The Islamic Republic of Iran is located in Western Asia, bordering Iraq on the West, the Caspian Sea in the North, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan on the East, and the Persian Gulf in the South. Approximately 82.8 million live in Iran, made up of eight ethnic groups: Persian, Azeri, Kurd, Lur, Baloch, Arab, Turkmen, and Turkic. 99.4% of the population is Muslim, majority Shia. Another 0.3% practice other religions including Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity.
The authorities heavily suppressed the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Security forces used unlawful force to crush protests. The authorities continued to arbitrarily detain hundreds of protesters, dissidents and human rights defenders, and sentenced many to imprisonment and flogging.
Enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment were committed with impunity on a widespread and systematic basis. Judicial corporal punishments amounting to torture, including floggings and amputations, were imposed. Fair trial rights were systematically violated. The death penalty was used as a weapon of political repression.
Executions were carried out, one in public and some others in secret. Those executed included people aged under 18 at the time of the crime. The authorities continued to commit crimes against humanity by systematically concealing the fate and whereabouts of several thousand political dissidents forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret in 1988. Mass graves believed to contain their remains were subject to ongoing destruction.
Women, as well as ethnic and religious minorities, faced entrenched discrimination as well as violence.
On 8 January, amidst heightened tensions following a US drone strike in Iraq that killed Revolutionary Guards Commander Ghasem Soleimani, the Revolutionary Guards fired missiles at a Ukrainian passenger plane in Iranian air space, killing all 176 people on board. After an initial cover-up, the Iranian authorities blamed “human error”.
Iran continued to provide military support to government forces in the armed conflict in Syria.
The health care system was overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic; at least 300 health care workers reportedly died of the disease.
US-imposed sanctions continued to negatively impact the economy, with detrimental consequences for the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.
In March, the UN Human Rights Council renewed the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran. The authorities did not grant him and other UN experts or independent human rights observers entry to the country.
Fair trial rights were systematically violated in the criminal justice system.
Authorities continued to systematically deny individuals facing national security-related charges access to a lawyer at the investigation stage. In some cases, access was even denied at trial. Some defendants were tried in their absence because authorities failed either to notify them of their trial dates or transfer them from prison to court.
Many trials took place behind closed doors. Revolutionary Court judges showed hostility towards defendants during court proceedings and treated the accusations of intelligence and security bodies as pre-established facts.
Forced “confessions” obtained under torture and other ill-treatment were broadcast on state television prior to trials and were consistently used as evidence by courts to issue convictions, even when defendants retracted them.
There has been a worrying trend of imposing extreme sentences against prisoners of conscience such as human rights attorneys Nasrin Sotoudeh who has been sentenced to a total of 38 years in prison plus 148 lashes and Amirsalar Davoudi, who has been sentenced to 30 years in prison and 111 lashes for his human rights work, including publicizing violations through a channel he set up on the Telegram mobile messaging app and giving media interviews. Many of those serving prison terms have been convicted in unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts on vague charges including “propaganda against the state” or “endangering the security of the state.”
Convictions and sentences were often upheld on appeal without hearings taking place.
Courts frequently refused to provide those convicted of national security charges with a copy of written judgments.
Ethnic minorities, including Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen faced entrenched discrimination, curtailing their access to education, employment, adequate housing and political office. Continued under-investment in minority-populated regions exacerbated poverty and marginalization. Despite repeated calls for linguistic diversity, Persian remained the sole language of instruction in primary and secondary education.
Members of minorities who spoke out against violations or demanded a degree of regional self-government were subjected to arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities criminalized peaceful advocacy of separatism or federalism and accused minority rights activists of threatening Iran’s territorial integrity.
Several Azerbaijani Turkic activists were sentenced to imprisonment and flogging in connection with the November 2019 protests and peaceful activism on behalf of the Azerbaijani Turkic minority, and two had their flogging sentences carried out.
Ahwazi Arabs reported that the authorities restricted expressions of Arab culture, including dress and poetry.
Since 6 January 2021, at least 96 individuals from Iran’s Kurdish minority, including civil society activists, labor rights activists, environmentalists, writers, university students and political activists have been arrested by the intelligence unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards or Ministry of Intelligence agents. According to Kurdish human rights groups, in 2020, over 500 Iranian Kurds including human rights defenders, were arrested for politically motivated reasons and charged with broad and vaguely worded national security-related offenses. At least 159 of them were subsequently sentenced to prison terms ranging from one month to 17 years and four received the death penalty. According to UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, “Kurdish political prisoners charged with national security offences … constitute a disproportionately high number of those who received the death penalty and are executed.”
Many Baluchi villagers in the impoverished province of Sistan and Baluchestan were denied their right to sufficient, physically accessible and safe water due to particularly poor infrastructure. They were forced to rely on unsafe sources of water such as rivers, wells, ponds and water pits inhabited by crocodiles for drinking and domestic use. Several people, including children, drowned while fetching water, including an eight-year-old girl from Jakigoor village where the water supply was cut for a week in August. Some local officials blamed victims for failing to take precautions. Many residents in the province also experienced poor access to electricity, schools and health facilities due to under-investment.
Iran has long held the dubious distinction of being the Number Two executioner in the world (after China). Iran is also among the tiny handful of countries that continue to execute juvenile offenders—those whose alleged crime occurred when they were younger than eighteen. Further compounding the abuses are systemic problems in the Iranian justice system, where suspects are routinely tortured or mistreated to coerce confessions.
A number of troubling executions—both those carried out and those scheduled to take place—illustrate the increasingly outrageous application of the death penalty—not only for those unfairly convicted of criminal offenses, but also for those accused of vague national security offenses.
Scores of protesters were charged with “enmity against God” (moharebeh) and “spreading corruption on earth” (efsad f’il arz), which carry the death penalty. Several protesters were sentenced to death following unfair trials which relied on torture-tainted “confessions.”
In December, dissident and journalist Ruhollah Zam was executed in connection with his anti-establishment social media news channel, Amad News. He was allegedly lured to Iraq in October 2019 where he was abducted under mysterious circumstances and brought to Iran where he stood trial in a Revolutionary Court on charges of “spreading corruption on earth” in connection with his popular news channel, AmadNews, that he ran on the messaging app Telegram. The channel, which had more than a million followers, shared videos of protests and information about the alleged involvement of various authority figures in corruption. The authorities claimed that his media work involved “espionage” for Israel and France, “cooperation with the hostile state of the United States”, “crimes against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system.”
Another case of Iran’s zealous use of the death penalty is the execution, on the last day of 2020, of Mohammad Hassaan Rezaiee, who was sentenced to death for a crime that allegedly occurred when he was sixteen years old, after a conviction based on confessions extracted under torture. His family was told on December 18 that his execution could be carried out in a week.
His case is very typical of the many other juvenile offenders who have been sentenced to death in Iran: the incident occurred during a fight among a number of young men from underprivileged socio-economic backgrounds in a rural area. In these situations, it is common for authorities to rather arbitrarily select one individual to be pinned as the suspect, when it is unclear exactly what happened during a melee involving knives; the suspect is then subjected to brutal torture to obtain a confession which is used as the primary evidence of guilt. Two other juvenile offenders were executed earlier in 2020, while Amnesty International recorded at least six juvenile executions in 2019. There are at least 90 juvenile offenders on death row in Iran. In 2019 at least 251 people were executed in Iran.
An egregious example of the deployment of the death penalty for political purposes is the case of Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian specialist in emergency medicine who was sentenced to death for “corruption on earth.” He had been arrested in April 2016 while on a trip to Iran at the invitation of Tehran University to speak about disaster medicine. He was accused of providing information to Israel that was allegedly used in the assassination of several Iranian scientists. Iranian State television aired the “confession” in December 2017. He barely escaped an execution scheduled to take place on December 1 after an international outcry, including a letter signed by 153 Nobel science prizes laureates. and was given a reprieve of unknown duration.
Executions were carried out after unfair trials. One victim was executed in public and others were in secret. A disproportionate number of those executed were members of Iran’s Kurdish and Baluchi minorities. The death penalty was maintained for consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Stoning remained a method of execution for those convicted of adultery.
Torture and other ill-treatment remained widespread and systematic, especially during interrogation.
Iran’s police, intelligence and security forces, and prison officials subjected detainees to prolonged solitary confinement, beatings, floggings, stress positions, forced administration of chemical substances and electric shocks.2 Prison and prosecution authorities also deliberately denied prisoners of conscience and other prisoners held for politically motivated reasons adequate health care.
The Penal Code continued to provide for corporal judicial punishments amounting to torture, including flogging, blinding, amputation, crucifixion and stoning.
At least 160 people were sentenced to flogging, according to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, for theft and assault as well as for acts that are protected under international human rights law, such as participating in peaceful protests, engaging in extramarital or consensual same-sex relationships and attending mixed-gender parties. In many cases, flogging sentences were carried out.
In one prison alone in Urumieh, West Azerbaijan province, at least six people were at risk of amputation.
Several men died in custody in suspicious circumstances, with photo and video evidence indicating that at least two of them were tortured before their deaths, including a juvenile offender who died in April.
On July 23, 2021 Amnesty International issued a press release condemning the use of deadly force against mostly peaceful protests in the southwestern province of Khuzestan. Video footage together with consistent accounts from the ground, indicate security forces used deadly automatic weapons, shotguns with inherently indiscriminate ammunition, and tear gas to disperse protesters, resulting in the deaths of at least eight people and scores of injuries. Many others have been arrested.
Protesters took to the streets in Khuzestan—one of Iran’s poorest regions, inhabited largely by Arabic speaking Ahwazis—because of severe water shortages and power outages due to drought and climate change; many were chanting “we are thirsty.” The Iranian authorities have long responded to peaceful protests with violence, including the use of live ammunition and the arrests, torture and mistreatment of those exercising their right to peaceful assembly and expression. Amnesty International is calling on the Iranian authorities to immediately cease the use of indiscriminate violence, to release all those detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly, and to protect all detainees from torture and other ill-treatment.
Freedom of religion and belief was systematically violated in law and practice. The authorities continued to impose on people of all faiths, as well as atheists, codes of public conduct rooted in a strict interpretation of Shi’a Islam. The authorities refused to recognize the right of those born to Muslim parents to convert to other religions or become atheists, with individuals seeking to exercise this right risking arbitrary detention, torture and the death penalty for “apostasy.”
Only Shi’a Muslims were allowed to hold key political positions. Members of religious minorities, including Baha’is, Christians, Gonabadi Dervishes, Yaresan (Ahl-e Haq) and converts from Shi’a Islam to Sunni Islam or Christianity faced discrimination, including in education and employment, as well as arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, torture and other ill-treatment for practising their faith.
In October, a Christian man was flogged 80 times in Bushehr province for drinking Holy Communion wine.
Followers of the Erfan-e Halgheh spiritual doctrine were arbitrarily detained.
The authorities continued to commit widespread and systematic human rights violations against members of the Baha’i minority, including forcible closure of businesses, confiscation of property, bans on employment in the public sector, denial of access to higher education and hate speech campaigns on state media.
Raids on house churches persisted.
Sunni Muslims continued to face restrictions on establishing their own mosques.
The authorities heavily suppressed the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
The Ministry of Interior as well as security and intelligence bodies continued to ban independent political parties, and human rights and civil society groups. Censorship of media and jamming of foreign satellite television channels continued. Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube remained blocked.
Hundreds of people remained arbitrarily detained for peacefully exercising their human rights. Among them were protesters, journalists, media workers, political dissidents, artists, writers and human rights defenders, including lawyers, women’s rights defenders, labour rights activists, minority rights activists, conservationists, anti-death penalty campaigners and those demanding truth, justice and reparation for the mass extrajudicial executions in the 1980s. Hundreds of prisoners of conscience were excluded from pardons and temporary releases. Political dissidents Mehdi Karroubi, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard remained under arbitrary house arrest without charge or trial.
Throughout the year, the authorities unlawfully closed the businesses or froze the bank accounts or assets of numerous journalists working with independent media outlets outside Iran, and of human rights defenders and their families. They also subjected the children, older parents and other family members of protesters, journalists and human rights defenders to intimidation, interrogation or arbitrary arrest and detention in reprisal for their relatives’ journalistic or human rights work or their participation in protests.
In January, security forces used unlawful force, including firing pointed pellets from airguns, rubber bullets and tear gas, and using pepper spray, to disperse peaceful protesters demanding justice for the Ukrainian plane crash victims. They also kicked, punched and beat protesters and carried out scores of arbitrary arrests.
In January and February, to quash independent reporting in the run-up to parliamentary elections, the authorities targeted journalists for arbitrary arrest and detention, house searches and interrogations.
The authorities took measures to stop independent reporting on COVID-19 and silence criticism about their handling of the pandemic. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance ordered media and journalists to use only official sources and statistics in their reporting. Cyber police established a special task force to tackle “cyber rumours” and “fake news” related to COVID-19 on social media; and scores of journalists, social media users, health care workers and others were arrested, summoned for questioning or given warnings. In April, Rahim Yousefpour, a doctor from Saqqez, Kurdistan province, was charged with “spreading propaganda against the system” and “disturbing public opinion” for his Instagram posts about COVID-19.
Persecution of Labor Activists
For more than three years, since International Workers’ Day in 2018, Amnesty International has documented the arrests of hundreds of workers and other labor rights activists in the context of a campaign by the authorities to repress social unrest and public dissent. Courts have handed down prison sentences to dozens of them, in at least 38 cases compounding these by ordering those convicted to be flogged as well.
Amnesty International has documented in detail the testimonies of activists, including Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian, who have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention in recent months.
On May Day (May 1) 2019 Iranian authorities arrested large numbers of labor rights activists for taking part in peaceful protests. The organization renews its calls on the Iranian authorities to lift their unlawful ban on independent trade unions and allow workers to hold peaceful gatherings, including on International Workers’ Day, and to exercise their right to form and join independent trade unions.
No public official was investigated or held accountable for crimes of unlawful killings, torture and enforced disappearance or other grave human rights violations.
Judicial authorities failed to conduct independent and transparent investigations into the use of lethal force by law enforcement officials against individuals who posed no imminent threat to life or serious injury.
Impunity prevailed for past and ongoing crimes against humanity related to the 1988 prison massacres, with many of those involved continuing to hold top judicial and government positions, including the current Head of the Judiciary and the Minister of Justice.
In May, Iran’s border guards detained dozens of Afghan nationals, including children, who had crossed the border into Iran to find work, beat them and forced them at gunpoint into the Hariroud river, which flows along the border with Afghanistan. Several drowned as a result. The authorities denied any responsibility.
The authorities continued to cover-up the real death toll of people killed during the November 2019 protests, and publicly praised security and intelligence forces for their role in the crackdown. In May, the authorities announced, for the first time, that around 230 people were killed during the protests, including six members of the security forces. Amnesty International documented the details of 304 men, women and children who were killed by security forces during the protests, but the real number of deaths is likely to be higher.5
Conditions in many prisons and detention facilities remained cruel and inhuman. Prisoners suffered from overcrowding, limited hot water, unsanitary conditions, inadequate food and drinking water, insufficient beds and bathrooms, poor ventilation and insect infestations, placing them at greater risk of COVID-19.
Between February and May, the authorities temporarily released around 128,000 prisoners and pardoned another 10,000 in response to COVID-19. Official letters leaked in July revealed that the Ministry of Health ignored repeated requests from the Prisons Organization for additional resources, including disinfectant products and medical and protective equipment. Some prisoners complained about the authorities’ improper use of bleach to disinfect surfaces, exacerbating poor air quality and leading to severe coughs, chest tightness and asthma attacks.
In March and April, prisoners across the country waged hunger strikes, protests and riots to protest the authorities’ failure to protect them from COVID-19. Authorities responded with unlawful force, resorting to beatings and firing live ammunition, metal pellets and tear gas to suppress protests. As a result, on 31 March, in Sheiban prison in Ahvaz, Khuzestan province, several Ahwazi Arab prisoners were killed and many others were injured.
Prisoners of Conscience
The Iranian authorities routinely deny proper medical treatment to prisoners of conscience and others in detention, even when they suffer from injuries directly caused by Iranian agents, such as beatings and torture during arrest or interrogation.
Human rights defender Alireza Farshi DizajYekan, who has advocated for the rights of Iran’s Azeri (Turkish speaking) minority. Alireza Farshi DizajYekan was arbitrarily arrested on 21 July 2020 to serve his prison sentence. He was sentenced to two prison terms after grossly unfair proceedings in Revolutionary Court. He was convicted of charges including “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security,” “spreading propaganda against the system” and “founding groups with the purpose of disrupting national security” for his peaceful human rights activities in support of the rights of the Azerbaijani Turkic community, including his role in submitting a letter to the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Tehran.
He is being held in Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary and is being denied access to adequate health care, including specialized eye treatment and treatment for Diabetes. He was told he would need urgent treatment to prevent the loss of vision in one eye, as a result of injuries suffered when he was severely beaten during his arrest.
Authorities subjected many detainees, including prisoners of conscience, to enforced disappearance, holding them in undisclosed locations and concealing their fate and whereabouts from their families. The authorities continued the pattern of executing members of ethnic minorities on death row in secret and concealing the whereabouts of their bodies, thereby subjecting their families to the ongoing crime of enforced disappearance.
Several Ahwazi Arab prisoners remained forcibly disappeared.
The authorities continued to commit the crime against humanity of enforced disappearance by systematically concealing the fate and whereabouts of several thousand political dissidents who were forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret in 1988 and destroying unmarked mass gravesites believed to contain their remains.
Security and intelligence forces threatened victims’ families with arrest if they sought information about their loved ones, conducted commemorations or spoke out.
Women continued to face entrenched discrimination in law, including in relation to marriage, divorce, employment, inheritance and political office.
The “morality” police and vigilantes, enforcing the country’s discriminatory and degrading forced veiling laws, continued to subject millions of women and girls to daily harassment and violent attacks amounting to torture and other ill-treatment. Several women’s rights defenders remained in prison for campaigning against forced veiling.
The authorities failed to criminalize domestic violence, marital rape, early and forced marriage and other gender-based violence against women and girls, which remained widespread.
The legal age of marriage for girls stayed at 13, and fathers and grandfathers could obtain permission from courts for their daughters to be married at a younger age. According to official figures, about 30,000 girls under the age of 14 are married every year.
The authorities failed to take steps to end impunity for men who kill their wives or daughters and to ensure accountability proportionate to the severity of these crimes.
Nasrin Sotoudeh who represented women targeted by Iranian authorities for protesting forced hijab (veiling), has been sentenced on several spurious national security-related charges including “forming a group with the purpose of disrupting national security”, “spreading propaganda against the system” and “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security.” She had first found out that she had been sentenced to five years in prison for “assisting in hiding spies with the intent to harm national security” imposed in absentia when she was arrested in June 2018. In March 2019 it was revealed that she had been sentenced to an additional 33 years plus the lashes.
In June 2020, the Guardian Council approved a new law for the protection of children, but which did not contain protections against so-called honour killings, child marriage and marital rape.
The government continued its review of the long-standing bill aimed at protecting women against violence. The delay was attributed to changes made by the judiciary during its review, which considerably weakened protections.
Abusive policing and excessive reliance on law enforcement to implement COVID-19 response measures have violated human rights and in some instances made the health crisis worse, Amnesty International said today.
Iran’s police, intelligence and security forces, and prison officials have committed, with the complicity of judges and prosecutors, a catalogue of shocking human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, …
Governments who were lauded for releasing prisoners in response to COVID-19 outbreaks have excluded human rights defenders from the measures and continue to make new arrests of activists, journalists and …
There has been an alarming escalation in use of the death penalty against protesters, dissidents and members of minority groups in Iran, Amnesty International said today, following the executions on …
Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all the prisoners of conscience it is campaigning for worldwide, who are now at heightened risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saudi Arabia executed a record number of people in 2019, despite an overall decline in executions worldwide, Amnesty International said in its 2019 global review of the death penalty published …
Around 36 prisoners in Iran are feared to have been killed by security forces after the use of lethal force to control protests over COVID-19 safety fears, Amnesty International has learned.
As part of a series of workshops exploring human rights concerns related to the COVID-19 response, Amnesty International USA will be holding a workshop titled “The impact of COVID-19 on …
Responding to the announcement by the Iranian authorities that pardons will be granted to prisoners convicted of “security” offenses who have a five-year prison sentence or less, and that those …
An investigation by Amnesty International has uncovered evidence that at least 23 children were killed by Iranian security forces in the nationwide protests in November last year.