Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders, including minority and women's rights activists, lawyers and trade unionists, continued to face arbitrary arrest, harassment, prosecution and unfair trials throughout the year. Some were banned from travelling abroad.
- In April, five leaders of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company Trade Union were sentenced to up to six months' imprisonment for "propaganda against the system" for criticizing conditions at their workplace when they were interviewed by foreign journalists in 2008. They began serving their sentences in November after they were upheld on appeal.
- Five members of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters were arrested in December and others were sought by intelligence officials.
Discrimination against women
Women continued to face discrimination in law, despite some minor improvements. Women's rights campaigners, including those active in the "One Million Signatures" campaign to end legal discrimination, were harassed, detained, prosecuted and banned from travelling for collecting signatures in support of their petition.
- On 1 February, Alieh Eghdam-Doust, a member of the Campaign for Equality, began a three-year prison sentence imposed for participating in a peaceful demonstration. She was among many women arrested during a protest in June 2006 against discriminatory laws, and the first to begin serving a prison sentence.
Freedom of expression and association
The authorities blocked websites voicing criticism, notably those of Iranian bloggers, and periodically blocked those of foreign news media reporting on Iran. In April, they warned SMS users that messages were "controlled" by a new "internet crimes" law introduced in January. They also shut down or maintained bans on tens of journals, magazines and other print media, targeted critical journalists and infiltrated and undermined independent civil society groups, such as the Society of Esfahan Human Rights Supporters. Hundreds of students faced education bans for campus activism.
- Four students at Tehran's Amir Kabir University were arrested at their homes on 24 February for participating in a peaceful demonstration the previous day against the government's decision to bury soldiers' remains on the campus, and so facilitate unrestricted access to the campus by the Basij and other security forces. Other students were also arrested; all had been released uncharged by July.
- Roxana Saberi, a journalist with joint US-Iranian nationality, was convicted of "collaborating with a hostile state" in a closed trial before Tehran's Revolutionary Court on 18 April following her arrest on 31 January. She was sentenced to eight years in prison, but this was reduced to a suspended two-year term following local and international criticism. She was released on 12 May and allowed to leave the country.
- Two brothers, Arash and Kamiar Alaei, both medical doctors active in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, were sentenced in January to six and three years' imprisonment respectively for "co-operating with an enemy government". They had been tried before a closed court on 31 December 2008. They were neither told the charges or evidence against them nor permitted by the court to call or examine witnesses. Both men were prisoners of conscience, imprisoned on account of their medical work with US and other international medical institutions.
Members of Iran's ethnic minorities continued to face discrimination along with harassment and imprisonment for advocating greater respect for social and cultural rights, including the right to mother tongue education. In June, the government announced that it would allow some higher education in regional languages.