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Torture of opposition critics and journalists continues; free speech monitored online

A UN human rights committee accused the Iranian government on 20 November of ramping up its use of torture, flogging and amputation of dissidents, reports Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The government has also launched a new Web Crime Unit, policing one of the last spaces for free expression in Iran as it attempts to tighten its control over information, ideas and opinions, reports ARTICLE 19.

The UN resolution came after 109 independent human rights and civil society organisations, including three IFEX members, sent a letter to the UN on 11 November, urging it to condemn human rights violations in Iran and to advise the Iranian government to respect these rights, reports the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). Thousands of Iranians have suffered rights violations this year in a "massive ideological purge"; many have been beaten and shot at during protests, raped and tortured in detention, forced into making false confessions during mock trials, and disappeared. According to the letter, "Iran executed 115 persons convicted of crimes in 50 days following the 12 June disputed elections."

In a separate statement, RSF said, "The UN general assembly must follow up this committee's work by adopting a resolution denouncing the lack of transparency in the ongoing political trials and the illegal and arbitrary sentences being passed on opposition activists and journalists."

Recently, journalist Sasan Aghaei of the daily newspaper "Farhikhteghan", was arrested on 22 November at his Tehran home, reports RSF.

Other journalists in jail have been given five- to seven-year sentences during "Stalinist-style" political trials that have occurred since August, reports RSF. The detainees were represented by court-appointed lawyers connected to intelligence services.

While in prison, journalists are tortured, harassed, interrogated at any time, denied family visits, placed in solitary confinement and denied medical treatment, according to RSF. In August, a leading reformist newspaper, "Etemad-e Melli", was shut down following its plans to publish allegations that protesters had been raped while detained in Tehran's prisons during post-election turmoil, reports ARTICLE 19.

Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a cleric known as the "blogging Mullah" who is serving a six-year sentence, was released 22 November after paying an excessive bail amount of 700 million toman (520,000 euros), reports RSF.

"It must be made clear that it is not just the nuclear issue that the world is concerned about when it comes to Iran," said CIHRS. "We are deeply concerned about the Iranian government's ill-treatment of its people and we are asking governments and the United Nations to strengthen their attention to this issue."

In the region, Iran has also been at the forefront of finding ways to control the cyber world of dissent. A recent 12-member Web Crime Unit emphasises looking for cyber crimes such as "insults and lies," a term often used to describe opposition statements, says ARTICLE 19. The web was a lifeline for opposition forces, for communicating, for debate, and to mobilise support prior to, during and after the disputed June elections. The Web Crime Unit aims to "isolate the Iranian media and academic community from its global counterparts, and curtail cross-cultural dialogues and debates."

About 50 journalists have fled the country since the disputed June elections. RSF has put out an appeal for donations to help these bloggers and journalists who are struggling to find safe refuge. For more information, please contact: assistance (@) rsf.org or click here to make a donation:

Reporters Without Borders
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  • Government launches web crime unit

    Although vowing to fight cyber crime in general, the unit has placed its emphasis on "insults and lies" - a term often used to describe opposition statements.



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