Criminalized Identity: Highlighting LGBTQ+ Rights Abuses in Iran


IranianLGBTQ+ individuals face systematic persecution that is both state-sponsored and pervasive. Legal frameworks and government policies explicitly endorse violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. HRA, through extensive research via its Spreading Justice initiative, has identified the state institutions and individuals involved in human rights violations against these sexual and gender minorities. The research draws on detailed case studies and insights from members of the community advocating for change both within and beyond the borders of Iran.

State-Sponsored Homophobia: Institutional and Legislative Enablers

The Iranian government’s perpetuation of discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals is overt and multifaceted. Dating back decades, there are seemingly endless examples of the widespread, State-sponsored discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in Iran.

The following are a mere few:

The notorious, “Modesty and Hijab Bill,” though not fully ratified, has already been used by State broadcasters to actively promote homophobia. Article 8 paragraph 2 of this bill compels the Broadcasting Organization of Iran to produce content that counters homosexuality, effectively legislating hate and reinforcing societal prejudices against LGBTQ+ individuals. The bill also explicitly tasks the Broadcasting Organization of Iran with promoting content that vilifies homosexuality, contributing to the spread of hatred against homosexuals, sanctioned by state media. Despite awaiting confirmation by the Guardian Council, the police force has practically enforced the hijab law in numerous cities, further institutionalizing discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community under the guise of upholding modesty and moral values. One example of spreading hatred against the LGBTQ+ community is, guest speakers on talk shows spreading false narratives. For example on Jaryan talk show, the Guest speaker questions the boundaries of freedom of expression in Europe, stating that while they can insult prophets, according to him, speaking against homosexuality leads to consequences.

In addition, The Research Center of the Parliament –which is a part of the Islamic Council Research is responsible for conducting study and research projects to provide advisory opinions to the representatives, commissions, and presidium of the Islamic Council— has produced reports that suggested temporary marriage as a remedy to homosexuality, in essence legitimizing State interference in personal identities. In 2014 a report titled Temporary Marriage and Its Effect on Adjusting Illicit Sexual Relations stated “Out of 141,552 middle school students across the country, 24,889 were identified as homosexuals.” The report went on to advocate for temporary marriage as a corrective measure, reinforcing harmful stereotypes.

Forced Conformity

In Iran, the judiciary plays a critical role in enforcing discriminatory laws against the LGBTQ+ community, particularly impacting transgender individuals. A stark example of this is Judge Abbas Ghaderi, head of Branch 45 of the Special Judicial Complex for Family Matters in Tehran. Ghaderi is notorious for his harsh requirements for transgender individuals who seek the legal recognition of their gender. Under his jurisdiction, transgender individuals are compelled to undergo extensive and invasive surgeries to legally change their gender markers on identification documents.

 

The extensive nature of Ghaderi’s behavior can be explored in more depth via his profile on the Spreading Justice database.

Iran has a gender binary legal framework and the law mandates that individuals select either male or female and undergo corresponding gender-confirming surgeries for legal recognition. The mandated surgeries are physically demanding, carry significant medical risks, and entail high financial costs that many cannot afford.  Requiring these surgeries as a condition for legal recognition imposes an unjust burden on transgender individuals, making their right to identity contingent upon their willingness and ability to undergo medical procedures. Moreover, those who refuse or are unable to choose a binary gender and undergo the prescribed surgeries face severe consequences. They are often denied access to basic services and rights, such as employment and education. This denial extends to various aspects of public life, effectively marginalizing them and limiting their ability to participate fully and freely in society.

In addition to these surgical requirements, transgender citizens must navigate a lengthy and arbitrary legal process to obtain identification documents that reflect their gender identity, often resulting in the removal of reproductive organs such as the uterus, ovaries, and testicles. These heavy and irreversible surgeries, coupled with the high costs and low quality of medical care available, further exacerbate the challenges faced by transgender Iranians. HRA has documented instances where local judges, like Judge Ghaderi, apply these requirements inconsistently, adding to the confusion and discrimination.

LGBTQ+ voices from inside the country

The situation for LGBTQ+ individuals in Iran is dire, marked by systemic discrimination, abuse, and persecution. Accounts from community members reveal the depth of their suffering and the pervasive fear that governs their lives.

“Being interrogated was a nightmare. They made fun of me, taunted me, and treated me like a criminal. Even soldiers who were supposed to be impartial joined in the abuse. When I was finally taken to prison, I was so humiliated that I wanted to disappear,” one individual recounted. This testimony highlights the hostile and dehumanizing treatment faced during interrogations.

The Iranian regime’s propaganda machinery further exacerbates the plight of LGBTQ+ individuals. “The regime actively fuels animosity against us. They even burn our flag in government marches and use derogatory language to perpetuate negative stereotypes about us. They exploit existing societal taboos to bolster their campaign of humiliation and oppression. This rhetoric reinforces deeply ingrained prejudices and strengthens the stigma surrounding our community,” shared another member. Such actions by the government serve to legitimize and intensify public hostility and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

Living in constant fear, many LGBTQ+ individuals face profound personal and social risks. “My greatest fear is that coming out could cost me my freedom or my future. Arrests, job loss, or social ostracism are very real risks, even if I’m fortunate to have a supportive family. My fear is for those who have no such support,” explained a third individual. This fear is not unfounded, as Iran’s legal and social environment is extremely hostile towards LGBTQ+ individuals, often leading to severe consequences such as imprisonment, loss of employment, and social exclusion.

Military Service

In the realm of military service, discrimination persists with the “Nervous and Mental” classification in the medical exemption regulations. This classification, used to exempt transgender and homosexual individuals from mandatory military service, not only stigmatizes but also carries severe long-term repercussions. The label of a mental disorder is then recorded in their medical and military records, casting a long shadow over their lives, and impacting their ability to secure employment and access social services.

The military exemption, known as the “red card,” creates additional barriers to obtaining licenses or employment in public offices, reflecting a broader pattern of state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals in Iran. This systematic marginalization,  reinforced by both legal mandates and societal attitudes, impedes the full participation of LGBTQ+ individuals in society.

Although there have been some changes since the enactment of the Examination and Medical Exemption Regulation for Conscription in 2014, which shifted the review of exemptions for transgender and homosexual individuals to specific sections, colloquially known as the “Nervous and Mental” section, the stigma attached to these exemptions persists. Despite the World Health Organization’s reclassification of being transgender from mental and behavioral disorders and the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in 1990, the implications of these exemptions remain problematic in Iran, especially considering the criminalization of same-sex relations. This has led to increased caution and strictness in issuing exemptions, which some manage to obtain only after extended efforts, often limited to an exemption from combat rather than a complete waiver from military service.

Systematic Exclusion from Professional and Social Arenas

The exclusion from additional professional and social arenas is another facet of discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in Iran. Notable figures such as Mohammad Heidari, former head of City Theater, and Seyed Sadegh Mousavi, head of the Evaluation and Supervision Council of the General Directorate of Performing Arts, have played significant roles in excluding transgender individuals from the arts. The case of Saman Arastoo, a well-known actor who faced systematic exclusion from theater productions following his gender confirmation surgery, illustrates the professional and personal costs of such discrimination.

·       Invisible Removal from the Work Environment

Some transgender individuals are deprived of continuing their careers in their specialized fields after coming out. Saman Arastoo, who was a recognized actor in cinema and theater, found himself ousted from the job market shortly after his gender confirmation. In 2020, in an interview with Ensaf News, addressing his removal from a theater production in 2008, Arastoo detailed that Mohammad Heidari, the head of City Theater, and Seyed Sadegh Mousavi Mousavi, from the Evaluation and Supervision Council, decided to remove him from the main character role after a lengthy review process. Arastoo stated, “Many students have been in my classes or participated in my self-awareness workshops. They are transgender and have studied at the University of Arts, and they are never given any work. I always tell the kids to make sure to do two or three art projects, whether in theater or cinema, before undergoing surgery so that they face fewer problems after the operation.”

·       Marginalization from the Social Sphere

The marginalization extends beyond professional spheres into social settings. Alireza Nadali, the spokesperson for the Islamic Council of Tehran City, has publicly criticized the presence of transgender citizens in Daneshjoo Park, suggesting that their presence in public spaces should be regulated and not be allowed in cultural spots of the city. This type of rhetoric contributes to the stigmatization and marginalization of transgender individuals, limiting their ability to participate in public life.

·       The Plight of Homeless Transgender Individuals

Economic and social challenges are further compounded for transgender individuals facing homelessness, a situation exacerbated by widespread family rejection owing to societal taboos and systemic barriers. In 2019, the Daneshgah News Agency highlighted the refusal of shelters to accommodate transgender individuals, citing a case where the Tehran Municipality was questioned for allowing a transgender individual to stay in a women’s shelter. In response to growing pressures, Ahmad Ahmadi Sadr from the Social Services and Participation Organization of Tehran announced plans in 2023 to establish specialized shelters. However, these promises were quickly retracted, underscoring a lack of genuine commitment to addressing the needs of transgender individuals facing homelessness.

Vulnerability to Violence

The vulnerability of LGBTQ+ individuals to violence is pronounced, with minimal protection or recourse available through legal channels. Incidents of violence, such as the assault on a 23-year-old transgender woman in Sanandaj by her brother, often go unaddressed by authorities, leaving victims without support or justice. The lack of a safe environment, even for welfare workers, places these individuals at greater risk, highlighting the systemic neglect and discrimination they face daily.

These examples starkly illustrate the multifaceted discrimination and exclusion faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in Iran, spanning professional, social, and personal spheres. The systemic nature of this exclusion, supported by both governmental policy and societal attitudes, necessitates urgent reforms to protect the rights and dignity of the LGBTQ+ community in Iran.

Security Measures Against LGBTQ+ Members

The plight of LGBTQ+ individuals in Iran extends into their treatment under security measures and legal actions. During the nationwide protests in 2022/23 Rahaa Ajoudani, a transgender citizen living in Tehran, was arrested and faced severe judicial consequences. She was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and banned from leaving the country, although her sentence was later converted to a fine due to “living conditions as a transgender woman and the lack of a proper facility for detention.” This adjustment speaks volumes about the unsuitable conditions in detention facilities, which were further highlighted by leaked surveillance footage showing inadequate facilities and oversight in the specific prison ward where she was held.

Furthermore, the morality police and law enforcement agencies have historically targeted transgender individuals based on their appearance. Recent allegations have included accusations of promoting immorality, leading to arrests and detentions. For instance, in Gonbad-e Kavus in April 2023, a citizen was detained on such charges. Additionally, State-affiliated media have been involved in propagating stigmatizing narratives, including releasing videos of “forced confessions” from five transgender individuals, casting further doubt on the fairness and transparency of legal proceedings against the LGBTQ+ community. The ultimate fate of these individuals remains unknown, underscoring the ongoing risks and uncertainties faced by the community.

Conversion Therapies

Conversion therapies, which are widely discredited by global health authorities, are still promoted and practiced, often under the guise of religious and psychological “treatment.” Dr. Davood Najafi Tavana, for instance, advertises conversion therapies on his website, offering medication, hypnotism, and aversion therapy as methods to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Similarly, the Mehr news agency and the ISNA news agency have published claims supporting the efficacy of conversion therapy, despite widespread international condemnation of such practices. These actions are indicative of a broader societal and governmental stance that views homosexuality and diverse gender identities as disorders that need to be “cured” or “corrected,” further alienating and endangering the LGBTQ+ population.

The Organization of Psychology and Counseling, as the overseeing body for psychologists, does not take any action regarding the unscientific claims made by practitioners of conversion therapy. This is despite the fact that these so-called therapies have long-lasting or irreparable effects on individuals’ mental health, particularly adolescents. Among the responsibilities of this organization are issuing licenses and permits for members of the organization (psychologists and counselors) and monitoring the quality of their professional work.

Hate Speech

Hate speech against the LGBTQ+ community is rampant among high-ranking officials and media outlets in Iran. Historical and ongoing rhetoric from figures such as Ebrahim Raisi underscores the institutional disdain and disregard for LGBTQ+ rights. In a notable instance during a visit to Uganda in 2023, President Raisi criticized Western countries for promoting homosexuality, linking it to broader geopolitical conflicts and cultural wars. He stated, “Western countries are pressuring independent countries by attacking the family foundation, promoting the ugly phenomenon of homosexuality, spreading extremism and terrorism, and using human rights as a tool.” He further stated “This [homosexuality] is one of the dirtiest things that has happened in human history”, he even goes as far as saying homosexuality is created to “extinct humans”. His statements, alongside those of Vahid Yamin Pour, Secretary of the Supreme Council for Youth, who praised Uganda’s harsh anti-homosexuality laws, reflect a deep-seated animosity towards LGBTQ+ rights, both domestically and internationally.

The Urgent Need for Accountability and Reform

Iran’s legal framework and practices concerning homosexuality and in particular forced gender reaffirming surgery contravene several fundamental principles of international human rights law. These include the rights to life, privacy, freedom from torture and cruel treatment, bodily autonomy, and the principle of nondiscrimination.

The criminalization of homosexuality and importantly the imposition of the death penalty for consensual same-sex activities are severe violations of the right to life, as protected under Article 6 of the ICCPR. The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has consistently maintained, as noted in the general comment, that the death penalty should only be applied to the “most serious crimes,” a category that does not encompass consensual sexual relations. Furthermore, such criminalization on this ground constitutes an arbitrary interference with privacy.

Compulsory gender reaffirming surgeries infringe upon the right to health, which encompasses the right to make autonomous decisions regarding one’s body. This practice directly contravenes international human rights standards that protect individuals from non-consensual medical treatments and uphold their right to personal health decisions. The forced imposition of gender reaffirming surgeries on transgender individuals in this way amounts to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Finally, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by international human rights law. Iran’s laws target LGBTQ+ individuals, leading to systematic discrimination that violates their inherent dignity and equality.

The international community must support LGBTQ+ activists and pressure Iran to change its laws to meet international human rights standards and uphold its obligations. There must also be accountability for all past and ongoing violations.

By systematically identifying and discussing the roles of specific perpetrators and institutions, HRA seeks to underscore the accountability necessary for addressing human rights violations against LGBTQ+ individuals (as a persecuted group) in Iran.

In Iran, essential reforms must include decriminalizing homosexuality, abolishing the death penalty for consensual same-sex activities, and halting forced gender-reaffirming surgeries.

These changes are crucial to ensure that Iran respects and protects the fundamental human rights of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As the international community continues to watch, these efforts must be supported and amplified to foster real and lasting change.

List of perpetrators mentioned in the Report  

Ebrahim Raisi: President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Abbas Ghaderi: Former Head of the 45th branch of the Special Judicial Complex for non-litigious matters at the Public and Revolutionary Courts of Tehran

Alireza Nadali: Member and spokesperson of the Tehran Islamic Council

Ahmad Ahmadi-Sadr: CEO of the Welfare, Services, and Social Partnerships Organization of Tehran Municipality

Joint Statement on Women’s Reproductive Health

Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA), along with 15 other human rights organizations, have released a joint statement urging the international community and human rights activists to unite in condemning Iran’s restrictive policies on sexual and reproductive rights. They also call for using diplomatic channels to demand the abolition of discriminatory laws. These organizations request that the Islamic Republic revoke laws restricting abortion and reinstate comprehensive family planning programs. The signatories of this statement emphasize that the Iranian government must comply with international health standards and cooperate with the United Nations to ensure women have access to the highest level of reproductive health care.

 

Read the full statement below:

 

Civil Society Calls on the International Community to Urgently Condemn Iran’s Assault on Women’s Autonomy and Right to Health

 

Washington D.C. Friday, May 10, 2024 –In the past decade, Iran has intensified its efforts to limit women’s fundamental rights, notably in the sphere of reproductive autonomy. This trend underscores a broader pattern within the country, where women’s rights are facing persistent and escalating restrictions. Under the guise of addressing declining population growth, the government has introduced increasingly discriminatory legislation severely limiting access to vital sexual and reproductive healthcare and family planning services such as access to abortion, essential prenatal screening and contraception. These measures criminalize healthcare providers and strip women of bodily autonomy, perpetuating systemic discrimination, now widely acknowledged.

Considering the persistent discriminatory legislation against women’s sexual and reproductive healthcare and with insights from HRA‘s latest report, Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Iran: Battling Restrictive Laws and Discriminatory Practices, which includes grim conversations with women and providers directly affected, the undersigned organizations urge decisive international action to address systemic violations of women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Iran.

 

The undersigned organizations call upon the international community to:

Immediate Condemnation The international community and activists must unite in condemning Iran’s restrictive sexual and reproductive policies, urging the repeal of discriminatory laws including through diplomatic channels, where available.
Engagement with International/Intergovernmental Institutions Engage with international and intergovernmental institutions to raise awareness and advocate for action. Importantly, UNFPA, in its work toward the goal of universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including family planning, it is imperative that in all engagements under the UNFPA Country Programme and the 2024-2025 joint work plans between UNFPA and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, there is a strong emphasis on the need to repeal restrictive legislation that criminalizes abortion and imposes punitive measures on individuals seeking or providing abortion services.
Educational Initiatives Introduce public awareness campaigns aimed at challenging norms perpetuating gender inequality. It is imperative to ensure that these campaigns reach minority areas and are linguistically inclusive, thereby facilitating broader dissemination and maximizing their transformative impact.
Monitoring and Accountability Maintain specialized monitoring to hold Iran accountable for violations of women’s rights, namely sexual and reproductive rights violations. Seek to hold individuals directly involved in violations responsible through targeted action across jurisdictions.

 

The undersigned organizations urge the Islamic Republic of Iran to:

Support Family Planning Reinstate comprehensive family planning programs providing contraception, prenatal and antenatal healthcare, and linguistically inclusive education to empower all women in making their own reproductive healthcare choices.
Repeal Restrictive Legislation Immediately revoke laws criminalizing abortion and ensure access to safe and legal abortion services and eliminate all punitive measures against healthcare providers and institutions.
Adhere to International Health Standards Commit to upholding international health standards and obligations, including the right to health as outlined in the ICESCR.
Combat Gender-Based Discrimination Take concrete steps to address systemic gender discrimination and promote gender equality across all societal domains.
Cooperate with the United Nations Engage with United Nations human rights mechanisms, granting unrestricted access to the country. This not only enables comprehensive monitoring and reporting on the prevailing situation but also serves to enhance accessibility to sexual and reproductive healthcare assistance while addressing ongoing challenges.

Iranian women are not alone in their struggle to attain access to safe sexual and reproductive healthcare. However, Iranian women face systemic discrimination alongside the barriers to sexual and reproductive healthcare, perpetuating their subordinate status in law and ultimately endangering their lives. Iran must implement recommendations, ensuring access to improved sexual and reproductive health for all citizens.

 

Signatories:

Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran   
Association for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijani People in Iran   
Baloch Activists Campaign  
Centre Against Racism in Iran
Haalvsh
Human Rights Activists 
Human Rights Watch 
HYRCANI 
Kurdistan Human Rights Association – Geneva 
Kurdpa Human Rights Organization 
Miaan 
OutRight International 
Rasanak 
Siamak Pourzand Foundation 
Tuhra 
World Organisation Against Torture, OMCT

 

 

For more information please contact Skylar Thompson, Director of Global Advocacy and Accountability at Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA) skylar[at]hramail.com

The post Joint Statement on Women’s Reproductive Health appeared first on Human Right Activists In Iran.

Canada expels Iran’s former deputy interior minister

By Stewart Bell  Global News, Posted March 20, 2024 3:17 pm

Canada’s immigration tribunal ordered the deportation Wednesday of Iran’s former deputy interior minister.

Seyed Salman Samani is the second senior member of the Iranian regime to face removal from Canada under sanctions adopted in 2022.

The Immigration and Refugee Board decision followed a deportation order issued Feb. 2 against Majid Iranmanesh, a technology advisor to Iran’s vice-president.

A third alleged top Iranian official caught in Canada has also been sent for removal proceedings.

In that case, however, the IRB has refused to identify him, and has opted to hold his hearings behind closed doors, apparently because he is claiming to be a refugee.

Global News applied to make the proceedings open to the public, but the IRB denied the request in a ruling Tuesday that did not explain why it felt banning the press from the case was justified.

Seyed Salman Samani, when he was spokesperson for Iran’s Ministry of Interior.
Seyed Salman Samani, when he was spokesperson for Iran’s Ministry of Interior.

Another nine suspected senior Iranian officials are similarly being brought before the refugee board for deportation hearings.

All are living in Canada but are being expelled after Iran’s morality police detained and killed Mahsa Amini for showing her hair in public.

Her death set off protests that were brutally crushed by Iranian security forces.

Canada responded by designating Iran as a regime engaged in “terrorism and systematic and gross human rights violations.”

The policy effectively barred tens of thousands of Iranian officials and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp members from Canada.

The IRB ordered the deportation of Seyed Salman Samani on Wednesday.
The IRB ordered the deportation of Seyed Salman Samani on Wednesday. Immigration and Refugee Board

Iranian Canadians have long complained that regime officials are entering Canada, and sometimes providing support to Tehran.

In a social media post on Feb. 21, Immigration Minister Marc Miller said the government had refused the permanent residency application of Eshagh Ghalibaf.

Court documents show that Eshagh Ghalibaf had applied to immigrate to Canada.

His father, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, is Iran’s parliamentary speaker and a former senior commander in the Revolutionary Guard.

Passport of Eshagh Ghalibaf, who tried to immigrate to Canada.
Passport of Eshagh Ghalibaf, who tried to immigrate to Canada. Federal Court

Samani, 43, entered Canada using a visitor visa issued in Ankara, Turkey. But after he arrived, he faced questions about his past role in the regime, which he quit in August 2021.

At his hearing in February, he said he was unaware his boss, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, had ordered police to kill protesters in 2019.

He denied any involvement in human rights abuses, and insisted he was not aware the Iranian regime was engaged in arbitrary arrest, torture and killings.

But immigration enforcement officials argued Samani held three “critical positions” in the Interior Ministry.

As the ministry spokesperson, he played a role in defending the regime over the role of its security forces in the deaths of 1,500 protesters, the officials argued.

“As a spokesperson, Mr. Samani would have served as a conduit for state propaganda, responsible for disseminating information that aligned with the government narrative and suppressing any dissenting views,” they said.

On Wednesday, IRB Member Kirk Dickenson upheld the government’s case, ruling Samani exercised “significant influence on the government or Iran,” and was therefore inadmissible to Canada.

The date of his removal was not disclosed.

The Canada Border Services Agency said 86 investigations had been launched into suspected senior Iranian regime members living in Canada.

Forty investigations had been closed because the individuals in question were either not in Canada or were not deemed to be senior Iranian officials.

So far the CBSA has identified a dozen “well-founded” cases of senior regime members, but only three have been sent to the IRB to date.

Eighty-two visas were also cancelled by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada under the sanctions. The figures are as of Feb. 16, 2024.

Romania Iran Protest
Woman holds image of Mahsa Amini during a protest outside the Iranian embassy in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. Vadim Ghirda/AP

But figures also show the government is struggling to deport those who have been found inadmissible to Canada on national security grounds.

Since 2018, the CBSA has issued 675 reports alleging foreign nationals should be deported for reasons of national security. But during that same time, only 44 were removed from the country.

That is less than seven per cent.

So far in 2024, the CBSA has prepared 33 inadmissibility reports for national security, but has conducted only a single removal, according to the figures.

Map of Iran, with capital, Tehran. (AP Photo)
Map of Iran, with capital, Tehran. (AP Photo).

Canada broke off diplomatic relations with Iran 12 years ago, citing the regime’s rights abuses, nuclear program and support for international terrorism.

Iran’s IRGC Quds Force finances, trains and arms groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, which conducted the Oct. 7 attack that killed 1,200 Israelis.

The IRGC also shot down a passenger plane in 2020, killing 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents in what the courts have ruled was an act of terrorism.

Iran is also considered one of the hostile foreign governments, along with Russia and China, that engage in foreign interference in Canada.

Recruiting Afghan Migrant Children In Wars By Iran

In The “Moj” Program On Amu TV, Parastoo Azizi (Director Of The Spreading Justice) And Sharif Ghalib, Former Advisor To The Ministry Of Foreign Affairs Of Afghanistan, Discussed And Analyzed The Improper Use Of Children In Wars. A New Report By Human Rights Activists Reveals Iran’s Involvement In Recruiting And Using Child Soldiers, Especially Afghan Citizens, In The Fatemiyoun Division. This Research, A Collaboration Between Spreading Justice, The PDP Initiative, And HRANA, Aims To Expose Violations Of International Laws And Children’s Rights.

در برنامه موج از شبکه آمو، پرستو عزیزی (مدیر پایگاه اطلاعاتی دادگستر) و شریف غالب، مشاور سابق وزارت خارجه افغانستان به بحث و بررسی پیرامون استفاده ناروا از کودکان در جنگ‌ها پرداختند. گزارشی جدید مجموعه فعالان نشان دهنده دخالت ایران در جذب و استفاده از کودک سربازان، به ویژه شهروندان افغانستان در تیپ فاطمیون است. این تحقیق که حاصل کار دادگستر، ابتکار پاسداران و هرانا است، افشای نقض قوانین بین‌المللی و حقوق کودکان را هدف قرار داده.

HRA welcomes FFMI findings of Gender Persecution in Iran

HRA welcomes the findings presented by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran (FFMI) regarding serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity perpetrated against the civilian population, particularly women and girls, during the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests.

In particular, HRA welcomes the FFMI’s recognition of the crime against humanity of gender persecution. 

Download the full report

In December 2023, HRA with our partner, UpRights, submitted evidence and legal analysis on the crime against humanity of gender and political persecution urging the mission to recognize the commission of such crimes. 

The protests, sparked by the tragic death of Mahsa Zhina Amini in detention, were met with brutal force, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives and leaving numerous individuals with irreversible injuries. The disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by security forces against peaceful demonstrators represents a blatant disregard for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Iranian people.

The documented violations, including extra-judicial killings, torture, rape, enforced disappearances, and gender persecution, underscore the urgent need for accountability and justice for the victims and survivors.

The comprehensive report by the FFMI emphasizes the the need for immediate action to address the systemic impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of human rights violations in Iran and crimes under International law. 

The government’s systematic denial of due process and fair trial, coupled with its continued repression of dissent and denial of basic rights, perpetuates a culture of impunity for violations dating back decades. 

HRA’s Spreading Justice Initiative (SJ) welcomes the FFMI’s dedication to documenting those responsible and conducting investigations into the identities of the direct perpetrators who committed, ordered, solicited, or induced the commission of violations. SJ believes this type of investigation is crucial.

HRA further welcomes the discussion on avenues for accountability outside the Islamic Republic of Iran and encourages Member States to explore avenues for international and domestic accountability as recommended in the report. 

Skylar Thompson, Director of Advocacy and Accountability, when speaking about the findings today, said “Recognizing crimes against humanity that have been committed paves a real path forward, opening the door to additional domestic and international accountability mechanisms. It also assures that victims know they are seen and heard. A failure to to recognize the gravity of crimes perpetrated by Iranian authorities in the context of the protests would have been a grave failure for the very women and girls who have suffered for so long. Instead, these findings offer a glimmer of hope. Now, it is absolutely essential that Member States ensure the mandate is extended alongside the Special Rapporteur.”

HRA looks forward to engaging with Member States, partners, and the FFMI throughout the session.

The State of Women’s Rights in Iran: Institutional and Individual Violations

The state of women’s rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran is a critical concern, marked by systemic and pervasive violations deeply rooted in both the legal and societal frameworks. This report seeks to unpack the complex landscape of gender-based discrimination, highlighting the institutional and individual practices that significantly undermine the autonomy, dignity, and freedoms of Iranian women. At the heart of these violations lies a legal system marred by gender inequality, with laws that span from the constitutional to the civil and penal codes, all of which collectively disadvantage women in critical areas of life such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and parental rights.

Further extending its scope which published by Spreading Justice, this investigation not only examines the legal codifications but also ventures into the public domain, where regulations on modesty, public conduct, and the mandatory hijab further restrict women’s rights. By exposing the specific roles and actions of key actors within the judiciary, law enforcement, and legislative arenas, this report aims to shed light on the systemic entrenchment of gender disparities. Through detailed analysis and case studies, it underscores the urgency of addressing these profound inequities.

The Judiciary Fails to Guarantee Women’s Rights

In the intricate landscape of Iran’s human rights challenges, the judiciary plays a pivotal role, oscillating between neglect and active suppression of women’s rights. This dynamic is glaringly apparent in the treatment of female prisoners, journalists, activists, and those defying the mandatory hijab regulations. Through both action and inaction, the judiciary not only deepens the suffering of these individuals but also signals a systemic incapacity to safeguard fundamental freedoms.

The Revolutionary Court of Rasht’s recent trial initiation against twelve women’s rights advocates is a testament to this ongoing repression. On February 29, 2024, the court began proceedings against Forough Saminia, Sara Jahani, Zahra Dadras, Yasamin Hashdari, Shiva Shah Sia, Negin Rezaie, Vahedeh Khoshsirat, Azadeh Chavoshian, Zohreh Dadras, Matin Yazdani, Hooman Taheri, and Jelveh Javaheri. Charged with “membership in a group, assembly, and collusion to act against national security” and similar accusations, these individuals’ experiences reflect the broader pattern of targeting activists to quell dissent. Their arrest during a mass detainment in Gilan Province and subsequent conditional release from Lakan Prison in Rasht underline the systematic approach to intimidating and silencing voices advocating for gender equality and human rights.

The case of Roya Heshmati, penalized for her protest against the compulsory hijab with seventy-four lashes, is a harrowing example of the judiciary’s overreach. This incident, dated January 3, 2024, is a grim marker of the severe penalties imposed for perceived non-compliance with state mandates, reflecting a profound disregard for human dignity and freedom. In a text circulating social media, Roya Heshmati recalls the harrowing ordeal, “The judge said not to hit too hard. The man began to hit. My shoulders. My upper arms. My back. My buttocks. My thighs. My calves. Again, from the beginning. I didn’t count the number of strikes. Under my breath, I was chanting for the name of woman, for the name of life, the garment of servitude was torn, our dark night shall turn into dawn, all the whips shall turn into axes.”

Adding to this narrative of repression is the collective sentencing of Maryam Bani-Razi Motlagh, Abdolbagher Amani, Reza Rashidi, and Mohammadreza Rostami by Branch 116 of the Criminal Court in Qom. Their conviction to over 17 months in prison, 148 lashes, and additional penalties for not adhering to the “mandatory hijab” and allegedly hindering the state’s moral policing further exemplifies the judiciary’s stringent enforcement of conservative norms. Presided over by Judge Hossein Soltani, these sentences manifest the judiciary’s commitment to maintaining strict social control through corporal punishment and incarceration, actions that clearly violate international human rights norms.

This oppressive environment extends to the realm of journalism, where female journalists are increasingly targeted, pressured, and arrested. Among them, Niloufar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, sentenced by infamous Judge Salavati to 13 and 12 years respectively, and Vida Rabani, who received a 6-year and 15-month sentence from Judge Iman Afshari, showcase the severe repercussions for their reporting. Additionally, Saba Azarpeik faced a sentence of 2 years in prison and a 2-year ban from social media activities. The cases of Saeedeh Shafiee and Nasim Soltanbeigi further illuminate the judiciary’s harsh stance, as both were sentenced by Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, led by Judge Iman Afshari, to four years and three months in prison. Their sentences included charges of “propaganda against the system” and “assembly and collusion,” with additional restrictions on their freedom to engage in political and social groups and to travel abroad. These instances reflect a broader pattern of the judiciary targeting female journalists, intending to suppress dissent and control the flow of information within Iran.

The above examples highlight the judiciary’s complicity in fostering a climate of fear and repression, particularly against women challenging compulsory hijab laws and advocating for broader freedoms. The actions of judges like Iman Afshari, Abolqasem Salavati, Hossein Soltani, and others, who have imposed heavy sentences on female journalists, activists, and protestors, actively suppress dissent, limit freedom of expression, and encroach on civil liberties, reflecting a pattern of judicial conduct in Iran marked by indifference to prison abuses and a concerted crackdown on female dissent. This underscores a disturbing erosion of basic human rights and freedoms, highlighting a clear contradiction with the Executive Regulations of the Prisons Organization.

List of violators related to this section:

▪️Abolqasem Salavati:the head of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran
▪️Iman Afshari:head of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran
▪️Hossein Soltani:The head of the 116th branch of the criminal court NO.2 of Qom
▪️Mohammad-Reza Amouzad:the head and judge of 28th Branch of the Tehran Islamic Revolution Court

Violation of Women’s Rights within Iranian Prisons

1- Deplorable Conditions in Women’s Prisons

One illustration of the erosion of women’s rights in Iran is the conditions within the women’s prisons. Officials at the Amol prison have obstructed the delivery of many donated books to inmates, depriving them of educational and recreational resources. This situation is exacerbated by lacking amenities like libraries and entertainment facilities, such as movie players, which have not been made available to the inmates despite donations and repeated requests. This deprivation seems to stem from the behavior of prison officials and actions contrary to the directives of the Prison Organization.

2-Physical Abuse and Medical Neglect

The experience of female political prisoners in Iran paints a distressing picture of widespread abuse and neglect. Instances like that of Narges Mohammadi, who was reportedly assaulted by an official at Evin Prison‘s infirmary in September 2023 for not wearing the mandatory hijab, are not isolated. Such incidents reveal the harsh realities faced by women behind bars, especially those imprisoned for their political beliefs. Mohammadi’s ordeal began simply because she was assisting a sick fellow inmate, yet it escalated into a physical confrontation over her non-compliance with the hijab rule, as reported by HRANA. This is emblematic of the broader challenges and risks women encounter in Iran’s prisons, where adherence to strict dress codes is enforced with little regard for personal dignity or safety.

Similarly, a year prior, in the women’s ward of the Kermanshah Rehabilitation Center, the situation was no less grim. Prisoners, including Ms. Soheila Hijab, endured severe beatings at the hands of prison guards. Beyond physical abuse, these women often face medical neglect, exacerbating health complications that arise during their detention or because of prolonged incarceration. This neglect starkly violates basic human rights, underscoring a systemic disregard for the welfare of female prisoners.

Such incidents are indicative of the broader issues within Iranian penal institutions, particularly in the treatment of political detainees and the rigid enforcement of dress codes. They also highlight the ongoing struggle against compulsory hijab laws, reflecting the broader societal challenges women face, including those incarcerated, in resisting oppressive mandates.

3- Punitive Measures Against Protesting Inmates

Female prisoners, especially those who dare to protest the inhumane conditions, face punitive measures. These include but are not limited to, solitary confinement, false allegations resulting in new cases, denial of family visits, and even exile to other prisons. For example, following protests in Evin Prison, restrictions on a group of people, have been imposed, severely limiting prisoners involved the rights to make phone calls or receive family visits.

4- An increasing number of executions including of female prisoners

According To the Annual Report of Human Rights Activists (HRA), In 2023, at least 20 women were executed in Iran. One of the cases that caught media attention was the execution of Samira Sabzian Fard. Samira, a woman whose entire life was marred by the inexcusable discrimination faced simply for being a woman in Iran was a victim of child marriage, and domestic brutality, and ultimately, she was sentenced to death, and her life was taken by the state.

5- Transgender and Queer Women’s Experiences in Prison

Transgender women often experience segregation in prisons and despite legally changing their identification to align with their gender identity, transgender women face unique challenges and discrimination within the prison system. Additionally, queer women are scrutinized and stigmatized because of their sexuality. The experiences of transgender and queer women in facilities such as Qarchak and Lakan women’s wards highlight the urgent need for prison reforms to address these injustices and ensure the protection of all inmates’ rights, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. These practices not only violate the principles of dignity and equality enshrined in international human rights treaties but also highlight the critical gaps in protection and respect for LGBTQ+ rights within the Iranian judicial and penal systems.

List of violators related to this section:

▪️ State prison and security and corrective measures organization
▪️ Allah Karam Azizi:
the current head of Ghezel Hesar prison.
▪️ Edris Abdi: the current head of Kermanshah Juvenile Detention center
▪️ Hedayat Farzadi:the current head of Evin Prison
▪️ Soghra Khodadai:the head of Qarchak prison
▪️ Mahmoud Torabi:
The head of Rasht Central Prison (Lakan Prison)

Legislation Affecting Women’s Rights

Recent legislation in Iran, ostensibly designed to boost the country’s population, cast a long shadow over the rights and autonomy of women. At the heart of these measures is a draft revision of the Penal Code that significantly escalates the penalties associated with abortion, revealing a concerted effort by the government to exert control over women’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. This proposed legislation not only seeks to criminalize abortion under a broader range of circumstances but also extends its punitive reach to encompass a wide array of individuals and activities related to the provision of abortion services.

Under the new draft Penal Code, the act of performing an abortion, facilitating the process, or even disseminating information about how to obtain one could result in severe legal consequences. Healthcare professionals, including doctors, midwives, and pharmacists, who are found to assist in the abortion process, could face not only imprisonment but also the revocation of their professional licenses. This aspect of the legislation places a significant burden on medical practitioners, forcing them to navigate the perilous waters between upholding their ethical obligations to provide care and avoiding legal prosecution.

Moreover, the legislation introduces penalties for those who engage in the dissemination of abortion information, targeting educators, activists, and possibly even individuals who share such information in private communications. This move effectively seeks to erase abortion from the public discourse, stifling debate and denying women access to critical information about their reproductive health options.

The implications of this legislative push are profound. By criminalizing abortion and penalizing those who support women’s reproductive choices, the government is not only infringing on women’s rights to make decisions about their bodies but also potentially endangering their health. Women seeking to avoid legal repercussions may turn to unsafe methods to terminate unwanted pregnancies, increasing the risk of complications, injury, or death.

Furthermore, this legislative approach reflects a broader attempt to control and dictate the terms of women’s existence and roles within society, reinforcing traditional gender norms and expectations. It disregards the complex realities of women’s lives, their health, socio-economic conditions, and their right to choose whether and when to have children.

The draft Penal Code’s severe restrictions on abortion in Iran implicate a wide array of governmental bodies and officials in the systemic violation of women’s rights, spanning from the legislative branches responsible for drafting and passing such repressive laws to the judiciary that enforces them through punitive measures against women and healthcare providers.

Lawmakers and legislators are directly accountable for creating laws that infringe on women’s autonomy, while judges and the judiciary uphold these laws, effectively sanctioning the suppression of women’s reproductive rights. The executive branch, including various government officials and policymakers, oversees the implementation and enforcement of these restrictions, further embedding the control over women’s bodies within the state’s legal and social fabric. Law enforcement agencies are the operational arms that execute these policies, arresting and detaining those who seek or provide abortions. Additionally, healthcare regulatory bodies exert control by penalizing medical professionals involved in abortion care, thereby restricting access to safe medical procedures. Together, these entities form a comprehensive network of control that not only restricts women’s rights to make decisions regarding their bodies but also places them at greater risk, underscoring a deep-seated violation of human rights and dignity within the framework of Iranian law and governance.

List of violators related to this section:

▪️ Amir-Hossein Bankipour Fard:the representative of the people of Isfahan in the 11th Islamic Consultative
▪️ Zohre Elahian:the representative of the people of Tehran in the 11th Islamic Consultative
▪️ Hossein Mirzaei:the representative of the people of Isfahan in the 11th Islamic Consultative

Violation of Women’s Rights by the Police and IRGC

The Morality Police, alongside the police forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), tasked with upholding Islamic dress codes and moral standards, have employed measures that often escalate into rights violations, including harassment, arbitrary detention, and physical abuse against women.

A notable example of this enforcement is the action taken by Hojjatollah Salari, the commander of the Seyyed al-Shohada IRGC of Hormuz. On May 3, 2023, Salar announced the confiscation of 20 electric motorcycles due to hijab violations as part of the chastity and hijab plan. This operation, aimed at addressing what was described as “the unveiling of drivers and passengers,” underscores the lengths to which the IRGC will go to enforce dress code violations, extending its reach to the confiscation of personal property.

Further exemplifying the aggressive stance on dress code enforcement, the IRGC of Hormuz Island, under Salar’s command, initiated the “Hijab and Chastity” exercise on May 8, 2023. This exercise, conducted in collaboration with local religious and Basij resistance bases, was explicitly designed to combat perceived instances of “improper hijab,” highlighting the comprehensive nature of these campaigns to regulate women’s attire and behavior in public spaces.

The repercussions of these enforcement actions were further amplified on December 24, 2023, when the a security order led to the arrest of 90 people and the issuance of verbal warnings to 380 women for “unveiling” on the beaches of Hormuz Island. The operation also resulted in confiscating personal items and sealing commercial units, illustrating the extensive measures employed to enforce moral codes.

List of violators related to this section:

▪️Moral Security Police 
▪️Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) 

Violations Against LGBTQ+ Individuals

The rights of transgender individuals in Iran face severe compromises, as evidenced by reported incidents that highlight the broader pattern of human rights abuses against the LGBTQ+ community. There have been reports of coerced confessions, where individuals are pressured into admitting guilt or making statements against their will, as example Suspicious Telegram channels such as Saberian News published forced confessions of Transgender arrestees, SJ is investigating such channels close to the security apparatus. Such practices, often carried out under duress, undermine the justice system’s integrity, and blatantly violate the rights of those involved, casting a long shadow over their dignity, and exposing them to unwarranted public scrutiny and further discrimination.

Interactions with Morality Police frequently lead to the arrest or violent confrontations for transgender individuals, targeted for their appearance or identity in the enforcement of strict moral and dress codes. This aggressive oversight not only infringes upon their rights to self-expression and identity but also subjects them to potential violence and legal consequences, underscoring a punitive approach to moral regulation.

Moreover, the reluctance or outright refusal of law enforcement to file complaints from transgender victims of violence represents a significant barrier to justice. This denial not only exacerbates the victims’ plight but also signals a troubling indifference towards the safety and rights of transgender individuals, perpetuating a cycle of violence and impunity for aggressors.

Adding to this complexity, LGBTQ+ women, in particular, face added pressure following their arrest by security forces. Their sexual orientation is exploited as a tool to coerce confessions, with threats of legal prosecution and the exposure of their sexuality to their families. This unwanted and involuntary outing not only intensifies the pressure on them but also poses risks to their health and lives. The situation was particularly evident during the protests of 2022, highlighting the extreme dangers faced by those whose identities intersect with multiple marginalized statuses. Such practices paint a stark picture of a legal and social environment marked by discrimination, where the basic human rights and protections that should be universally afforded are systematically denied to the transgender community.

Conclusion

This report illuminates the profound and systemic nature of gender inequality in Iran, highlighting how a combination of legal and institutional frameworks, reinforced by specific actors across judiciary, legislative, and law enforcement domains, systematically undermines women’s rights. These entities have been identified as key contributors to a pervasive culture of discrimination and suppression against women.


For more information please contact Skylar Thompson, Director of Global Advocacy and Accountability at Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA) skylar[at]hramail.com


Dominic Ongwen: Ugandan warlord’s LRA victims awarded share of £56m

By Anna Holligan
BBC News, The Hague

Victims of Ugandan warlord Dominic Ongwen have been awarded more than €52m ($56m; £44.5m) by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The order covers almost 50,000 people, including former child soldiers and children born out of rapes and forced marriages.

Ongwen was a ruthless rebel commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

He is currently serving a 25-year prison term in Norway for multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He was originally abducted as a child and forced to join the LRA but went on to become one of the leaders of the notorious rebel group. During his trial, his argument that he should also be treated as a victim was rejected by the court.

The crimes were committed by his rebel fighters in northern Uganda in the early 2000s.

Warning: This story contains details that some people may find upsetting

As part of the extensive compensation package, everyone who suffered, directly or otherwise, as a result of what Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt described as Ongwen’s “unimaginable atrocities” will be awarded €750 ($812; £642).

Judge Schmitt described physical, moral, material, community and transgenerational harm, and explained the remainder of the $56m would constitute collective reparations, to be invested in projects designed to rehabilitate and rebuild broken lives.

The LRA was formed in the late 1980s in Uganda, where it said its goal was to install a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments.

It was eventually forced out of the country in 2005.

As a reminder of the many ways in which communities were affected by the LRA, an extensive list of the ruthless acts committed by Ongwen was read out during the hearing.

ICC Dominic Ongwen appears by video link for Wednesday's hearingPhoto: ICC Dominic Ongwen appeared by video link for Wednesday's hearing

These included a catalogue of harrowing sexual and gender-based crimes that came to characterise Ongwen’s campaign of terror.

Judge Schmitt recounted that soldiers had raped a woman with a stick used for cooking while her husband was forced to watch, babies were thrown into bushes and left to perish because their crying made it hard for new mothers to carry looted goods, women and girls were “distributed” to soldiers and kept as sexual slaves – many forced to bear children after rape or forced marriage.

Children kidnapped and trained to be child soldiers were also among the victims – some were forced to kill others, as lessons to anyone who considered attempting to escape.

“Tens of thousands of individuals suffered tremendous harm due to the unimaginable atrocities committed,” as rebel fighters led by Ongwen attacked four camps for displaced people in northern Uganda, said Judge Schmitt.

Entire communities and families witnessed the attacks, after which people had to walk through villages strewn with dead bodies.

The court acknowledged it would take time before any payments were actually distributed and that not all victims would receive the amount at the same time – priority would be given to the most vulnerable people with the greatest need.

Ongwen has been declared indigent so the money will come from the Trust Fund for Victims.

The trust relies on voluntary contributions from ICC member states and to a lesser extent other public and private donors.

The trust’s mandate is to fulfil reparation orders and provide victims with physical and psychosocial rehabilitation or support.

During the hearing, the judge said the trust didn’t currently have enough to cover the full $56m reparations, and urged countries, organisations, corporations and private individuals to step up and support its mission.

A compensation plan must be submitted to the ICC by September 2024.

The ICC, located in the Dutch city of The Hague, was set up to prosecute war crimes and crimes of humanity and genocide.

The ICC believes reparations symbolise and promote hope and resilience within war-ravaged communities and serve as evidence of the court’s commitment to restorative justice.


HRA: Looking back on 2023

Reflecting on 2023, Iran has faced significant human rights challenges. Despite these difficulties, it has also been a year marked by unwavering determination and resilience in the pursuit of justice and accountability. The year began with the country – from North to South, East to West – embroiled in protest over the death in detention of Mahsa Zhina Amini. Throughout the year, grave human rights issues persisted, encompassing restrictions on freedom of speech, continued and grave violations of women’s rights, limitations on political participation, arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, and the ongoing mistreatment of prisoners. Various minority groups, including ethnic, religious, sexual, and gender minorities, continued to endure harassment and discrimination at the hands of Iranian authories. Despite these challenges, the efforts of local human rights activists, civil society organizations, and individuals dedicated to upholding human rights in Iran were remarkable. Notably, just this week, Sweden upheld a groundbreaking sentence against Hamid Noury, a landmark case against a former Iranian official complicit in the 1988 prison massacre. The week before that, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to activist, Nagres Mohammadi. These notable successes highlight a larger global trend towards a dedication to closing the accountability gap in Iran. HRA remains steadfast in aiding in that effort while shedding light on injustices through continually documenting and preserving evidence and publishing our findings, advocating for change through direct engagement with policymakers, and providing support to victims and their families on a daily basis. The following is a brief, in no way exhaustive, overview of our efforts in that regard. 

United Nations Advocacy 

HRA’s continued engagement with a vast array of United Nations human rights mechanisms demonstrates a committed effort to document human rights violations and provide expert guidance crucial to aiding UN experts in their assessments and recommendations to address violations. 

HRA participated in all regular sessions of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, briefed Member States on the situation of human rights in Iran, participated in side events on the situation of women’s rights in Iran, continually provided information to special procedures mandate holders via bilateral consultations virtually and in Geneva and through official submissions, prepared several submissions for the Human Rights Committee (HRC) review of Iran under the ICCPR, held regular consultation with United Nations Fact Finding Mission investigators, provided oral interventions at the 139th Session of the Human Rights Committee’s review of Iran, and co-sponsored a side event on the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Zhina Amini in the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York.  In addition, HRA filed official findings of crimes against humanity to the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Iran.  We continue to advocate for the renewal and expansion of this mandate with Member States given the ongoing and widespread, systematic nature of crimes taking place in Iran with absolute impunity. 

HRA’s engagement at the United Nations in both New York and Geneva continues to play a pivotal role as a platform for advocacy, fostering substantive dialogues with policymakers, politicians, and all relevant global stakeholders. 

Making the case for the continued use of targeted human rights sanctions

Magnitsky-style sanctions regimes continued to be effective in targeting human rights abuses and corruption in Iran. These sanctions focus on freezing assets and imposing travel restrictions on individuals involved in serious human rights violations. HRA has monitored over 135 designations of Iranian perpetrators across the EU, UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. A number of these individuals were investigated and documented by HRA’s Spreading Justice initiative. HRA finds it crucial to maintain an ongoing focus on those who violate human rights, holding them responsible for their actions. Coordinated action across diverse jurisdictions remains an essential strategy in ensuring accountability for these violations. By uniting their efforts and leveraging the strength of multilateral collaboration, a clear message is sent  that impunity will not be tolerated. 

HRA also participated in discussions with victims about how Iranians perceive the targeted human rights sanctions handed down by western states. In a Conversation with HRA, one political prisoner expressed what the sanctions met for them  ‘It’s a ray of hope for people like me who suffer under their reign. It may not change things overnight, but it shows us that the world hasn’t turned a blind eye’ and  ‘It’s like a breath of fresh air, knowing that these violations are seen and acted upon, even if it’s not from within our own country’

HRA maintains an active role in collaboration and information sharing with various State, multinational, and civil society organizations. The organization contributes valuable insights including but not limited to, shedding light on Iran’s morality police, law enforcement forces, and key figures within the security, judicial, diplomatic, and government spheres. This information exchange extends beyond direct exchanges to encompass other organizations and governments, demonstrating a commitment to collective efforts in addressing human rights concerns. HRA welcomes the achievements made in this regard over the past year and looks forward to the continued use of these tools in the years to come. 

Member States

The European Union and its Member States played a leading role in 2023 shedding light on the widespread and systematic abuse taking place in the Islamic Republic. Indeed, in Brussels just this past month, the EU awarded Mahsa Zhina Amini the honorable Sakharov Prize.

HRA engaged with the EU on numerous occasions meeting and speaking in Parliament to discuss the European Union’s policy on Iran and how changes in policy can help to protect victims of abuse, and sustain pressure on perpetrators. HRA continued to stress the importance of accountability and the role the EU can play in that regard.

In Berlin, HRA met with Parliamentarians to advocate for the renewal of the FFMI and to encourage continued pressure on perpetrators through the use of targeted human rights sanctions regimes, stressing the impact those regimes have on the ground through first-hand accounts.

Similarly, in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, HRA welcomed consistent pressure throughout the year against perpetrators of abuse , most recently for those involved with the drafting of the highly contentious Hijab Bill. HRA is thankful to all of the named jurisdictions for consistently seeking out information to hold perpetrators accountable and for taking on civil society recommendations that signal greater impact when packages are implemented in a coordinated manner. 

The Anniversary of the Death of Mahsa Zhina Amini and the outbreak of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” Protests

In October 2023, marking a year since the Woman, Life, Freedom protests, HRA and Outright International co-hosted a side event during the 78th United Nations General Assembly titled “One Year of ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’: The Ongoing Persecution of Minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The event addressed the ongoing human rights situation in Iran. The Director of Global Advocacy and Accountability presented key areas for urgent international action, emphasizing the need for continued support for UN-led investigations, international pathways to justice, and united condemnation against human rights violations and breaches of international law.

In parallel, HRA published a report focusing on the Humiliating and Disproportionate Sentences against Iranian Women. This report highlighted the extreme measures taken by the Iranian judiciary, including sentencing women to psychiatric treatments and compelling them to perform demeaning tasks in a morgue for non-compliance with Hijab laws.

HRA published a comprehensive report on Iran’s controversial so-called Hijab bill or the “Bill to Support the Family by Promoting the Culture of Chastity and Hijab.” This report highlighted draconian measures primarily affecting women, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death. It also explored the roles of the Basij and Student Basij, emphasizing their central role in suppressing women’s freedoms under the hijab law.

The Basij and Student Basij, paramilitary forces in Iran, actively suppressed protests in 2022 and 2023. The Basij, under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), played a significant role in suppressing the Woman, Life, Freedom protests. The Student Basij, officially under the IRGC’s command, were involved in espionage and state-sanctioned repressive actions against student movements. HRA closely monitored 2,500 active Basij members and 650 student Basij members and published a comprehensive analysis of activities while sharing those names with our trusted partners recommending action. HRA’s Director of Global Advocacy and Accountability finally took part in a side event titled “A Year of the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement,” hosted by IHRDC at the 54th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. During this event, she explored the wide-ranging implications of Iran’s new Hijab and Chastity Bill, with particular emphasis on the grave concerns surrounding the expanded authority granted to the Basij forces throughout the country.

Crimes Against Humanity: Gender and Political Persecution

On December 12, 2023, HRA with the legal support of Uprights, submitted a joint 60-page submission to the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Iran (FFMI). The submission argued that the facts provided by HRA and two partner organizations should lead the FFMI to conclude that crimes against humanity, and in particular persecution on political and gender grounds have been committed by Iran since at least September 16, 2022.

In addition to the submission, HRA provided a set of recommendations outlining the basis of the argument and the need for renewal and expansion of the mandate.  HRA strongly recommended that the FFMI acknowledges the potential commission of crimes against humanity, specifically persecution on political and gender grounds, in the Islamic Republic of Iran since at least 16 September 2022, particularly concerning the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests. HRA suggested incorporating these findings as a crucial part of the FFMI’s report to the HRC in March 2024, emphasizing the targeted persecution of women, girls, and LGBTQI+ individuals by Iranian authorities and security forces. Additionally, HRA encouraged the FFMI to conduct in-depth analysis on the involvement of men and boys in the protests, considering the intent of perpetrators and applying a gender lens to this investigation. Despite challenges in documenting violations, HRA urged an ongoing investigation into alleged violations against LGBTQI+ individuals, emphasizing their existence and contributing to the discriminatory intent.

Regarding documentation and accountability, HRA highlighted that international crimes committed by Iranian authorities extend beyond state responsibility under human rights law. While not focusing on individual conduct, HRA suggested that the FFMI’s March 2024 report should include a section addressing the lack of accountability for widespread violations since 16 September 2022. It emphasized the need for redress and justice, particularly for women, girls, and LGBTQI+ victims. Given the FFMI’s mandate to collect and preserve potential evidence, HRA recommended cooperation with legal proceedings, investigators, prosecutors, and relevant jurisdictions to build cases against alleged Iranian perpetrators globally, closing the accountability gap. Considering uncertainty about the FFMI’s mandate beyond March 2024, HRA advised ongoing information submissions and communication with civil society documenting violations to maintain the FFMI’s mandate relevance.

In light of the sustained human rights violations during the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests in Iran until the end of 2023, it is crucial for Member States to commit to extending the FFMI mandate beyond March 2024, providing the necessary time and resources for comprehensive documentation. Additionally, at the Human Rights Council, consideration should be given to broadening the FFMI’s mandate to encompass violations predating the current temporal scope. This expansion would facilitate a thorough analysis of structural issues and historical contexts, addressing not only current violations but also the widening accountability gap. It would empower investigators to examine individual responsibility for serious violations within the framework of international law.

Looking Ahead As we conclude this significant year, HRA remains dedicated to advancing human rights in Iran. HRA is grateful to our partners for ensuring the work is as impactful as possible–we anticipate continued collaboration, heightened awareness, and sustained advocacy to promote justice and equality for every Iranian in the years to come.


For more information please contact Skylar Thompson, Director of Global Advocacy and Accountability at Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA) skylar[at]hramail.com


Telegram’s Dual Role in Iran: A Platform for IRGC’s Propaganda and Intimidation Tactics

First they banned Telegram now Iran’s IRGC is using it to spread misinformation and intimidate victims

Telegram, founded in 2013, is an encrypted, cloud-based, and cross platform instant messaging service. It allows for the exchange of messages, both privately and in groups. Furthermore, it allows for voice and video calls and live streaming. It also contains some social networking features, allowings its users to post stories, create groups of 200,000 members and create channels. According to official sources Telegram has 55.2 million daily active users and 700 million active users per month. It is the most widely used messaging application in Iran. 

HRA has monitored the official activity of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the Telegram platform between October and December 2023. HRA’s investigation into the IRGC’s use of Telegram has revealed a disturbing trend of the widespread dissemination of misinformation, the harassment of victims, namely of human rights defenders, journalists, political activists, and their families. There is additionally an alarming pattern of the broadcasting of coerced forced confessions that amount to torture under international law. 

Alarmingly, there is no comprehensive set of community guidelines banning the use of the platform by groups known to engage in said behaviors. Telegram’s terms of service lack explicit and detailed provisions pertaining to hate speech. Within its rather vague terms users are not permitted to ‘Promote violence on publicly viewable Telegram channels, bots, etc.’ Durov, the CEO and founder of Telegram, has provided additional clarification on the matter, affirming that the guidelines of Telegram forbid the promotion of violence and the use of hate speech. He further clarified that the platform relies on its users to report content that violates the rule. Telegram terms additionally assert that when content is posted in private groups and channels they do engage in the removal of content whatsoever.

When Telegram refuses to engage in content removal, the IRGC channels, which can yield viewership in the three millions are broadcasting the coerced forced confessions of innocent victims of serious human rights violations. The broadcasting of these forced confessions, which notably amount to torture under international law, not only heavily influence public opinion, but directly interfere with a defendants right to due process. Rather than relying on users to report content that violates the vague standards Telegram sets out, the platform should adhere to an ethical practice of its own. The influence on public opinion reaches far beyond the broadcasting of forced confessions and includes the dissemination of misinformation related to intimidation of victims’ families and justifications for abuse. 

HRA has compiled a table of the most notable Telegram channels being used by the IRGC at this time (24 active channels with a total of over 1,362,000 members.). The following table includes 1.) Names and descriptions of the channels known to run by the IRGC 2.) Recent channel activity that should be investigated for removal by the Telegram platform 3.) Spreading Justice profiles associated with a given organization running a given channel. 

Interestingly, this is all against the backdrop of a 2018 ban of Telegram in Iran citing the application had become “a safe haven for committing different types of crimes.” The move was accompanied by a ban against the use of all foreign messaging applications by government bodies, including Telegram. 

More than five years later, government bodies are seemingly the ones with the so-called safe haven to commit those crimes. Allowing the IRGC to continue to use Telegram as a tool to intimidate victims, spread misinformation, and consistently interfere with the right to fair trial is a mere extension of the impunity already enjoyed in the context of Iran. Telegram must immediately address these observations; a failure to do so can be seen as nothing short of complicity. 

*To prevent the promotion of channels, names and information related to these activities are provided non-publicly upon the request of governments, institutions, and media.


For more information please contact Skylar Thompson, Director of Global Advocacy and Accountability at Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA) skylar[at]hramail.com

Hamid Nouri Sentenced to Life Imprisonment by Swedish Court


A Swedish Court of Appeals on December 19, 2023, upheld the life sentence of former Assistant prosecutor at Gohardasht Prison, Hamid Nouri, for his involvement in the 1988 mass executions of political prisoners.

Hamid Nouri was sentenced to life in prison a year earlier on July 15, 2022 by a Swedish court. about a year later on December 19, 2023 this sentence was upheld by an appeal court.

As the assistant to the deputy prosecutor, Nouri had an important role in the execution of thousands of political prisoners between July and September of 1988.

On November 9, 2019, Nouri was arrested upon arrival at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport.

At least 60 witnesses and 12 experts testified in his trial.

In an interview, a former Iranian Judge, who was the head of the so-called Death Committee at that time, justified these atrocities as “a necessary action against conspirators’ plots.”

In 1988, by the direct order of Iran’s former Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, a committee (later known as the Death Committee), including current President Ebrahim Raisi, was established to execute thousands of political prisoners.