Crackdown on journalist and activists jeopardize human rights in Iran, UN expert warns

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed. UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

5 June 2015 – The arbitrary and unlawful arrest and prosecution of journalists and activists in Iran weakens the protection of human rights of all in Iran, a United Nations expert said today.

“Silencing these critical voices is unacceptable – it undermines public debate and deprives Iranians and the rest of world of important information on the reality in the country,” declared UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed, who is mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the situation in Iran.

“The recurrent use of vague references to threats to national security, propaganda against the system and insult to authorities to prosecute and detain journalists or activists is in contradiction to both international norms relating to freedoms of expression and association and the principle of legality,” Mr. Shaheed stated.

The independent expert expressed special concern at the arrest, detention and trial of Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter, and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent of the United Arab Emirates newspaper The National.

Mr. Rezaian’s trial began last week in Teheran behind closed doors on charges of ‘espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, gathering classified information and disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic.’ The journalist has been arbitrarily detained since July 2014, including for a number of months in solitary confinement, and wasn’t formally charged for nearly 10 months.

“Journalists must be protected, not harassed and prosecuted for doing their jobs. The detention and trial of Mr. Rezaian and Ms. Salehi not only violate their individual rights, but also intimidates those working in the media in Iran,” he stressed.

The independent expert was equally disturbed by the detentions of Atena Farghdani and Nargis Mohammadi, known for their human rights activism. Ms. Farghdani, a children’s rights defender and artist, was recently sentenced to a 12 years and nine months prison term for ‘spreading propaganda against the system, gathering and colluding against national security and insulting members of the Parliament and the Supreme Leader.’

As for Ms. Mohammadi, the former Vice-President of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre and one of the founders of the group ‘Step-by-Step to Stop the Death Penalty,’ she was arrested on May 5 in order to serve the remainder of the six-year prison sentence she had received in April 2012 on charges of ‘assembly and collusion against national security, membership in Defenders of Human Rights Centre, and propaganda against the system.’

“Human rights defenders play a fundamental role in ensuring a democratic society which respects human rights,” the expert said, reminding the Iranian Government of its responsibility to ensure human rights defenders do not face prosecution for promoting and advancing human rights in the country.

Mr. Shaheed’s call has been endorsed by human rights expert Mads Andenas, who currently heads the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as well as the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, Michel Forst; on freedom of expression, David Kaye; on independence of the judiciary, Gabriela Knaul; and on torture, Juan E. Méndez.

They jointly urged the Iranian authorities to release all journalists and rights defenders who have been arbitrarily and unlawfully arrested, and currently face detention and prosecution.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


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