Iran: Protect constitutional right to protest

ARTICLE 19 is watching with concern the events currently unfolding in Iran, where widespread protests which erupted on 28 December have resulted in the deaths of at least 21 people. The Iranian government must uphold the constitutional right of Iranians to demonstrate and end repressive actions against those taking part in the protests, including lethal use of force.

Peaceful protests which began in Mashad have spread to over 20 cities across the country since the weekend, and have been followed by widespread repression by security forces, resulting in 21 reported deaths and hundreds of arrests in the capital Tehran alone.

On the basis of media reports we have seen so far, what began as economic grievances related to poverty, dramatic inflation, corruption and unemployment have contributed to the levels of frustration that have led to people taking to the streets.

These economic problems, mainly affecting people living outside of Tehran, have become entwined with expressions of anger and discontent against the political nature of the current regime.

People’s right to protest and express this discontent has been met with threats, intimidation and lethal force from security forces.

ARTICLE 19 defends the rights of all people to protest and through the Principles on the protection of human rights in protests sets minimum standards for the respect, protection and fulfilment of the right to protest by all governments.  These are based on international human rights standards.

The Iranian government, rather than resorting to violence, should facilitate protests, and enable people to protest without fear of physical violence or other human rights violations. While President Rouhani’s statement on 31 December on the protests explicitly acknowledged the people’s right to protest, this seems to have had no effect on the policy of violent repression by law enforcement agencies.

The Iranian state has a positive duty to ensure that everyone in their jurisdiction may exercise their right to protest, and ensure that human rights protections are in place, even where there are individual, sporadic or widespread acts of violence taking place alongside protests.

The Iranian authorities should also refrain from shutting down or limiting access to social media platforms and therefore preventing people from imparting and receiving information about protests before, during and after them, as it has frequently done in the past. However, the closure of key social communication channels over recent days such as Telegram and Instagram shows that the Iranian authorities have no intention of honoring and enabling the free flow of information relating to the protests.

The use of lethal force, and the restrictions imposed on the protesters so far indicates a disproportionate and heavy-handed response on the part of the government of Iran, a regime that continues to restrict freedom of expression and the right to protest.

We support the Iranian citizens in peacefully and bravely voicing their concerns to determine their own future, and continue to urge an end the restriction of free expression in Iran,” said ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director, Thomas Hughes.