Amnesty International: Iran Arrests 7,000 Dissidents in ‘Year of Shame’

The Associated Press
AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Amnesty International on Thursday declared 2018 a “Year of Shame” for Iran because it arrested over 7,000 dissidents, sent hundreds of them to prison, physically abused the prisoners, and killed at least 26 of them.

Philip Luther, the Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, said:

2018 will go down in history as a ‘year of shame’ for Iran. Throughout the year Iran’s authorities sought to stifle any sign of dissent by stepping up their crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and carrying out mass arrests of protesters. The staggering scale of arrests, imprisonments and flogging sentences reveal the extreme lengths the authorities have gone to in order to suppress peaceful dissent.

Amnesty’s latest report on Iran found its vast inventory of political prisoners includes “students, journalists, environmental activists, workers, and human rights defenders, including lawyers, women’s rights activists, minority rights activists and trade unionists.”

Iranian security forces used violence to break up peaceful protests, occasionally mixing live rounds with riot control instruments such as water cannons and tear gas. The government cracked down hard on both journalists and social media organizers, especially those who use encrypted platforms like Telegram to spread criticism of the regime. Women who defiantly refused to wear prescribed Islamic head coverings were arrested, tortured, and thrown in prison without due process.

Organized labor was given comparably rough treatment as Iran’s economy took a nose dive despite defiant predictions from the ayatollahs and secular rulers that mighty Iran could easily weather U.S. sanctions with assistance from Russia, China, and Europe.

“From underpaid teachers to factory workers struggling to feed their families, those who have dared to demand their rights in Iran today have paid a heavy price. Instead of ensuring workers’ demands are heard, the authorities have responded with heavy-handedness, mass arrests, and repression,” Luther said.

Amnesty noted that Iran vigorously oppresses ethnic and religious minorities as well:

Members of Iran’s largest Sufi order, the Gonabadi Dervish religious minority, faced a particularly vicious crackdown after a peaceful protest they held in February 2018 was violently quashed. Hundreds were arrested and more than 200 were sentenced to a total of 1,080 years in prison, 5,995 lashes as well as internal “exile”, travel bans, and bans on joining political and social groups. One person, Mohammad Salas, was sentenced to death after a grossly unfair trial and swiftly executed.

At least 171 Christians were arrested in 2018 solely for peacefully practising their faith, according to the organization Article 18. Some received sentences of up to 15 years in prison.

The authorities also continued their systematic persecution of the Baha’i religious minority, arbitrarily detaining at least 95, according to the organization Baha’i International Community, and committing other abuses against them.

Hundreds of people from ethnic minority groups including Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen have also faced human rights abuses including discrimination and arbitrary detention.

The Iranians even made time to beat up on environmental activists, who they accused of spying on sensitive government installations while pretending to conduct environmental studies. At least 63 eco-activists were arrested in 2018, five charged with the capital offense of “corruption on earth.”

Other groups like Human Rights Watch have issued similar grim assessments of freedom and justice in Iran and the U.S. State Department has condemned the grotesque fiction of political representation in the country, its systematic persecution of dissidents, the “severe restrictions on freedom of expression, and its penchant for harassing women and minorities.

“The country materially contributed to human rights abuses in Syria, through its military support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and for Hezbollah forces there, as well as in Iraq, through its aid to certain Iraqi Shia militia groups,” the State Department added.

Human Rights Watch on Thursday reported on two Iranian labor activists who were arrested, tortured, released, and then arrested again because they dared to complain about being tortured. One of the activists, a woman named Sepideh Gholian, talked about her jailers beating her with a cable until she “confessed” she wanted to overthrow the government. The government responded by broadcasting her forced confession on TV and using it as an excuse to arrest her again, without the nicety of a formal warrant.

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