OCT. 27, 2015 – By RICK GLADSTONE – The special United Nations investigator of human rights in Iran presented a highly critical report on Tuesday that contradicted the Tehran government’s own assessment, describing a record rate of executions, a deeply flawed judiciary and repression of journalists, dissidents, women and freedom of expression.
The conditions described by the investigator, Ahmed Shaheed, a former Maldives foreign minister and an expert on human rights in Muslim-majority countries, belied the image of moderation and eased constraints that President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has sought to project since his election in 2013.
In some ways, Mr. Shaheed said, Iranians are worse off than during the era of Mr. Rouhani’s polarizing and relatively conservative predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Amendments to a criminal procedure law, for example, impose new restrictions on access to legal counsel. Some defendants must now choose lawyers from a pool selected by the head of the judiciary.
“The human rights situation in the country remains dire,” Mr. Shaheed said in a briefing at the United Nations. Despite Mr. Rouhani’s pledge to lighten the repressive atmosphere that prevailed during the Ahmadinejad years, Mr. Shaheed said, there was a “strong disconnect between the professed policy of engagement and the behavior of authorities on the ground.”
It was Mr. Shaheed’s fifth report on Iran since he was appointed to the post of special rapporteur in 2011, and his first since the completion of a nuclear agreement in July between Iran and the major world powers, which will end many isolating sanctions on the country in exchange for guarantees that its atomic work is peaceful.
Mr. Shaheed welcomed the nuclear agreement, asserting in his report that abrogating the sanctions “can potentially have a beneficial multiplier effect on the human rights situation in the country, especially on the enjoyment of economic and social rights.”
However, much of Mr. Shaheed’s report focused on what he described as Iran’s shortcomings and failures to honor basic tenets of United Nations human rights doctrine. The report exhorted Iran to improve “its engagement with United Nations human rights mechanisms,” including monitoring provisions.
Iran has consistently barred Mr. Shaheed from visiting the country. While Iranian officials have met with him, they have strongly disputed his criticisms and have frequently denounced his reporting as politically motivated and lacking credibility.
Mr. Shaheed said his latest assessment was based partly on more than 40 interviews with aggrieved Iranians during visits to Germany, Norway and Spain in May, as well as 30 interviews conducted via secure Skype conversations in Iran and elsewhere between January and June.
It also included citations of rights violations reported by other groups based outside Iran, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
His most striking criticism dwelled on what rights advocates have called Iran’s increasing rate of executions, mostly for nonviolent drug offenses, under Mr. Rouhani’s administration, which has given Iran the distinction as the top employer of the death-penalty per capita of any country. Mr. Shaheed described the trend as an “unprecedented assault on the right to life in Iran.”
He said executions had been rising “at an exponential rate” since 2005, totaled at least 753 in 2014, and continued to accelerate this year, with at least 694 people hanged as of mid-September — including 10 women and one juvenile — the highest rate in 25 years. Iran has disputed these statistics.
Overshadowing advances in women’s education and health, Mr. Rasheed said, is the prevalence of gender-based discrimination in civil, political, social and economic rights. Citing data compiled by the World Economic Forum, for example, Mr. Rasheed said Iran ranked 137 out of 142 countries assessed on women’s political empowerment in 2014.
He said several laws and practices, including arbitrary detentions, “continue to undermine the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly” in Iran. At least 46 journalists and social media activists had been taken into custody or sentenced for peaceful activities as of April, he said, although a few have been released.
The arrested journalists include Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent and an Iranian-American dual-national who was seized in July 2014 and accused of crimes, including espionage.
Mr. Shaheed’s appraisal came against a backdrop of new cases that have incensed rights activists and further countered the softer image promoted by Mr. Rouhani. This month the PEN American Center criticized lengthy prison terms given to two poets, Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Musavi, on charges that included “insulting the sacred” and “propaganda against the state.” They were also sentenced to 99 lashes each for shaking hands with unrelated members of the opposite sex, deemed to be a crime just short of adultery.
On Monday, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported that a reformist former member of Parliament, Esmail Gerami Moqaddam, had been sentenced to six years in prison on charges including colluding against national security.
Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting from Tehran.