Thirty years ago, the change of government in Iran changed the landscape of the Middle East. The government that took power on 10 February 1979 led to the creation of the world’s first Islamic Republic.
The Islamic Republic of Iran was created following a nationwide referendum on 1 April 1979. Another referendum, in December 1979, approved the constitution and confirmed Ayatollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader.
Previous governments appointed by the former Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi were widely regarded as corrupt and responsible for egregious human rights violations.
Ayatollah Khomeini promised that all Iranians would be free. However, the past 30 years have been characterised by persistent human rights violations.
The multitude of especially severe violations that marked the early years of the Islamic Republic declined over time, but today the human rights situation still remains grim. Hopes for a sustained improvement rose during the period of reform under President Khatami (1997 to 2005), which saw some easing of restrictions on freedom of expression, but have been firmly dashed since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005.
Four years later, ahead of new Presidential elections later this year, impunity, torture and other ill-treatment, as well as the use of the death penalty remain prevalent.
Some sectors of society – including ethnic minorities – continue to face widespread discrimination, while the situation for other groups – notably some religious minorities – has significantly worsened under the current President.
Those seen as dissenting from stated or unstated official policies face severe restrictions on their rights to freedom of belief, expression, association and assembly. Women continue to face discrimination – both in law and practice. Impunity for human rights abuses is widespread.
In the last three months alone, Amnesty International has received reports of waves of arbitrary arrests and harassment, directed particularly against members of Iran’s religious and ethnic minority communities, students, trade unionists and women’s rights activists.
Amnesty International is aware of the apparent arbitrary arrest of, or other repressive measures taken against, over 220 individuals. Many of those arrested, if not all, are at risk of torture or other ill treatment. Other individuals arrested before this period have been sentenced to death.
In addition, several newspapers have been closed down, and access to internet sites has been restricted, including some relating to human rights or operated by international broadcasters. These measures may in part be intended to stifle debate and to silence critics of the authorities in advance of the forthcoming presidential election in June 2009.
Amnesty International has been documenting human rights violations in Iran since the middle of the 1960s. Representatives of the organization have not, however, been permitted to visit Iran for first-hand investigation of the human rights situation since shortly after the Islamic Revolution.
“Thirty years on, some of the worst abuses of the Shah’s time – torture, executions and the suppression of legitimate dissent – are still being replicated in Iran, despite the efforts of the country’s growing and valiant community of human rights defenders,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “It is high time that Iranian authorities lived up to their obligations under international human rights law.”