Iran’s Human Rights Abuses

Authorities within the Islamic Republic of Iran have severely suppressed a multitude of human rights. These have included censoring freedom of expression, association and assembly and the use of security forces to extinguish protests by unlawfully using lethal force to murder hundreds of critics and detain thousands of protesters (1). Ethnic and religious minorities face brutal discrimination and have been sentenced to physical abuse for actions such as simply practicing their faith. The Islamic republic does not limit its violations of human rights to specific groups and has targeted innocent citizens ranging from champion athletes to journalists. There is no greater indicator of the dangers a government poses to the rest of the world than a study into the way it treats its own people.

Protesters Are Detained and Murdered

Protests within the Islamic Republic, especially those which involve criticism of the regime, face extreme human rights abuses. Authorities have an infamous record for calling on security forces to squelch any form of assembly that takes place against those in power. A prime example of this occurred in November 2019 when thousands of protesters, journalists, human rights defenders and students were arrested when gathering to speak out against the government’s ruthless oppression. Over 300 Iranians were killed, and thousands were injured in the three days following the protest. Amnesty International reported the Iranian government refused to provide an accurate number of the men and women who were murdered with some being as young as 15 years old (2).

In January 2020, following Tehran’s admission that a Ukrainian aircraft was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of the Iranian Armed Forces classified by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, protests erupted in the Islamic republic initiated by those infuriated by the government’s role in killing all 176 passengers and crew members (3). Instead of showing remorse for the alleged accident after initially denying any responsibility, the regime embraced this opportunity to shoot its own people in the streets for expressing their frustrations. Although innocent citizens were arrested and slain for taking this bold stance, their chants were captured as calling for “death to liars” in reference to the regime (4).

Discrimination Against Religious Minorities

Iran’s government is notorious for discriminating against and abusing religious minorities. Although Iran claims the country’s constitution protects Christians and Jews, the regime’s actions prove different. Tehran is responsible for harassing, interrogating and arresting those who choose to worship differently than the country’s 98 percent Muslim population. Employers throughout Iran frequently feel social pressure not to hire religious minorities for private sector jobs, which makes it difficult for these minorities to afford basic necessities. Not only has Iran’s mistreatment of religious minorities resulted in it being listed by the U.S. Department of State as a Country of Particular Concern (5), but the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has reported that Iran’s targeting of religious minorities has escalated since 2018 (6).

A recent instance of Iran’s abuse toward its Christian population occurred in January 2020 when Mary Mohammadi, a 21-year-old Christian, was arrested for participating in an “illegal rally” following Iran’s downing of Ukrainian flight PS752. The young woman was sentenced to 10 lashes and three months behind bars at Iran’s largest women’s prison, Qarchak – which is known for its chronic lack of water, unsanitary living conditions and sexual abuse. During her court hearing, Mohammadi shared that she was consistently interrogated about her Christian faith, which was consistently maligned. “I was forced to endure all kinds of torture, none of which is sanctioned by law, and which ought to be considered crimes in themselves,” she said (7).

Targeting Journalists

International and local journalists reporting on the Iranian regime are routinely harassed, threatened and even murdered. Unlike countries such as the U.S. and Israel which uphold freedom of speech and protect those reporting on issues pertinent to society, Iran’s regime deems any form of criticism a crime. BBC and other journalists have publicly stated they have been punished for speaking out about the harassment they have endured from the regime and for seeking protection from the United Nations (8).

In December 2020, Iran’s regime executed Rouhollah Zam, a dissident journalist who was found guilty for running an online opposition news site that accused Tehran of inciting violence during the deadly protests in 2017 and 2018 (9). Zam’s arrest gained international attention, and Reporters without Borders came to the journalist’s defense when the regime sentenced him to death. The group stated that Zam was “illegally kidnapped and arrested” and “tried in a grossly unfair manner.” The European Union also condemned Zam’s death sentence and called for Iran to “refrain from any future executions” (9). Despite public outcry, Zam was hanged by the Iranian regime.

Murdering Athletes

Iran has gained global attention for executing champion athletes. Navid Afkari, an Iranian wrestler who was sentenced to death and murdered in Iran, caused an international stir against the abuses of the Islamic republic. Afkari was sentenced to death after Iran’s regime claimed that he had killed a security guard during the 2018 Iranian protests. However, reports have demonstrated that Afkari’s conduct had been peaceful, his confession was coerced, and his execution was simply a result of his participation in the protests (10). His two brothers, who also took part in the protests, were sentenced to 54 and 27 years in prison for the same alleged crime. After Afkari’s murder, his father and brother were arrested by authorities while cleaning his grave (11).

A mere five months after executing Afkari, the regime killed a second champion wrestler, Mehdi Ali Hosseini. Hosseini was arrested in 2015 after the regime alleged he committed pre-meditated murder during a supposed group fight. Sadar Pashaei, a renowned Iranian champion wrestler, shared in response to Hosseini’s execution, “Here is Iran, land of death, rope and bullets…” Following the murders of Afkari and Hosseini, the International Olympic Committee and United World Wrestling have gained immense criticism for failing to sanction Iran’s regime (12).

Predictably, mere international condemnation did not prevent the regime from murdering another athlete with the execution of Ali Mutairi who was a decorated boxer and prominent sports coach. Before his death, Mutairi endured severe torture, which led to his false confession that he was responsible for the deaths of two Basij militia members in 2018, according to his family and human rights activists. A United Nations spokeswoman responded to Mutairi’s execution by stating, “We strongly condemn the series of executions [in Iran], at least 28, since mid-December, including people from minority groups” (13).