Iran: New report documents the systematic criminalisation of human rights defenders

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© Arifoto Ug/Michael Reichel/dpa

(Paris, Geneva) Human rights defenders in Iran, long-time targets of the government, have been subjected to systematic judicial harassment since late 2017. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an FIDH-OMCT partnership, sheds light on this wave of repression in a new report released today.

The report, titled Indefensible: Iran’s systematic criminalisation of human rights defenders, documents how human rights defenders, including human rights lawyers, have been frequently arrested without charges, held in prolonged pre-trial detention without access to legal representation of their choosing, sentenced to lengthy prison terms on vague charges following unfair trials, and incarcerated in poor conditions. This criminalisation pattern is aimed at curbing their human rights activities and undermining their rights to freedom of expression.

The report is based on the analysis of 28 individual cases addressed by the Observatory in 2018 and the first half of 2019, including well-known activists and lawyers Nasrin Sotoudeh, Reza Khandan, and Mohammad Najafi. Of these cases, 15 are women’s rights defenders and 13 are human rights lawyers. Thirteen of them are currently detained, and 15 are at risk of imminent re-arrest.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is a hostile regime for human rights defenders. Any form of dissent on their part is systematically criminalised and subjected to harsh reprisals by the authorities. The government of Iran must stop persecuting defenders and start taking urgent measures to protect them.”

Guissou Jahangiri, FIDH Vice President

Many human rights defenders, both male and female, have been targeted for their defence of women’s rights and their support of the protests against mandatory hijab laws. Meanwhile, lawyers are regularly targeted for taking up human rights cases and for representing other prosecuted human rights lawyers. Human rights lawyers have been particularly targeted because of their criticism of the judiciary, including the judiciary’s treatment of their clients and fellow lawyers.

“Iran has a long history of criminalising human rights defenders by prosecuting them under so-called national security charges. Far from being a protector of rights as required under the treaties ratified by Iran, the judiciary remains subservient to the Supreme Leader and, as shown in our report, acts as a willing executioner of the repression of human rights defenders. Urgent reform is needed to ensure respect for the rule of law and the integrity and independence of judges, lawyers, and prosecutors."

Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary-General

In many cases, human rights defenders who are arrested under so-called national security charges are denied access to a lawyer of their choice, particularly during the investigation process. They are handed down harsh prison sentences - up to 15 years in prison for a single charge - after unfair trials held in Iran’s notorious Islamic Revolution Courts.

Most of the human rights defenders whose cases are detailed in the report are detained in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, infamous for its serious overcrowding and unhygienic conditions. They are kept for long periods of time in solitary confinement, are deprived of essential medical care, and are frequently denied visits by their families or lawyers.

The report addresses a series of recommendations to the Iranian authorities as well as United Nations and European Union stakeholders. It urges the government of Iran to immediately and unconditionally release all detained human rights defenders and to recognise the legitimate and essential role they play in society.

For further information, please contact:

· FIDH: Eva Canan: +33 6 48 05 91 57 / Email:
· OMCT: Iolanda Jaquemet +41 79 539 41 06 / Email :; Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 809 49 39 / Email:

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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