In repressive societies, lack of freedom affects every aspect of life. Restrictions on simple acts of life have broad reaching consequences and affect all social sectors. To explain these consequences, we can focus our attention in the following areas:
Arrests and detentions are frequent occurrences in Iran. The arbitrary nature of arrests has led to uncertainty and confusion regarding the law and its enforcement mechanisms; in Iran, individuals can be arrested for trivial behaviors such as clothing choices, hand holding between couples, or dog walking along with more serious offenses.
At least 7,000 people, mostly protesters were arrested in 2018. In the recent months, Iran has unveiled Artificial Intelligence technology in law enforcement. Using thousands of cameras in different parts of the country, they have primarily targeted women who have defied hijab rules in their cars and summoned hundreds via text messages.
Regardless of the severity of the offense, arrested individuals may encounter human rights violations that are distressing for them and their loved ones. Arrests are often disruptive, conducted forcefully at individuals’ private residence or a house of worship. Due process is often denied, and hearings are conducted improperly – often without legal representation. Prisoners frequently report torture, lack of medical attention, or humiliation in prisons. Worst of all, execution orders may be delivered haphazardly, and death-row prisoners are sometimes denied the chance to bid farewell to their loved ones.
If you are interested in supporting individuals in Iran who have been unjustly arrested or detained, or if you wish to obtain help, please click the relevant button below.
Children of mixed religious backgrounds or those with non-Iranian fathers suffer from other legal disadvantages. Currently the fate of children born to non-Iranian fathers is undetermined. New proposed legislation, if approved by the Guardian Council could grant Iranian citizenship to children of such marriages. Citizenship is also a challenge for many children of Afghan refugees who lack statehood and certain children in ethnic communities who are do not have identity cards. Please see Ethnic Minorities section for more information (please link to ethnic minorities).
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The Islamic Republic generally enjoys a robust rate of voter participation but falls short of offering a fair and representative electoral system. The electoral process is so flawed that Freedom House rated it 18/100 in its Freedom in the World 2019 report. Freedom House outlined numerous systemic inadequacies, beginning with the Supreme Leader who maintains the lion’s share of authority in the country. The report also criticized the vetting of candidates through the Guardian Council, an unelected body of clerics, which favors candidates proven to be loyal to the regime’s values and disqualifies all others before they even appear on the ballot.
The democratic process is also deficient because of its lack of pluralism and representation. Although the Islamic Republic has designated representations to leaders of major religious groups accepted in constitution in the Iranian Parliament, members of religious minorities are restricted from accessing top governmental or judicial positions. Even when they are elected, as in the case of Sepanta Niknam, their election can be disputed or possibly rescinded.
Because the existing system does not allow free creation and activity of political parties, and refuses activities of opposing parties in the political process, dissenters often take to the streets to express their discontent with the status quo. Since December 2017, tens of thousands of people across the country have engaged in various acts of civil disobedience. At least 7,000 have been arrested, hundreds remain in jail, and about 20 have died or been executed.
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According to the UN Environment Programme, human rights and environmental rights are interconnected and deemed essential to the safety and sustainability of a society. Increasingly more nations, even in the developing world, are incorporating environmental laws into their policies and civic practices. Yet in Iran, environmental issues are emerging as major challenges.
Over the past few years, environmental issues have intensified as human rights problems. Lack of clean air, clean water, and growing pollution have led to health problems and adversely affected many families’ quality of life. In the recent years, Iran has also encountered environmental disasters including floods and earthquakes and been proven unprepared to respond to such crises. Remote rural areas populated by ethnic minorities have faced disproportionate challenges and insufficient aid.
Environmental rights advocacy, previously a non-political issue, have recently become politicized.Environmental activists have since faced fines, arbitrary detention, and torture; in rare cases, they have even been sentenced to death. Canadian-Iranian Environmental activist, Professor Kavous Seyed Emami was reported dead under mysterious conditions while under Iranian custody in prison. Currently, at least eight environmental activists, including members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation are in prison.
Iran is a diverse country representing many cultures, languages, and customs. Ethnic diversity has been part of Iran’s history since ancient times. Major ethnic minorities in Iran today include Fars, Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluch, Bakhtiaris, Kurds, Lors, and Turkmens. Although each of these groups is unique and deserving of its own evaluation and advocacy, by and large, ethnic communities suffer from four major challenges: extreme poverty and unemployment; hazardous environmental conditions; restrictions on practicing their language and customs, social derision, and discrimination; and arbitrary arrests and likelihood of execution.
These challenges exist despite Iran’s constitutional provisions, which claim that “All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; and color, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege” (Article 19). Furthermore, many prominent members of Iranian government are non-Persian ethnic minorities; however, they typically do not address regional concerns in the broader governance discourse.
The social struggles of Iran’s ethnic minorities predate the Islamic revolution. An undercurrent of intolerance and exclusion set the stage for institutional and individual discrimination that has persisted and intensified. A lack of social acceptance and respect has been similarly parlayed in governmental institutions and placed ethnic communities at a considerable disadvantage.
It should be noted that Afghan immigrants, including children born to an Afghan parent in Iran, also suffer from discrimination and marginalization. Many lack access to the most basic resources such as food and shelter, and even lack access to an identification document. This hinders the Afghans ability to integrate in the society. Many Afghan immigrants, including children are recruited to fight proxy wars with promise of social services.
Ethnic minorities are most likely to be arrested and executed for national security charges. Once arrested, they reportedly face harsher physical torture than their Persian counterparts and are more likely to face execution, particularly mass and hidden execution. Kurdish and Baluch groups suffer from a disproportionate rate of executions. In one instance, per a government official’s report, nearly all men living in a town in the Sistan and Baluchistan region were executed.
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According to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” The right to express new ideas or oppose the status quo is essential to societal development and progress. However, in totalitarian countries, freedom of expression is one of the first rights to be obliterated.
In the Islamic Republic, this right is frequently violated in the name of national security threats or “enmity against the state.” By extension, freedom of the press is similarly imperiled. Iran’s Constitution literally authorizes such restrictions: according to Article 24, opinions that are "detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public" are deemed illegal. Furthermore, the Press Law of 1986 notes that "promoting subjects which might damage the foundation of the Islamic Republic", such as those that may "[offend] the Leader of the Revolution and recognized religious authorities" or "[propagate] luxury and extravagance", are unlawful and punishable.
As a result of these institutional and legal restrictions, Iran’s “net freedom status” is regarded as “not free” according to Freedom House. Many civilians have been arrested on the basis of their social media activities, participation in protests, religious proselytizing, conversion out of Islam, or other forms of civil disobedience. Hundreds are currently behind bars. Individuals arrested on these charges face grave consequences, including long-term imprisonment and even the death penalty.
Many journalists have been arrested, tortured, and executed for fulfilling their professional responsibilities as journalists. Freedom of expression and the press is further limited by the media, which is controlled and run by the government through the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Production of or access to non-approved content is restricted by interrupting satellite transmissions.
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Iran is one of the few countries where ‘same-sex sexual conduct’ is still considered a crime. The Iranian Penal Code has delineated various components of presumed same-sex relations and assigned respective punishments to each act, ranging from lashes to the death penalty (Penal Codes 123 & 124).
Rather than accepting all citizens irrespective of who they love, the government has implemented policies that restrict and punish LGBTQ individuals. Some of these policies include gender rehabilitation and mandated gender reassignment procedures. Following a fatwa or religious order from the Ayatollah Khomeini, gender reassignment became legal and was considered a ‘treatment’ for same sex attractions. Yet even many of those who willingly undergo gender reassignment continue to experience social stigma and discrimination. As a consequence of such circumstances, many LGBTQ individuals suffer from emotional and physical problems. Furthermore, because of the government’s attitudes toward and treatment of the queer community, safe social support groups or allies have not been properly cultivated to address the threats facing this population.
Some members of the LGBTQ community or their allies seek support on social media through safe networks abroad. Many others seek asylum to safe havens. Several LGBTQ and human rights groups based in various countries provide legal and consulting services to aid Iranian LGBTQ asylum seekers.
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All around the world, the disabled community is perhaps the most dependent yet neglected population. A lack of social services and specialized educational institutions, especially in developing countries, affects the everyday lives of individuals with disabilities and limits their future prospects. People with different abilities also suffer frequently from intersectional discrimination and poverty.
Iran has ratified the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. The country has even vowed to adopt disability laws that “[increase] disability pensions and [extend] insurance coverage to disability-related healthcare services.” Nonetheless, living with disabilities in Iran remains an expensive and demeaning experience for most of Iran’s estimated 12 million individuals with disabilities, more than14% of the population .
Many members of this population are veterans of the Iran–Iraq war. Despite their sacrifices, the services and accommodations available to them are highly limited. Lack of government funding for such institutions has placed the burden of care and consideration squarely on the private sector. Relevant programs are costly and inaccessible to a large portion of the population, who are already grappling with poverty. The government-sponsored insurance system favors medicinal treatment and even electroconvulsive therapy over therapeutic options for mental and physical disabilities, fostering lifelong reliance on medicine and symptom treatment rather than potentially more effective (and comprehensive) alternatives.
Beyond the lack of medical infrastructure to protect and empower this community, the disabled in Iran are less likely to obtain employment, often face segregation and isolation, and are stigmatized to the point of being subject to intolerant and abusive language and even treatment. Iran also lacks adequate legislation to protect the rights of the disabled or enforce specific accommodation requirements, such as ramp access to all government buildings.
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Poverty and a lack of economic mobility have plagued millions in Iran, with corruption and inequitable resources exacerbating the problem for many. Public and private employees have reported withholding of their wages. Workplace safety is increasingly compromised, causing injury and death to those who are employed. As confirmed by many economists and government figures, at least 33% of Iran’s population lives in “absolute poverty,” and 6% are literally “starving.”
For some religious and ethnic minorities, there have been official measures to forcibly interrupt their dealings and shut down their businesses. Unemployment and lack of opportunities have led many in rural areas to enter occupations involving transportation of goods, fuel, and even the narcotics trade. These types of work are often targeted by government officials and subject to dangerous circumstances including environmental hazards, shootings, and arrests. Those involved in narcotics can face criminal charges and, until recently ,were punished by execution. Drug-related executions since 1988 reached as many as 10,000 until being suspended or reduced in 2018.
Desperate times have driven civilians to desperate measures. Children are entering the underground job market as street peddlers or trade commodities themselves. Due to a lack of proper labor rights, employees experience labor rights violations through white contracts, withheld pay, or retaliation and unlawful termination. Labor protests have faced severe crackdowns, with many participants arrested or detained.
If you are interested in supporting individuals suffering from economic hardships and labor challenges, or if you wish to obtain help, please click the relevant button below.
The Islamic Republic’s Constitution borrows an inspirational quote from the Koran in stating that “Muslims are obligated to treat non-Muslims with kindness and equity and Islamic justice, and uphold their human rights” (Article 14) and “no one can be subjected to harassment and inquiry merely for their beliefs” (Articles 23 and 24). Despite these provisions, religious minorities in the country continue to suffer from institutional religious discrimination.
Certain aspects of such discrimination have arisen from provisions of the same Constitution, which places “Shia Hagheh Esna Ashari” at the top of the religious hierarchy. This singular brand of the Shia Islam is the country’s official religion and a prerequisite for political candidates seeking higher office. Additionally, three non-Muslim religious groups have been officially recognized and permitted to practice their faith: Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. This distinction has granted official second-class citizenship to these groups with rights to observe their ceremonies in private and a designated representative in Parliament.
By default, this official distinction has omitted other groups from legal/social recognition and left still others uncertain of their rights. These religious groups include but are not limited to Sunni Muslims, Gonabadi Dervish Muslims, Bahá’ís, Mandeans, Evangelical Christians, Yarsanis, and atheists. Although Article 11 of the Islamic Republic Constitution states that “[a]ll Muslims form a single nation,” Gonabadi Dervishes and Sunni Muslims, who constitute large segments of the country’s Muslim population, suffer from discriminatory treatment. Furthermore, through ordinances and fatwas, governing leaders have declared the Bahá’í faith as apostasy and even impure; thus, members of this group are particularly vulnerable to isolation and cradle-to-grave discrimination. As conversion from Islam is illegal and punishable by law, Evangelical Christians and converts out of Islam often face arrest and trouble with authorities.
Currently, 346 Sunnis from Ahvaz region, 62 Sunnis from other regions, 206 Gonabadi Dervishes, 79 Bahais, 48 Christians, at least 3 Zoroastrians, 26 Yarsani Ahle Hagh, and an unknown number of Jews are in Iran’s prisons.
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Although women in Iran constitute over 50% of the country’s population, they are deprived of many rights granted to their male counterparts. Sporadic progress has not fully eradicated societal and institutional pressures facing women in Iran.
From employment options and financial independence to divorce and child custody, women encounter an array of challenging social and legal barriers. According to recent reports, only 17% of women are participating in the workforce, amid social stigma of disqualification as wives and mothers. Those employed, lack legal protection against discrimination in the workplace and unequal pay (see chart from World Economic Forum).
The wide spectrum of injustice against women and girls spans the life cycle, from child marriage or forced marriage to sexual violence and harassment. At least 36,000 cases of child marriage were reported in 2018, mostly among families with financial difficulties. Women convicted of sexual deviance, even in absentia, could face severe and violent punishment.
In addition to institutional discrimination based on the Islamic Republic’s Constitution, Iranian women face various forms of legislation that restrict their rights and isolate them from broader society. Such legislation includes restrictions around women in the workplace, reproductive rights, and divorce and custody, among others. Despite these pressures, Iranian women have continued to protest the status quo and call for equal treatment. Increasingly, men have also joined them in solidarity.
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