Amnesty International: 2018 was Iran's year of shame

Thousands were arrested for peaceful protests with many given death sentences

epa06839028 Iranian protestors shout slogans as they gather at a street close to a bazaar in Tehran, Iran, 25 June 2018. Media reported that due to a bad economic situation in Iran, Tehran's old grand bazaar was closed and people protests in the streets for the economic situations.  EPA/STR
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The Iranian regime has “shamelessly” cracked down on dissent in the country by stifling protests and arresting thousands over peaceful demonstrations, Amnesty International said in a report published on Thursday.

Protests over poverty, corruption and authoritarianism have become increasingly common in Iran, where criticism of the government is not tolerated and prisoners are often mistreated.

A total of 7,000 people, including journalists, students and environmental and human rights activists were arrested arbitrarily in 2018, according to figures published by Amnesty.

Many face long-term imprisonment and flogging sentences, the rights group said.

Meanwhile, at least nine people arrested in connection with the protests died in custody in 2018, according to the report.

“2018 will go down in history as a year of shame for Iran," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director. "Throughout the year, Iran’s authorities sought to stifle any sign of dissent by stepping up their crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and carrying out mass arrests of protesters.”

Protests increased over the summer, when Iranian authorities physically assaulted unarmed demonstrators and fired live ammunition during protests.

Tehran has gone after protesters seen as dissident leaders, including lawyers who defended jailed human rights activists, managers of chat groups organising protests and leaders of religious minorities.

In 2018, whether in the context of protests or as a result of their work, 11 lawyers, 50 media workers and 91 students were detained arbitrarily.

At least 112 women human rights defenders were arrested or remained in detention in Iran during 2018 over the protest movement against the forced hijab policy.

“Throughout 2018, the Iranian authorities waged a particularly sinister crackdown against women’s rights defenders. Instead of cruelly punishing women for demanding their rights, the authorities should put an end to the rampant and entrenched discrimination and violence they face,” Mr Luther said.

Shaparak Shajarizadeh, who took to the streets with her veil on a stick, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for her peaceful protest against forced hijab. After a sentence reduction, she is set to serve only two years but her lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was also arrested for defending her client.

The regime has also ramped up its discriminatory crackdown against religious and ethnic minorities by arresting hundreds and curtailing their access to education, employment and other services.

“Members of Iran’s largest Sufi order, the Gonabadi Dervish religious minority, faced a particularly vicious crackdown after a peaceful protest they held in February 2018 was violently quashed,” the report said.

More than 200 were sentenced to a total of 1,080 years in prison, given 5,995 lashes and subject to travel bans leading to internal exile.

Throughout the year Iran's authorities sought to stifle any sign of dissent by stepping up their crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and carrying out mass arrests of protesters.

Hundreds of people from ethnic minority groups including Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen have also faced human rights abuses including discrimination and arbitrary detention.

According to activists outside of Iran, 700 Ahwazi Arabs were rounded up for protesting a state TV broadcast which excluded Ahwazi Arabs from a map showing the location of Iran’s ethnic minorities.

At least 63 environmental activists and researchers were arrested in 2018, according to media reports, with five being charged with “corruption on earth”, which carries the death penalty.

More than 278 lorry drivers were arrested and some threatened with the death penalty after they took part in nationwide strikes demanding better working conditions and higher wages. This coincided with countrywide protests by shop owners who said sales had gone down following US President Donald Trump’s sanctions.

Amnesty International urged governments with ties to Iran to repudiate the discriminatory crackdown, saying they “must speak out in the strongest terms against the crackdown and forcefully call on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those jailed for peacefully expressing their right to freedom of expression”.