A group of independent United Nations experts today condemned the ongoing arrests and harsh sentencing of human rights defenders in Iran, and urged the Government to ensure they are provided with adequate protection.
“The conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of human rights defenders is an indication of mounting repression against the legitimate activities of human rights defenders and represents a serious setback for the protection of human rights in Iran,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.
Along with fellow experts, Mr. Shaheed voiced particular concern about the situation of Nargess Mohammadi, whose state of health is reportedly extremely fragile.
Ms. Mohammadi, the former vice-president of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, founded by Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, was rearrested on 21 April to resume a six-year prison sentence handed down by an Iranian appeal court for ‘assembly and collusion against national security, membership in Defenders of Human Rights Centre, and propaganda against the regime.’
The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, emphasized that human rights defenders play a fundamental role in ensuring a democratic society which respects human rights.
“They must be allowed to carry out their work without facing intimidation, harassment, arrest, and prosecution,” she said.
The experts also highlighted the plight of other human rights defenders arrested or convicted for carrying out their legitimate work, such as Abdolfattah Soltani and Nasrin Sotoudeh, two lawyers who have represented many high-profile political and human rights activists.
Mr. Soltani was arrested in September 2011 on charges of collusion, propaganda against the system and acquisition of property through illegitimate means. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison and a 20-year ban on practicing law.
Ms. Sotoudeh was arrested in September 2010 and sentenced by an Iranian appeal court to six years’ imprisonment along with a ten-year ban on practising law.
“The Government has an obligation to ensure that lawyers can perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference and that they do not suffer prosecution for any action taken while carrying out their duties,” said the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul.
The experts called for the immediate release of the human rights defenders concerned, along with all those people who have been arrested and detained for peacefully promoting human rights observance in the country.