With Iran holding parliamentary elections for the first time in four years on Friday February 21 and the 43rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council due to convene on Monday, Amnesty’s latest report documenting atrocious human rights abuses across the Middle East in 2019 could not be more timely.

The Amnesty report details countless examples of relentless repression both on the streets and online.

Australia should use its place on the UNHRC to demand that experts are given immediate access to detention centres and prisons, as well as to the families of those killed and arrested in order to investigate these claims further.

In Iran, credible reports indicated that security forces killed more than 300 people and injured thousands within just four days between November 15 and 18 to quell protests initially sparked by a rise in fuel prices.

Thousands were also arrested and many subjected to enforced disappearance and torture.

Iranian authorities have cracked down on human rights lawyers, prosecuting some in relation to their peaceful human rights work, including their defence of clients facing spurious national security charges.

Dozens of environmental activists have also been arrested – eight were sentenced to between four and 10 years in prison in relation to their conservation activities, including carrying out research into Iran’s endangered wildlife.

They were convicted of charges including “co-operating with hostile states against the Islamic Republic”.

In May, Iranian journalist Marzieh Amiri was arrested while covering the International Workers’ Day protest. She was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison and 148 lashes, reduced to five years’ imprisonment on appeal.

The authorities have also intensified their crackdown against women’s rights defenders campaigning against discriminatory forced veiling laws, sentencing some to prison and flogging for charges including “inciting and facilitating corruption and prostitution” through promoting “unveiling”.

In July, Yasaman Aryani and her mother, Monireh Arabshahi, were each sentenced to 16 years in prison for dropping their headscarves in Tehran underground and offering flowers to other women on International Women’s Day last year. The sentence has since been reduced to five years and six months.

In Evin prison, the symbol of Iran’s rampant political repression, British-Iranian nationals Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Kamal Foroughi, Iranian-born Swedish resident Dr Ahmadreza Djalali and Australian-British citizen and academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert are all being held.

Recent media reports say Moore-Gilbert, who has been accused of spying and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, is being held in the notorious Ward 2A, a Revolutionary Guard run wing of the prison.

The reports add that in letters written by Moore-Gilbert between June 2019 and December 2019, she has been subject to months in solitary confinement, where the lights remained on 24 hours a day.

She has little money to buy food, is denied phone calls to her family, and her failing physical and mental condition has seen her repeatedly transferred to hospital. She has been on a series of hunger strikes in protest.

These reports could not be independently verified by Amnesty, but they are all too consistent with our own reporting on Iran: torture and other ill-treatment, including prolonged solitary confinement and deliberate denial of medical care, remain systematic in Iran.

Trials remain systematically unfair; trials before Revolutionary Courts are particularly unfair and generally remain closed and extremely brief; detainees are routinely denied the right to access legal counsel from the time of arrest and during interrogations.

Away from Iran, individuals were detained as prisoners of conscience in 12 countries in the region and 136 people were arrested solely for their peaceful expression online.

In Iraq, where at least 500 people died in demonstrations in 2019, protesters showed tremendous resilience, defying live ammunition, deadly sniper attacks and military tear gas grenades deployed at short range causing gruesome injuries.

Governments in the region need to learn that their repression of protests and imprisonment of peaceful critics and human rights defenders will not silence people’s demands for fundamental economic, social and political rights.

Instead of ordering serious violations and crimes to stay in power, governments should ensure the political rights needed to allow people to express their socio-economic demands and to hold their governments to account.

The upcoming election in Iran is an opportunity for politicians to listen to those demands and reform.

Source » smh