Amnesty International is concerned that an ongoing wave of arrests of media workers and bloggers is intended to limit freedom of expression in the run up to parliamentary elections in Iran scheduled for 2 March 2012.
The arrests indicate that the Iranian authorities are once again choosing to restrict freedom of expression and association in an apparent attempt to disrupt public discourse and potential criticism of the authorities’ record in various spheres including human rights and economic performance in advance of the start of the election campaign.
Amnesty International is urging the authorities to release all those detained in recent weeks unless they are promptly charged with a recognizably criminal offence and tried in accordance with international fair trial standards.
The organization said that the Judiciary in Iran should make it clear that everyone in Iran has the right to freely express their views, including in connection to the forthcoming elections and that restrictions and arrests of this kind violate Iran’s international human rights obligations regarding the peaceful exercise of the rights of expression, association or assembly
On 8 January 2012, the Minister of Intelligence, Heydar Moslehi announced that the authorities had arrested several “election disruptors” in Tehran who he said were “trying to carry out U.S. plots against the ninth parliamentary election process through virtual and social networks”.
Amnesty International has received information about the following individuals reported to have been arrested in recent weeks:
Labour and human rights blogger, Esmail Jafari, a journalist who writes the Rah -e Mardom blog (http://motomaden.blogfa.com/Profile/) was arrested on 28 December 2011 in Bushehr, south western Iran to start serving an eight month prison sentence imposed in March 2009 following conviction relating to ”acting against national security”, though further details are not known to Amnesty International..
Fatemeh Kheradmand, a writer on social issues; Ehsan Houshmand (or Houshmandzadeh), a sociologist and member of Iran’s Kurdish minority, who has written about Iran’s ethnic minorities; and former prisoner of conscience Saeed Madani, a sociologist and political activist linked with the National Religious Alliance (Melii Mazhabi) were arrested separately on 7 January,2012, reportedly by plain clothes security officials..
Mehdi Khazali, the son of Ayatollah Abolghasem Khazali, a member of the Council of Guardians, was reportedly arrested on 9 January 2012. A publisher, he also writes a blog entitledBaran(http://www.drkhazali.com/). He has been arrested on three separate occasions in the past on account of his criticism of the government. He was reportedly injured in his most recent arrest.
Social and cultural researcher and women’s rights activist Parastou Dokouhaki who blogs at Zan-nevesht, was arrested on 15 January 2012. She was previously a journalist with the influential but now-banned Zanan (women) magazine.
On 17 January 2012, Peyman Pakmehr, the editor of the Tabriz News website, was arrested by local intelligence ministry officials in the north-western city of Tabriz and transferred to Evin Prison in Tehran. He was released on bail after about a week, apparently having been charged with “spreading propaganda against the system”.
Journalist Marzieh Rasouli was detained following a search of her home on 17 January 2012. Family members reportedly said that security officials arrested her for “acting against national security” without specifying what she had done. Marzieh Rasouli has written about music and publishing and is said to have previously worked with the Shargh and Etemad daily newpapers. She is believed to be held in Section 2A of Evin Prison.
On 18 January 2012, journalist Sahamoddin Bourghani was arrested. He writes for the news websiteIrdiplomacy. He is also believed to be held in Section 2A of Evin Prison.
Former student leader and journalist Said Razavi Faghih was arrested around 17 or 18 January 2012 at Tehran’s international airport on return to Iran from Paris and is reported to be held in Evin Prison, Tehran.
Journalist Shahram Manouchehri was reportedly arrested on 19 January 2012 by officials who searched and confiscated some of his belongings, and transferred him to an unknown location.
On 20 January 2012, reports emerged indicating that Mohammad Solimaninia (or Solimani Nia) had been arrested ten days earlier in Karaj, following a police summons. He is a translator and runs a professional networking website u24 described by some as similar to LinkedIn.
Amnesty International also said that it was concerned at the discriminatory procedure for selecting candidates for election in Iran. Candidates can be disqualified for various reasons, including ethnic identity, religious belief and political opinion, as well as their level of education.
According to reports on 28 January 2012, Dr Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the Spokesperson of the Council of Guardians, the body charged with overseeing elections said that 2,700 of the 4,877 individuals who registered to stand as candidates for the 290-seat parliament had been approved by the Council of Guardians, although those rejected still had a right of appeal against disqualification. The final list of approved candidates is expected to be finalised by 11 February 2012. In 2008, almost 7,200 individuals registered to stand for election, of which around 1,700 were disqualified from running.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a state party places an obligation on states to respect the rights in the Covenant for all individuals within its territory without distinction of any kind such as “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. These rights include, as set out in Article 25, that: “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, […] [t]o vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.”
In November 2011, the UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees implementation of the ICCPR, expressed concern about restrictions in Iran on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, as well as to participate in the conduct of public affairs.
In its concluding observations, the Committee expressed concern at the closure of newspapers and the Association of Iranian Journalists, the arrests of journalists, newspaper editors, film-makers and media workers, the monitoring of Internet use and contents, blocking of websites that carry political news and analysis, slowing down internet speeds and jamming of foreign satellite broadcasts, in particular since the 2009 presidential elections. It called on the authorities to ensure that journalists can exercise their profession without fear of being brought before courts and “release, rehabilitate and provide effective judicial redress and compensation for journalists” arbitrarily detained and to ensure that monitoring of the internet does not violate the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.
The Committee also expressed concern about the requirements for registration in election campaigns, including the right of the Council of Guardians to reject parliamentary candidates. It also expressed concern about the conduct of the 2009 presidential election, including the denial of access to international election monitors, the blocking of cell phone signals and access to social networking and opposition websites, the harassment and arbitrary arrest of political activists, members of the country’s religious and ethnic minority communities, students, trade unionists and women’s rights activists, as well as the arrest of political opposition members in February 2011, and the closure by court order of two pro-reform political parties. The committee urged the Iranian authorities to reform the election law and to “take adequate steps to guarantee that elections are conducted in a free and transparent manner, in full conformity with the Covenant, including through the establishment of an independent electoral monitoring commission”.