Iran: UN expert urges accountability for violent protest crackdowns

NEW YORK (26 October 2020) – The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran must conduct an independent, impartial and transparent inquiry into the violent crackdown against protests in November 2019 and January 2020, and bring human rights violators to justice, a UN expert said today.

Javaid Rehman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, said in his annual report delivered to the General Assembly that instead of holding those responsible to account, serious violations targeting protesters continued.

“Despite clear evidence that Iranian security forces used excessive and lethal force, which caused the deaths of over 300 people, including women and children, nearly one year on from the protests, the Iranian authorities have failed to conduct an investigation compliant with international standards,” the expert said.

Amongst the thousands who were arrested, credible testimonies illustrate how State officials used physical and psychological torture against detained protesters, including for the purposes of extracting forced confessions. Some individuals have been condemned to harsh prison sentences and even to the death penalty on the basis of these forced confessions.

“The Government and judiciary appear to be implementing death sentences against protesters to prevent peaceful dissent and restrict civic space. The recent arbitrary execution of Navid Afkari for his participation in August 2018 protests is emblematic of this concern,” said Rehman.

Concerns were also raised in the report about the Government’s treatment of victim’s families, including reports that some have been harassed and detained for speaking out in calling for justice for their loved ones. Others have reportedly been pressured into accepting compensation and to drop their calls for accountability.

Rehman’s report also raised concerns regarding the impact of COVID-19 in Iran, especially in the context of a deepening economic crisis and sanctions. He called on the international community to do all it can to mitigate the negative impact of sanctions, particularly when it concerns the right to health and the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I echo the call of Secretary-General Guterres and High Commissioner Bachelet that states imposing sanctions must ease these sanctions against countries like Iran given their negative impact on their response to the health crisis. The population of Iran needs unfettered access to vital medication, medical equipment and other hygiene products now,” the expert said.

While initially commending the Iranian authorities’ temporary release of over 120,000 prisoners during the first few months of the pandemic, Rehman said he is alarmed that these provisions have not been extended to most arbitrarily detained human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, conservationists and dual and foreign nationals, many of whom have underlying conditions which make them susceptible to COVID-19.

“I am especially concerned by reports of the critical health condition of prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. She and all other individuals arbitrarily detained in Iran must be immediately released,” the expert said.

The report of the Special Rapporteur also highlighted other ongoing concerns related to restrictions on civic space, the use of the death penalty and the high rate of executions, including against child offenders, as well as gender discrimination and discrimination of religious and ethnic minorities.


Mr. Javaid Rehman was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the situation of humanrights in the Islamic Republic of Iranby the UN Human Rights Council in July 2018. He is a Professor of International Human Rights Law and Muslim Constitutionalism at Brunel University, London. Mr Rehman teaches human rights law and Islamic law and continues to publish extensively in the subjects of international human rights law, Islamic law and constitutional practices of Muslim majority States.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page — Iran