Human Rights Watch denounces Iran’s ‘abusive charges against rights defenders’

A woman walks past a mural painted on the outer walls of the former US embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran, on September 29, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 24 October 2020

Human Rights Watch denounces Iran’s ‘abusive charges against rights defenders’

  • Two women already serving long jail terms face additional charges after revealing abuses in jail
  • A student activist who was given a virginity test by her interrogator faces further charges for speaking up

LONDON: Human Rights Watch (HRW) have condemned Tehran’s decision to level additional charges against two detained human rights defenders who alleged mistreatment while in detention.  

Earlier this month, Iran’s judicial authorities charged Niloufar Bayani, an environmental conservationist lawyer already serving a 10-year sentence, with an additional crime of “publishing false information.”

In a separate case, imprisoned student activist Parisa Rafiee was charged with “propaganda against the state” after releasing a letter about her detention conditions.

“Punishing people reporting mistreatment in Iranian detention facilities shows a warped sense of justice,” said Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The judiciary’s recent rhetoric on ‘transparency’ rings especially hollow if prosecutors silence alleged torture victims rather than impartially investigating their claims.” 

Bayani, a former UN employee, made headlines in February after she released a letter detailing her mistreatment at the hands of prison authorities. She spoke of “1,200 hours of interrogations,” “long hours of interrogation while standing,” being threatened “with a hallucinogenic injection” and “sexual insults” at the hands of the state.

She and several of her colleagues from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, an environmental conservation group, were charged with “using environmental projects as a cover for espionage.”

Seven of them were sentenced to jail time of between six and ten years each for “cooperating with the hostile state of the US.” One member of the group has since died in custody. 

HRW said that over the past two years, several senior Iranian government officials have indicated that they did not find any evidence to suggest that the detained activists are spies. 

Similarly, Parisa Rafiee, a student activist at the University of Tehran, was already serving a sentence of seven years behind bars on charges of “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” “propaganda against the state” and “disturbing public order” — charges that her lawyer claims she faced for activities such as participating in peaceful protests on campus.

In a letter published in May 2019, Rafiee wrote that she had been kept in solitary confinement for 21 days, had been given a virginity test by her interrogator, and said she had not been allowed to file a complaint about her degrading treatment.

In response to the letter, the judiciary opened a new case against the student, charging her with propaganda against the state.

Despite their track record as one of the worst human rights abusers in the world, Iran’s judiciary recently published documents that emphasize human rights issues such as the prohibition of torture and arbitrary arrests and the right to access a lawyer. 

Sepehri Far said: “If the judiciary actually wants to curb ongoing abuse, it can start by quashing abusive charges against human rights defenders who are already unfairly behind bars, investigate their torture allegations, and hold those responsible to account.”


Iran says British-Australian academic freed for 3 Iranians

Updated 26 November 2020

Iran says British-Australian academic freed for 3 Iranians

  • It was not immediately clear when Moore-Gilbert would arrive back in Australia
  • Moore-Gilbert has gone on hunger strikes and pleaded for the Australian government to do more to free her

TEHRAN: Iran has freed Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian academic who has been detained in Iran for more than two years, in exchange for three Iranians held abroad, state TV reported Wednesday.
The state TV report offered no further details Wednesday beyond saying that the three Iranians released in the swap had been detained for trying to bypass sanctions.
Moore-Gilbert was a Melbourne University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was sent to Tehran’s Evin Prison in September 2018 and sentenced to 10 years. She is one of several Westerners held in Iran on internationally criticized espionage charges that their families and rights groups say are unfounded.
It was not immediately clear when Moore-Gilbert would arrive back in Australia. State TV aired video showing her with a gray hijab sitting at what appeared to be a greeting room at one of Tehran’s airports. She wore a blue face mask under her chin. The footage showed three men with Iranian flags over their shoulders — those freed in exchange for her being released. State TV earlier described them as “economic activists,” without elaborating.

Australia on Thursday welcomed the release of Moore-Gilbert.

Iran has freed Moore-Gilbert, who has been detained in Iran for more than two years, in exchange for three Iranians held abroad, state TV reported Wednesday. (AP)

"I am extremely pleased and relieved to advise that Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been released from detention in Iran and will soon be reunited with her family," Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
"The Australian Government has consistently rejected the grounds on which the Iranian government arrested, detained and convicted Dr Moore-Gilbert. We continue to do so."
International pressure on Iran to secure her release has escalated in recent months following reports that her health was deteriorating during long stretches of solitary confinement and that she had been transferred to the notorious Qarchak Prison, east of Tehran.
Moore-Gilbert has gone on hunger strikes and pleaded for the Australian government to do more to free her. Those pleas included writing to the prime minister that she had been subjected to “grievous violations” of her rights, including psychological torture and solitary confinement.
Her detention has further strained relations between Iran and the West, which reached a fever pitch earlier this year following the American killing of a top Iranian general in Baghdad and retaliatory Iranian strikes on a US military base.