Iran: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2012

Introduction to the 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

This report assesses human rights conditions around the globe in 2012. Two years after protests in Tunisia and Egypt sparked the beginning of the Arab Awakening, countries in that region and elsewhere remain in the throes of unsettling and unpredictable change. The internal political and social dynamics of each country are different, but the quest for dignity, greater economic opportunity, and a stake in their country’s political future remain powerful driving forces for men and women across the region.

Throughout last year, we saw encouraging examples of democratic change driven by the idealism and courage of leaders and citizens. Tunisia’s President and Libya’s Minister of Justice were veteran human rights advocates. Georgia held parliamentary elections that resulted in a peaceful transfer of power, a rare achievement among post-Soviet republics. And 2012 saw dramatic progress as Burma’s government began to turn the page on decades of authoritarian rule. 


The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic republic established after the 1979 adoption of a constitution by popular referendum. The constitution, amended in 1989, created a political system based on the concept in Shia Islam of velayat-e faqih, the “guardianship of the jurist” or “rule by the jurisprudent.” Shia clergy and political leaders vetted by the clergy, many of which are increasingly associated with the country’s security forces, dominate key power structures. The “leader of the revolution” (or supreme leader) is chosen by a popularly elected body of 86 clerics, the Assembly of Experts, and directly controls the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, as well as the armed forces. The supreme leader also indirectly controls internal security forces and other key institutions. Since 1989 the supreme leader has been Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The March 2 legislative elections for the 290-seat Islamic Consultative Assembly were generally considered neither free nor fair. Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over the security forces.

The government continued its crackdown on civil society, which intensified after the disputed 2009 presidential elections. The government and its security forces pressured, intimidated, and arrested journalists, students, lawyers, artists, women, ethnic and religious activists, and members of their families. The judiciary continued to harshly punish, imprison, or detain without charges human rights activists, members of the political opposition, and persons linked to reform movements. The government significantly increased its surveillance and monitoring of citizens’ online activities by blocking or filtering content and detaining numerous Internet users for content posted online.

The most egregious human rights problems were the government’s severe limitations on citizens’ right to peacefully change their government through free and fair elections; restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, and press; and the government’s disregard for the physical integrity of persons whom it arbitrarily and unlawfully killed, tortured, and imprisoned.

Other reported human rights problems included: disappearances; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including judicially sanctioned amputation and flogging; politically motivated violence and repression, such as beatings and rape; harsh and life-threatening conditions in detention and prison facilities, with instances of deaths in custody; arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes incommunicado; continued impunity of security forces; denial of fair public trials, sometimes resulting in executions without due process; political prisoners and detainees; the lack of an independent judiciary; ineffective implementation of civil judicial procedures and remedies; arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence; severe restrictions on freedoms of speech (including via the Internet) and press; harassment of journalists; censorship and media content restrictions; severe restrictions on academic freedom; severe restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, association, and religion; some restrictions on freedom of movement; official corruption and lack of government transparency; constraints on investigations of international organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) into alleged violations of human rights; legal and societal discrimination and violence against women, children, ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity; incitement to anti-Semitism and trafficking in persons; and severe restrictions on the exercise of labor rights.

The government took few steps to prosecute, punish, or otherwise hold accountable officials who committed abuses. Members of the security forces detained in connection with abuses were frequently released soon after their arrest, and judicial officials did not prosecute offenders. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of government and the security forces.

Note: This report draws heavily on non-U.S. government sources. The United States does not have an embassy in Iran

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