Elise Auerbach / Amnesty International – 2012-03-02 21:08:01
ACTION ALERT: Stop the Execution of Iranian for “Cyber Crimes”
Elise Auerbach / Amnesty International
(March 3, 2012) — Yesterday, Iranians went to the polls for parliamentary elections. But many bloggers, students, journalists, filmmakers and other activists were not able to exercise their right to vote. They were in jail.
One prisoner, Canadian resident and web programmer Saeed Malekpour, faces a death sentence and could be executed at any time. What did Saeed do to warrant this harsh sentence, based on charges of “insulting and desecrating Islam”? He wrote a web program that was used — without Saeed’s knowledge — for uploading pornographic images online.
Iran’s 2009 law on “cyber crimes” allows the use of the death penalty. Malekpour, accused of being part of “a network of decadence on the Internet,” could be executed at any time.
Saeed Malekpour was arrested in 2008 when he went to Iran to visit his family. He was held in solitary confinement for a year, brutally tortured, and forced to make a “confession” which was aired on Iranian television. He was sentenced to death in October 2010 after a trial in a Revolutionary Court that lasted about 15 minutes; his death sentence was upheld in January 2012.
Remind the Iranian authorities that death sentences are the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Saeed’s case is a harbinger of what is to come as Iran unleashes a frightening new crackdown on freedom of expression.
Amnesty’s report released this week, “We Are Ordered to Crush You”: Expanding Repression of Dissent in Iran, reveals a widening net of repression in Iran — a net increasingly focused on Internet users and free speech on the web.
Freedom of expression was already on life support in Iran. Now, a “Cyber Army” has been unleashed to impose a total information blackout in the country.
Internet users in Iran increasingly find themselves caught in the crosshairs of this new wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a shadowy group entrusted with cutting off the free flow of information in the country. The “Cyber Army” has also extended its reach abroad, blocking Amnesty’s website in Iran, and carrying out attacks on websites like Twitter and the Voice of America.
Many Iranians are scared into silence. And if anyone dares to fight back and criticize the government publicly, their words will cost them dearly. Harsh sentences like Saeed’s aren’t unheard of, and those imprisoned in Iran often face terrible mistreatment — torture, forced confessions, years of solitary confinement.â€¨â€¨
Iran cannot be allowed to violate human rights with impunity, online or offline. Saeed Malekpour must not be executed for his alleged crimes. As Iranians head to the ballot box, cast your “vote” today by taking action for freedom of expression in Iran.â€¨ â€¨â€¨
Elise Auerbachâ€¨is Amnesty International USA’s Iran Country Specialist.
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“We Are Ordered to Crush You”:
Expanding Repression of Dissent in Iran
INTRODUCTION / Amnesty International
â€œHis interrogator told him: â€˜We are ordered to crush you, and if you do not co-operate we can do anything we want with you and if you do not write the interrogation papers, we will force you to eat them.â€™â€
— Mahdieh Mohammadi, wife of detained journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi, in an interview with Radio Farda, September 2009.1
On 14 February 2011, thousands of Iranians, encouraged by the mass protests sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East, defied a government ban by demonstrating in Tehran and other cities. The paramilitary Basij militia and other security forces responded by shooting at protesters, firing tear gas at them, and beating them with batons, before arresting many of them. In the wake of the toppling of autocratic governments in Tunisia and Egypt, the Iranian authorities were taking no chances.
The demonstrations were called by opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi in solidarity with the people of Tunisia and Egypt and were the first major public displays of opposition since the Iranian authorities viciously crushed vast protests that erupted and continued in the six months following disputed presidential election results in June 2009, culminating in demonstrations on the religious festival of Ashoura in December 2009.
Without apparent irony, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, celebrated the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, saying that it reflected an â€œIslamic awakeningâ€ based on Iran’s 1979 revolution.
Iranâ€™s leaders also supported Bahrainis demonstrating for their rights. Yet in 2009 Iran had ruthlessly repressed Iranians expressing the same desire as Tunisians, Egyptians and Bahrainis demonstrating for political rights and social justice.
In February 2011, Iranâ€™s response to the mere call for solidarity demonstrations was to place Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi under house arrest, blocking opposition websites, and arresting hundreds of political activists and others.
Subsequent demonstrations in 2011 in various Iranian cities were forcibly dispersed and further measures taken to stifle opposition and silence critics. One year later, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi remain under house arrest, and hundreds of people are believed to be still in jail simply for daring to express their views. Meanwhile, the security forces, particularly the Basij militia, continue to operate with virtual impunity for their crimes.
Since the 2009 crackdown, the authorities have steadily cranked up repression in law and practice, and tightened their grip on the media. They have stopped public protests using articles of Iranâ€™s Penal Code that make demonstrations, public debate and the formation of groups and associations deemed a threat to â€œnational securityâ€ punishable by long prison sentences or even death.
Lawyers have been jailed along with their clients. Foreign satellite television channels have been jammed. Newspapers have been banned. Dissidents and critics who write in newspapers or on websites, or speak to the media, risk being charged with offences such as â€œspreading propaganda against the systemâ€, â€œinsulting officialsâ€, â€œspreading lies with intent to harm state securityâ€ or occasionally the â€œoffencesâ€ of â€œcorruption on earthâ€ or â€œenmity against Godâ€ which can carry the death penalty.
Iranâ€™s internet community is feeling the chill of a new cyber crimes law, with bloggers and others being hauled off to prison. The severity of the sentences meted out to bloggers demonstrates the authoritiesâ€™ fear of the power of the internet and the free flow of information in and out of the country.
At the time of writing, in February 2012, as campaigning for the March parliamentary elections was about to get underway, so too did a new wave of arrests of bloggers, journalists and others, apparently to deter people from demonstrating on the anniversary of the 14 February demonstrations, or from highlighting criticism of the government in the parliamentary elections.
Iranâ€™s multiple and often parallel security bodies — including a new cyber police force — can now scrutinize activists as they use personal computers in the privacy of their homes. They have restricted bandwidth and are developing state-run servers, specific internet protocols (IPs), internet service providers (ISPs) and search-engines.
Countless websites, including international and domestic social networking sites are blocked, among them the www.amnesty.org website of Amnesty International. A relatively new and shadowy â€œcyber armyâ€, reportedly linked to the Revolutionary Guards — also known as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — has carried out attacks on websites at home and abroad, including the Twitter site and Voice of America.
Government restrictions on the internet have also been used to muffle criticism from abroad, a policy backed up by harassment of opponents living in exile and arrests in Iran of relatives of critics or journalists living overseas. New regulations have criminalized contact with any of more than 60 listed foreign institutions, media organizations and NGOs.
Waves of arrests in recent months have targeted lawyers; students; journalists; political activists and their relatives; members of Iranâ€™s religious and ethnic minorities; filmmakers, workers rights activists and people with international connections, particularly to foreign media such as BBC Persian. Dozens have been tortured or jailed, among them prisoners of conscience. Many others have been harassed or banned from travelling abroad.
Repression of human rights defenders has intensified. Many have been harassed or arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned. Some remain in prison after unfair trials in previous years, many of them prisoners of conscience. The Centre for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), the Association for the Rights of Prisoners, Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA) and the Committee for Human Rights Reporters (CHRR) have all been closed down or refused legal recognition. Independent trade unions are still banned and several union members are still in jail.
Casting a shadow over all those who fall foul of Iranâ€™s unjust justice system is the mounting toll of people sentenced to death and executed. There were around four times as many public executions in 2011 than in 2010, and hundreds of people are believed to have been sentenced to death in the past year. At least three juvenile offenders were among those executed in 2011 — the execution of those under the age of 18 at the time of their alleged offence is strictly prohibited under international law.
This report follows two previous Amnesty International reports — Iran: Election Contested, Repression Compounded, issued in December 2009; and From Protest to Prison: Iran One Year after the Election, issued in June 2010. It shows that the abuses outlined in these reports have not only continued but in some cases have become more widespread or more entrenched in law.
For those ending up in Iranâ€™s prisons and detention centres, torture and other ill-treatment remain routine and widespread. Former detainees â€“ both men and women â€“ as well as some prisoners who write open letters from cells up and down the country recount being beaten, including on the soles of their feet, sometimes while suspended upside down.
They have said they were burned with cigarettes and hot metal objects. They have described being subjected to mock execution. They have told of being raped — sometimes with implements — including by other prisoners, or threatened with rape. They have complained of being denied adequate food and water, while medical treatment is often delayed or even denied.
In many instances, torture and other ill-treatment are used to extract â€œconfessionsâ€ under duress, and courts routinely ignore complaints of torture and accept as evidence â€œconfessionsâ€ extracted using such illegal means.
Most trials in Iran are grossly unfair, particularly those before special courts such as the Revolutionary Courts, which are frequently held behind closed doors.
Defendants are routinely denied access to lawyers during pre-trial investigations and often during trial, using a restrictive interpretation of a note in the Code of Criminal Procedures. Often, trials — before judges who appear to be told what sentences to pass by the interrogators — are over in a matter of minutes.
Detainees who protest against injustice, torture or appalling prison conditions are sometimes transferred to faraway prisons as punishment, or charged with new offences. Others are released but banned from travelling to prevent international networking, or forced to flee in fear of further persecution.
Detaineesâ€™ friends and relatives are arrested or harassed to dissuade them from speaking out about their relativeâ€™s case or to put pressure on detainees.
Iranâ€™s ethnic minority communities, including Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijanis, Baluch, Kurds and Turkmen, continue to suffer discrimination in law and in practice. The use of minority languages in state-controlled workplaces and for teaching in schools remains outlawed.
Religious minorities face similar discrimination and marginalization. Activists campaigning for the rights of minorities face threats, arrest and imprisonment, as do activists campaigning against the pervasive discrimination that impacts severely on women in law and in practice.
As these long-standing patterns of abuse highlight, the recent references by Iranâ€™s leaders to a liberating â€œIslamic Awakeningâ€ during the 1979 revolution are misleading. Not only did torture continue after the revolution, but so too did repression of political dissent.
Members particularly of leftist organizations and Kurdish groups, along with members of the Peopleâ€™s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), all of which played a major role in the revolution, were arrested in vast numbers after losing the power struggle that followed. Thousands of political prisoners were put to death by the state, many in summary executions, from 1979 onwards, especially in the infamous â€œprison massacresâ€ of 1988.
Vague â€œIslamic criteriaâ€, enshrined in the new Constitution and subsequent legislation, were used by the authorities as justification for many violations of human rights.
Womenâ€™s rights were one of the first casualties: a strict dress code was imposed, womenâ€™s testimony was deemed to be worth only half that of a man in court, and women received only half the compensation for injury or death due to a man, adding to the unequal status accorded to women in the Civil Code in matters relating to marriage, divorce and child custody.
Sexual relations outside marriage were made punishable by flogging or stoning to death, while lesbians, gay men, and transgender and bisexual people faced heightened discrimination on account of their identity as well as harsh penalties for consensual sexual relations. Discrimination on ethnic and religious grounds also became enshrined in law, policy and practice.
Even â€œoffencesâ€ that were not codified in law, such as â€œapostasy from Islamâ€, could be prosecuted under constitutional and legal provisions requiring judges to use their knowledge of Islamic law to rule on cases where domestic law was silent.
Amnesty Internationalâ€™s reports on Iran since 2009, as well as recent reports issued by UN bodies, provide compelling evidence of the gravity of the human rights situation in Iran and contradict the authoritiesâ€™ frequent denials — including in their dialogue in October 2011 with the UN Human Rights Committee — that any human rights are being violated, and their frequent assertions that such allegations are politically motivated.
The Iranian authorities are doing their utmost to prevent outside scrutiny, including by refusing to co-operate with UN human rights mechanisms, despite proclaiming that they are respecting their international obligations. Iran is obstructing nine UN mechanisms that have outstanding requests to visit, and no delegation of any of the special UN procedures has been permitted to conduct fact-finding visits since 2005.
Indeed, the government expressly refused to accept recommendations calling for visits made during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process in February 2010.8 International human rights organizations are likewise not permitted to visit — Amnesty International has not been granted access to the country to carry out research since shortly after the revolution in 1979.
Despite the brutal repression of activists and the relentless attempts to gag bloggers, journalists and dissidents, many people in Iran continue to brave the tentacles of the numerous security apparatuses — including those now reaching into the virtual world — in their struggle for their rights and dignity. Their bravery was clear for the world to see in 2009, when hundreds of thousands of people thronged the streets and filled the squares of Tehran and other cities in scenes that proved to be a foretaste of the 2011 so-called â€œArab Springâ€.
Campaigning Can Bring Results
While much of this report focuses on the deteriorating human right situation in Iran, there are occasional good news stories, including in relation to the releases of individuals on whose behalf Amnesty Internationalâ€™s members worldwide have campaigned. These releases highlight the difference that international attention can make to the lives of individuals and their families and thus the need for the international community to remain attentive to the human rights situation in Iran.
Brothers Dr Arash and Dr Kamiar Alaei, renowned HIV/AIDS physicians, had been detained apparently because of their international links, including to US-based civil society organizations, and criticism of changes in government policy regarding HIV/AIDS. They were arrested in June 2008 and sentenced in January 2009 to six and three years’ imprisonment respectively for â€œcooperating with an enemy governmentâ€.
Neither had been politically active. Their conviction followed an unfair trial in which secret evidence was produced which they were not allowed to see or challenge, and after having been held for over two months in pre-trial detention without being allowed access to a lawyer. The prosecution is said to have cited the brothers’ participation at international HIV/AIDS conferences as part of their scheme to provoke a so-called â€œvelvet revolutionâ€ in Iran.
Dr Kamiar Alaei was released in 2010 after serving two and a half years of his sentence. His bother, Dr Arash Alaei, was released in August 2011, one of some 70 prisoners released on the occasion of a religious festival.
Part of the letter the brothers wrote to Amnesty International in November 2011 stated:
â€œAs a result of your support, we are now free and we are safe…When we got the message about your campaign through our family, it was like getting new blood that warmed our hearts and gave us energy to be strong, to tolerate the situation, and not to become broken…We learned from our prison experience that if you believe in what you are doing, you must continue your work, whether or not the work is appreciated by your government…and you must do this until the last moment of your life…
Thanks to your efforts, we are rejoicing at being reunited and we want to extend your advocacy by being the voice of the voiceless for others who may face a similar situation to ours. This is at least one way we can pass on the kindness you have shown to us… from the bottom of our hearts; we thank you for campaigning for our freedom.â€
Time for Action
Urgent action is needed to end the vicious cycle of human rights violations in Iran, a cycle fuelled by the almost guaranteed impunity for perpetrators. The government must take immediate steps to establish the rule of law, guarantee the true independence of the justice system, and ensure that anyone who does commit human rights violations is held to account for their crimes. It must also ensure that the Constitution enshrines protection of human rights and outlaws discrimination and other breaches of fundamental rights.
Among other things, Amnesty International is calling on the Iranian authorities to:
* release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience — those detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their internationally recognized rights;
* amend legislation, which unduly restricts the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and to permit open public debate prior to the March 2012 parliamentary elections;
* establish an immediate moratorium on executions and work towards the complete abolition of the death penalty.
In the absence of independent and impartial bodies to investigate allegations of human rights violations and to provide reparations to victims and affected families in accordance with international human rights standards, the organization is also calling on the Iranian authorities to:
* allow international scrutiny of the human rights situation in Iran, including by allowing visits by the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, in addition to other thematic UN human rights mechanisms which have requested visits, as well as independent international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.
Amnesty International is also appealing to the international community not to allow tensions over Iranâ€™s nuclear programme or events in the wider region to distract it from pressing Iran to live up to its human rights obligations as set out in a number of international human rights treaties to which it is a state party. In particular, Amnesty International is calling for:
* the UN Human Rights Council to renew in March 2012 the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran;
* the international community to press the Iranian authorities to grant the Special Rapporteur on Iran access to the country and to fulfil commitments to receive visits by UN human rights mechanisms that have asked to visit Iran.
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