)
The case of jailed human rights activist Narges Mohammadi was on of those featured in the report. (file photo)

Amnesty International says Iran's judicial and security bodies have waged a vicious clampdown on human rights defenders, vilifying and imprisoning activists who dare to stand up for people’s rights.

In a new report, the rights watchdog says scores of Iranian human rights defenders have been imprisoned on fabricated charges of threatening "national security."

Many others have been subjected to surveillance, interrogations, and drawn-out criminal proceedings coercing them into self-censorship, it says.

The August 2 report is titled Caught In A Web Of Repression: Iran’s Human Rights Defenders Under Attack.

It says the wave of repression appears to be an attempt on the part of the state's repressive arms to crush any hopes of human rights reform raised by the promises of increased freedoms made during President Hassan Rohani’s first election campaign in 2013.

'Bitter Irony'

Amnesty International says some activists have been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for simple acts such as being in contact with the United Nations, the European Union, as well as with media outlets, international trade union associations and human rights groups based outside Iran -- including Amnesty International.

"It is a bitter irony that as the Iranian authorities boast about their increased engagement with the UN and the EU, particularly in the aftermath of the nuclear deal, human rights defenders who have made contact with these same institutions are being treated as criminals,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

State media often labels rights activists "foreign agents," "enemies of the state," and "traitors."

The report provides a comprehensive overview of the Iranian authorities’ clampdown targeting a wide range of human rights defenders.

The report features 45 individuals who have been subjected to abuses ranging from surveillance and harassment to criminal prosecutions and imprisonment for their peaceful human rights activities.

They include people who have campaigned against the death penalty, women's rights activists, trade unionists, minority-rights activists, human rights lawyers, and activists seeking truth, justice, and reparation for mass extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances in the 1980s.

One of the cases is that of prominent human rights defender Narges Mohammadi, who is serving a 16-year prison term in connection with her human rights work.

The criminal case against Mohammadi, the head of the Center for Human Rights Defenders in Iran, was opened in reprisal for a meeting she had with former EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, in 2014, the report says.

Human rights defender Arash Sadeghi and his wife Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee
Human rights defender Arash Sadeghi and his wife Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee

Critically ill human rights activist Arash Sadeghi is serving a total of 19 years in prison for "offenses" that included communicating with Amnesty International as well as sending information to the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, the report says.

According to the report, Iranian authorities have repeatedly blocked Sadeghi's transfer to a hospital outside prison, in reprisal for a hunger strike he staged in protest at his wife’s imprisonment.

Sadeghi's wife, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, has been sentenced to six years in prison for writing an unpublished fictional story about the horrific practice of stoning.

Renewed Repression

Women's rights activists have faced renewed repression after a group of women launched in October 2015 a campaign promoting pro-women’s rights candidates for the February 2016 parliamentary elections.

According to Amnesty International, in the first half of 2016 more than a dozen activists were summoned, interrogated, and threatened with imprisonment. The level of threats led to the campaign being shut down, the report says.

Women who oppose compulsory Islamic clothing, the hijab, have also been subject to smear campaigns on state media.

U.S.-based Iranian activist Masih Alinejad, who has founded a popular online campaign called My Stealthy Freedom against compulsory hijab, has been repeatedly subjected to sexual insults on state-sanctioned media outlets and threatened with rape and death by social-media users believed to be affiliated with Iran's security services, the report says.

Ethnic minority-rights activists have fared no better in the crackdown, the report says.

Alireza Farshi Yekenli, a member of Iran's Azeri minority, received a 15-year prison sentence in February 2017 on charges such as "gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security."

His "crimes" include writing a letter to UNESCO to hold an event commemorating International Mother Language Day.

Climate Of Fear

Amnesty International says the rights activists whose cases are documented in the report were invariably convicted after grossly unfair trials, which often are extremely brief.

Activist Atena Daemi
Activist Atena Daemi

For example, in 2015 anti-death penalty campaigners Atena Daemi and Omid Alishenas were sentenced to 14 and 10 years' imprisonment, respectively, after a trial that only lasted about 45 minutes.

Their sentences were later reduced to seven years on appeal.

Amnesty International says that trials of human rights defenders take place in a climate of fear, in which their lawyers face a range of abusive and restrictive measures.

The rights watchdog has called on Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all imprisoned human rights defenders and "end the criminalization of peaceful activities that promote and defend human rights."

Amnesty International also called on the international community, particularly the EU -- which announced plans to relaunch a bilateral human rights dialogue with Iran in 2016 -- to speak out in the strongest terms against the persecution of human rights defenders in the country.