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Iran Must Stop Using Long-term Detention To Silence Human Rights Defenders, Says UN Expert

GENEVA (6 July 2021) — A UN expert today criticised the
Islamic Republic of Iran’s practice of sentencing human
rights defenders to long-term detention, and called on the
Government to release all those detained for their human
rights work.

“It is too easy for human rights
defenders in Iran to find themselves condemned to 10 years
or more in prison for carrying out work that is legitimate
in the eyes of human rights law,” said Mary Lawlor, UN
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights

“Defenders of women, of children, of
prisoner rights, of labour rights, of freedom of expression,
of freedom of association, of minorities, of the right to
receive a fair trial and of the right not to be tortured —
they all run the risk of being detained in dire conditions
for long periods of time,” she said.

Lawlor referred
specifically to the cases of four human rights defenders
currently serving long sentences: Nasrin
, Esmail
, Soheil
, and Mohammad Najafi. Lawlor noted that most of
them had multiple convictions and sentences, as long as 10
or 15 years. This means that even if they had their longest
sentence struck down, they would still have to serve their
next longest, which in some cases would be just shy of 10
years. On 13 June 2021, human rights defender and lawyer
Amirsalar Davoudi was temporarily released on bail of 20
billion IRR from Rajaie Shahr prison in Alborz province
pending a retrial, due to irregularities in his first

“When human rights defenders are put in
prison, some of the rights of the general population are
left unprotected,” she said. Human rights defenders
perform a vital service in any country, but in Iran they are
accused of harming national security.

“All States
should constantly challenge themselves to keep their human
rights record spotless,” Lawlor said, “so why does Iran
lock up anyone who holds it to account?”

described the provision of medical care in Iranian prison as
“wholly inadequate”. She said the security, health and
livelihood of prisoners was under threat from a prison
system that systemically denied them adequate medication and
care. Visits and phone calls are also often restricted, and
prisoners are sometimes transferred to areas far from their
homes so that their families are never fully sure of their
wellbeing, she said.

Women human rights defenders face
particular risk. Unveiling in public places, for example,
was often prosecuted by stretching the scope of an already
overbroad provision which bans the promotion of
prostitution, as happened to Mojgan
, Monireh
, Yasaman
and Saba
Kord Afshari
. Mothers also face specific risk: Raheleh
and Farangis
were punished for continuing the human rights
work of their detained children.

Lawlor said she was
deeply troubled by reports that woman human rights defender
Narges Mohammadi was sentenced in May to a further two and a
half years in prison, 80 lashes, and two fines just seven
months after her release
under the Sentence Reduction
Law. The alleged new offences are related to human rights
campaigns she carried out in prison.

“Until all
human rights defenders are released, and laws are made that
specifically protect them, this grim cycle of detentions
will not be broken,” Lawlor said.

The expert is in
contact with the authorities on this matter. The Government
of the Islamic Republic of Iran denied the above-mentioned

The expert’s call was endorsed by:
Mr. Javaid Rehman,
Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic
Republic of Iran
; Ms. Dubravka
Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and
; Ms.Melissa Upreti (Chair),
Ms.Dorothy Estrada-Tanck (Vice Chair), Ms.Elizabeth
Broderick; Ms.Ivana Radačić, and Ms.Meskerem Geset
Group on discrimination against women and
; Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng,
Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental
; Mr. Diego
Rapporteur on the independence of judges and
; Mr. Clément Voulé,
Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and


Mary Lawlor
, (Ireland) is the
Rapporteur on the situation of human rights
. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of
Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was
the founder of Front Line Defenders – the International
Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As
Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front
Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. Ms.
Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of
Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, after becoming a
member of the Board of Directors 1975 and being elected its
President from 1983 to

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