The announcement on 13 June that incumbent President Ahmadinejad had won the presidential election of the day before by a wide margin sparked the biggest demonstrations in Iran in decades. Iranians took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to protest at what they claimed was election fraud.
Scores of opposition activists, journalists and students, as well as some human rights defenders, were arrested from their homes and offices. The initially peaceful demonstrations were increasingly met by excessive use of force by Iranian security forces, including the volunteer Basij militia, particularly after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei ordered an end to the demonstrations at Friday prayers on 19 June.
The authorities have acknowledged up to 21 deaths during demonstrations in Tehran, but the true number across the country is likely to be much higher. Scores of others have been wounded. At the same time, thousands have been arrested during or following such demonstrations; while some – possibly hundreds – have since been released, the fate of many others is still unknown.
The many reports of unlawful killings, deaths in custody as a result of torture or lack of adequate medical treatment, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests are causing major concern for the people of Iran and those watching unfolding events. However, it remains extremely difficult to confirm details about who has been arrested, where they are held, why and under what circumstances.
This uncertainty is partly a consequence of stringent restrictions on freedom of expression and information, including on internet and SMS use. The few foreign journalists remaining in Iran have been banned from covering street demonstrations. Most who were there to cover the election have not had their temporary visas renewed and others were arrested.
Amnesty International has condemned the excessive use of force against protesters, has called for an end to the use of the Basij to police demonstrations, and is seriously concerned at the safety of all those still detained across Iran, as reports of torture and other ill-treatment in pre-trial detention are common.
Such practices are often used to extract “confessions”, which may be used as evidence in unfair trials, where defendants face vaguely worded charges such as “acting against national security”. Some may even face the imposition of the death penalty, if they are deemed to be “mohareb” (at enmity with God).