GENEVA (19 January 2016) – United Nations human rights experts today welcomed the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s release of four Iranian-Americans and called on Tehran to pave the way for the release of all remaining detainees unlawfully held in the country’s prisons.

During the weekend, Iranian officials announced that four Iranian-Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati had been released from prison in an apparent prisoner swap with the United States. Mr. Rezaian and Mr. Abedini were prosecuted for espionage and other national security-related crimes in trials that fell short of international standards.

“For the past year and a half, Mr. Rezaian’s unlawful detention had come to symbolize the Iranian government’s widening crackdown on speech and press freedoms in the country,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye.

“We welcome his release, but Mr. Rezaian should not have been in prison in the first place, since his prosecution was related to his freedom of expression and work as a journalist. The Government of Iran should protect those- who exercise their freedom of expression, instead of prosecuting them,” Mr Kaye stressed. “Dozens of Iranian journalists, bloggers and social media activists remain behind bars in Iran simply for exercising their legitimate rights of expressing views.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, reminded the Iranian Government of its responsibility to ensure that no one is prosecuted or detained because of their religious views or activities, including Christians of Muslim backgrounds. Mr. Abedini was arrested by the authorities in 2012 reportedly for his activities related to home churches.

“While Iranian officials allowed pastor Abedini to board the plane and put this horrible ordeal behind him, they continue to hold dozens of Iranian Christians on vague and overly broad national security charges like ‘propaganda against the system.’ These detentions clearly violate not only Iran’s obligations under international law but their own constitution,” Mr. Bielefeldt noted.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, who also praise the lifting of sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program by the international community, which coincided with the prisoners’ release, made a special appeal to the Iranian authorities:

“I urge them to spare no effort in addressing long-standing human rights concerns repeatedly raised by the UN human rights mechanisms, especially the alarming surge in executions this past year, increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assemblies, women’s rights, discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities, and the ongoing prosecution of journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders,” he said.

Mr. Shaheed renewed his call on the Iranian authorities to engage constructively and meaningfully with his Human Rights Council mandate by allowing a visit to the country.

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.

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Iran: UN human rights experts welcome freeing of Iranian-Americans and call for more releases