The head of the United Nations agency tasked with defending press freedom and a group of UN independent experts today called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of an Iranian blogger.
“I am deeply concerned about the death in prison of Sattar Beheshti,” said the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova. “I urge the authorities to investigate Mr. Beheshti’s case and the exact circumstances of his death.”
“It is essential to respect the right of citizen and professional journalists to speak and write without fearing for their lives,” Ms. Bokova added in a news release. “Freedom of expression is a basic human right and essential component of democracy, good governance and rule of law.”
Mr. Beheshti, 35, wrote about politics and human rights in his blog, Magalh 91, according to the UN agency. He was arrested last month, allegedly without a warrant, and taken to Tehran’s Kahrizak detention facility, where he was reported to have been subjected to ill-treatment, and possibly torture.
On 6 November, prison authorities contacted family members of Mr. Beheshti to collect his body. Although the circumstances around his death remain unclear, allegations suggest he might have been tortured to death during his investigation.
The UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Iran, summary executions, torture and freedom of expression – Ahmed Shaheed, Christof Heyns, Juan E. Méndez and Frank La Rue, respectively – have welcomed the Iranian Parliament’s and judiciary’s decisions to investigate Mr. Beheshti’s death, while also noting that a number of cases have been reported in Iran in which detainees allegedly died in custody due to mistreatment or torture, lack of medical attention or neglect.
“There should be zero-tolerance for torture,” said Mr Shaheed. “It is imperative that people who are potentially involved in committing such gruesome crimes are investigated and brought to justice, as failure to do so promotes a culture of impunity.”
He also stressed that “the Iranian authorities should ensure that family members of the victims are provided with effective avenues for remedy, including the right to seek full redress with compensation.”
“When an individual dies as a consequence of injuries sustained while in State custody, there is a presumption of State responsibility,” added Mr. Heyns, who also noted that the recurrence of deaths-in-custody can only be prevented by investigating allegations of torture in compliance with international human rights standards and by taking urgent steps to combat a culture of impunity which encourages such crimes.
Mr. Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said that international human rights law has an outright prohibition on torture and urged the Government of Iran “to ensure that an inquiry is opened in each case of alleged torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in detention facilities and perpetrators are held accountable for their acts.”
The independent experts also called on the Iranian Government to release journalists and bloggers who have been imprisoned in contravention of articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and provide them with effective judicial redress and compensation
“Harsh prison sentences handed down to journalists and bloggers, following trials in which defendants’ rights to due process and a fair trial are not guaranteed, exemplify broader conditions of severe restrictions on freedom of expression and opinion,” said Mr. La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
He also reminded the Iranian authorities of their responsibility to fully respect the right to freedom of expression in compliance with its international obligations.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.