GENEVA (5 June 2015) – The detention of journalists and human rights defenders weakens the protection of human rights of all in Iran, United Nations Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed has said today, expressing serious concerns at the arbitrary and unlawful arrest, detention and prosecution of journalists and rights activists in the country.
“Silencing these critical voices is unacceptable – it undermines public debate and deprives Iranians and the rest of world of important information on the reality in the country,” said the independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“The recurrent use of vague references to threats to national security, propaganda against the system and insult to authorities to prosecute and detain journalists or activists is in contradiction to both international norms relating to freedoms of expression and association and the principle of legality,” Mr. Shaheed stated.
The Special Rapporteur expressed special concern at the arrest, detention and trial of Jason Rezaian, a reporter of the Washington Post, and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent of the United Arab Emirates newspaper The National.
On 25 May 2015, the trial of Mr. Rezaian started behind closed doors on charges of ‘espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, gathering classified information and disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic’. Mr. Rezaian has been arbitrarily detained since 22 July 2014, including for a number of months in solitary confinement, and wasn’t formally charged for nearly 10 months.
“Journalists must be protected, not harassed and prosecuted for doing their jobs. The detention and trial of Mr. Rezaian and Ms. Salehi not only violate their individual rights, but also intimidates those working in the media in Iran,” he stressed.
The independent expert was equally disturbed by the detentions of Atena Farghdani and Nargis Mohammadi, activists known for their human rights work. Ms. Farghdani, a children’s rights activist and artist was recently sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison for ‘spreading propaganda against the system, gathering and colluding against national security and insulting members of the parliament and the Supreme Leader’.
Ms. Mohammadi, the former vice-president of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre and one of the founders of the group ‘Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty’, was arrested on 5 May 2015 in order to serve the remainder of the six-year prison sentence she had received in April 2012 on charges of ‘assembly and collusion against national security, membership in Defenders of Human Rights Centre, and propaganda against the system’.
“Human rights defenders play a fundamental role in ensuring a democratic society which respects human rights,” the expert said, reminding the Iranian Government of its responsibility to ensure human rights defenders do not face prosecution for promoting and advancing human rights in the country.
Mr. Shaheed’s call has been endorsed by human rights expert Mads Andenas, who currently heads the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as well as the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, Michel Forst; on freedom of expression, David Kaye; on independence of the judiciary, Gabriela Knaul; and ; on torture, Juan E. Méndez.
The UN human rights experts jointly urged the Iranian Government to release all journalists and rights defenders who have been arbitrarily and unlawfully arrested, and currently face detention and prosecution.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.