The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic republic with a Shia Islamic political system based on “velayat-e faqih” (“guardianship of the jurist” or “rule by the jurisprudent”). Shia clergy, most notably the “supreme jurisprudent” (or supreme leader), and political leaders vetted by the clergy dominated key power structures. While mechanisms for popular election existed within the structure of the state, the supreme leader held significant influence over the legislative and executive branches of government (through various unelected councils under his authority) and held constitutional authority over the judiciary, the government-run media, and the armed forces. The supreme leader also indirectly controlled the internal security forces and other key institutions. Since 1989 the supreme leader has been Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In 2013 voters elected Hassan Rouhani president. Despite high popular participation following open debates, candidate vetting by unelected bodies based on arbitrary criteria and restrictions on the media limited the freedom and fairness of the election. In the last parliamentary elections in 2012, the government controlled candidate vetting and media reporting. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most significant human rights problems were severe restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, association, speech (including via the internet), religion, and press; limitations on citizens’ ability to choose the government peacefully through free and fair elections; and abuse of due process combined with escalating use of capital punishment for crimes that do not meet the threshold of most serious crime or are committed by juvenile offenders.
Other reported human rights problems included disregard for the physical integrity of persons, whom authorities arbitrarily and unlawfully detained, tortured, or killed; disappearances; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including judicially sanctioned amputation and flogging; politically motivated violence and repression; harsh and life-threatening conditions in detention and prison facilities, with instances of deaths in custody; arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes incommunicado; continued impunity of the security forces; denial of fair public trial, sometimes resulting in executions without due process; the lack of an independent judiciary; political prisoners and detainees; ineffective implementation of civil judicial procedures and remedies; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence; harassment and arrest of journalists; censorship and media content restrictions; severe restrictions on academic freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; official corruption and lack of government transparency; constraints on investigations by international and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) into alleged violations of human rights; legal and societal discrimination and violence against women, ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity; incitement to anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; and severe restrictions on the exercise of labor rights.
The government took few steps to investigate, prosecute, punish, or otherwise hold accountable officials, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, who committed abuses. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government and its agents reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including, most commonly, by execution after arrest and trial without due process, or for crimes that do not meet the threshold of most serious crimes. The government made few and limited attempts to investigate allegations of deaths that occurred after or during reported torture or other physical abuse or after denying detainees medical treatment. Members of ethnic minority communities were disproportionately victims of such abuses.
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The government executed 964 persons during the year, according to the NGO Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), which reported that many trials did not adhere to basic principles of due process. This included four individuals charged with crimes committed while under 18. The government officially announced 362 executions but for many did not release further information, such as the dates of executions, the names of those executed, or the crimes for which they were executed.
The law provides for the death penalty for murder, as well as “attempts against the security of the state,” “outrage against high-ranking officials,” “enmity towards God” (“moharebeh”), “corruption on earth” (“fisad fil-arz”), rape, adultery, drug possession and trafficking, recidivist alcohol use, consensual same-sex sexual activity, and “insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini and against the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic.” Prosecutors frequently used “enmity towards God” as a criminal charge against political dissidents and journalists, accusing them of struggling against the precepts of Islam and against the state that upholds those precepts. On February 20, the government executed six Iranian Kurds, including political activists Ali and Habib Afshari, for “enmity towards God” and “corruption on earth,” and did not permit their families to bury them or hold funerals. Saman Naseem, arrested but not executed with the group, was 17 at the time and appealed his death sentence.
The law does not stipulate the death penalty for apostasy or heresy, but courts handed down capital punishments for similar charges. In August a court sentenced Mohammad Ali Taheri, spiritual leader of the Islamic offshoot group Irfan e Halghe, to death for “corruption on earth,” after he had served most of his previous five-year sentence for “insulting the sanctities.” On December 21, the Supreme Court annulled the death penalty sentence and returned the case to the lower court for retrial. Authorities have imprisoned Taheri since 2011, and he remained in prison at year’s end pending new action by the lower court.
In his October 27 report to the UN General Assembly, Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, reported that the penal code retained the death penalty for consensual same-sex sexual activity although authorities reportedly had not carried out any executions during the year.
Authorities carried out many executions in public; according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, observers confirmed at least 33 of the more than 900 executions during the year as conducted publicly. NGO reports suggested that the actual figure was significantly higher.
There were also deaths in custody. Multiple NGOs, including Iran Human Rights, reported on the September 14 death of labor activist Shahrokh Zamani at Rajai Shahr Prison. Zamani was serving an 11-year sentence for attempting to form a painters’ labor union. His body allegedly showed signs of bruising, although it is unknown whether they were the result of torture.
In his October 6 report, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran noted that the updated penal code allowed for the execution of juvenile offenders starting at age nine for girls and age 13 for boys. According to Amnesty International (AI), the government executed at least four juvenile offenders during the year, including Javad Saberi, Vazir Amroddin, Samad Zahabi, and Fatemeh Salbehi; authorities resentenced two others, Sajad Sanjari and Hamid Ahmadi, to death for crimes committed when they were under 18 years of age.
Adultery remained punishable by death by stoning. In December a court sentenced a woman referred to as “A.Kh.” to death by stoning for alleged complicity in the murder of her husband, according to multiple media and NGO reports. The sentence was not carried out by year’s end. There were no confirmed reports of death by stoning during the year.
In an August 7 report, Christophe Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, expressed concern over the large number (approximately 1,200) of Afghans facing the death penalty for drug-related crimes in the country.
Impunity for past unlawful killings continued. On August 19, a judge acquitted former prosecutor general Saeed Mortazavi on charges of killing three detained protestors after their arrests during the 2009 election protests. According to multiple human rights groups and local media, a parliamentary committee in 2010 found Mortazavi responsible for the deaths of three protestors at Kahrizak Prison. The court acquitted Mortazavi of murder but sentenced him to six months in prison for embezzlement charges. Security forces re-arrested political prisoner Majid Moghadam, who testified against Mortazavi, in December 2014 and sentenced him in May to six years’ imprisonment for “propaganda against the regime” and not fulfilling his mandatory military service. Authorities moved Moghadam into solitary confinement in Evin Prison when he went on a hunger strike.
There was an update in the case of blogger Soheil Arabi, who a court sentenced to death in November 2014 on charges of “insulting the prophet.” A higher court commuted the death sentence to 90 days in prison, in addition to ordering him to read 13 religious books and participate in two years of theological study. Arabi was also serving a separate seven-year sentence for “insulting the supreme leader.”