Iran: year of 'unspeakable cruelty' from authorities after Mahsa Amini's death

'Woman, Life, Freedom' protests swept the country after Mahsa Amini's death last year © Private

Tens of thousands arrested, hundreds unlawfully killed, and torture in detention rife 

Authorities have ramped up enforcement of veiling laws and made thousands of students sign pledges not to participate in anniversary protests

‘The Iranian authorities have spent a year inflicting unspeakable cruelty on people in Iran’ - Diana Eltahawy

Over the past year the Iranian authorities have waged an all-out assault on the human rights of women and girls, said Amnesty International today, as Iran marks the one-year anniversary of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests which erupted after Mahsa Amini’s death in custody on 16 September 2022. 

Since then, the Iranian authorities have committed a litany of crimes under international law to eradicate any challenge to their grip on power. 

These include hundreds of unlawful killings; the arbitrary execution of seven protesters; tens of thousands of arbitrary arrests; widespread torture, including rape, of detainees; widespread harassment of victims’ families who had called for truth and justice; and reprisals against women and girls for defying discriminatory compulsory veiling laws.

Between September and December 2022, Iran’s security forces unleashed a brutal militarised crackdown, unlawfully killing hundreds of protesters and bystanders, including dozens of children. More than half of those unlawfully killed belonged to the oppressed Baluchi and Kurdish ethnic minorities.

The security forces unlawfully fired live ammunition and metal pellets to disperse and terrorise protesters, causing injuries amounting to torture or other ill-treatment to thousands, including blinding, loss of limbs and impaired mobility. The authorities also oversaw the widespread commission of torture and other ill-treatment against thousands of detained protesters, including children. Many survivors are still living with the long-term physical and psychological trauma of their torture.

The authorities have also arbitrarily arrested tens of thousands of men, women and children, including protesters, human rights defenders and minority rights activists. Those arrested include at least 90 journalists and other media workers, and 60 lawyers, including those representing families of those unlawfully killed. Scores of other lawyers have been summoned for interrogations.

The authorities have increasingly used the death penalty as a tool of political repression to instil fear among the public, arbitrarily executing seven men in relation to the uprising following grossly unfair sham trials. Some were executed for alleged crimes such as damage to public property or in relation to the deaths of security forces during the protests. Iran’s Supreme Court has rubberstamped these unjust convictions and sentences despite a lack of evidence and without carrying out investigations into allegations of torture. Dozens remain at risk of execution or of being sentenced to death in connection with the protests.

The authorities have blamed protester deaths on “rioters”, “unknown persons”, suicides or accidents. In parallel, they have aggravated the suffering of victims’ families through relentless harassment and intimidation

Ahead of the anniversary of Amini’s death in custody, the authorities have intensified their campaign of arbitrary arrests, including of family members of those unlawfully killed, and have forced thousands of university students to sign undertakings not to participate in anniversary protests.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said: 

“The Iranian authorities have spent a year inflicting unspeakable cruelty on people in Iran for courageously challenging decades of repression and inequality.

“One year after Mahsa Amini’s death in custody, not one official has been criminally investigated, let alone prosecuted and punished for crimes committed during and in the aftermath of the uprising.

“The anniversary of the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ protests offers a stark reminder for countries around the world of the need to initiate criminal investigations into the heinous crimes committed by the Iranian authorities under universal jurisdiction.”

Fresh assault on women’s rights

Despite months of protests against Iran’s compulsory veiling laws, the authorities have reinstated “morality” policing and introduced a raft of other measures that deprive women and girls who defy compulsory veiling of their rights. These measures include the confiscation of cars and denial of access to employment, education, healthcare, banking services and public transport. Simultaneously, they have prosecuted and sentenced women to imprisonment, fines and degrading punishments, such as washing corpses. This assault on women’s rights is taking place amid a spate of hateful official statements referring to unveiling as a “virus”, “social illness” or “disorder”, as well as equating the choice to appear without a headscarf to “sexual depravity.” The authorities are also preparing new legislation that will introduce even more severe penalties for defying compulsory veiling.

UN fact-finding mission

Amnesty has welcomed the establishment of a fact-finding mission on Iran by the UN Human Rights Council last November, yet much more is needed to combat the crisis of impunity for serious crimes in Iran - and to deter further cycles of bloodshed. Amnesty is urging all countries to consider exercising universal and other extraterritorial jurisdiction in relation to crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations committed by the Iranian authorities, irrespective of the absence or presence of the accused in their territory. 

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