BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND LABOR
Introduction to the 2009 Country Reports
2009 was a year of contrasts. It was a year in which ethnic, racial, and religious tensions led to violent conflicts and serious human rights violations and fueled or exacerbated more than 30 wars or internal armed conflicts. At the same time, it was a year in which the United States and other governments devoted greater attention to finding ways to acknowledge and combat these underlying tensions through showing leadership in advancing respect for universal human rights, promoting tolerance, combating violent extremism, and pursuing peaceful solutions to long-standing conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere. As President Obama said in his June speech at Cairo University, we should be defined not by our differences but rather by our common humanity, and we should find ways to work in partnership with other nations so that all people achieve justice and prosperity.
2009 also was a year in which more people gained greater access than ever before to more information about human rights through the Internet, cell phones, and other forms of connective technologies. Yet at the same time, it was a year in which governments spent more time, money, and attention finding regulatory and technical means to curtail freedom of expression on the Internet and the flow of critical information and to infringe on the personal privacy rights of those who used these rapidly evolving technologies.
The government’s poor human rights record degenerated during the year, particularly after the disputed June presidential elections. Freedom of expression and association and lack of due process continued to be problems within Iran, and the government severely limited individuals’ right to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections. Following the June 13 announcement of President Ahmadi-Nejad’s reelection, hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets to protest. Police and the paramilitary Basij violently suppressed demonstrations. The official death count was 37, although opposition groups report the number may have reached 70. By August, authorities had detained at least 4,000 individuals, and arrests continued throughout the year. A massive show trial involving many of the more prominent detainees was undertaken in September. On June 20, according to eyewitnesses, Basij militia killed Neda Agha-Soltan in Tehran. The video of her death appeared on YouTube and became a symbol of the opposition movement. Ahead of the June presidential election, on the actual day of election, and during the December 27 Ashura protests, when authorities detained 1,000 individuals and at least eight persons were killed in street clashes, the government blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. After the June election, there was a major drop in bandwidth, which experts posited the government caused to prevent activists involved in the protests from accessing the Internet and uploading large video files. The government continued to restrict freedom of religion severely, particularly against Baha’is and, increasingly, Christians.
2009 Human Rights Report: Iran*
Following the June 13 announcement of President Ahmadi-Nejad’s reelection, hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets to protest. Police and the paramilitary Basij violently suppressed demonstrations. The official death count was 37, but opposition groups reported approximately 70 individuals died, and human rights organizations suggested as many as 200. In August the judiciary estimated that authorities detained approximately 4,000 persons. Authorities continued to arrest numerous political activists throughout the rest of the year. On August 5, with many of those arrested charged with fomenting a “velvet revolution,” the head of the national security forces, Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, said in an interview that the government was holding individuals it considered the most dangerous offenders in Kahrizak Prison, and the rest were taken to Tehran’s Evin Prison. The Green Movement, the opposition that formed from many disparate groups to protest the election results, organized demonstrations throughout the country on various dates after the election, including Qods Day (September 18), the anniversary of the U.S. Embassy seizure (November 4), Students’ Day (December 7), Grand Ayatollah Montazeri’s funeral (December 21), and Ashura (December 27). During the December 27 protests, at least eight civilians, including the nephew of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, died in confrontations with authorities. Authorities responded to all the demonstrations with raids on opposition activists’ offices. Police reportedly arrested approximately 300 protesters and 10 opposition leaders in relation to the December 27 demonstrations alone.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
There was an increase in reports of politically motivated abductions during the year. Plainclothes officers or security officials often seized journalists and activists without warning and detained them incommunicado for several days or longer before permitting them to contact family members (see section 1.d.). The ICHRI issued a report on July 8 noting that arbitrary detention and disappearances were “widespread.” Families of executed prisoners did not always receive notification of their deaths (see section 1.a.). Human rights groups reported numerous disappearances related to the protests during the year.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Statistics regarding the number of citizens imprisoned for their political beliefs were not available, but human rights activists estimated the number in the hundreds, not including the approximately 4,000 to 5,000 persons detained in the aftermath of the June election protests and the approximately 1,000 persons detained during and after the Ashura protests. Human rights groups believed that approximately 200 persons remained in detention at year’s end. According to opposition press reports, the government arrested, convicted, and executed persons on questionable criminal charges, including drug trafficking, when their actual “offenses” were reportedly political. The government charged members of religious minorities and others with crimes such as “confronting the regime” and apostasy and followed the same trial procedures as in cases of threats to national security. During the year the government rounded up students and political activists prior to demonstrations to prevent them from organizing or participating in the events.
On March 26, authorities rearrested journalist and activist Mahboubeh Karami and others as they prepared to visit families of detained activists (see section 6, Women). In June 2008 authorities arrested Karami after she criticized police for beating demonstrators and detained her until August 2008.
The government significantly restricted academic freedom. Authorities working with universities continued to dismiss university professors in accordance with a 2006 presidential call for the removal of secular and liberal professors. To obtain tenure, professors had to refrain from criticism of authorities. According to AI, in August the Supreme Council for the Cultural Revolution instructed the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies to revise the humanities curriculum. Earlier in the year Supreme Leader Khamenei had made a speech noting worrisome trends in the teaching of humanities, including what he considered encouraging doubt of religious principles.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
On March 26, authorities arrested Khadijeh Moghaddam, Mahboubeh Karami, and 10 others as they prepared to visit families of detained activists (see section 6).
The constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional associations, Islamic religious groups, and organizations for recognized religious minorities, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of “freedom, sovereignty, and national unity” or question Islam as the basis of the Islamic Republic. The government limited freedom of association in practice through threats, intimidation, imposing arbitrary requirements on organizations, and arresting group leaders and members. According to a January 9 HRW report, under the Ahmadi-Nejad administration, municipal, provincial, and national councils–established by 2005 regulations ostensibly to facilitate NGOs’ permit process–instead served to suppress NGO activities. Such councils generally denied NGOs’ applications without written explanation, especially in minority regions, where those who successfully obtained permits nevertheless faced harassment (see section 6, National/Ethnic/Racial Minorities).
The journalists’ union and other labor-related groups also continued to face problems during the year (see section 7).
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution states that Shia Islam is the state religion and that all laws and regulations must be based on Islamic criteria. The constitution also nominally protects other Islamic denominations, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Judaism. In practice the government severely restricted freedom of religion, particularly the Baha’i faith.
The central feature of the country’s Islamic system was rule by the “religious jurisconsult.” Its senior leadership consisted principally of Shia clerics, including the supreme leader of the revolution, the head of the judiciary, and members of the Assembly of Experts and the Guardian Council.
Apostasy was punishable by death, according to Shari’a law. In September 2008 the Majles enacted a revision to the penal code to make conversion from Islam punishable by death for men or life imprisonment for women. The legislature reportedly implemented the revision on a one-year trial basis. On June 23, the Legal and Judicial Committee of the Majles recommended removing the revision from the penal code, but it remained at year’s end. There were no reported instances of courts imposing the death penalty for apostasy during the year.
Government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shia religious groups, most notably for Baha’is, as well as for Sunni Muslims, evangelical Christians, and members of the Jewish community. According to human rights activists, the government grew increasingly intolerant of Sufism and increased restrictions on Sufi houses of worship (husseiniya). If a Sufi student’s faith was revealed, the university expelled him or her. The government continued to repress Baha’is and prevent them from prevent people from meeting in homes to worship. It banned them from government and military leadership posts, the social pension system, and public schools and universities unless they concealed their faith. The courts denied Baha’is the right to inherit property, and the government does not recognize Baha’i marriages or divorces; the government, however, accepts a notary certificate acknowledging the union which allows couples to live together legally. According to the law, Baha’i blood is considered mobah, meaning Baha’is may be killed with impunity. The government repeatedly pressured Baha’is to recant their religious beliefs in exchange for relief from mistreatment.
On January 14, according to AI and Baha’i groups, authorities raided the homes of 12 Baha’i and arrested six persons. One was released shortly after he was arrested, but the other five spent two months in prison before being released.
On February 18, Radio Free Europe reported plainclothes police officers had destroyed a library and a religious hall at a Sufi house of worship in Ifsahan.
On March 5, security forces arrested two Christian women, Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, interrogated them, and detained them in several police stations without charging them before they appeared before Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran on March 18 to face charges of “taking part in illegal gatherings” and “acting against state security.” During their continued detention in an overcrowded cell in Evin Prison with 27 other women, they reportedly received no medical attention for infections and fevers. On October 7, authorities brought them before court again and charged them with three additional crimes: antistate activities, propagation of the Christian faith, and apostasy. On November 18, authorities released both women without bail, but it was uncertain whether they would face further court proceedings based on charges against them.
On July 23, according to the Iran Minorities Human Rights Organization, riot police and security forces arrested 20 Sufi practitioners (dervishes) in Gonabadi who were part of a group of 200 to 300 dervishes protesting the arrest of Hossein Zareya, a local leader. Police reportedly used force and tear gas to disperse the crowd, injuring several dervishes. According to Radio Free Europe, authorities had arrested Zareyi for presiding over the burial of a dervish at the cemetery. Authorities had purportedly banned dervishes from being buried at the cemetery for ecological reasons, but the dervishes claimed the ban was part of a government campaign against Sufis.
On September 27, MOIS officers in Yazd searched the home of Soheil Rouhanifard and confiscated belongings and materials related to the Baha’i faith. The next day, Rouhanifard appeared at the local MOIS office in response to a summons. Authorities interrogated and released him. He was summoned again on October 19 and arrested without charge. At year’s end he remained in prison and was not permitted family visits.
On October 12, MOIS officers arrested Behnam Rouhanifard, brother of Soheil Rouhanifard. Two days later authorities summoned his wife to appear at the local MOIS office, where authorities interrogated her for two hours. At year’s end Rouhanifard’s family had not heard from him since October 17, when he was permitted to call home; his whereabouts were unknown.
On October 31, MOIS officers searched the home of Baha’i member Ali Bakhsh Bazrafkan, confiscated items linked to his faith, and arrested him. Bazrafkan was a member of the former Baha’i administrative group (Khademin) in Yasouj. According to IHRV, Bazrafkan received a 30-month prison sentence followed by five years in exile in a remote area in the province of Kohkiloyeh va Boyerahmad.
According to human rights groups, all seven members of the Baha’i national leadership body, arrested in March and May 2008, and a total of at least 48 Baha’is, 29 of whom had been arrested during the year, were imprisoned at year’s end. Authorities scheduled capital punishment trials for the seven leaders on several occasions during the year, only to cancel each time at the last minute. At year’s end the trial date was set for January 12, 2010.
Human rights organizations reported that the government demolished several Sunni mosques during the year.
With the exception of Baha’is, the government generally allowed recognized religious minorities to conduct religious education of their adherents in separate schools, although it restricted this right considerably in some cases. The Ministry of Education, which imposed certain curriculum requirements, supervised the schools and must approve all textbooks, including religious texts. Sunni leaders reported bans on Sunni religious literature and teachings in public schools, even in predominantly Sunni areas. The government reportedly allowed Hebrew instruction but limited the distribution of Hebrew texts, particularly nonreligious texts, making it difficult to teach the language. With few exceptions, directors of private religious schools must be Muslim. The law required all Muslim students to take Islamic studies courses.
The government did not respect the right of Muslim citizens to change or renounce their religion. On November 2, MOIS officers entered a venue where a Baha’i gathering was underway. They filmed the event, distributed forms committing participants to respond to any summons from the local MOIS office, and arrested a man with the surname Ghanavati. When officers asked participants if anyone was absent, Sonia Ahmadi’s name came up; the officers subsequently went to her home, searched it, and arrested her. Some reports speculated that their arrest was due to Ahmadi having converted Ghanavati from Islam more than 30 years previously. At year’s end both individuals remained in prison.
Proselytizing of Muslims by non-Muslims was illegal. The authorities continued to increase vigilance in curbing proselytism by evangelical Christians. On October 19, authorities arrested Peyman Kashfi, a Baha’i, after he appeared before the Tehran Revolutionary Court in response to a summons. Prior to his arrest, an unidentified government official demanded Kashfi be terminated from his job due to his alleged proselytizing of colleagues. His employer refused the demand. At year’s end Kashfi was reportedly being held in Section 209 of Evin Prison.
The government, specifically the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and the MOIS, monitored all religious activity and the statements and views of all religious leaders, including the country’s senior Muslim religious leaders. It restricted the movements of several Muslim religious leaders who had been under house arrest for years and continued to detain at least one dissident cleric, Ayatollah Boroujerdi. The government pressured all ranking clerics to ensure their teachings conformed to (or at least did not contradict) government policy and positions. Since the June elections, the government has pressured proreform clerics to refrain from calling into question the election results and from criticizing the government’s response to the demonstrations. For instance, on November 25, the opposition Web site Rahesabz reported that Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate cleric often critical of the current government, would not be leading Eid Qorban prayers for the first time in several years and that Rafsanjani would be replaced by conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, according to an announcement by the Tehran Friday Prayers Office. Khatami also replaced Rafsanjani in leading prayers on Qods Day.
The government also required evangelical Christian groups to compile and submit congregation membership lists.
President Ahmadi-Nejad continued a virulent anti-Semitic campaign, stating in news conferences during the year that “Zionists” and Israel must be destroyed.
Jewish citizens were free to travel out of the country but were subject to the general restriction against travel by the country’s citizens to Israel. This restriction was not enforced.
The government reportedly continued to confiscate private and commercial properties, as well as religious materials, belonging to Baha’is. In 2006 the UN special representative on housing reported approximately 640 documented cases of Baha’i property confiscations since 1980, instances of numerous undocumented cases, and court verdicts declaring confiscation of property from the Baha’is legally and religiously justifiable. The constitution did not recognize rights of members of the Baha’i faith, and they had no avenue to seek restitution or compensation for confiscated property.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Government actions continued to support elements of society who created a threatening atmosphere for some religious minorities.
All religious minorities–including but not limited to Sunni Muslims, Christians, Baha’is, and Sufis, and Mandeans–experienced varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in employment, education, and housing. Inheritance laws favored Muslims over non-Muslims. Broad restrictions on Baha’is undermined their ability to practice their faith and function as a community. Baha’i groups reported that the government often denied their applications for new or renewed business and trade licenses. Baha’is could not teach or practice their religious beliefs or maintain links with coreligionists abroad. It was difficult to distinguish whether the cause of government discrimination against Sunni Muslims was religious or ethnic as most Sunnis are also members of ethnic minorities.
The government’s anti-Israel stance, in particular the president’s repeated speeches decrying the existence of Israel and calling for the destruction of its “Zionist regime,” created a threatening atmosphere for the 25,000-person Jewish community. Government officials continued to make anti-Semitic statements, organize events during the year designed to cast doubt on the Holocaust, and sanction anti-Semitic propaganda. The government also limited distribution of nonreligious Hebrew texts and required Jewish schools to remain open on Jewish Sabbath.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, and emigration, and repatriation. The government placed some restrictions on these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with regard to refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The government required exit permits for foreign travel for all citizens. Some citizens, particularly those whose skills were in demand and who were educated at government expense, had to post bond to obtain an exit permit. The government restricted foreign travel of some religious leaders and individual members of religious minorities and scientists in sensitive fields, and it increasingly targeted journalists, academics, and activists–including women’s rights activists–for travel bans and passport confiscation during the year. The government banned travel to Israel, but this ban was reportedly not enforced.
On March 17, authorities imposed a travel ban on human rights lawyer and writer Naser Zarafshan. Authorities confiscated his passport at the airport in Tehran as he was about to board a plane to Brussels to attend a conference on the environment.
On April 7, authorities prevented academic Mehdi Zakerian from leaving the country to take part in a conference in Italy on international legal issues. Officials confiscated his passport and other personal belongings, including his computer and research papers. Zakerian, a board member of the Center for Scientific Research and Middle East Strategic Studies, was detained for several months in August 2008 on espionage charges based on his contacts with foreign diplomats related to his work and research activities; no verdict had been issued on his case at year’s end.
On May 10, the government reportedly stopped DHRC deputy head Narges Mohammadi and peace activist Soraya Azizpanah at the Tehran airport. Mohammadi and Azizpanah were on their way to Guatemala to speak at a conference about the role of women in democracy. Authorities seized their passports and prevented them from traveling.
According to the New York Times, authorities prevented filmmaker Jafar Panahi, whom authorities briefly detained after the June election, from leaving the country to attend an October 29-November 5 Indian film festival.
A woman must have the permission of her husband, father, or other male relative to obtain a passport. A married woman must receive written permission from her husband before she leaves the country.
The government did not use forced external exile, but it used internal exile as a punishment. Many dissidents practiced self-imposed exile to be able to express their beliefs freely.
There were indications that members of all religious minorities were emigrating at a high rate, although it was unclear whether the reasons for emigration were religious or economic.
Protection of Refugees
The country was a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. The law provides means for granting asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants, and the government reportedly had a system for providing protection to refugees, but the UNHCR did not have any information as to how the country made asylum determinations. The government did not consistently provide protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
As of December, approximately 980,000 refugees registered by the Bureau for Aliens, Foreigners, and Immigrant Affairs were living in the country; 935,600 were Afghans and 44,400 were Iraqis. Approximately 70 percent of the Afghan and Iraqi refugees in the country had lived there for 20 to 30 years.
The number of registered Afghan refugees opting for voluntary repatriation declined since 2007 due to a combination of factors, including concerns about security in Afghanistan. The government continued to postpone discussions to renew the tripartite repatriation agreement, but at an international conference on resettlement and repatriation held in Kabul in November 2008, the government verbally committed to permit registered Afghan refugees to stay until they voluntarily repatriated or resettled elsewhere.
In addition to the 935,600 registered Afghan refugees, the UNHCR estimated as many as 1.5 million Afghans illegally resided in the country as migrant workers. In March 2008 the government announced it would deport all Afghans who lacked refugee documentation. According to the UNHCR, the government deported 200,000 Afghans in the first six months of the year and more than one million in the last three years. On March 22, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and provincial authorities reported that more than 1,000 children deported to Afghanistan’s western province of Herat in 2008 faced poverty and were at risk of abuse.
There were reports of some registered refugees included in mass deportations during the last several years, although these reports were not officially documented. According to HRW, many of those deported received no warning that they were being deported, and many were separated from their families or had little time to collect belongings and wages. Other deportees claimed they were beaten, detained, or required to perform forced labor for several days before they were deported. Among the deportees were vulnerable individuals and families who required humanitarian assistance upon arrival in Afghanistan. At the November conference in Kabul, the Iranian delegate stated that Afghan refugees would continue to be treated as “respected guests” and that the two countries were discussing the issuance of 300,000 visas to Afghan workers. No new visa arrangement had been announced by year’s end.
Since 2007 authorities maintained approximately 19 “No Go Areas” in the country for Afghan refugees, according to the UNHCR. Refugees were required to register and relocate in areas the government approved; those who did not were considered unregistered and remained subject to deportation. According to the UNHCR, the government’s reregistration campaign launched in 2008 to assist male refugees to obtain work permits enabled more refugees to work in the country.
In July, according to the UNHCR, the government announced a policy to treat the enrollment of all school-age children, including lawful foreign residents and registered refugees, in the same manner. At year’s end, however, there was no information available about how the new policy was enforced. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants reported in 2008 that Afghan refugee children were charged fees, while Iraqi refugee children were able attend public school for free. In some cases, local government officials reportedly suspended education services for refugees to encourage them to repatriate.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The constitution provides citizens the right to change peacefully the president and the parliament through free and fair elections, but the authority of unelected representatives over the election process severely abridged this right in practice. The Assembly of Experts elects the supreme leader, the recognized head of state, who may be removed only by a vote of the assembly. The supreme leader exercises influence over the government appointments of the 12 clerics and religious jurists who make up the Guardian Council. The Guardian Council then approves the list of candidates for the Assembly of Experts, whose 86 members must also be clerics, who serve eight-year terms and are chosen by popular vote. There was no separation of state and religion, and clerical influence pervaded the government. The supreme leader also approved the candidacy of presidential candidates.
Elections and Political Participation
On June 12, the country held its 10th presidential election, which outside observers regarded as neither free nor fair. International observers were not allowed entry to monitor the election results.
The Guardian Council approved only four candidates out of more than 450 prospective candidates, including 42 women and former officials. Authorities increased censorship and surveillance during the campaign, blocking cell phone signals and access to social networking and opposition Web sites (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom). Conversely, this election campaign also witnessed an unprecedented number of televised debates between the candidates. The government also reportedly harassed and arbitrarily arrested political activists, members of the country’s religious and ethnic minority communities, students, trade unionists, and women’s rights activists during the preelection period. For example, on April 19, authorities detained Mehdi Mo’tamedi Mehr, a member of the Committee to Defend Free, Healthy and Fair Elections and the banned political organization the Freedom Movement of Iran, after the Committee published a statement about civil society institutions as election observers. On December 28, according to local press reports, the MOIS summoned Mehr and other members of the Freedom Movement, and at year’s end they remained in detention.On May 27, authorities detained Emad Bahavar, also a member of the Freedom Movement, for “spreading propaganda against the system” by campaigning for presidential candidate Mousavi. According to IHRV, he was released 96 hours later.
Anecdotal evidence suggested that authorities forced some election observers representing opposition candidates to leave polling stations and that millions of unused paper ballots went missing. Before all polls closed and ballot counting had commenced, government-controlled media announced that President Ahmadi-Nejad had been reelected in the first round of elections, obtaining a majority of the votes. Contrary to the election law, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei approved the election results before the Guardian Council certified the election and before the Interior Ministry announced the final results.
Independent analysts studied election data and concluded there were a number of irregularities, including at least two provinces showing a turnout of more than 100 percent and absence of long-standing regional variations in turnout. According to official government data, President Ahmadi-Nejad took not only all former conservative voters, all former centrist voters, and all new voters, but also up to 44 percent of former reformist voters, a scenario analysts questioned.
The constitution allows for the formation of political parties, although the Interior Ministry granted licenses only to parties with ideological and practical adherence to the system of government embodied in the constitution. There were more than 240 registered political organizations that generally operated without restriction or outside interference, but most were small entities, often focused around an individual, and did not have nationwide membership. Political parties and candidates faced harassment during the year.
On June 19, presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s spokesperson reported that plainclothes police ransacked Mousavi’s offices and arrested many of his staffers. At year’s end several of his campaign members remained in jail.
On September 8, the Tehran prosecutor closed the offices of Mehdi Karoubi, a proreform cleric and former presidential candidate, and ordered Karoubi and his staff to leave the building. Judiciary officials took documents, computer disks, computers, and films from the office. Previously, Karoubi had turned over films and other materials to a parliamentary committee documenting authorities abusing detained protesters.
According to the Guardian Council’s interpretation, the constitution barred women and persons of non-Iranian origin or religions other than Shia Islam from becoming president. Women were also barred from serving as supreme leader; as members of the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council (a body responsible for mediating between the Majles and the Guardian Council and serving as a consultative council for the supreme leader); and as certain types of judges. One of the 10 vice presidents and one cabinet minister were women. Twelve women served in the Majles during the year.
Five Majles seats were reserved for recognized religious minorities. Other ethnic minorities in the Majles included Arabs and Kurds. There were no non-Muslims in the cabinet or on the Supreme Court.
Section 4 Government Corruption and Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and official corruption remained a serious and ubiquitous problem in all three branches of government.
Many officials expected bribes for providing even routine service. Individuals routinely bribed officials in order to obtain permits for illegal construction. Under President Ahmadi-Nejad, the IRGC has been a major beneficiary of state contracts for infrastructure projects. According to Freedom House, the hard-line clerical establishment also grew wealthy through its control of bonyads, tax-exempt foundations that monopolize many sectors of the economy such as cement and sugar production.
All government officials, including cabinet ministers and members of the Guardian Council, Expediency Council, and Assembly of Experts, were required to submit annual financial statements to the state inspectorate. There was no information available regarding whether these officials obeyed the law.
Numerous government agencies existed to fight corruption, including the Anticorruption Headquarters and the Anticorruption Task Force, both established in 2005, as well as the Committee to Fight Economic Corruption and the General Inspection Organization.
On February 5, media reported that a National Audit Office report to the Majles revealed that the Oil Ministry had not returned 12 trillion rials ($1.2 billion) in oil revenues during the 2006-07 budget to the treasury. At least one opposition presidential candidate blamed President Ahmadi-Nejad for the missing revenue.
In November a special parliamentary commission to investigate the government’s recent privatization efforts criticized the management of the process, singling out the sale of the Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI) to a company reportedly linked to the IRGC. The commission concluded that the consortium contesting the bid was a front and that the government essentially gave the TCI to the IRGC. A RAND Corporation report during the year noted allegations that the IRGC controls much of the country’s black market trade.
On February 25, government officials granted bail to Abbas Palizdar, allegedly a former member of a parliamentary committee to investigate economic corruption, after he reportedly had served 13 months of his 10-year prison sentence for “acting against national security.” Palizdar reportedly accused several prominent clerics of money laundering during speeches he gave at Shiraz and Hamedan universities in June 2008. The Judicial Inquiry and Review Committee continued to deny any connection to Palizdar, who failed to provide evidence to back his claims. Following his speeches, which were widely circulated on the Internet, judiciary officials arrested and indicted 11 persons Palizdar named, most of them government employees, on corruption charges.
There were no laws providing for public access to government information.
Section 5 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The government continued to restrict the work of human rights groups and activists and sometimes responded to their inquiries and reports with harassment, arrests, monitoring, unlawful raids, and closures (see also sections 1.d., 1.e., 2.a., 2.c., 6, and 7). The government continued to deny the universality of human rights and stated that human rights issues should be viewed in the context of a country’s “culture and beliefs.” In May 2008 judiciary chief Hashemi Shahroudi told the Human Rights Task Force, an intragovernmental entity established in 2001, that the international community uses human rights as a weapon against Muslim majority countries.
Hundreds of domestic NGOs focused on issues such as health and population, women’s rights, development, youth, environmental protection, human rights, and sustainable development, despite the restrictive environment, including pressure not to accept foreign grants. NGOs must register with the Interior Ministry and apply for permission to receive foreign grants. According to various sources, independent human rights groups and other NGOs faced intensifying harassment and threat of closure from government officials as a result of prolonged and often arbitrary delays in obtaining official registration.
During the year the government increasingly prevented human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, and scholars from traveling abroad, particularly to attend international conferences (see section 2.d.). Human rights activists reported receiving intimidating phone calls and threats of blackmail from unidentified law enforcement and government officials. Government officials routinely harassed family members of human rights activists (see section 1.f.). Courts routinely applied suspended sentences to human rights activists; this form of sentencing acted as de facto probation, leaving open the option for authorities to suddenly and arbitrarily arrest or imprison individuals. This threat was sometimes enough to silence activists or pressure them into providing information about other activists.
Professional groups representing writers, journalists, photographers, and others attempted to monitor government restrictions in their respective fields, as well as harassment and intimidation against individual members of their professions. The government severely curtailed these groups’ ability to meet, organize, or effect change.
Throughout the year the government reportedly continued to exert significant pressure on the DHRC, a Tehran NGO headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. According to a June 7 letter from Ebadi to President Ahmadi-Nejad, during the year a Basij student mob attacked Ebadi’s offices and home; the government pressured at least two of the DHRC’s employees to resign; authorities prevented several DHRC members from traveling outside the country; officials arrested and detained a DHRC secretary, Jinnous Sobhani, for 55 days; officials regularly summoned DHRC members for interrogation; and security officials warned individuals not to attend the DHRC’s gatherings, some of which police dispersed. On November 22, authorities reportedly confiscated Ebadi’s Nobel Peace Prize and diploma from her safety deposit box while Ebadi was out of the country; the medal was reportedly returned two weeks later. Authorities also tried to tax the award money, although Ebadi maintained the prize was exempt. On December 28, officials arrested Ebadi’s sister, a professor of dentistry.
In December 2008 security forces unlawfully raided and closed the DHRC’s offices. The raid occurred immediately before a scheduled ceremony to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A foreign ministry spokesperson said the government closed the center for operating without a valid permit; the DHRC had not received a permit at year’s end despite its assertion that authorities had approved its application in 2006. Also in December 2008 government security officers posing as tax officials raided Ebadi’s private law offices, seizing office files and computers.
Despite numerous appeals, the government denied requests from international human rights NGOs to establish offices in or conduct regular investigative visits to the country. The last visit by an international human rights NGO was AI’s 2004 visit as part of the EU’s human rights dialogue with the country.
The ICRC and UNHCR both operated in the country with some restrictions. According to HRW, since the government issued a standing invitation to all UN human rights agencies in 2002, there have been six visits to the country by UN special human rights institutions. The government generally ignored recommendations these bodies made and failed to submit required reports to the UN Human Rights Committee or the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The government ignored repeated requests for visits by UN special rapporteurs. On December 18, the UNGA passed a resolution expressing “deep concern that, despite the Islamic Republic of Iran’s standing invitation to all thematic special procedures mandate holders, it has not fulfilled any requests from those special mechanisms to visit the country in four years and has not answered numerous communications from those special mechanisms.” The UNGA “strongly urge[d] the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to fully cooperate with the special mechanisms, especially the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.”
In 2001 the supreme leader called for the creation of a human rights task force, chaired by the judiciary chief and composed of the ministers of intelligence, interior, foreign affairs, justice, and culture, as well as other judicial and military officials. The committee, which did not convene until 2006, was not considered effective. Mohammed Javad Larijani, brother to Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, and Sadeq Larijani, head of the judiciary, headed the committee.
Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Although the constitution formally prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, and social status “in conformity with Islamic criteria,” the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions.
Rape is illegal and subject to strict penalties, but it remained a problem. Spousal rape is not illegal. Cases of rape were difficult to document due to social stigma against the victims. Most rape victims did not report the crime to authorities because they feared societal reprisal such as ostracism or punishment for having been raped. According to the penal code, rape is a capital offense, and four male witnesses or three men and two women are required for conviction. A woman or man found making a false accusation of rape is subject to 80 lashes.
The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. Spousal abuse and violence against women occurred. According to a study published in 2008 using 2005 data, 52.7 percent of women reported being physically abused during their married lives. Abuse in the family was considered a private matter and seldom discussed publicly, although there were some efforts to change this attitude, particularly by the “One Million Signatures for the Repeal of Discriminatory Laws,” or “Change for Equality,” Campaign (OMSC). Some nongovernmental shelters and hotlines assisted victims during the year.
A man may escape punishment for killing a wife caught in the act of adultery if he is certain she was a consenting partner. According to a police official quoted in a domestic newspaper in 2008, 50 honor killings were reported during a seven-month period, although official statistics were not available. The punishment for perpetrators was often a short prison sentence.
In February, according to a local newspaper, a father killed his 16-year-old daughter for suspicious activity.
There were no reports of developments in the May 2008 case of a man known as “Ahmad,” who allegedly killed his daughter after her former brother-in-law kidnapped and slept with her, or the June 2008 case of “Morteza,” who allegedly killed his sister after she married a man without her family’s permission.
Prostitution is illegal, but it took place under the legal cover of sigheh (temporary marriage). International press reports described prostitution as a widespread problem. The problem appeared aggravated by difficult economic conditions and rising numbers of drug users and runaway children.
According to a May 29 AI report, an unemployed couple in Eastern Azerbaijan province prostituted themselves to local officials. On October 5, authorities reportedly hanged the husband, Rahim Mohammadi, for sodomy; at year’s end his wife, Kobra Babaei, awaited execution by stoning.
In March 2008 authorities arrested and dismissed from his post Tehran police chief Reza Zarei after he was discovered in a brothel during a police raid. In April 2008 he was reportedly taken to the hospital following a suicide attempt in prison. There were no further updates in his case during the year.
There was a lack of reliable data on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the country. Media reports indicated that unwanted physical contact and verbal harassment occurred. There are laws addressing sexual harassment in the context of physical contact between men and women.
In early January a court sentenced to 30 lashes Zanjan University deputy dean Hassan Madadi, caught on camera pressuring a female student for sexual favors in June 2008. The female student also received a sentence of 30 lashes. Courts suspended both punishments.
The 1993 family planning law recognizes the basic right of married couples to decide freely and responsibly the spacing and timing of their first three children, and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. According to the law, health and maternity benefits are cut for the family after three children. Local clinics and rural health centers disseminated information on family planning under the guidance of the Ministry of Health and Medical Education. There were no restrictions on the right of married persons to access contraceptives. According to the Population Reference Bureau, nearly 80 percent of married women of reproductive age used family planning methods, 75 percent of whom used modern methods of contraception. Couples who plan to marry must take a class in family planning. Men and women received equal access to diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections. According to UNICEF, 97 percent of women gave birth with a skilled attendant present.
The constitution nominally provides women with equal protection under the law and all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights in conformity with Islam. Provisions in the Islamic civil and penal codes, particularly sections dealing with family and property law, discriminate against women. Shortly after the 1979 revolution, the government replaced those laws that provided women with increased rights in the home and workplace with a legal system based largely on Shari’a practices. On March 12, President Ahmadi-Nejad instructed the relevant bodies to implement a law in which women’s share of their husband’s inheritance would increase to one-fourth from the previously stipulated one-eighth of his property. At year’s end there was no information on the law’s implementation. The governmental Center for Women and Family continued to publish reports on feminism with a negative slant and limited the debate on women’s issues to matters related to the home.
Although a man (or boy) can marry at age 15 without parental consent, the law states that a virgin woman or girl needs the consent of her father or grandfather to wed, or the court’s permission, even if she is older than 18. The country’s Islamic law permits a man to have as many as four wives and an unlimited number of sigheh, based on a Shia custom in which a woman may become the wife of a Muslim man after a simple religious ceremony and a civil contract outlining the union’s conditions. Sigheh wives and any resulting children were not granted rights associated with traditional marriage. The government does not recognize marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, or Baha’i marriages.
A woman has the right to divorce only if her husband signs a contract granting that right, cannot provide for his family, or is a drug addict, insane, or impotent. A husband was not required to cite a reason for divorcing his wife. Traditional interpretations of Islamic law recognized a divorced woman’s right to part of shared property and to alimony. These laws were not enforced. According to a study by the National Organization for Civil Registration quoted in a book by a women’s rights activist, more than 89 percent of women did not receive their due alimony, and 9 percent did not receive their share of the wedding gift (wedding contracts traditionally stipulate that in case of divorce the groom give his bride the wedding gift for financial support). The law provides divorced women preference in custody for children up to age seven; divorced women who remarry are forced to give the child’s father custody. After the child reaches age seven, the father is entitled to custody (unless the father has been proven unfit to care for the child). The court determines custody in disputed cases.
Women sometimes received disproportionate punishment for crimes such as adultery, including death sentences. The testimony of two women is equal to that of one man. The blood money paid to the family of a female crime victim is half the sum paid for a man.
Women had access to primary and advanced education. Reportedly, 65 percent of university students were women. Government officials acknowledged the use of quotas to limit women’s university admissions in certain fields such as medicine and engineering. In addition, social and legal constraints limited women’s professional opportunities. Women were represented in many fields, including the legislature, municipal councils, police, and firefighters, but a woman must seek her husband’s consent before working outside the home. According to a World Economic Forum report during the year, the unemployment rate for women, who constituted 33 percent of the workforce, was 15.8 percent, compared with 9.3 percent for men. Women cannot serve in many high-level political positions or as judges, except as consultant or research judges without the power to impose sentences.
The government enforced gender segregation in most public spaces, including medical care, and prohibited women from mixing openly with unmarried men or men not related to them. Women must ride in a reserved section on public buses and enter public buildings, universities, and airports through separate entrances.
On January 26, media sources reported that authorities fined and suspended managers and coaches involved in the first mixed (men versus women) soccer game since the 1979 revolution. The Esteghlal soccer club’s technical manager and both head coaches received suspensions of six months to one year and fines of as much as 50 million rials ($5,000).
The penal code provides that if a woman appears in public without an appropriate hijab, she can be sentenced to lashings and fined. However, absent a clear legal definition of “appropriate hijab” or the punishment, women were subject to the opinions of disciplinary forces or judges. Pictures of uncovered or immodestly dressed women in the media or in films were often digitally altered.
The government continued its intense crackdown against members of the OMSC, which activists launched in 2006 to promote women’s rights.
On January 30, authorities arrested three OMSC members–Nafiseh Azad, Bigard Ebrahimi, and a person who wished to remain anonymous–while they were collecting petition signatures and held them for several days. Authorities charged Azad with “acting against national security through propaganda against the state,” according to the ICHR. On August 18, a judge gave Azad a one-year suspended sentence, but in late October an appeals court acquitted her of all charges.
On March 26, according to the ICHR, security forces detained 12 members of the OMSC and the NGO Mothers for Peace–Delaram Ali, Khadijeh Moghadam, Leila Nazari, Farkhondeh Ehtesabian, Mahboubeh Karami, Bahara Behravan, Ali Abdi, Amir Rashidi, Mohammad Shoorab, Arash Nasiri Eghbali, Soraya Yousefi and Shahla Forouzanfar–at a street corner in Tehran as the group met to make traditional Nowruz (New Year) visits to families of several political prisoners. The ICHR suggested that security and intelligence forces must have eavesdropped on activists’ private communications to apprehend them. Judge Matin Rasekh charged the women with “disturbing public opinion” and “disrupting public order,” and they were transferred to Section 209 of Evin Prison under MOIS control. On March 29, authorities released 10 of the activists on bail, and on April 7 and 8, they released Mahboubeh Karami and Khadijeh Moghadam. According to lawyer Nasim Ghanavi, Moghadam was also charged for participating in a January 11 demonstration with Mothers for Peace against the Israeli military operation in Gaza. On May 8, the security deputy of the Tehran Revolutionary Court summoned Moghaddam and her husband, Akbar Khosrowshahi. They appeared in court with their attorney, and Moghadam answered questions about assistance she gave to victims of the 2003 Bam earthquake, as well as her advocacy on behalf of detained labor activists and a fellow women’s rights defender. Moghadam was previously detained in April 2008 and charged with “spreading propaganda against the state,” “disrupting public opinion,” and “actions against national security.”
On April 25, authorities arrested Maryam Malek in Tehran, charged her with “propaganda against the system” in connection with her membership in the OMSC, and detained her in Evin Prison. On April 29, authorities released her on a third-person guarantee, as she could not pay bail set at 200 million rials ($20,000).
On May 7 and 8, authorities in Qom arrested two OMSC members, Maryam Bidgoli and Fatemeh Masjedi, along with the male author of The Women’s Movement in the East, Gholamreza Salami. Intelligence agents searched both women’s homes and took personal belongings. According to news reports, the women had previously been investigating an honor killing. They were released later in May.
In December, according to the IHRDC, authorities arrested Zohre Tonkaboni and Mahin Fahimi, members of Mothers for Peace. The same month, authorities arrested OMSC members Atiey Youseffi, Somayeh Rashidi, and Mansourreh Shojaaiei. According to the ICHRI, Rashidi reported authorities were holding her in solitary confinement at Evin Prison. At year’s end all reportedly remained in prison.
Several members of the OMSC, including Parvin Ardalan, remained under suspended prison sentences and travel bans at year’s end.
On January 31, a revolutionary court reportedly sentenced Mehri Moshrefi and her husband to a two-year suspended sentence. In November 2008 authorities arrested Moshrefi, her husband, and two of her children at a cemetery where the OMSC was staging a protest and transferred them to Evin Prison, despite activists’ claims that the family was not involved in the gathering. Authorities held Moshrefi’s two children (one of whom was a minor) for one month, and prison officials did not allow the family to contact their third child, who was not with the rest of the family at the time of arrest, for more than two weeks.
In April a court sentenced Ronek Safazadeh to six years in prison for spreading propaganda about the government and membership in the armed opposition group Free Life Party of Kurdistan, with which her lawyer maintained she was only marginally involved. In 2007 security agents arrested Safazadeh in Sanandaj for collecting signatures for the OMSC petition.
On February 26, authorities released Hana Abdi, whom police arrested in 2007 for collecting signatures for the OMSC petition. In October 2008 a court reduced her five-year sentence to 18 months.
At year’s end Maryam Hosseinkhah had found temporary refuge in Ireland, and Jelvah Javaheri remained in the country, where she spent the month of May in prison for her participation in demonstrations on International Workers Day and faced a six-month prison sentence issued in October. Police originally arrested both women in 2007 for “propaganda against the system.”
Citizenship is derived by descent when a child is born to a citizen father regardless of the child’s country of birth. In general, birth within the country’s borders does not confer citizenship, except when a child is born to unknown parents; when both parents are noncitizens, but at least one parent was born in the country; or when a child born to noncitizens continues to reside in the country for at least one year after age 18.
Although primary schooling up to age 11 is free and compulsory for all, media and other sources reported lower enrollment in rural areas for girls than for boys.
There was little information available to reflect how the government dealt with child abuse, including child labor. Abuse was largely regarded as a private family matter. According a 2005 study by the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Network, child sexual abuse was rarely reported.
The law requires court approval for the marriage of girls younger than 13 and boys younger than 15, but it was reportedly not unusual in rural areas for parents to have their children marry before they became teenagers, often for economic reasons. Sex outside of marriage is illegal.
There were reportedly significant numbers of children working as street vendors in Tehran and other cities and not attending school.
International news reported on the plight of children of imprisoned mothers. According to State Prisons Organization regulations, children could stay in prison with their mothers until the age of three; according to a report by the Association for Defending Prisoners’ Rights, children sometimes stayed through the age of six.
On December 31, according to the IHRC, authorities arrested Maryam Zia, a leader of a child welfare organization and wife of a labor leader. Zia was previously arrested in 2006 during a women’s rights protest in Haft Tir Square.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons. According to publicly available information from NGOs, the media, international organizations, and other governments, trafficking in persons was an extensive problem, and the country was a source, transit, and destination point for trafficking. Women and girls were trafficked from the country to Pakistan, Turkey, Europe, and the Gulf States for sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude. Men, women, and children from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan were trafficked through the country to the Gulf States and sometimes to Europe for purposes of employment. Afghan women and girls were trafficked to the country for sexual exploitation and forced marriages. Internal trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labor also occurred. Media reports indicated that criminal organizations played a large role in human trafficking to and from the country.
In some cases authorities reportedly tried and convicted persons involved in trafficking, but aspects of the law and practice–such as punishment of victims for prostitution or adultery–hindered efforts to combat trafficking. There was no evidence that the government took steps to protect trafficking victims or to prevent trafficking during the year.
The Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at www.state.gov/j/tip.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law also provided for state-funded vocational education for persons with disabilities, but according to domestic news reports, vocational centers were confined to urban areas and were unable to meet the needs of the entire population. Building accessibility for persons with disabilities remained a widespread problem. The Welfare Organization of Iran is the major governmental agency charged with protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
The constitution grants equal rights to all ethnic minorities and allows for minority languages to be used in the media and in schools; in practice, minorities did not have equal rights, and the government consistently denied their right to use their language in school. The government disproportionately targeted minority groups, including Kurds, Arabs, Azeris, and Baluch, for arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, and physical abuse. These groups reported political and economic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights. In 2007 then interior minister Mustafa Purmohammadi ranked ethnic divisions as one of the biggest problems his ministry had to address. The government blamed foreign entities, including a number of Western countries, for instigating some of the ethnic unrest.
On January 9, HRW released a report documenting government persecution of the 4.5 million Kurds in the country, who have frequently campaigned for greater regional autonomy. The report documented the government’s use of security laws, media laws, and other legislation to arrest and persecute Kurds solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and association (see also section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). According to the report, the government consistently banned Kurdish-language newspapers, journals, and books and punished publishers, journalists, and writers for opposing and criticizing government policies. Although the Kurdish language is not banned, schools did not teach it. Authorities suppressed legitimate activities of Kurdish NGOs by denying registration permits or bringing spurious charges of security offenses against individuals working with such organizations. Kurds were not allowed to register certain names for their children in official registries.
IHRV reported that two Kurdish students who passed entrance exams for graduate school during the year were denied admission based on their ethnicity.
On January 15, IHRV reported that authorities arrested Kurdish writer Abbass Jalilian, who goes by the name “AKO.” In November an appeals court upheld his 15-month sentence for espionage, issued by the Kermanshah revolutionary court in March. His initial court proceedings reportedly took place without his lawyer present.
On August 3, authorities released Kurdish journalist and human rights activist Massoud Kordpour after he completed his one-year prison term in Mahabad Central Prison. In August 2008 security forces arrested Kordpour on espionage charges related to interviews he gave to foreign media outlets. Authorities reportedly held Kordpour incommunicado for several months.
In July the Supreme Court upheld Farrad Kamangar’s February 2008 death sentence for “endangering national security” based on his alleged involvement with the Turkey-based Kurdish Workers Party. Kamangar, superintendent of high schools in Kamayaran, was affiliated with a number of civil society organizations, including the local teachers’ union, an environmental group, and the HROK. The court also sentenced fellow Kurdish activists Ali Heydarian and Farhad Vakili to death, and all three remained on death row at the end of the year. Authorities originally arrested the three men in 2006 because of their human rights activism.
Foreign representatives of the Ahvazi Arabs of Khuzestan claimed their community of two to four million in the country’s southwest encountered oppression and discrimination, including the lack of freedom to study and speak Arabic. Ahvazi and human rights groups alleged torture and mistreatment of Ahvazi Arab activists, including allegations that in September IRGC intelligence officers raped two female activists.
In October relatives of seven men sentenced to death for killing a clergy member in Ahwaz told local human rights organizations that authorities had tortured them to coerce confessions.
Ethnic Azeris comprised approximately one-quarter of the country’s population, were well integrated into government and society, and included the supreme leader among their numbers. Nonetheless, Azeris complained that the government discriminated against them, banning the Azeri language in schools, harassing Azeri activists or organizers, and changing Azeri geographic names. Azeri groups also claimed a number of Azeri political prisoners had been jailed for advocating cultural and language rights for Azeris. The government charged several of them with “revolting against the Islamic state.”
On May 26, media sources reported that 16 ethnic Azeris were injured during clashes with police in the city of Tabriz; 15 demonstrators were arrested. Protests also took place in the town of Orumiyeh and in Tehran. The demonstrations commemorated 2006 riots in Tabriz and other cities protesting a newspaper caricature depicting Azeris as cockroaches.
In a series of arrests beginning in July 2008, police reportedly detained at least eight Azeri-Iranian students in Tabriz and charged them with “establishing illegal groups in order to disrupt national security” and “propaganda against the state.” According to AI, the student activists were campaigning for greater cultural and linguistic rights, including the right to education using the Azeri language and the right to celebrate Azeri culture and history. In October 2008 authorities released all but one on bail; the remaining prisoner, Dariush Hatemi, was released in November 2009.
No updates were available in the case of a group of Azeri cultural rights activists–including author Hasan Rashedi, poet Mehdi Naimi Ardabili, writer Alireza Sarafi, and journalist Saeed Mohammadi Moghalani–whom authorities arrested in September 2008 at an Iftar celebration. Authorities held the men incommunicado and without charge for several weeks before releasing them on bail in November 2008.
Local and international human rights groups alleged serious economic, legal, and cultural discrimination against the Baluch minority during the year. Baluch journalists and human rights activists faced arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and unfair trials, often ending in execution. In August 2008 authorities executed Baluch journalist and education activist Yaghoob Mirnehad in Zahedan for alleged membership in the militant group People’s Resistance Movement of Iran (formerly Jundallah), which the government considers a terrorist group.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The Special Protection Division, a volunteer unit of the judiciary, monitored and reported “moral crimes.” The law prohibits and punishes homosexual conduct; sodomy between consenting adults is a capital crime. The law defines transgender persons as mentally ill, encouraging them to seek medical help in the form of gender-reassignment surgery. The government censored all materials relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues. In September 2008 President Ahmadi-Nejad called homosexual activity an “unlikable and foreign act” that “shakes the foundations of society.” The size of the LGBT community was unknown, as many individuals feared identifying themselves. There were active LGBT NGOs in the country, but most activities to support the LGBT community took place outside the country.
According to a November 4 HRW report, three men–Mehdi P., Moshen G., and Nemat Safavi–faced execution based on homosexual conduct allegedly committed when they were minors. At year’s end they were still believed to be in prison. According to HRW, the last confirmed death sentences for homosexual conduct were handed down in 2005, although there were allegations of executions related to homosexual conduct in 2006 and 2007. The punishment of a non-Muslim gay man or lesbian was harsher if the gay man or lesbian’s partner was Muslim. Punishment for homosexual behavior between men was more severe than for such behavior between women.
The government provided grants of as much as 45 million rials ($4,500) and loans of as much as 55 million rials ($5,500) for transgender persons willing to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Human rights activists and NGOs reported that some members of the gay and bisexual community have been pressured to undergo gender reassignment surgery to avoid legal and social persecutions in the country. In September international newspapers reported that a family court allowed the first transsexual marriage between a woman and her male partner, previously also a woman.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Persons with HIV/AIDS reportedly faced discrimination in schools and workplaces. The government supported programs for HIV/AIDS awareness and generally did not interfere with private HIV/AIDS-related NGOs. Government hospitals diagnosed and treated AIDS patients free of charge.
Section 7 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides workers the right to establish unions; in practice the government did not permit independent unions. A national organization known as Workers’ House was the sole authorized national labor organization. It served primarily as a conduit for government control over workers. The leadership of Workers’ House coordinated activities with Islamic labor councils in industrial, agricultural, and service organizations comprising more than 35 employees. According to the ICHRI, these councils, which consisted of representatives of workers and a representative of management, were essentially management-run unions that undermined workers’ efforts to maintain independent unions, but they nonetheless frequently blocked layoffs and dismissals in support of workers’ demands. During the year the government pressured workers to join the government-sponsored councils.
The 1990 labor code stipulates that workers may establish an Islamic labor council or a guild at any workplace, or that workers may appoint an official representative. The law strongly favors Islamic labor councils; no other form of representation is allowed in a workplace where such a council has been established. Although Workers’ House oversees Islamic labor councils, the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Labor, and the Islamic Information Organization draft councils’ constitutions, operational rules, and election procedures.
Restrictions on the ability of workers to associate continued during the year as the government and the judiciary regularly abused the justice system to imprison and silence labor activists.
On April 26, authorities arrested Sajad Khaksari, the 25-year-old son of Mohammad Khaksari and Soraya Darabi, leaders of the Teachers’ Trade Association, which the government banned in 2007. Authorities first arrested Sajadin in 2006 for his writings in a union publication and again in January for taking photographs of a government building. His April arrest was for attending an “illegal teachers’ gathering” in front of the parliament. On June 6, a revolutionary court acquitted him of all charges, and an appeals court commuted the six-month prison sentence for his first arrest. In the aftermath of the postelection crackdown on activists, the prosecutor ordered the court to send Sajad’s file to a different revolutionary court branch that retried him, without his lawyer present, and sentenced him to one year in prison on the charges for which he had been acquitted. Sajad appealed the sentence and was reacquitted on two of the three charges. The final charge had yet to be heard by a public court in Tehran at year’s end.
On March 8, media sources reported that MOIS agents raided the residence of Ali Nejati, president of the board of directors of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company Workers’ Syndicate, and arrested Nejati and five others. On the evening of February 28, MOIS agents had previously raided and searched his home and confiscated some documents related to the syndicate. After holding him in solitary confinement for one month, authorities tried and convicted him of “propaganda against the system” in connection with interviews he gave about working conditions. On October 12, another court convicted Nejati and four others–Mohammed Heydari Mehr, Feridoun Nikoufard, Jalil Ahmadi, and Ghorban Alipour–on charges related to union activity in 2007. The court sentenced each to four to six months’ imprisonment followed by four- to six-month suspended sentences. At year’s end the men remained in prison.
On May 1, authorities reportedly arrested 100 to 200 people in Laleh Park in Tehran during International Workers Day (May Day) celebrations. Detainees included members of trade unions, journalists, women’s and children’s rights activists, and others active on behalf of civil society. On May 2, authorities released 25 men and two women on third-party guarantees. All remaining detainees were reportedly sent to Ward 240 of Evin Prison where, according to those who were released, the detainees suffered mistreatment and were not allowed contact with their families or lawyers. According to the Iran Free Trade Union’s Web site, authorities demanded that bail of approximately 500 million rials ($50,000) be posted for some of the detainees, including Jafar Azimzadeh, Shahpour Ehsani, and Bahram (Issa) Abedini. At year’s end there had been no developments on the status of the detainees.
On June 14, during a general crackdown on dissidents, authorities arrested Iranian Teachers’ Organization head Alireza Hashemi and detained him for 25 days. At year’s end he remained under a three-year suspended sentence on charges related to a 2007 protest calling for teachers to receive pay and benefits equal to those of government employees.
On August 6, security officers closed the offices of the Association of Iranian Journalists (AIJ) immediately before a union general meeting and President Ahmadi-Nejad’s swearing-in. On December 28, according to RSF, plainclothes men arrested the spokesperson for the organization. In June 2008 the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs threatened to dissolve the AIJ because it allegedly failed to uphold its internal regulations. According to RSF, authorities sought removal of the association’s executive committee on grounds of alleged procedural irregularities in voting during its general assemblies. The AIJ held internal elections to satisfy the Ministry of Labor’s concerns but had yet to receive approval at the end of the year.
On February 18, authorities reportedly flogged two female labor activists, Sussan Razani and Shiva Kheirabadi, in Sanandaj Central Prison for participating in International Workers Day celebrations in May 2008. Razani received a sentence of 70 lashes and a nine-month suspended sentence, and Kheirabadi received 15 lashes (originally 40, but reduced by an appeals court) and a four-month suspended sentence. The court sentenced two other labor activists, Abdullah Khani and Syed Ghalib Husseini, to prison terms and flogging for participating in the same event.
Also on February 18, authorities released trade union member and writer Mohsen Hakimi from Evin Prison, where he allegedly endured physical and psychological abuse. In December 2008 security agents reportedly arrested Hakimi on unspecified charges.
There was no further information about the 2007 case in which nine members of the Hamedan Teachers’ Association were sentenced to 91 days’ imprisonment for “participating in unlawful strikes” and for closing schools; the pending trial of labor activist Mahmoud Salehi, former head of the Saqqez Bakery Workers’ Union, after he completed a one-year term in prison in April 2008 for “acting against national security”; or bus driver syndicate leaders Mansur Ossanloo and Ebrahim Madadi, who remained in prison at year’s end on charges from 2007. AI noted that Ossanlu was named in the general indictment of the “show trials” in August and that authorities denied Ossanloo medical care.
The law prohibits public sector strikes, and the government considered unlawful any strike deemed contrary to government economic and labor policies, including strikes in the private sector, but strikes occurred. According to an October 2008 UNGA report, security forces continued to respond with arbitrary arrests and violence to workers’ attempts to create associations or conduct labor strikes over wages.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers did not have the right to organize independently or to negotiate collective bargaining agreements freely. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, labor legislation did not apply in export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The labor code prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children; however, there were reports that such practices occurred. Female citizens were trafficked internally for the purpose of forced prostitution.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits employment of minors younger than 15 and places restrictions on employment of minors younger than 18. The government did not adequately enforce laws pertaining to child labor, and child labor was a serious problem. The law permits children to work in agriculture, domestic service, and some small businesses, but prohibits employment of minors in hard labor or night work. There was no information regarding enforcement of these regulations.
According to government sources, three million children were prevented from obtaining education because their families forced them to work. Unofficial sources claimed the figure was closer to five million. There were reportedly significant numbers of children–primarily Afghan but also Iranian–working as street vendors in major urban areas. Traffickers also exploited children for forced commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude as beggars and laborers.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law empowers the Supreme Labor Council to establish annual minimum wage levels for each industrial sector and region. On March 18, media reported that the government increased the minimum monthly wage by 20 percent to 2.6 million rials ($260), which labor groups stated did not provide a decent standard of living for workers and their families. International media reported that government wages returned to their previous monthly minimum in July after the election. There was no information regarding mechanisms to set wages, and it was not known whether minimum wages were enforced.
The labor law does not cover an estimated 700,000 legal workers, as it applies in full only to workplaces with 10 or more workers. Workplaces with fewer than five workers or in export processing zones are exempt from all labor laws. Afghan workers, especially those working illegally, often were paid less than the minimum wage. During the year the government continued to deport illegal Afghan migrant workers, some of whom may have been unregistered refugees (see section 1.d., Protection of Refugees).
The law establishes a maximum six-day, 48-hour workweek with a weekly rest day, normally Friday, at least 12 days of paid annual leave, several paid public holidays.
The law establishes a safety council chaired by the labor minister or his representative protects workplace safety and health. Labor organizations outside the country have alleged that hazardous work environments were common and resulted in thousands of worker deaths annually. The quality of safety regulation enforcement was unknown, and it was unknown whether workers could remove themselves from hazardous situations without risking the loss of employment.
* The United States does not have an embassy in Iran. This report draws heavily on non-U.S. Government sources.