The United Nations human rights office today voiced serious concern at the arrest and imprisonment of several prominent human rights defenders, journalists and political activists in Iran over the past two weeks.
“This appears to reflect a further severe clamp down on critical voices in the country,” a spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, told reporters in Geneva.
“We urge the Government of Iran to promptly release all those who have been arrested for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights,” he added.
OHCHR is particularly concerned about the 29 September arrest of Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a prominent human rights lawyer and co-founder, with Shirin Ebadi, of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders. Mr. Dadkhah is now beginning a nine-year jail sentence previously imposed on him after he was charged with “membership of an association seeking to overthrow the government and propaganda against the system.”
The prison sentence was coupled with a 10-year ban on legal practice and teaching. “Mr. Dadkhah had been involved in defending many high-profile cases, and the case against him is widely believed to be linked to his work as a human rights defender,” said Mr. Colville.
OHCHR also noted the case of lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, one of the three final nominees for the prestigious Martin Ennals human rights award, which is being awarded this evening in Geneva, despite the fact she is serving a six-year jail term.
Also, last Wednesday, the authorities closed down an independent newspaper, the Daily Shargh, for publishing a cartoon, and arrested its director, Mehdi Rahmanian. A summons was also issued against the cartoonists.
Ali Akbar Javanfekr, the press advisor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and head of the state-run news agency (IRNA), was arrested on the same day to serve a six-month jail sentence issued previously for insulting the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Reuters bureau chief in Iran, Parisa Hafezi, has also been charged with spreading lies and propaganda, and the wire agency’s entire operation has reportedly been suspended, OHCHR noted.
“The ongoing arrest and detention of media professionals and intimidation of media organizations is deeply worrying, especially given we are now entering the run-up to the June 2013 presidential elections,” said Mr. Colville.
He also cited the arrest in recent days of Faezeh Hashemi and Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, the daughter and son of former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Ms. Hashemi was arrested on 22 September to serve a six-month jail sentence, apparently linked to her participation in an opposition rally in February 2011.
Her brother was taken into custody at a Tehran airport two days later after returning from 36 months exile in London. He is facing charges related to his role in the 2009 post-election unrest.
“Lawyers, human rights defenders and independent media make a key contribution in democratic societies and must be allowed to carry out their work without facing intimidation, harassment, arrest and prosecution,” stated Mr. Colville.
He added, “The arrests and harsh sentences imposed on such figures reflect a disturbing trend apparently aimed at curbing freedom of expression, opinion and association, which are guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a State party.”