ARTICLE 19 welcomes the adoption by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) of a resolution to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, at its 34th Session in Geneva.
“The adoption of this resolution and extension of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate is crucial to keeping sustained international attention on the concerning situation for human rights and particularly freedom of expression in Iran,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. “Iran must fully cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, including by ensuring her full and unhindered access to the country”, Hughes added.
The resolution (HRC/res/34/L.17) was introduced by Sweden, together with the Moldova, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the United States of America. The resolution was technical in nature, focused solely on extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran by one year.
Venezuela called for a vote on the resolution; 22 States on the 47-seat Human Rights Council voted in favour of the resolution, 12 States voted against, and 13 States abstained. This shows increased international support for the mandate on previous years.
ARTICLE 19 joined 40 other civil society organisations to advocate for the mandate’s renewal in an open letter to States, published on 16 March 2017. In her first report to the HRC as Special Rapporteur, Asma Jahangir has highlighted that the freedom of expression situation in Iran remains dire.
In an interactive dialogue with the HRC on 13 March 2017, the Special Rapporteur highlighted the increased crackdown on journalists and social media users in anticipation of Presidential elections, scheduled for 19 May. The Special Rapporteur confirmed that at least 24 journalists, bloggers, and social media activists are behind bars in Iran as result of their peaceful activities. Their convictions, including for crimes under the Islamic Penal Code such as insult and blasphemy, the dissemination of ‘propaganda against the State’, spreading false rumours or lies, and creating “anxiety and unease in the public’s mind”, violate international human rights law.
In the last year, the Iranian government has intensified its efforts to restrict the rights to freedom of expression and privacy online. As the Special Rapporteur notes, of 5 million websites blocked, the top 500 relate to the arts, social issues, the news, and popular culture.
ARTICLE 19 is further concerned by reports of government sponsored hacking against individuals exercising their rights. Security researchers have uncovered practices such as the use of malware to target journalists, and the hijacking of Telegram accounts, and other sophisticated strategies to attack Iranians exercising their rights online, creating a climate of fear in online communities within and outside Iran.
ARTICLE 19 is alarmed by the fact that arbitrary arrests, detentions and harassment against women’s rights activists have intensified since the February 2016 Parliamentary elections, in particular against those associated with the Campaign for Changing the Male Dominated Face of Parliament and the Feminist School.
In light of these negative developments, it is welcome that a greater number of States supported the extension of the mandate by one year. At the same time, we are disappointed that a number of States with strong commitments to human rights either voted against the resolution, including India, Indonesia, and Kenya, or abstained, including Brazil, Tunisia, and South Africa.
“Unfortunately, despite Iran’s increased diplomatic engagement internationally, the domestic reality for freedom of expression has not changed and remains heavily restricted. It is disappointing that Brazil, explaining their concerns at the present situation and welcoming Iran’s increased engagement with the Special Rapporteur, nevertheless refused to support the extension of the mandate,” said Hughes.
“The increased support for the Special Rapporteur sends an essential message from the international community ahead of the coming Presidential elections in Iran; whatever the outcome, any new government must commit to reverse the deteriorating situation for freedom of expression, including by cooperating with Asma Jahangir,” Hughes concluded.
ARTICLE 19 looks forward to continuing our work with the Special Rapporteur on Iran. The dire situation for freedom of expression in Iran, highlighted by the Special Rapporteur as well as during the country’s last Universal Periodic Review, only serves to demonstrate why continued independent expert scrutiny on the country is needed now more than ever.
 The following HRC Member States voted yes: Albania; Belgium; Botswana; Croatia; El Salvador; Germany; Hungary; Japan; Latvia; Netherlands; Panama; Paraguay; Portugal; Qatar; Republic of Korea; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Slovenia; Switzerland; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and the United States of America; the following voted no: Bangladesh; Bolivia; Burundi; China; Cuba; Egypt; India; Indonesia; Iraq; Kenya; Kyrgyzstan; Venezuela; the following abstained: Brazil; Congo; Cote d’Ivoire; Ecuador; Ethiopia; Georgia; Ghana; Mongolia; Nigeria; Philippines; South Africa; Togo; Tunisia.
 In 2016, HRC resolution 31/19 on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran was also voted; 20 States voted in favour; 15 States voted against; 11 States abstained, and one State was absent.