Contents ...
Iran Backgroung Part2
2010/12/19 20:35
Political prisoner Behrouz Javid-Tehrani, who spent four years in prison for his activities during the 1999 student uprising and was sentenced in 2005 to seven more years in prison following a secret trial without legal representation, remained in prison at year's end. According to human rights organizations, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran convicted Javid-Tehrani of having contact with foreign opposition groups. At the time of the most recent conviction, Javid-Tehrani was in solitary confinement in Gohardasht Prison in Karaj, where he alleged security agents severely tortured him on numerous occasions.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

By law the judiciary is independent from the executive and legislative branches; in practice it remained under the influence of executive and religious government authorities. According to the constitution, the Court of Administrative Justice, under the supervision of the head of the judiciary, investigates the grievances of citizens with regard to government officials, organs, and statutes. In practice citizens had limited ability to sue the government. Citizens were not able to bring lawsuits against the government for civil or human rights violations. Dispute resolution councils are available to settle minor civil and criminal cases through mediation before referral to courts.

Property Restitution

The constitution allows the government to confiscate property acquired illicitly or in a manner not in conformity with Islamic law, and the government particularly targeted religious minorities, especially members of the Baha'i faith (see section 2.c.). 

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution states that "reputation, life, property, [and] dwelling[s]" are protected from trespass except as "provided by law," but the government routinely infringed on this right. Security forces monitored the social activities of citizens, entered homes and offices, monitored telephone conversations and Internet communications, and opened mail without court authorization. There were widespread reports that government agents entered, searched, and/or ransacked the homes and offices of reformist journalists in an attempt to intimidate them. 

On June 26, HRW reported that Basij forces carried out raids at night, destroying public property, entering homes, and beating civilians in an attempt to stop nightly protest chants. On June 22, according to a resident of the Vanak neighborhood in Tehran, Basij forces entered the home of his cousin and destroyed doors and automobiles in response to opposition-organized chanting in the area. In a second report, a woman from the Velenjak neighborhood in Tehran claimed Basij forces responded to chants during the night of June 23 by kicking down doors or climbing over walls and entering homes through interior doors. Once inside the homes, Basij members beat residents and destroyed property. HRW collected similar reports of raids by Basij and security forces in neighborhoods throughout Tehran.

During the year vigilantes continued to attack young persons considered "un-Islamic" in their dress or activities, invade private homes, abuse unmarried couples, and disrupt concerts. During the year the government continued its crackdown on un-Islamic dress or "bad hijab" (when a headcovering is brightly colored or does not completely cover the wearer's hair). According to press reports, morality police have stopped or detained more than two million individuals since 2007 for inappropriate hairstyles (usually related to the length of men's hair or beards) or bad hijab. In September the BBC reported that the morality police stopped male shopkeepers from selling women's undergarments, and theLos Angeles Times reported stores were forced to ensure that mannequins had appropriate dress. In December, according to local news reports, Basij forces patrolled universities to arrest male students with inappropriate dress or long hair, which they considered a sign of dissent.

There were reports during the year that the MOIS harassed family members of political prisoners and rights activists, banning them from speaking to foreign media or traveling abroad, blocking their telephone conversations, making false criminal charges against them, and blocking their access to higher education. 

MOIS agents reportedly threatened to arrest family members of Kurdish political prisoner Shirko Moarefi if they protested or publicized his execution, scheduled for November 14. The execution was subsequently delayed, and at year's end Moarefi remained on death row.

On December 28, intelligence officers reportedly arrested Nushin Ebadi, a professor of dentistry and sister to Nobel Prize-winning human rights lawyer and activist Shirin Ebadi, at her home. According to Shirin Ebadi, Nushin was not involved in human rights issues and did not participate in any of the postelection protests. At year's end she remained in prison. 

There were also reports that authorities threatened and arrested family members of expatriates who posted critical comments about the country on social networking Web sites such as Facebook. According to media accounts, an Iranian-American studying abroad reported he received an e-mail warning him that his relatives in Iran would be harmed if he did not delete an online petition he had created relating to the imprisonment in Iran of a human rights activist; he claimed that security agents arrested his father two days later and held him briefly. 

Authorities occasionally entered homes to remove satellite television dishes, which are illegal in the country. 

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 

a. Freedom of Speech and Press 

The constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press, except when the words are deemed "detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public." In practice the government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press. There were no basic legal safeguards for freedom of expression, and the government--notably the judiciary--arbitrarily enforced censorship measures against the independent press. Government censorship and self-censorship limited dissemination of information during the year. The government frequently threatened and jailed journalists as a consequence of their work, and it closed the offices of the journalists' union in August (see section 7).

Individuals could not criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, and the government actively sought to impede criticism. On June 9, a court reportedly sentenced singer and composer Mohsen Namjoo in absentia to five years' imprisonment for "disrespecting religious sanctities" based on the way he used Koranic verses in a private 2005 recording purportedly leaked on the Internet earlier in the year without his approval. Namjoo continued to live outside the country at year's end. 

The country's media outlets were varied, including state-controlled television, radio, and print publications, as well as private newspapers and magazines that cover current affairs, politics, the arts, and sports. The government closely monitored all media outlets, and private media lacked independence in practice. Journalists who failed to abide by government guidelines faced intimidation, arrest, or closure of their publications. As a result, the government held significant influence over all media in the country. The government's Press Supervisory Board (PSB) was responsible for issuing press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government, and for examining complaints filed against publications or individual journalists, editors, or publishers.

According to article 175 of the constitution, private broadcasting is illegal. The government controlled and maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through a state-controlled entity, the Voice and Vision Organization. Radio and television programming--the principal source of news for many citizens, especially in rural areas--reflected the government's political and socioreligious ideology. Satellite dishes that received foreign television broadcasts were forbidden, and the government periodically confiscated them from homes. For instance, on June 24, according to HRW, uniformed police officers forced residents in the Niavaran and Dorous neighborhoods of Tehran to take down their satellite dishes and returned later to confiscate many dishes. Nevertheless, most satellite dishes in individual homes reportedly continued to operate. 

International media did not operate freely. The government required foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before it granted visas. Authorities also closely monitored reporters and attempted to influence them to garner more favorable coverage. The government issued standard one-week visas for foreign journalists who entered the country to cover the June election, but it reportedly denied most of the journalists' extension requests as the postelection protests developed. The government also forbade foreign journalists to report on the protests, in some cases confining reporters to their hotel rooms or offices during the protests. Some journalists reported authorities told them they would face arrest if they had a camera on the streets.

According to a June 5 report from the German weekly newsmagazine Focus, the Iranian press attache' in Berlin, Mehrzad Tabatabai, informed Focus's country expert Andrea Hoffman that the Iranian government would censor her reporting from inside Iran on the June election. When Hoffman refused to accept Iranian censorship of her reporting, the Iranian Embassy denied her visa application. 

During the year the government banned, blocked, and closed publications that were critical of the government. Public officials often lodged criminal complaints against reformist newspapers; the PSB referred complaints to the media court for further action, including closure and fines. The court conducted its hearings in public with a jury of appointed clerics, government officials, and editors of government-controlled newspapers. Some human rights groups asserted that the increasingly conservative media court assumed responsibility for cases before PSB consideration. The government censored both reformist and conservative newspapers after they published articles contradicting the official line, and it permanently closed others, including more than 10 national dailies such as Kalameh Sabz (June 13),Etemad-e Melli (August 17), the business newspaper Sarmayeh (November 2), and Hayat-e no (closed December 8 after carrying reports about the crackdown on the Student Day protests). 

On January 1, the PSB closed down Farsi-language daily Kargozaran for allegedly downplaying the actions of the Israeli armed forces during the December 2008 military operation in Gaza and finding fault with Hamas for its tactics during the conflict. The paper remained closed at year's end. 

On February 5, the PSB shut down the pro-Ahmadi-Nejad weekly Hemat on the charge of "insulting higher officials." 

On May 16, the proreform daily Yas-e Now reappeared on newsstands after a five-year ban. The judiciary shut down the paper in 2004 after it published a letter criticizing the mass disqualification of candidates from the 2004 election. Later on May 16, the Commission of Press Authorization and Surveillance, acting on orders from Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, shut down the paper again. Mortazavi claimed legal proceedings from the original closure in 2004 were still under way, despite an April 11 decision by Branch 76 of Tehran's penal court allowing the paper to open. The Yas-e Now editor wrote an open letter to President Ahmadi-Nejad accusing him of shutting down the newspaper to restrict the opposition's access to the public. 

On June 11, the day before the presidential election, Tehran prosecutor Mortazavi forbade pro-opposition newspapers to lead with stories announcing their candidate's victory, according to RSF. Authorities reportedly threatened to confiscate the printing press Kalameh Sabaz, a newspaper owned by opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, until it rewrote its front-page story that proclaimed Mousavi had won.

On August 17, authorities banned the publication of reformist newspaper Etemad Melli due to its publication of a critical article on the country's detention centers. 

In October the PSB revoked the publication licenses of the Shiraz-based Tahleel-e Rooz and Tehran newspapersFarhang-e Aashti and Arman.

On November 23, authorities banned for one day the publication of daily newspaper Hamshahri after it published a picture from the temple of the banned Baha'i faith. 

On January 1, the judiciary lifted the ban on Tehran-e Emrouz, a daily newspaper affiliated with Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. The government banned the paper in June 2008 after it published articles authorities deemed offensive.

The media law forbids censorship by the government but also forbids disseminating information that may damage the Islamic Republic or offend its leaders and religious authorities, and censorship occurred. Government officials also routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship.

On September 17, according to IHRV, the Supreme National Security Council declared illegal the publication of any news related to presidential candidates Mehdi Karoubi or Mir-Hossein Mousavi or the presidential election. 

On December 20, according to RSF, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance issued a directive banning print and Internet articles about cleric Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, a critic of the government who died on December 19. RSF also reported that broadcast of a BBC documentary on Montazari was jammed. 

At various times in 2008, government officials advised reporters not to use the names of unauthorized political parties and to "censor pages which are likely to create a dispute," observing the country's "religious, moral, and national sensitivities. In September 2008 former deputy interior minister Mostafa Tajzadeh said the government imposed censorship "to the greatest degree" regarding nuclear policy.

During the year the government detained, jailed, tortured, or fined numerous publishers, editors, and journalists (including Internet media) for their reporting. The penal code states that "anyone who undertakes any form of propaganda against the state" can be imprisoned for as long as one year; the law does not define "propaganda." The law also subjects writers to prosecution for instigating crimes against the state or national security or "insulting" Islam; the latter offense is punishable by death. 

In late January security agents confiscated the passport of Saeed Razavi-Faghih, a former editorial writer for several reformist newspapers and former member of the Office of Consolidating Unity (a reformist student organization), and informed him of his summons to a revolutionary court on charges of acting against national security. Razavi-Faghih was returning to the country from France, where he had been studying since 2004. On February 2, authorities arrested Razavi-Faghih and sent him to Evin Prison; he was released on bail 16 days later. 

On May 1, according to RSF, during International Workers Day demonstrations, authorities arrested several journalists, including Alireza Saghafi, who edited the magazine Rah Ayandeh until authorities closed it in May 2008, and Amir Yaghoubali, a journalist for the daily Etemad. On May 26, authorities released Yaghoubali from Evin Prison, pending his trial on charges of "activities against national security" and "disturbing public order" based on his writings. On June 10, authorities released Saghafi on 700 million rial ($70,000) bail pending trial on charges related to his participation in the May 1 demonstration.

According to RSF, authorities arrested more than 100 journalists after the June 12 election, and 30 others fled the country, the largest exodus of journalists since the 1979 revolution. RSF reported that 43 journalists remained in detention at year's end. 

On June 17, authorities detained Global Radio News freelance correspondent and Washington Times reporter Iason Athanasiadis-Fowden, a British-Greek citizen, in the Tehran airport as he was leaving the country. Intelligence officials held Athanasiadis in Evin Prison for three weeks, during which they interrogated and abused him, accusing him of being a British spy. He was released on July 6 after 20 days of incarceration.

On June 20, security agents reportedly arrested Mohammad Ghouchani, a journalist and editor in chief of Etemad Melidaily, after the newspaper published leading opposition figure Mehdi Karoubi's letter to the Guardian Council calling for the election results to be canceled. Authorities charged Ghouchani with "participation in illegal gatherings to endanger national security" and "writing articles instigating unrest," and he appeared in two of the "show trials." According to AI, Ghouchani's family paid one billion rials ($100,000) bail on August 23, but authorities delayed his release from Evin Prison until October 30. 

On June 20, authorities arrested journalist and women's rights defender Bahman Ahmadi-Amoee and his wife, Zhila Baniyaghoub, also a journalist, in their home. Authorities released Baniyaghoub on August 26, but Ahmadi-Amoee remained in prison at year's end. Authorities reportedly prevented Ahmadi-Amoee's access to legal counsel and held him in solitary confinement for 65 days; his lawyer had no access to any government evidence against him. In March 2008 authorities sentenced Ahmadi-Amoee to a six-month suspended prison term for "activity against national security." 

On June 21, authorities arrested Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, a reporter for Newsweek. While in detention, Bahari was held in solitary confinement and underwent daily interrogations. Officials reportedly forced him to make a televised confession acknowledging Western journalists as spies. He was among the political prisoners present during the "show trials" but was released on October 20. At year's end Bahari had left the country but still faced trial on espionage charges. 

On June 30, according to IHRV, authorities arrested journalist Hengameh Shahidi, a member of the Committee for Human Rights Reporters, and sentenced her on December 9 to six years in prison for participating in postelection demonstrations and "spreading propaganda against the holy Islamic Regime," based on an interview with the "antirevolutionary" BBC. 

On December 20, authorities arrested journalist and blogger Shiva Nazar Ahari and two of her colleagues from the Committee for Human Rights Reporters as they were headed to Qom for Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's funeral. On December 28, authorities arrested another member of the organization, Nasrin Vaziri. At year's end no further information on their arrests was available. According to human rights organizations, authorities arrested seven of the nine leaders of the organization during the year and pressured the group to close its Web site. Security forces previously arrested Ahari on June 14 at her workplace in Tehran, reportedly on charges of being a member of the MEK and organizing demonstrations; authorities released her on bail August 23. The day before her arrest, security forces searched her home in her absence and confiscated some of her personal possessions. 

On December 27, according to international media and RSF, authorities arrested Dubai television journalist and Syrian national Reza Al-Bacha while he was covering demonstrations. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance stated that Al-Bacha was not acting as a journalist at the time of his arrest. 

On December 28, according to RSF, authorities arrested Kalemeh Sabz editor Alireza Behshtipour Shirazi. At year's end he remained in prison. 

On December 28, authorities arrested writer and journalist Mostafa Izadi at his home. Izadi worked for the daily Sobh-e Emrouz and was formerly editor in chief of the Ava weekly. He also authored a biography of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. At year's end he remained in prison.

There were several developments in cases from previous years.

On March 26, authorities rearrested journalist and activist Mahboubeh Karami and others as they prepared to visit families of detained activists (see section 6, Women). In June 2008 authorities arrested Karami after she criticized police for beating demonstrators and detained her until August 2008.

There were no updates in the July 2008 case of Kurdish journalist Saman Rasoulpour, charged with "distributing propaganda against the state" and released on bail in August 2008.

On September 9, authorities transferred imprisoned journalist Mohammad-Hossein Falahiezadeh to Evin Prison's medical clinic due to his critical health situation. Falahiezadeh had served his September 2008 prison sentence for reporting on street protests by members of the Ahvazi Arab minority, but MOIS officials reportedly stated his release was contingent on setting bail. Human rights groups claimed this was a ploy by government officials to keep Falahiezadeh imprisoned as they know that he cannot afford to pay bail.

On July 11, a revolutionary court summoned Iranian Azerbaijani journalist Said Matinpour and handed down his eight-year sentence of one year for "propaganda against the Islamic Republic" and seven years for "maintaining relations with foreigners." Matinpour was originally arrested in 2007 and held in pretrial detention until his release on bail in February, with no contact with his family or lawyer for most of that time. According to activists, MOIS officials tortured Matinpour and detained his younger brother to coerce him to confess.

On July 19, the Mahabad revolutionary court began the trial of Mohammad Sadegh Kaboudvand, a Kurdish journalist and founder of the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan (HROK), for allegedly spreading antigovernment propaganda in publications on Kurdish women's rights, according to NGO reports. Police originally arrested Kaboudvand in 2007, and he was serving a 10-year prison sentence imposed in May 2008 for establishing an illegal organization and other crimes. At year's end he remained in Evin Prison, despite severe health problems, including a second heart attack in December 2008. 

In March 2008 a court sentenced Kurdish journalist Abdolvahed "Hiva" Boutimar to death for a second time on espionage-related charges. He remained on death row at year's end. Kurdish journalist Adnan Hassanpour, Boutimar's cousin and colleague, continued to await his retrial on charges of espionage and working with outlaw parties. 

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must grant permission to publish any book, and it inspected foreign printed materials prior to their domestic release.

Internet Freedom 

NGOs reported that the government continued to increase control over the Internet during the year as more citizens used it as a source for news and political debate. According to 2008 International Telecommunication Union statistics, approximately 31 percent of the country's inhabitants used the Internet.

The government monitored Internet communications, especially via social networking Web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, with technology it purchased at the end of 2008. The government threatened, harassed, and arrested individuals who posted comments critical of the government on the Internet; in some cases it reportedly confiscated their passports or arrested their family members (see section 1.f.). Freedom House and other human rights organizations reported that authorities sometimes stopped citizens at Tehran International Airport as they arrived in the country, asked them to log into their YouTube and Facebook accounts, and in some cases forced them to delete information.

All Internet service providers (ISPs) must be approved by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The government also required all owners of Web sites and blogs in the country to register with the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance; in practice, this regulation was rarely enforced. The government used filtering software to block access to domestic blogs and some Western Web sites, reportedly including the Web sites of prominent Western news organizations and NGOs. According to RSF, the government blocked access to thousands of Web sites during the year, and in some cases ISPs redirected computer users from opposition Web sites to progovernment news sites. The government also censored Web site content to control citizens' access to information. According to Freedom House, content from opposition leaders' Web sites was deleted during the year. 

During the period prior to the June presidential election, authorities blocked access to Facebook and Twitter. On election day, authorities reportedly blocked access to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites through which individuals were reporting on the election. 

The government also imposed limits on Internet speed and technology, making it difficult to download Internet material or to circumvent government restrictions to access blocked Web sites. After the June election, there was a major drop in bandwidth, which experts posited the government may have caused in its effort to prevent activists involved in the protests from accessing the Internet and especially from uploading large video files. 

The Press Law and Islamic Penal Code both apply to electronic media, and the PSB and judiciary used such laws to close Web sites during the year. In December 2008 the Tehran prosecutor general announced the creation of a special office to review Internet and text message-related crimes related to the June 2009 presidential election. 

During the year the government prosecuted and punished persons for peaceful expression of dissenting views via the Internet. During the "show trials," prosecutors often cited activities on the Internet or e-mails sent to foreigners as evidence of illegal activity. According to RSF, seven bloggers remained detained at year's end.

On September 2, authorities arrested Ali Asguar Jamali, a blogger and doctor based in the northern city of Qasvin, and other activists for "inciting actions against national security including protests and insults against government officials by means of publications and meetings," according to the news agency Fars. Jamali, who defends workers' rights, writes a blog called Dr. Social-Democrat. At year's end there was no update on his case.

On December 20, according to RSF, police arrested journalist and blogger Mohammad Norizad. The previous evening, he had posted on his blog that a court had summoned him by telephone to appear and answer to charges of insulting the head of the judiciary. In December Norizad wrote an article criticizing the new head of the judiciary, and earlier in the year Norizad posted statements on his blog that criticized the supreme leader. The Tehran prosecutor's office reportedly stated that Norizad was under investigation for "publicity against the regime and insulting the authorities." 

During the year there were developments in several cases from previous years. 

On March 18, authorities released blogger Esmail Jafari from prison on payment of bail pending his sentencing. In April 2008 authorities had arrested him and seized his computer equipment, which allegedly held photos of a demonstration in Bushehr, and in December 2008 a court sentenced him to five months in prison for "antigovernment publicity." 

Also on March 18, Omid Reza Mirsayafi, a 25-year-old blogger, died in the medical ward of Evin Prison, reportedly due to an overdose of a medication he received from the prison clinic for depression. According to the ICHRI, Mirsayafi died as a result of neglect by prison authorities. In April 2008 security forces arrested Mirsayafi, and in December 2008 a Tehran revolutionary court sentenced him to 30 months in prison for propaganda against the state and criticism of the supreme leader.

Internet journalist and cleric Mojtaba Lotfi continued to serve a four-year prison sentence imposed in November 2008 for posting online a sermon by Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, a well-known opponent of Supreme Leader Khamenei, that criticized President Ahmadi-Nejad's claim that Iran was "the world's freest country." According to RSF, Lotfi suffered from lung problems stemming from Iran-Iraq war injuries. 

Well-known blogger, author of the first Persian-language blogging guide, and dual Iranian-Canadian citizen Hossein Derakhshan reportedly remained in Evin Prison, where he was subjected to psychological and physical abuse, according to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran. Authorities arrested Derakhshan in November 2008 while he was visiting the country. 

On January 5, domestic media sources reported an appeals court in Azerbaijan province had upheld blogger and women's rights activist Shahnaz Gholami's six-month prison sentence. Gholami had been in Tabriz Prison since her November 2008 arrest for publishing "propaganda against the Islamic Republic" and "jeopardizing national security." A court sentenced her to six months in prison. Gholami was released on bail of 200 million rials ($20,000) on January 19.

On February 3, according to HRW and the ICHR, the Judiciary Court sentenced four bloggers (three in absentia)--Omid Memarian, Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, Shahram Rafizadeh, and Javad Gholamtamimi--to prison terms of up to three years, fines, and flogging for "participating in the establishment of illegal organizations," "membership in illegal organizations," propaganda against the state," "disseminating lies," and "disturbing public order," despite the judiciary head's admission that the bloggers' confessions were coerced. Authorities arrested the four in 2004 and detained them without charge at Evin Prison until they were released on bail later the same year. All four claimed authorities physically and psychologically abused them in detention, including subjecting them to prolonged periods of solitary confinement in a secret detention center without access to legal counsel or family. Memarian, Mirebrahimi, and Rafizadeh left the country after their 2004 release on bail and remained abroad at year's end; Gholamtamimi continued to reside in the country. The government had not made public the full findings of any investigation, nor had it announced any penalties or prosecution for the abuse.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events 

The government significantly restricted academic freedom. Authorities working with universities continued to dismiss university professors in accordance with a 2006 presidential call for the removal of secular and liberal professors. To obtain tenure, professors had to refrain from criticism of authorities. According to AI, in August the Supreme Council for the Cultural Revolution instructed the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies to revise the humanities curriculum. Earlier in the year Supreme Leader Khamenei had made a speech noting worrisome trends in the teaching of humanities, including what he considered encouraging doubt of religious principles. 

According to AI, in October authorities banned from teaching five prominent law professors from Alameh Tabatabai University's law school. Local news reports noted that the professors taught human rights courses at the university. 

Admission to universities was politicized; in addition to standardized examinations, all applicants had to pass "character tests" in which officials eliminated applicants critical of the government's ideology. Basij members were given advantages in the admissions process. Student groups reported that a "star" system inaugurated by the government in 2006 to rank politically active students was still in use. Students deemed antigovernment through this system reportedly were banned from university admission or prevented from registering for upcoming terms. During the previous three years, according to the ICHRI, government interference with university admissions considerably increased with a coordinated assault by the Ministry of Higher Education, the MOIS, and the judiciary aimed at preventing student activists from continuing their education. On February 2, a human rights organization reported that in the past few years authorities had barred 58 students from matriculating at graduate programs at universities in the country due to their prior participation in student activism. HRW also reported during the year that authorities used university disciplinary committees to expel or transfer students to other universities as punishment for peaceful political activities.

On November 10, according to the Mehr news agency, the leader of the student Basij organization, Mohammad Saleh Jokar, announced that 6,000 Basij units would be created in the country's elementary schools. Jokar said the action aimed to expand and promote Basij and revolutionary ideals among young persons. He added that approximately 4.5 million students and 320,000 teachers were members of the Basij. 

The government censored cultural events with stringent controls on cinema and theater and a ban on Western music. A 2006 NGO report noted that censorship by authorities and a culture of self-censorship strongly inhibited artistic expression in the country. The government monitored cultural associations and continued to crack down on underground music groups (i.e., any group that failed to obtain a recording license from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance), especially those it considered inspired by Satan such as heavy metal or other Western-type music. 

In May Basij militia members and Revolutionary Guard officers reportedly raided an underground music concert in Shiraz and arrested 104 individuals for "immoral" and "Satanic" behavior, as well as for drinking alcohol. In October in Orumiyeh, police reportedly arrested 12 underground musicians accused of promoting "Satanism." There was no information at year's end about the status or whereabouts of those arrested in either case. 

On November 21, IHRV reported that authorities had banned broadcasting of certain singers' music and certain songs from government-owned radio stations for unspecified reasons. The censure list contained the following artists' names: Shahin Aryen, Feraydoun Aseraei, Alireza Eftakhari, Majid Akhshabi, Alireza Afshar, Mohammad Isfehani, Esmailzadeh, Shahram Amiri, Ehsan Khajeh-Amiri, Masoud Khadem, Hossein Zaman, Kouros Sarhangzadeh, Naser Abdullahi, Alireza Assar, Fataali Ovaisi, Golshan, Ali Lahrasbi, Mohammad Nouri, and Kambiz Afzali. 

As the main source of production funding, the government effectively censored domestic filmmaking. Producers were required to submit scripts and film proposals to government officials in advance of funding approval. Movies promoting secularism, feminism, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism were illegal, and some domestic directors were blacklisted. The government prevented distribution of citizen Bahman Ghobadi's film on censorship, No One Knows About Persian Cats. 

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Assembly

The constitution permits assemblies and marches "provided they do not violate the principles of Islam"; in practice the government restricted freedom of assembly and closely monitored gatherings to prevent antigovernment protests. Such gatherings included public entertainment and lectures, student meetings and protests, labor protests, women's gatherings and protests, funeral processions, and Friday prayer gatherings. According to activists, the government arbitrarily applied rules governing permits to assemble, with conservative groups rarely experiencing difficulty and groups viewed as critical of the government experiencing harassment regardless of whether a permit was issued.

The government continued to prohibit and forcibly disperse peaceful demonstrations during the year. Paramilitary organizations such as Ansar-e Hizballah also harassed, beat, and intimidated those who demonstrated publicly for reform. They particularly targeted university students. 

On February 5, according to AI, authorities arrested four men from Tehran Polytechnic (Amir Kabir) University's Islamic Students Association, Esmail Salmanpour, Majid Tavakkoli, Hossein Torkashvand, and Koroush Daneshyar. The students had taken part in a ceremony commemorating the life of Mehdi Bazargan, the first prime minister appointed after the 1979 revolution. As the gathering was beginning, authorities interrupted the ceremony and arrested approximately 20 participants, 16 of whom were later released. The four students reportedly initiated a hunger strike in protest of their detention. No updates were available at year's end. 

On February 23, more than 1,500 Amir Kabir University students demonstrated against the government's plan to rebury soldiers from the Iran-Iraq War on university grounds. According to AI, security forces arrested four Amir Kabir University students, Abbas Hakimzadeh, Mehdi Mashayekhi, Nariman Mostafavi, and Ahmad Qasaban, along with 70 other students during the demonstrations. Authorities later released 40 of the students. There was no information regarding the status of the remaining detained students at year's end.

On March 26, authorities arrested Khadijeh Moghaddam, Mahboubeh Karami, and 10 others as they prepared to visit families of detained activists (see section 6).

After the June 12 election and as protests continued throughout the year, police reportedly preemptively arrested numerous student activists.

On December 7, thousands of opposition supporters and students gathered in Tehran and cities across the country to mark the anniversary of the killing of three students by security forces in 1953. According to AI, security forces used excessive violence in suppressing student-led demonstrations, where scores of protesters were beaten and detained. In a number of instances, Basij militia and other security forces reportedly used batons and tear gas to disperse opposition supporters.

Many individuals who participated in demonstrations since 2006 were imprisoned at year's end. For example, on January 31, judicial officials from the Revolutionary Court of Tehran arrested Alieh Eghdamdoust in her hometown of Foman to begin serving a three-year prison sentence for participating in an "illegal gathering" based on her participation in a 2006 women's rights protest in Haft Tir Square in Tehran; she remained in Evin Prison at year's end.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional associations, Islamic religious groups, and organizations for recognized religious minorities, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of "freedom, sovereignty, and national unity" or question Islam as the basis of the Islamic Republic. The government limited freedom of association in practice through threats, intimidation, imposing arbitrary requirements on organizations, and arresting group leaders and members. According to a January 9 HRW report, under the Ahmadi-Nejad administration, municipal, provincial, and national councils--established by 2005 regulations ostensibly to facilitate NGOs' permit process--instead served to suppress NGO activities. Such councils generally denied NGOs' applications without written explanation, especially in minority regions, where those who successfully obtained permits nevertheless faced harassment (see section 6, National/Ethnic/Racial Minorities).

Throughout the year the government reportedly continued to exert significant pressure on the DHRC, a Tehran NGO headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi (see section 5). 

The journalists' union and other labor-related groups also continued to face problems during the year (see section 7).

c. Freedom of Religion 

The constitution states that Shia Islam is the state religion and that all laws and regulations must be based on Islamic criteria. The constitution also nominally protects other Islamic denominations, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Judaism. In practice the government severely restricted freedom of religion, particularly the Baha'i faith.

The central feature of the country's Islamic system was rule by the "religious jurisconsult." Its senior leadership consisted principally of Shia clerics, including the supreme leader of the revolution, the head of the judiciary, and members of the Assembly of Experts and the Guardian Council.

Apostasy was punishable by death, according to Shari'a law. In September 2008 the Majles enacted a revision to the penal code to make conversion from Islam punishable by death for men or life imprisonment for women. The legislature reportedly implemented the revision on a one-year trial basis. On June 23, the Legal and Judicial Committee of the Majles recommended removing the revision from the penal code, but it remained at year's end. There were no reported instances of courts imposing the death penalty for apostasy during the year.

Government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shia religious groups, most notably for Baha'is, as well as for Sunni Muslims, evangelical Christians, and members of the Jewish community. According to human rights activists, the government grew increasingly intolerant of Sufism and increased restrictions on Sufi houses of worship (husseiniya). If a Sufi student's faith was revealed, the university expelled him or her. The government continued to repress Baha'is and prevent them from prevent people from meeting in homes to worship. It banned them from government and military leadership posts, the social pension system, and public schools and universities unless they concealed their faith. The courts denied Baha'is the right to inherit property, and the government does not recognize Baha'i marriages or divorces; the government, however, accepts a notary certificate acknowledging the union which allows couples to live together legally. According to the law, Baha'i blood is considered mobah, meaning Baha'is may be killed with impunity. The government repeatedly pressured Baha'is to recant their religious beliefs in exchange for relief from mistreatment. 

On January 14, according to AI and Baha'i groups, authorities raided the homes of 12 Baha'i and arrested six persons. One was released shortly after he was arrested, but the other five spent two months in prison before being released. 

On February 18, Radio Free Europe reported plainclothes police officers had destroyed a library and a religious hall at a Sufi house of worship in Ifsahan. 

On March 5, security forces arrested two Christian women, Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, interrogated them, and detained them in several police stations without charging them before they appeared before Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran on March 18 to face charges of "taking part in illegal gatherings" and "acting against state security." During their continued detention in an overcrowded cell in Evin Prison with 27 other women, they reportedly received no medical attention for infections and fevers. On October 7, authorities brought them before court again and charged them with three additional crimes: antistate activities, propagation of the Christian faith, and apostasy. On November 18, authorities released both women without bail, but it was uncertain whether they would face further court proceedings based on charges against them.

On July 23, according to the Iran Minorities Human Rights Organization, riot police and security forces arrested 20 Sufi practitioners (dervishes) in Gonabadi who were part of a group of 200 to 300 dervishes protesting the arrest of Hossein Zareya, a local leader. Police reportedly used force and tear gas to disperse the crowd, injuring several dervishes. According to Radio Free Europe, authorities had arrested Zareyi for presiding over the burial of a dervish at the cemetery. Authorities had purportedly banned dervishes from being buried at the cemetery for ecological reasons, but the dervishes claimed the ban was part of a government campaign against Sufis. 

On September 27, MOIS officers in Yazd searched the home of Soheil Rouhanifard and confiscated belongings and materials related to the Baha'i faith. The next day, Rouhanifard appeared at the local MOIS office in response to a summons. Authorities interrogated and released him. He was summoned again on October 19 and arrested without charge. At year's end he remained in prison and was not permitted family visits.

On October 12, MOIS officers arrested Behnam Rouhanifard, brother of Soheil Rouhanifard. Two days later authorities summoned his wife to appear at the local MOIS office, where authorities interrogated her for two hours. At year's end Rouhanifard's family had not heard from him since October 17, when he was permitted to call home; his whereabouts were unknown. 

On October 31, MOIS officers searched the home of Baha'i member Ali Bakhsh Bazrafkan, confiscated items linked to his faith, and arrested him. Bazrafkan was a member of the former Baha'i administrative group (Khademin) in Yasouj. According to IHRV, Bazrafkan received a 30-month prison sentence followed by five years in exile in a remote area in the province of Kohkiloyeh va Boyerahmad.

According to human rights groups, all seven members of the Baha'i national leadership body, arrested in March and May 2008, and a total of at least 48 Baha'is, 29 of whom had been arrested during the year, were imprisoned at year's end. Authorities scheduled capital punishment trials for the seven leaders on several occasions during the year, only to cancel each time at the last minute. At year's end the trial date was set for January 12, 2010. 

Human rights organizations reported that the government demolished several Sunni mosques during the year.

With the exception of Baha'is, the government generally allowed recognized religious minorities to conduct religious education of their adherents in separate schools, although it restricted this right considerably in some cases. The Ministry of Education, which imposed certain curriculum requirements, supervised the schools and must approve all textbooks, including religious texts. Sunni leaders reported bans on Sunni religious literature and teachings in public schools, even in predominantly Sunni areas. The government reportedly allowed Hebrew instruction but limited the distribution of Hebrew texts, particularly nonreligious texts, making it difficult to teach the language. With few exceptions, directors of private religious schools must be Muslim. The law required all Muslim students to take Islamic studies courses. 

The government did not respect the right of Muslim citizens to change or renounce their religion. On November 2, MOIS officers entered a venue where a Baha'i gathering was underway. They filmed the event, distributed forms committing participants to respond to any summons from the local MOIS office, and arrested a man with the surname Ghanavati. When officers asked participants if anyone was absent, Sonia Ahmadi's name came up; the officers subsequently went to her home, searched it, and arrested her. Some reports speculated that their arrest was due to Ahmadi having converted Ghanavati from Islam more than 30 years previously. At year's end both individuals remained in prison. 

Proselytizing of Muslims by non-Muslims was illegal. The authorities continued to increase vigilance in curbing proselytism by evangelical Christians. On October 19, authorities arrested Peyman Kashfi, a Baha'i, after he appeared before the Tehran Revolutionary Court in response to a summons. Prior to his arrest, an unidentified government official demanded Kashfi be terminated from his job due to his alleged proselytizing of colleagues. His employer refused the demand. At year's end Kashfi was reportedly being held in Section 209 of Evin Prison. 

The government, specifically the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and the MOIS, monitored all religious activity and the statements and views of all religious leaders, including the country's senior Muslim religious leaders. It restricted the movements of several Muslim religious leaders who had been under house arrest for years and continued to detain at least one dissident cleric, Ayatollah Boroujerdi. The government pressured all ranking clerics to ensure their teachings conformed to (or at least did not contradict) government policy and positions. Since the June elections, the government has pressured proreform clerics to refrain from calling into question the election results and from criticizing the government's response to the demonstrations. For instance, on November 25, the opposition Web site Rahesabz reported that Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate cleric often critical of the current government, would not be leading Eid Qorban prayers for the first time in several years and that Rafsanjani would be replaced by conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, according to an announcement by the Tehran Friday Prayers Office. Khatami also replaced Rafsanjani in leading prayers on Qods Day. 

The government also required evangelical Christian groups to compile and submit congregation membership lists. 

President Ahmadi-Nejad continued a virulent anti-Semitic campaign, stating in news conferences during the year that "Zionists" and Israel must be destroyed.

Jewish citizens were free to travel out of the country but were subject to the general restriction against travel by the country's citizens to Israel. This restriction was not enforced.

The government reportedly continued to confiscate private and commercial properties, as well as religious materials, belonging to Baha'is. In 2006 the UN special representative on housing reported approximately 640 documented cases of Baha'i property confiscations since 1980, instances of numerous undocumented cases, and court verdicts declaring confiscation of property from the Baha'is legally and religiously justifiable. The constitution did not recognize rights of members of the Baha'i faith, and they had no avenue to seek restitution or compensation for confiscated property. 

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Government actions continued to support elements of society who created a threatening atmosphere for some religious minorities.

All religious minorities--including but not limited to Sunni Muslims, Christians, Baha'is, and Sufis, and Mandeans--experienced varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in employment, education, and housing. Inheritance laws favored Muslims over non-Muslims. Broad restrictions on Baha'is undermined their ability to practice their faith and function as a community. Baha'i groups reported that the government often denied their applications for new or renewed business and trade licenses. Baha'is could not teach or practice their religious beliefs or maintain links with coreligionists abroad. It was difficult to distinguish whether the cause of government discrimination against Sunni Muslims was religious or ethnic as most Sunnis are also members of ethnic minorities. 

The government's anti-Israel stance, in particular the president's repeated speeches decrying the existence of Israel and calling for the destruction of its "Zionist regime," created a threatening atmosphere for the 25,000-person Jewish community. Government officials continued to make anti-Semitic statements, organize events during the year designed to cast doubt on the Holocaust, and sanction anti-Semitic propaganda. The government also limited distribution of nonreligious Hebrew texts and required Jewish schools to remain open on Jewish Sabbath. 

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report at

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, and emigration, and repatriation. The government placed some restrictions on these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with regard to refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq. 

The government required exit permits for foreign travel for all citizens. Some citizens, particularly those whose skills were in demand and who were educated at government expense, had to post bond to obtain an exit permit. The government restricted foreign travel of some religious leaders and individual members of religious minorities and scientists in sensitive fields, and it increasingly targeted journalists, academics, and activists--including women's rights activists--for travel bans and passport confiscation during the year. The government banned travel to Israel, but this ban was reportedly not enforced.

On March 17, authorities imposed a travel ban on human rights lawyer and writer Naser Zarafshan. Authorities confiscated his passport at the airport in Tehran as he was about to board a plane to Brussels to attend a conference on the environment.

On April 7, authorities prevented academic Mehdi Zakerian from leaving the country to take part in a conference in Italy on international legal issues. Officials confiscated his passport and other personal belongings, including his computer and research papers. Zakerian, a board member of the Center for Scientific Research and Middle East Strategic Studies, was detained for several months in August 2008 on espionage charges based on his contacts with foreign diplomats related to his work and research activities; no verdict had been issued on his case at year's end. 

On May 10, the government reportedly stopped DHRC deputy head Narges Mohammadi and peace activist Soraya Azizpanah at the Tehran airport. Mohammadi and Azizpanah were on their way to Guatemala to speak at a conference about the role of women in democracy. Authorities seized their passports and prevented them from traveling. 

According to the New York Times, authorities prevented filmmaker Jafar Panahi, whom authorities briefly detained after the June election, from leaving the country to attend an October 29-November 5 Indian film festival. 

A woman must have the permission of her husband, father, or other male relative to obtain a passport. A married woman must receive written permission from her husband before she leaves the country.

The government did not use forced external exile, but it used internal exile as a punishment. Many dissidents practiced self-imposed exile to be able to express their beliefs freely.

There were indications that members of all religious minorities were emigrating at a high rate, although it was unclear whether the reasons for emigration were religious or economic.

Protection of Refugees

The country was a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. The law provides means for granting asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants, and the government reportedly had a system for providing protection to refugees, but the UNHCR did not have any information as to how the country made asylum determinations. The government did not consistently provide protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. 

As of December, approximately 980,000 refugees registered by the Bureau for Aliens, Foreigners, and Immigrant Affairs were living in the country; 935,600 were Afghans and 44,400 were Iraqis. Approximately 70 percent of the Afghan and Iraqi refugees in the country had lived there for 20 to 30 years. 

The number of registered Afghan refugees opting for voluntary repatriation declined since 2007 due to a combination of factors, including concerns about security in Afghanistan. The government continued to postpone discussions to renew the tripartite repatriation agreement, but at an international conference on resettlement and repatriation held in Kabul in November 2008, the government verbally committed to permit registered Afghan refugees to stay until they voluntarily repatriated or resettled elsewhere.

In addition to the 935,600 registered Afghan refugees, the UNHCR estimated as many as 1.5 million Afghans illegally resided in the country as migrant workers. In March 2008 the government announced it would deport all Afghans who lacked refugee documentation. According to the UNHCR, the government deported 200,000 Afghans in the first six months of the year and more than one million in the last three years. On March 22, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and provincial authorities reported that more than 1,000 children deported to Afghanistan's western province of Herat in 2008 faced poverty and were at risk of abuse.

There were reports of some registered refugees included in mass deportations during the last several years, although these reports were not officially documented. According to HRW, many of those deported received no warning that they were being deported, and many were separated from their families or had little time to collect belongings and wages. Other deportees claimed they were beaten, detained, or required to perform forced labor for several days before they were deported. Among the deportees were vulnerable individuals and families who required humanitarian assistance upon arrival in Afghanistan. At the November conference in Kabul, the Iranian delegate stated that Afghan refugees would continue to be treated as "respected guests" and that the two countries were discussing the issuance of 300,000 visas to Afghan workers. No new visa arrangement had been announced by year's end.

Since 2007 authorities maintained approximately 19 "No Go Areas" in the country for Afghan refugees, according to the UNHCR. Refugees were required to register and relocate in areas the government approved; those who did not were considered unregistered and remained subject to deportation. According to the UNHCR, the government's reregistration campaign launched in 2008 to assist male refugees to obtain work permits enabled more refugees to work in the country. 

In July, according to the UNHCR, the government announced a policy to treat the enrollment of all school-age children, including lawful foreign residents and registered refugees, in the same manner. At year's end, however, there was no information available about how the new policy was enforced. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants reported in 2008 that Afghan refugee children were charged fees, while Iraqi refugee children were able attend public school for free. In some cases, local government officials reportedly suspended education services for refugees to encourage them to repatriate. 

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The constitution provides citizens the right to change peacefully the president and the parliament through free and fair elections, but the authority of unelected representatives over the election process severely abridged this right in practice. The Assembly of Experts elects the supreme leader, the recognized head of state, who may be removed only by a vote of the assembly. The supreme leader exercises influence over the government appointments of the 12 clerics and religious jurists who make up the Guardian Council. The Guardian Council then approves the list of candidates for the Assembly of Experts, whose 86 members must also be clerics, who serve eight-year terms and are chosen by popular vote. There was no separation of state and religion, and clerical influence pervaded the government. The supreme leader also approved the candidacy of presidential candidates. 

Elections and Political Participation

On June 12, the country held its 10th presidential election, which outside observers regarded as neither free nor fair. International observers were not allowed entry to monitor the election results. 

The Guardian Council approved only f

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