UNHRC 31: Iran Special Rapporteur mandate extended

UNHRC 31: Iran Special Rapporteur mandate extended - Civic Space

Customers in an internet cafe.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the adoption by the Human Rights Council of a resolution on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran at its 31st Session in Geneva.

“The Special Rapporteur on Iran’s mandate is crucial for ensuring sustained international scrutiny on the grave human rights situation in the country, particularly with regards to freedom of expression. It is essential that Iran cooperate with the Special Rapporteur,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

The resolution (HRC/res/31/L.27) was adopted by vote, with 20 votes in favour, 15 against, and 11 abstentions.

This extension of the mandate follows appeals by ARTICLE 19 and 34 other civil society organisations in an open letter, published on 16 March.

“Over the past five years, the Special Rapporteur has highlighted that the human rights situation in Iran remains dire, and that freedom of expression is increasingly under threat. Unfortunately, while Iran’s increased diplomatic engagement with the international community is an improvement on previous years, this diplomatic thaw does not change a domestic reality where freedom of expression is heavily restricted,” added Hughes

In his latest report, the Special Rapporteur highlighted the increased crackdown on journalists and social media ahead of the 26 February 2016 parliamentary elections. The report also reconfirms that at least 47 journalist and social media activists are behind bars in Iran as result of their peaceful activities. At least six artists, writers, and musicians have also been arbitrarily detained and/or prosecuted since October 2015. They have been detained under vaguely worded ‘national security’ charges including ‘propaganda against the State,’ ‘assembly and collusion against the system,’ and ‘insulting the Supreme Leader’.

The situation for freedom of expression online in Iran is becoming worse and not better.

As the Special Rapporteur explains, efforts to monitor internet cafes across Iran have increased. Tehran’s chief of the security forces, Hossein Sajedu explained that “[t]he scheme … has meant that the FATA [cyber] police, along with security force agents, have carried out 5,280 inspections on internet cafes in the Greater Tehran region…[The] security forces will crack down on any immoral and illegal act by internet café owners.” The Special Rapporteur confirms that over 272 internet cafe businesses have been repeatedly closed in 2015 for their alleged ‘threat to societal norms and values’ using article 22 of the Cybercrime Law to prosecute and identify websites that ‘intend to threaten security and public calm… promote offenses against public moralities and chastity, spread falsehoods and support terrorist groups’.

ARTICLE 19 is alarmed by proposals of the Iranian Parliament to pass the ‘Political Crimes Bill’. On 24 January 2016, Iran’s parliament reportedly approved several key provisions of the draft bill, including Article 2 which reaffirms the government’s authority to criminalise the ‘publication of lies,’ as well as any insults or defamation against government officials, which include the president and his deputies, the head of the judiciary, and parliamentary members.

In light of these negative developments, ARTICLE 19 is profoundly disappointed that a number of States with a democratic tradition at the UN Human Rights Council have questioned the need for an extension of the special rapporteur’s mandate. Troublingly, South Africa moved from the abstention in last year’s vote, to a “no” vote this year. South Africa and India’s vote against the mandate renewal and the abstention from the Philippines sends a dangerous signal to Iran. “The recent outcome of nuclear negotiations should not be a basis for weakening scrutiny on Iran’s human rights record, which is worsening,” concluded Hughes.

In addition, ARTICLE 19 criticises the attempt, supported by Russia and China, to shut down debate on human rights in Iran through the controversial procedural “no action” motion. This motion failed with 23 against, 9 abstentions, and only 14 votes in favour.

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 and during the country’s recent UPR, only serves to demonstrate why continued independent expert scrutiny on the country is needed now more than ever.