HRA publishes book on History, Obstacles, and Achievements

"To all those who sacrificed to advance the rights of others. To those who went to prison, into exile, to our mothers- who were our first human rights teachers, to those who died in love along the way. To Jamal Hosseini, Farzad Kamangar, Michael Cromartie, Taher Elchi, Ali Ajami"

Human Rights Activists in Iran is pleased to announce the forthcoming August 30th release of ‘Human Rights Activists in Iran: History, Obstacles, Achievements’ now available for pre-order at Barnes and Noble.

Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA) has been documenting abuses and advocating for the rights of victims inside of Iran since 2006. Founded by Director Keyvan Rafiee, the organization has grown from grassroots activism to a multi-divisional non-profit organization headquartered in Washington D.C. USA. Today, HRA is one of the oldest operating organization focused on human rights in Iran and boasts the largest network of in-country volunteers. 

The story of HRA is fraught with struggle; members have worked tirelessly to promote respect for human rights and have consequentially faced imprisonment, exile, and death. 

Human Rights Activists in Iran: History, Obstacles, Achievements is dedicated “To all those who sacrificed to advance the rights of others. To those who went to prison, into exile, to our mothers-  who were our first human rights teachers, to those who died in love along the way. To Jamal Hosseini, Farzad Kamangar, Michael Cromartie, Taher Elchi, Ali Ajami”

The opening chapter, written by Keyvan Rafie, tells the story of how HRA was formed during a time when he and his founding colleagues were imprisoned. He reflects on the challenges, widespread as they were, including a lack of technology, citing a time before the widespread availability of the internet in Iran, as well as targeted harassment. Determined to create an organization that would stand the test of time, he writes: 

“We realized that without planning, discipline, and a coherent structure, there was no hope for our survival. By studying and by gaining experience [in human rights], we were able to develop certain principles... The lack of any of [these principles] would have meant the end of our activism.”

Keyvan also notes core principles that were established at the organization’s founding, principles that continue to lead HRA today: being youth-led, maintaining a social base inside the country, and the principle of non-discrimination, among others. The book features sections dedicated to HRA members that have lost their lives as a result of their dedication to human rights, including Farzad Kamangar, executed at the hands of the regime, and Jamal Hosseini, who lost his life while working in exile.

Human Rights Activists in IRan

Throughout the book, prominent human rights activists, lawyers, and community leaders share their stories and experiences of both being part of HRA and witnessing its work, in the hopes of inspiring future generations of activists. They include:

  • Keyvan Rafiee – Founder and Director of Human Rights Activists in Iran
  • Behrouz Sadegh Khanjani – Head of the Iranian Church organization and a former prisoner of conscience
  • George Haroonian – Iranian-American Jewish human rights activist
  • Simin Rouzgard – Former Editor of Peace Mark Magazine
  • Ladan & Roya Boroumand – Founders and directors of Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
  • Rezvaneh Mohammadi – A Gender and Sexual Minorities activist who was sentenced to 5 years because of her activism
  • Shahed Alavi – Journalist and Kurdish rights activist
  • Habibollah Sarbazi – Journalist and founder of the Baloch Activists Campaign
  • Shirin Ebadi – Lawyer, founder of Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran, a former judge who received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2003
  • Kavian Sadaghzadeh Milani – Founder of the Center for Health and Human Rights, Baha’i rights activist
  • Simin Fahandaj – Spokesperson for the Baha’i International Community
  • Dian Alaei – The Baha’i International Community representative
  • Kouhyar Goudarzi – Journalist and co-founder of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters
  • Hossein Raeesi – Lawyer and author
  • Hadi Ghaemi – Founder of the Center for Human Rights in Iran
  • Dr. Abdolkarim Lahiji – Lawyer and President of the International Federation for Human Rights
  • Mehrangiz Kar – Lawyer, author, and human rights activist
  • Elahe Sharifpour-Hicks – Former Human Rights Watch researcher and director of the Human Rights and Planning Group in New York
  • Shadi Sadr – Lawyer, and Co-founder of Justice for Iran
  • Karim Khalaf Dahimi – Arab human rights activist
  • Ali Kalaei – Journalist and former prisoner of conscience
  • Ali Ajami – Former editor of HRANA, a former prisoner of conscience (he passed away in 2020)
  • Behrouz Javid Tehrani – Former prisoner of conscience for a decade, research assistant at Human Rights Watch
  • Jamshid Barzegar – Former BBC Persian site editor, director of the Persian section of Deutsche Welle (Germany)
  • Morteza Kazemian – Journalist and member of the Central Council of the Association for the Defense of Press Freedom
  • Najaf Nemati – Researcher, writer, and Turkish rights activist
  • Siamak Ghaderi – Editor-in-Chief of various newspapers in Iran, including the State News Agency (IRNA), a former prisoner of conscience, and winner of the Hellman Prize –Human Rights Watch
  • Reza Haghighat-Nejad – Author and analyst who is a contributor to many news media
  • Reza Haji-Hosseini – Editor of Human Rights section in Radio Zamaneh
  • Kaveh Ghoreishi – Activist, author, and reporter
  • Kambiz Ghafouri – Political analyst and journalist for various media outlets, including Radio Free Europe and Iran International

Human Rights Activists in Iran: History, Obstacles, Achievements’ is published in hopes that the tireless work of those who have sacrificed everything will forever be ingrained in history.

Iran sentences German human rights advocate to 10 years in prison over ‘propaganda’


A German-Iranian woman was sentenced to jail on Wednesday for her role in “the management of an unlawful organisation and propaganda operations against the regime,” according to HRANA news agency.

In October 2020, Nahid Taghavi, an Iranian human rights activist, was detained at her Tehran residence.

The 66-year-old was sentenced to ten years and eight months in jail. Her daughter, Mariam Claren, confirmed the sentence in a post on Twitter.

Taghavi is a dual citizen of Germany and Iran. Taghavi, however, was denied consular aid from Germany since Iran’s authorities do not formally recognise dual nationality.

Claren stated that her mother had been detained in seclusion for a long time after Taghavi’s arrest.

Taghavi caught COVID-19 and became severely unwell after being transferred to the women’s wing of Tehran’s Evin prison in July.

“For someone at her age with preexisting health conditions and now testing positive for COVID-19, her life is in imminent danger,” Claren said, calling for her mother’s immediate release.

At least three people killed in protests over water shortages in Iran

By Ramin Mostaghim & Jonny Hallam

At least three people have been killed during violent protests over water shortages in Iran, according to state media.

The protests started in southwest Khuzestan province and spread to the nearby city of Aligoodarz in western Lorestan province.

Authorities are blaming the deaths in Aligoordarz on “suspicious bullets shot by some unknown people who penetrated among peaceful protesters,” state media said.

People have been demonstrating for more than a week over water shortages during Iran’s worst drought in over half a century that has affected households, agriculture, livestock farming, and led to power blackouts.

According to two independent sources in the oil-rich Khuzestan province, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity, the actual number of people killed in over a week of protests is higher than officially reported.

One witness, who was at a protest in Khuzestan province, told CNN that people were shot dead by anti-riot police and security agents, and that a continued heavy security presence remained in Khuzestan on Saturday.

The dissident Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) on Saturday reported that at least 10 people died in the protests and an unknown number of people were injured.

At least 102 people have been arrested in the past 10 nights in 30 cities and towns across Iran, according to HRANA.

Several videos uploaded by social media users last week showed security forces using tear gas to disperse protesters, with another video on social media showing activists gathering outside the Tehran Interior Ministry to voice support for Khuzestan protesters.

“We call on law enforcement forces not to harm protesters calling (for) access to water,” a prominent activist, Narges Mohammadi, said in the video.

Security forces beefed up their presence in Tehran, where in the capital’s Azadi square, anti-riot police were seen stationed with armored vehicles.

Iran’s economy has been crippled partly by sanctions imposed mainly on its oil industry by former US President Donald Trump in 2018, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic. Workers, including thousands in the key energy sector, and pensioners have protested for months, with discontent growing over mismanagement, high unemployment and an inflation rate of more than 50%.

Iran faces water bankruptcy; climate change or mismanagement?

By Lina Kruger
International Observatory of Human Rights

Extreme water shortages in Iran have led to protests that started in the southwest Khuzestan province and spread to Aligoodarz in the western Lorestan province. For over a week, Iranian protesters have been demonstrating in some of the country’s hottest regions to call attention to the drought that has been affecting agriculture, livestock, households and has led to regular power blackouts.

Despite the peaceful nature of the protests, Iranian security forces have cracked down on the demonstration, arresting protesters and firing bullets, leading to the death of over 10 people. According to the dissident Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), at least 102 protesters have been arrested across 30 cities over the last 10 days.

The government however denies the violence allegations, blaming the recorded deaths on “suspicious bullets shot by some unknown people who penetrated among peaceful protesters”. However, Amnesty International’s Evidence Lab, part of its Crisis Response Team, states that there is confirmed footage of Iranian security forces using automatic weapons and shotguns on the peaceful protesters in the province of Khuzestan.

Analysis by Amnesty’s weapons experts, gunfire was used to suppress protests in the cities of Izeh, Ahvaz, Kut-e Abdollah, Susangard, and Shoushtar. In addition, NetBlocks, an internet access advocacy group, confirmed that mobile phone and internet service was purposefully disrupted in those regions during the protests. Despite the internet outage, hashtags such as #KhuzestanIsThirsty and #KhuzestanHasNoWater have been trending internationally while calling attention to the deadly protests. Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa commented: “Iran’s authorities have a harrowing track record of using unlawful lethal force”, going on to say: “Protesters are voicing legitimate economic and political grievances, yet they face a barrage of gunfire, tear gas, and arrests.”

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called on Iran to address its chronic water shortage while also requesting the government put an end to the violence used on protesters. She commented: “The impact of the devastating water crisis on life, health and prosperity of the people of Khuzestan should be the focus of the government’s attention, not the protests carried out by people driven to desperation by years of neglect.”

Saeed Khatibzadeh, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, responded by denying the “false accusations and incorrect information” and criticised Bachelet for not considering the steps Iran has taken to “relieve the suffering of the population”.

However, in contrast to the foreign ministry spokesman, president Rouhani stated the people of Iran have a right to protest and this sentiment was also reflected by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who commented: “The people showed their displeasure … but we cannot really blame the people and their issues must be taken care of.”

The position taken by the two highest ranking individuals in the Iranian power structure is likely influenced by the global outcry at the government’s brutal crackdown on the November 2019 protests in Iran, which saw over 300 men, women and children killed.

The reasons behind Iran’s dangerous water shortage are complicated. All sources of the country’s water, including rivers, reservoirs, and groundwater, are starting to run dry, an issue that has been exacerbated by global warming.

The average temperatures in the middle east have been rising and cities in Iran, Oman, Kuwait, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates are expected to hit temperatures of up to 55 degrees Celsius for days at a time by the middle of the century.

Massoumeh Ebtekar, vice president and the head of Iran’s Department of Environment commented on Iran’s water shortage, “Our water usage is twice the world standard, and considering the situation in our country, we have to reduce this level”. Iranians use an average of 66 gallons of water a day, much lower than the 105 gallons of the US, however, Iran does not have the same abundance of fresh water. A 2013 study by the World Resources Institute, identified Iran as being at an extremely high risk of future water scarcity by ranking it as the world’s 24th most water-stressed nation.

Furthermore, Iran is experiencing one of the driest years in five decades with rainfall being down by 85%.

Iran’s attempts to solve its water crisis might actually be exacerbating the problem. Since 1979, 600 dams have been built in Iran and hydroelectric power plants are a large part of its economy.

Yet dams in the hottest regions of the country lose two billion cubic metres of water a month due to evaporation. The falling supply of water has led Iran to use power pumps to extract such large amounts of groundwater that the loss of weight can be detected from space and has impacted the region’s gravitational field, according to NASA.

Kaveh Madani, senior fellow at Yale University and former deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment has stated that the main reason for the chronic water shortage is poor development management by the government and that because Iran uses “…the water for agriculture, don’t supply enough water to your wetlands, don’t supply enough water to the environment and the ecosystem”, it is essentially “developing unsustainably”.

Iran’s economy is also suffering heavily under the sanctions placed on its oil industry by former US President Donald Trump in 2018. With a youth unemployment rate of 25% and an inflation rate of over 50%, students, workers, and pensioners have been demonstrating Iran’s mismanagement for months. Protesters have been heard chanting slogans such as “death to Khamenei!”.

Furthermore, impacts of the pandemic on Iran are adding to the unrest. With the country’s morale so low, it is no surprise that turnout at June’s presidential election was Iran’s lowest in history.

Solving the country’s water crisis will require Iran to address its shortage directly while taking active steps towards a sustainable solution. Kaveh Madani suggested that for Iran to solve its chronic water shortage, it must first change its development model and “must invest in the industrial and service sector and decrease the pressure on its natural environment if it wants to survive. This means diversifying the economy and making big reforms to the agricultural sector”.

Amnesty has called on Iran to stop using violence to suppress the water protests and has requested that the UN Human Rights Council starts collecting evidence to “facilitate fair and independent criminal proceedings”. Iranians are suffering under the water shortage so instead of punishing its people for protesting, the Iranian government needs to address these issues directly.

Deadly Repression of Khuzestan Protests: Hundreds Arrested; At Least 9 Deaths, Including a Child

By Human Rights Watch

The rising death toll and mass arrests raise grave concerns about the Iranian authorities’ response to recent protests in Khuzestan and other provinces, Human Rights Watch said today.

The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release peaceful protesters, provide information about deaths, and allow an independent international investigation into security agencies’ alleged use of lethal force. All those responsible for abuses should be held to account.

“The Iranian political leaders’ primary response to widespread demands for basic rights has been unchecked repression,” said Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Only a transparent investigation into the deaths of protesters, holding security forces accountable for wrongdoing, and a commitment to address long-term grievances can begin to address the local population’s loss of trust in the authorities.”

Since July 15, 2021, Iranians have protested deteriorating living conditions in Khuzestan and several other provinces, including Isfahan, Lorestan, Eastern Azerbaijan, Tehran, and Karaj. As of July 28, human rights groups have verified the identities of at least nine people who were shot dead or died of injuries during the protests, including a 17-year-old boy, in Khuzestan and Lorestan provinces. Iranian government officials have announced the death of three protesters and a police officer during the protests. Videos shared on social media from protests in cities in Khuzestan show security officials shooting firearms and teargas toward protesters.

On July 15, people in dozens of towns and cities in Khuzestan province, which has a large ethnic Arab population, took to the streets for several nights to protest not having clean water for days. Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) identified six victims and at least 171 people arrested during the protests. Unconfirmed reports indicate the number of deaths and arrests may be higher. Amnesty International and Radio Zamaneh news outlet have published the names of three more people who were killed during the protests.

On July 21, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s national security council, wrote on his Twitter account that the authorities have ordered the release of those arrested during the protests in Khuzestan “who have not committed any criminal act.” On July 25, Mizan News, the judiciary’s news agency, reported that Gholamhossein Ejeyi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, had ordered the Khuzestan courts to release those arrested for protesting and a review of those convicted for the November 2019 protests, which began over gasoline prices and transformed into a broader expression of popular discontent with the government’s repression and perceived corruption. Human Rights Watch has extensively documented that Iran’s judiciary regularly uses vaguely defined national security charges to prosecute peaceful dissent and subjects detainees to mistreatment, torture, and unfair trials.

Under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, police may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required to achieve a legitimate policing objective. The deliberate use of lethal force is permissible only when it is strictly necessary to protect life, and warnings should be given when possible. The authorities should promptly report and investigate all incidents of law enforcement officials killing or wounding people with firearms through an independent administrative or prosecutorial process.

Over the past four years, Iranian authorities have responded to widespread protests with increasingly excessive and lethal force, mass arrests, and internet shutdowns. In November 2019, in one of most brutal crackdowns, security forces used excessive and unlawful lethal force against massive protests across the country. Amnesty International reported that at least 304 people were killed. Iranian authorities said that 230 people were killed, but have failed to conduct any transparent investigation into serious allegations of unlawful use of force by security officials and instead prosecuted protesters in unfair trials.

Human Rights Watch reiterates its previous calls on the member countries of the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish a UN-led inquiry into alleged serious rights violations during and in the aftermath of the widespread protests.

There are longstanding concerns across Iran, and Khuzestan in particular, over mismanagement of water resources and pollution from oil development. For decades environmental experts have warned that development projects in oil-rich Khuzestan, including the construction of hydroelectric dams, irrigation schemes, and water transfers to neighboring provinces, are causing environmental harm and leading to water shortages affecting a range of people’s rights.

“Crises of government incompetence, repression, and impunity are converging in Iran, harming and immiserating millions of Iranians every day,” Sepehri Far said.

People killed during the protests:

  1. Mostafa Naeemavi, 30, in Shadegan, Khuzestan, on July 16, 2021, according to state affiliated outlets including Fars News.
  2. Ghassem Nasseri (Khozeiri), in Kut-e Abdollah, Khuzestan. Injured on July 16, 2021, and died at the hospital on July 17, according to state affiliated outlets including Fars News.
  3. Hadi Bahmani, 17, in Izeh, Khuzestan, on July 22, 2021, according to HRANA and Radio Zamaneh.
  4. Hamzeh (Farzad) Fereisat, 32, in Ahvaz, Khuzestan, on July 20, 2021, according to HRANA and Radio Zamaneh.
  5. Omid Azarkhosh, in Aligudarz, Lorestan. Injured on July 18, 2021, and died at the hospital on July 21, according to HRANA and state affiliated outlets including Fars News.
  6. Meysam Achrash, in Taleghani town, Khuzestan, on July 22, 2021, according to HRANA.
  7. Isa Baledi, 27, in Taleghani town, on July 21, 2021, according to Amnesty International and Radio Zamaneh.
  8. Mehdi Chanani, in Shoush, Khuzestan, according to Amnesty International.
  9. Hamid Mojadam (Jokari), in Chamran Town, Khuzestan, according to Amnesty International.

COVID-19 weaponised against Iranian political prisoners: daughter of detainee

By Khazan Jangiz

The daughter of a dual German-Iranian national held in Iran says COVID-19 is potentially being weaponised against political prisoners, with her mother’s condition worsening and authorities refusing to grant her medical furlough.

“Unfortunately, we have not yet had any success for getting medical furlough for my mother Nahid Taghavi. This is a game for time on the part of authorities,” Mariam Claren tweeted on Sunday.

“The behavior of authorities [sic] irresponsible. You might think the virus is being used as a weapon against the political prisoners.”

Taghavi’s condition “has worsened” and the prison doctor has confirmed that she is in need of immediate medical treatment outside of prison due to her diabetes, Claren added.

Taghavi, in her 60s, was arrested at her Tehran apartment on October 16 last year.

The Iran-born architect, who has held German citizenship since 2003, had her passport and German identity card confiscated and is being used as a “political bargaining chip,” according to the Germany-based International Society for Human Rights (IGFM).

“Ms. Taghavi was previously transferred to quarantine along with several prisoners with symptoms after receiving a positive COVID test. Despite the widespread prevalence of COVID-19 among inmates in the women’s ward of Evin Prison, Ms. Taghavi has not been approved for medical leave,” the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), which focuses on human rights violations in Iran, reported last week.

Another prisoner, Narges Adib, who suffers from a number of health issues, is also facing a similar situation.

Taghavi tested positive for COVID-19 last month, along with another prisoner Maryam Samghani, according to HRANA.

Iran has previously denied medical care for prisoners who have contracted the coronavirus, including Kurdish political prisoner Zeinab Jalalian and dual British-Iranian national Anoosheh Ashoori.

In January, Amnesty International called on supporters to send a letter to Ebrahim Raisi, the head of Iran’s judiciary and the current president-elect of Iran, calling to “immediately and unconditionally release Nahid Taghavi as she is a prisoner of conscience detained solely in connection with her peacefully exercising her rights to freedom of expression and association.”

The letter called for “regular access to a lawyer of her choosing and family, as well as to any health care she needs, including medication and transfer to outside facilities for treatment unavailable in prison, and ensure that she is granted access to consular assistance from the German authorities.”

Amnesty at the time warned that “the spread of COVID-19 in Iran’s prisons puts her at heightened risk of severe illness or death due her age and medical conditions.”

Raisi is hardline judge with a record of human rights abuses including a role in 1988 prison massacres. International monitors are concerned that human rights could further erode as he takes office on August 5.

Iran’s detention of dual nationals from various countries in Iran have multiplied since former US president Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the United States from a nuclear deal with Iran and re-imposed harsh sanctions against Tehran.

Campaigners say the act is a policy of hostage-taking aimed at pressuring the West. Iran has conducted several exchanges of foreign prisoners, including researchers, with countries holding Iranian nationals.

82 Executions in Iran between April and July

In July, Iran executed a staggering 38 individuals for crimes related to drugs, murder, and sexual offenses. In the previous three months, an additional 44 individuals faced the same fate. All of these executions took place under the direction of president-elect Ebrahim Raisi, who will assume office on Friday. 

Raisi, who has been colloquially referred to as the “Ayatollah of Massacre” for his role in the extra-judicial executions of political prisoners in 1988, continues to evade accountability for his endless violations of human rights. 

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According to Senior Advocacy Coordinator, Skylar Thompson, “The impending Ebrahim Raisi presidency is a frightening illustration of the culture of impunity in the Islamic Republic of Iran; it shows that without international support for a meaningful pathway to accountability, Iranian citizens will continue to suffer at the hands of the regime.” She continued, “As Head of the Judiciary, Raisi presided over the highest number of executions per capita, and in addition has committed some of the most egregious crimes imaginable throughout his career, his impending position as President promises comparable ruthlessness”

In addition to the staggering number of executions, capital punishment sentencing is also on the rise [See figure 1]. In July alone, a total of 10 people were sentenced to death, compared with 6 in June, 3 in May, and 5 in April.

Capital Punishment Sentencing per month April to July 2021

While the death penalty is not prohibited under international law,  in countries that have not abolished the death penalty, the sentence may only be legally imposed for ‘the most serious crimes’. According to HRC General Comment no. 36 on The Right to Life (GC 36), the phrase “the most serious crime” must be “read restrictively and apply only to crimes of extreme gravity”. 

Iran’s judicial system interprets the phrase, to put it lightly, in a way that is less-than-restrictive.  Despite recent legal reforms, drug-related offenses accounted for the highest number of executions between April and July (48.8%).  GC 36 also establishes that “sexual offenses, while serious in nature, must never serve as a basis for the imposition of the death penalty”, but from April to July 2021, 4 individuals were executed in Iran on charges of a sexual offense.

Rate of Execution per offence

One of the 10 executed in July was juvenile offender Baha al-din Ghasemzadeh. Juvenile executions are explicitly prohibited under international law, but they are an enduring practice within Iran’s criminal justice system. In fact, in a recent interview with Agence France-Presse, Secretary of the state-run High Council for Human Rights Majid Tafresh said that the Islamic Republic executes juvenile offenders “three to four times a year”, and claimed this should not be considered a human rights violation. According to HRA’s Spreading Justice Project Manager, Parasto Azizi, “HRAs Spreading Justice team has documented several individuals including judges and prosecutors responsible for imposing the death penalty for crimes falling outside of those internationally recognized as most serious including illegally imposing the death penalty in cases involving juveniles.” 

*In addition to the numbers analyzed in this report, on August 2nd, two juvenile offenders were executed in Urmia Prison on drug-related charges.