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Family planning scholar arrested on vague accusations in Iran

An Afghan refugee is given an introduction to contraception by an Iranian nurse in the family planning department of a Medecins Sans Frontieres clinic, Golshahr district of Mashad, north east Iran, 23 February 1999
An Afghan refugee is given an introduction to contraception by an Iranian nurse in the family planning department of a Medecins Sans Frontieres clinic, Golshahr district of Mashad, north east Iran, 23 February 1999

Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 7 December 2018.

Two academics with ties to Australian universities are among those arrested or required to go to a police station to face questioning in Iran during a weeks-long crackdown. The Iranian authorities claim those arrested used scientific projects as a cover to infiltrate Iran and create obstacles for the country's plans to increase its birth rate. The accusation is another use by Iranian authorities of the vaguely defined word 'infiltration,' a word the authorities have repeatedly used to justify the detention of academics and environmentalists.

The arrest of Meimanat Hosseini Chavoshi and the order given to Mohammad Jalal Abbasi to go to a police station to face questioning were confirmed by the Center for Human Rights in Iran on December 4. This news was foreshadowed last week by Fars News Agency, which has ties to Iranian intelligence services, when it reported that authorities arrested and summoned a number of "infiltrators in the field of population control," including a dual-citizen. Both Abbasi and Hosseini Chavoshi have notable publications researching family planning in Iran. According to Islamic Republic News Agency, Hosseini Chavoshi has not had access to a lawyer since detention.

Iran's family planning policy, implemented in the 1990s with the goal of lowering the average number of children per family to three, was one of the most successful in the region. But in 2014, the country reversed course and Ayatollah Khamenei issued a decree restricting public family planning programs.

Family planning seems to be only the latest field that authorities are cracking down under the vaguely defined accusation of "infiltration."

There has been an increase in targeting dual and foreign nationals since 2014. Then in October 2015, Ayatollah Khamenei advised against negotiating beyond the nuclear deal with the US, as it could open doors for "cultural, economic, political, and security infiltration."

The phrase "infiltration" became the watchword for Iranian intelligence agencies for domestic enemies they claimed were national security "threats." Since then, dozens of dual and foreign nationals, as well as Iranian citizens, have been arrested by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Intelligence Organization and accused of being part of the Western "infiltration" network.

The detained dual and foreign nationals come from all walks of life, but the cases have in common a near-total absence of due process. Officials use smear campaigns against them and lack concrete evidence of any crime. Iranian authorities should ensure the rights of these detainees and grant them fair trials to end this grave misjustice.

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