Tuesday, February 25, 2020

For Immediate Release
Iran: No Justice for Bloody Crackdown
Unlawful Lethal Force, Families Threatened, Cover-Ups
(Beirut, February 24, 2020) – Iranian authorities have failed to hold security forces accountable for excessive and unlawful use of lethal force in confronting large-scale protests that began on November 15, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. Members of the United Nations Human Rights Council should take urgent action to address the brutal crackdown.
Over three months later, the government has failed to announce the total number of deaths and arrests during the protests, which spread to many parts of the country over a week. Interviews with victims and witnesses, a review of photos and videos from the protests, and satellite imagery analysis strongly suggest that security forces used unlawful lethal force on at least three occasions. The total number of such cases is most likely higher.
“Iranian authorities have systematically repressed dissent for decades, and they are now confronting popular protests with an astonishing level of violence,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. Principled international voices should send an unequivocal message that Iran cannot get away with killing protesters.”  
The protests began over an abrupt fuel price increase, but they transformed into broader popular discontent with the government’s repression and perceived corruption. The government imposed a near-total internet shutdown from November 15 to 19.
Due to the internet shutdown and authorities’ threats against families of victims, documenting the full extent of the crackdown, including the total number of people killed, has been difficult. Amnesty International has estimated that at least 304 people were killed. The Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) has verified the identities of more 100 people killed. Media reports indicate that the death toll may be much higher. A member of parliament put the number at 170, while official media outlets have reported the deaths at least 5 members of the security forces during the protests. One parliament member said about 7,000 people were arrested.
Four informed sources told Human Rights Watch that the authorities have banned families from conducting interviews with media and threatened them with retaliation if they do. On December 23, the authorities arrested several members of the Bakhtiari family after they called for a public mourning to commemorate the 40th day of their son’s death. On January 22, the authorities released Bakhtiari’s father, pending trial.
After initially greenlighting the crackdown, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was later quoted as saying that families of people killed who had not been protesting should be compensated, and that detained protesters should be treated with what he called “Islamic mercy.” However, nothing in Khamenei’s response to the events suggests that the security forces will be investigated for their excessive and unlawful use of force. Moreover, according to several media outlets, prison authorities have beaten and abused detained protesters. There are also reports of Iran’s revolutionary courts sentencing at least 3 arrested protesters to death.
Human Rights Watch interviewed nine people, including witnesses, victims’ family members, and others with firsthand knowledge of the security forces’ violent response to protests in Khuzestan, Fars, Kermanshah and Alborz provinces. Human Rights Watch also reviewed videos and photos of incidents in which security forces apparently used unlawful and excessive lethal force, as well as satellite imagery of some protest locations. The evidence strongly suggests that on at least three occasions, security forces used unlawful lethal force while responding to protesters who were blocking roads, or in some cases throwing stones and attempting to take over public buildings.
Photos and videos of the protests circulating on social media and verified by Human Rights Watch indicate that the Special Forces under the supervision of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as well as the Special Forces belonging to the Law Enforcement Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran (NAJA), played major roles in the government’s violent crackdown.
People interviewed and videos on social media indicate that in at least three instances security forces shot people who were fleeing the scene of protests. One of these cases can be seen in a video posted online on November 17, 2019, recorded from Zeyn-Od-Din Highway overlooking Taleghani Street in Tehran. The video shows people on Taleghani Street starting a fire, while others throw what appear to be sticks and stones at security forces. About two dozen security force personnel are visible, dressed in black with a white stripe on their helmets. One of them opens fire at people on the street but it is unclear if anyone got hit.

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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Iran: Environmentalists’ Unjust Sentences Upheld
Detainees Faced Torture, Bogus Charges, Unfair Trials

(Beirut, February 19, 2020) – An Iranian revolutionary court has upheld the unjust sentences against eight environmental experts already detained for over two years, Human Rights Watch said today. Iranian authorities have failed to produce any evidence to support their charges against members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation and should free them immediately.

On February 18, 2020, Gholamhossein Esmaili, Iran’s judiciary spokesman, confirmed at a news conference that a court of appeal had upheld sentences ranging from 6 to 10 years in prison against seven of the group’s members for “cooperating with the hostile state of the US.” Esmaili said the court also upheld a 4-year prison sentence for Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, another member of the group, for “assembly and collusion to act against national security.”

“Iran’s revolutionary courts are ‘revolutionary’ only in their ability to fabricate charges without evidence,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Two years on, there’s still not a shred of evidence against these environmental experts, and the authorities should release them immediately.”

The court upheld the 10-year sentences for Niloufar Bayani and Morad Tahbaz and ordered them to return allegedly “illicit income.” The court ordered Bayani to return US$360,000 of these “illicit funds;” authorities calculated this amount by multiplying Bayani’s latest annual salary from the United Nations Environment Programme, where she worked prior to joining the wildlife group, by her six years of working there, a source told Human Rights Watch.

The court also upheld the 8-year sentences for Houman Jokar and Taher Ghadirian on the charge of “cooperating with the hostile states of the US and Israel through spying against the Islamic Republic and in favor of the foreign intelligence services of the CIA and Mossad.” Likewise, the court of appeal upheld the 6-year sentences against Amir Hossein Khaleghian, Sepideh Kashani, and Sam Rajabi for “participating in spying against the Islamic Republic,” “participating in cooperation with the hostile state of the US,” and “cooperating with the hostile state of the US,” respectively.

The Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization arrested seven of the defendants on January 24 and 25, 2018, as well as Kavous Seyed Emami, an Iranian-Canadian university professor. The authorities arrested Kouhpayeh, who was tried with the seven other activists, on February 25. On February 10, 2018, family members of Seyed Emami reported that he had died in detention under suspicious circumstances. Iranian authorities claimed that he committed suicide, but they have not conducted an impartial investigation into his death and had banned his wife from traveling until October 2019.
On October 24, 2018, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, the Tehran prosecutor, said at a news conference that four detainees faced the charge of “sowing corruption on earth,” which includes the risk of the death penalty. He claimed that the activists were “seeking proximity to military sites with the cover of the environmental projects and obtaining military information from them.”

The environmental experts’ trial began in January 2019 but was halted in March. The trial resumed briefly in June but was halted again until it was concluded on November 2. Bayani had interrupted a trial session in February, saying that the defendants had been under psychological torture and were coerced into making false confessions. In a letter reviewed by Human Rights Watch, Bayani wrote that she has been threatened with injection of some substance in her arm by “rolling up her sleeves” and with torture by showing her “photos of torture devices.”

On October 14,  Esmaili, the judiciary spokesman, told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) that the authorities were changing the charge of “sowing corruption on earth” to a charge of collaborating with US and Israel to spy. During the trial, judiciary officials did not allow the detainees to choose their own lawyer, forcing them to be represented by lawyers who were pre-approved by the judiciary. The list that was announced in June 2018 did not include any human rights lawyers.

Over the past two years, several senior Iranian government officials have indicated that they did not find any evidence to suggest that the detained activists are spies. On May 22, 2018, ISNA reported that Issa Kalantari, the head of Iran’s Environmental Institution, said during a speech at a biodiversity conference that the government had formed a committee consisting of the ministers of intelligence, interior, and justice and the president’s legal deputy, and that they had concluded there was no evidence to suggest those detained were spies.
On February 3, 2019, Mahmoud Sadeghi, a member of parliament from Tehran, tweeted that he had received information that the National Security Council headed by President Hassan Rouhani did not consider the activities of the detained environmentalists to be spying.

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