A group of independent United Nations human rights experts today voiced grave concern over the escalating trend of arresting and sentencing people exercising their rights of freedom of expression and opinion, peaceful assembly and association.
“Convicting individuals for expressing their opinion is absolutely unacceptable,” the experts stressed in a news release from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“Freedom of expression and opinion is necessary for the realization of all human rights, and it is a right reserved for all individuals, even if that individual expresses an opinion with which the Government disagrees,” they added.
Since 22 May, at least 36 individuals, including journalists, bloggers, filmmakers and authors, many of whom are also human rights activists, have been arrested summoned or sentenced in connection with their journalistic activities or for expressing their opinion on social media websites, according to the news release.
Their sentences range from six-months to more than 20 years in prison, while one person was also sentenced to 50 lashings.
In addition, author Arzhang Davoodi was sentenced to death for the crime of “Moharebeh,” or “enmity against God.”
“Not only is this a blatant violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it also breaches the country’s own Islamic Penal Code, which reserves the death penalty only for those who have actively taken up arms,” the experts stressed.
They reminded the authorities of their obligations under international human rights law, which guarantees the rights to hold opinions, assemble peacefully and associate freely, without interference.
The experts urged the Government to “immediately and unconditionally release all individuals held in connection with their exercise of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and those charged for carrying out their legitimate activities as journalists.”
These include Jason Rezaian, a reporter with the Washington Post, and his wife Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent for the United Arab Emirates newspaper The National, who were arrested on 22 July, along with an unidentified American-Iranian photo journalist and her husband. Mr. Rezaian and Ms. Salehi are reportedly held in unknown locations.
The group of independent experts includes: the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mads Andenas; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst.
These experts are appointed by the UN 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 UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.