Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and subject to strict penalties, including death, but it remained a problem. The law considers sex within marriage consensual by definition and, therefore, does not address spousal rape, including in cases of forced marriage. Most rape victims likely did not report the crime because they feared official retaliation or punishment for having been raped, including charges of indecency, immoral behavior, or adultery, the last of which carries the death penalty. Rape victims also feared societal reprisal or ostracism.
For a conviction of rape, the law requires four Muslim men or a combination of three men and two women or two men and four women, to have witnessed a rape. A woman or man found making a false accusation of rape is subject to 80 lashes. In June international media reported on the kidnapping and gang rape of at least 41 women and girls in the city of Iranshahr, Sistan va Baluchistan Province, which has a predominantly Baluchi population. According to the reports, authorities initially tried to deny the cases, leading to local protests. Reports indicated that some of the alleged perpetrators had ties to local security forces. Social media users expressed their anger and sought support for the victims online through an #Iranshahr girls campaign. Some of the social media participants, including Abdollah Bozorgzadeh, were reportedly harassed and arrested for their online activism.
The law does not prohibit domestic violence. Authorities considered abuse in the family a private matter and seldom discussed it publicly.
A 2017 CHRI report referenced a study presented at the nongovernmental Imam Ali Foundation’s May 2017 conference in Tehran on violence against women in the country, according to which 32 percent of women in urban areas and 63 percent in rural areas had been victims of domestic violence. A government official was quoted in the report saying that 11,000 cases of domestic abuse had been registered by the National Welfare Organization. In January, according to media reports, the state-run Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) apologized after an alleged relationship expert and marriage counselor advised domestic violence victims during a television broadcast to kiss their husband’s feet, leading to a large social media backlash in the country. Some users reportedly mocked the advice and characterized it as “nonsense” and “scary.”
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law criminalizes FGM/C and states, “the cutting or removing of the two sides of female genitalia leads to diyeh (financial penalty or blood money) equal to half the full amount of diyeh for the woman’s life.”
Little current data was available on the practice inside the country, although older data and media reports suggested it was most prevalent in Hormozgan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and West Azerbaijan Provinces.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were no official reports of killings motivated by “honor” or other harmful traditional practices during the year, although human rights activists reported that such killings continued to occur, particularly among rural and tribal populations.
The law reduces punitive measures for fathers and other family members who are convicted of murder or physically harming children in domestic violence or “honor killings.” If a man is found guilty of murdering his daughter, the punishment is between three and 10 years in prison rather than the normal death sentence or payment of diyeh for homicide cases.
Sexual Harassment: The law addresses sexual harassment in the context of physical contact between men and women and prohibits physical contact between unrelated men and women. There was no reliable data on the extent of sexual harassment, but women and human rights observers reported that sexual harassment was the norm in many workplaces. There were no known government efforts to address this problem.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal protection for women under the law in conformity with its interpretation of Islam. The government did not enforce the law, and provisions in the law, particularly sections dealing with family and property law, discriminate against women. Judicial harassment, intimidation, detention, and smear campaigns significantly challenged the ability of civil society organizations to fight for and protect women’s rights.
Women may not transmit citizenship to their children or to a noncitizen spouse. The government does not recognize marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, irrespective of their citizenship. The law states that a virgin woman or girl wishing to wed needs the consent of her father or grandfather or the court’s permission.
The law permits a man to have as many as four wives and an unlimited number of sigheh (temporary wives), based on a Shia custom under which couples may enter into a limited-time civil and religious contract, which outlines the union’s conditions.
A woman has the right to divorce if her husband signs a contract granting that right; cannot provide for his family; has violated the terms of their marriage contract; or is a drug addict, insane, or impotent. A husband is not required to cite a reason for divorcing his wife. The law recognizes a divorced woman’s right to part of shared property and to alimony. These laws were not always enforced.
The government actively suppressed efforts to build awareness among women of their rights regarding marriage and divorce. According to a CHRI report, in September the IRGC Intelligence Organization arrested Hoda Amid, a human rights attorney, and Najmeh Vahedi, a prominent sociologist and women’s rights activist, three days before they were supposed to host a workshop about the country’s marriage laws, which they had organized with a legal permit. One of the purposes of the workshop was to teach women how to expand their rights with legally binding prenuptial contracts.
The law provides divorced women preference in custody for children up to age seven, but fathers maintain legal guardianship rights over the child and must agree on many legal aspects of the child’s life (such as issuing travel documents, enrolling in school, or filing a police report). After the child reaches the age of seven, the father is granted custody unless he is proven unfit to care for the child.
Women sometimes received disproportionate punishment for crimes such as adultery, including death sentences. Islamic law retains provisions that equate a woman’s testimony in a court of law to half that of a man’s and value a woman’s life as half that of a man’s. According to the law, the diyeh paid in the death of a woman is half the amount paid in the death of a man, with the exception of car accident insurance payments.
Women have access to primary and advanced education. According to 2017 media reports, women gaining admission to universities nationwide outnumbered men by 13 percent. Quotas and other restrictions nonetheless limited women’s admissions to certain fields and degree programs.
As domestic media reported during the year, women’s participation in the job market remained as low as 16 percent. Women reportedly earned 41 percent less than men for the same work. Unemployment among women in the country was twice as high as it was among men.
Women continued to face discrimination in home and property ownership, as well as access to financing. In cases of inheritance, male heirs receive twice the inheritance of their female counterparts. The government enforced gender segregation in many public spaces. Women must ride in a reserved section on public buses and enter some public buildings, universities, and airports through separate entrances.
The law provides that a woman who appears in public without appropriate attire, such as a cloth scarf veil (hijab) over the head and a long jacket (manteau), or a large full-length cloth covering (chador), may be sentenced to flogging and fined. Absent a clear legal definition of “appropriate attire” or of the related punishment, women were subjected to the opinions of various disciplinary and security force members, police, and judges.
Throughout the year government and security forces cracked down on peaceful nationwide protests against dress restrictions.
In January several women in Tehran and Isfahan protested the compulsory hijab law by standing on platforms, publicly removing their headscarves, and waving them like flags. They were following the example of Vida Movahed, who performed a similar act of defiance in December 2017 on Revolution Street in Tehran. Pictures of Movahed–who disappeared for a month during detention by security forces at an unknown location–performing the act went viral online. According to reports, Movahed was sentenced in March to 24 months in prison but was released on bail.
In February authorities arrested 29 women in Tehran for peacefully protesting the mandatory dress law. Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted downplaying the significance of the protests, calling them “childish,” “emotionally charged,” and fomented from outside the country. One of the protesters, Narges Hosseini, a sociology student, was arrested and in March sentenced to two years in prison. Maryam Shariatmadari, a computer science student, was sentenced to one year in prison for “encouraging corruption by removing her hijab.” According to media reports and Amnesty International, Shaparak Shajarizadeh fled the country after being arrested on multiple occasions, subjected to torture and beatings, and released on bail in April; she reportedly was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for peacefully protesting. According to reports, other women and some men were arrested throughout the country for similar activities.
In March, according to an HRW report, police arrested approximately 35 women who had gathered outside Azadi Stadium in Tehran seeking to watch a soccer match. In June, however, authorities allowed women and men into the same stadium to watch a live streaming of the national football team competing at the World Cup, and in October close to 100 women were allowed to attend a live match.
As noted by the former UNSR and other organizations, female athletes have been traditionally barred from participating in international tournaments, either by the country’s sport agencies or by their husbands. There were, however, cases throughout the year of female athletes being permitted to travel internationally to compete.
The country established the National Body on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2012 to promote the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which it is a signatory. The Ministry of Justice oversees the body, which reviews draft regulations and legislation relating to children’s rights.
The country last underwent a periodic panel review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2016. The review noted many concerns, including discrimination against girls; children with disabilities; unregistered, refugee, and migrant children; and LGBTI minors.
There is a separate juvenile court system. Male juvenile detainees were held in separate rehabilitation centers in most urban areas, but female juvenile detainees and male juvenile detainees in rural areas were held alongside adults in detention facilities, according to NGO reports presented to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. (See section 1.c. for the situation of children held in prison with their incarcerated mothers.)
Birth Registration: Only a child’s father conveys citizenship, regardless of the child’s country of birth or mother’s citizenship. Birth within the country’s borders does not confer citizenship, except when a child is born to unknown parents. The law requires that all births be registered within 15 days.
Education: Although primary schooling until age 11 is free and compulsory for all, media and other sources reported lower enrollment in rural areas, especially for girls.
Children without state-issued identification cards are denied the right to education. In her March report, UNSR Jahangir noted that in Sistan va Baluchistan Province, the Cabinet of Ministers requested the Ministry of Education to issue a special card for children without birth certificates so they could attend school. As a result, more than 20,000 children who had received such cards registered for school and 19,000 were allowed to attend.
Child Abuse: There was little information available on how the government dealt with child abuse. The law states, “Any form of abuse of children and juveniles that causes physical, psychological, or moral harm and threatens their physical or mental health is prohibited,” and such crimes carry a maximum sentence of three months in confinement or 10 million rials ($235).
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for girls is 13, but girls as young as nine years old may be married with permission from the court and their fathers. In 2017 UNICEF reported that 17 percent of girls in the country were married before reaching age 18 and that approximately 40,000 were married before 15. In her March report, UNSR Jahangir stated this number was likely higher, as thousands of underage marriages were not reported. The UNSR also previously cited statistics from the Tehran-based Association to Protect the Rights of Children, according to which 17 percent of all marriages in the country involved girls married to “old men.”
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age requirements for consensual sex are the same as those for marriage, as sex outside of marriage is illegal. There are no specific laws regarding child sexual exploitation, with such crimes either falling under the category of child abuse or sexual crimes of adultery. The law does not directly address sexual molestation nor provide a punishment for it.
In July, according to media reports, a supervisor at a private boys’ school in Tehran was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 80 lashes for sexually abusing students at the school. Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi was reported by the press saying the parents of 15 students had complained that their children were raped or otherwise sexually abused.
According to the CHRI, the legal ambiguity between child abuse and sexual molestation could lead to child sexual molestation cases being prosecuted under adultery law. While no separate provision exists for the rape of a child, the crime of rape, regardless of the victim’s age, is potentially punishable by death.
Displaced Children: There were thousands of Afghan refugee children in the country, many of whom were born in Iran but could not obtain identity documents. These children were often unable to attend schools or access basic government services and were vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking.
In its 2016 report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted continued “allegations of abuse and ill treatment of refugee and asylum-seeking children by police and security forces.” UNHCR stated that school enrollment among refugees was generally higher outside camps and settlements, where greater resources were available.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The law recognizes Jews as a religious minority and provides for their representation in parliament. According to the 2011 census, the Jewish community numbered approximately 8,700. Government officials continued to question the history of the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism remained a pervasive problem. In November President Rouhani called Israel a “cancerous tumor” and a “fake regime.”
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
In March parliament adopted the Law for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. According to HRW, the law increases pensions and extends insurance coverage to disability-related healthcare services, but the new law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination. No information was available regarding authorities’ effectiveness in enforcing the law. The law prohibits those with visual, hearing, or speech disabilities from running for seats in parliament. While the law provides for government-funded vocational education for persons with disabilities, domestic news reports noted vocational centers were located only in urban areas and unable to meet the needs of the entire population.
As HRW reported, persons with disabilities remained cut off from society. They continued to face stigma and discrimination from government social workers, health-care workers, and others. Many persons with disabilities remained trapped in their homes, unable to live independently and participate in society on an equal basis. The law provides for public accessibility to government-funded buildings, and new structures appeared to comply with these standards. There were efforts to increase access for persons with disabilities to historical sites. Government buildings that predated existing accessibility standards remained largely inaccessible, and general building accessibility for persons with disabilities remained a problem. Persons with disabilities had limited access to informational, educational, and community activities. CHRI reported that refugees with disabilities, particularly children, were often excluded or denied the ability to obtain the limited state services provided by the government. CHRI also reported that, according to the director of the State Welfare Organization, 60 percent of persons with disabilities remained unemployed.
The constitution grants equal rights to all ethnic minorities, allowing minority languages to be used in the media. Article 101 of the Charter on Citizens’ Rights grants the right of citizens to learn, use, and teach their own languages and dialects. In practice minorities did not enjoy equal rights, and the government consistently barred use of their languages in school as the language of instruction.
The government disproportionately targeted minority groups, including Kurds, Ahwazis, Azeris, and Baluchis, for arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, disappearances, and physical abuse. In its 2016 panel review on the country, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reported “widespread discrimination against children of ethnic minorities,” as well as “reported targeted arrests, detentions, imprisonments, killings, torture, and executions against such groups by the law enforcement and judicial authorities.”
These ethnic minority groups reported political and socioeconomic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, job opportunities, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights.
Another widespread complaint among ethnic minority groups during the year, particularly among Ahwazis, Azeris and Lors, was that the government diverted and mismanaged natural resources, primarily water, often for the benefit of IRGC-affiliated contractors. According to reports from international media and human rights groups, these practices had devastated the local environment on which farmers and others depended for their livelihoods and well-being, resulting in forced migration and further marginalization of these communities. Throughout the year the government forcefully cracked down on environment-related protests that were largely centered in these ethnic minority communities. According to international media reports, in July the government forcefully suppressed protests over the scarcity of clean water in Khorramshahr, Khuzestan Province. Hundreds were arrested and at least four protesters were reported killed after security forces opened fire on the crowd.
The law, which requires religious screening and allegiance to the concept of “governance by the jurist,” not found in Sunni Islam, impaired the ability of Sunni Muslims (many of whom are also Baluch, Ahwazi, or Kurdish) to integrate into civic life and to work in certain fields.
Human rights organizations observed that the government’s application of the death penalty disproportionately affected ethnic minorities. Authorities reportedly subjected members of minority ethnicities and religious groups in pretrial detention repeatedly to more severe physical punishment, including torture, than other prisoners, regardless of the type of crime for which authorities accused them.
The estimated eight million ethnic Kurds in the country frequently campaigned for greater regional autonomy. The government continued to use the law to arrest and prosecute Kurds for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. The government reportedly banned Kurdish-language newspapers, journals, and books and punished publishers, journalists, and writers for opposing and criticizing government policies.
Authorities suppressed legitimate activities of Kurdish NGOs by denying them registration permits or bringing security charges against persons working with such organizations. Authorities did not prohibit the use of the Kurdish language in general.
Amnesty International reported on the forced disappearances of five Kurdish men in June 2017. According to the report, Ramin Hossein Panahi, an alleged member of the Komala armed opposition group, was arrested after taking part in an armed clash with the IRGC in Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province. IRGC guards then arrested Panahi’s brother and three other relatives, none of whom were reported to be involved with the armed clashes. After Ramin Panahi was sentenced to death in January 2018, he lived under the threat of an immediate execution while imprisoned in Sanandaj Central Prison. In August CHRI reported that Panahi had sewn his lips shut and gone on a hunger strike to protest the denial of his rights by prison authorities. The UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, said that Panahi was denied access to a lawyer and a fair trial and that he was mistreated and tortured in detention. According to media reports, Panahi’s torture including severe beatings, having his fingernails removed, and his head and body subjected to electric shocks. On September 8, authorities executed Panahi, along with two cousins, Zaniar and Loghman Moradi. International NGOs widely condemned the executions, claiming the prisoners had been tortured and sentenced to death following unfair trials based on forced confessions.
In April, according to international media reports and Kurdish rights groups, there were widespread peaceful protests and demonstrations over the government’s closure of the Baneh border crossing with Iraq, a vital conduit for trade with northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region. The government had also blocked since December 2017 the passes that Kurdish porters used to carry goods back and forth across the border. Rights groups said a number of Iranian Kurds were arrested and the internet was blocked during the protests.
International human rights observers, including the IHRDC, stated that the country’s estimated two million Ahwazi Arabs, representing 110 tribes, faced continued oppression and discrimination. Ahwazi rights activists reported the government continued to confiscate Ahwazi property to use for government development projects, refusing to recognize the paper deeds of the local population from the prerevolutionary era.
In March thousands of Ahwazis gathered in Ahwaz and in cities across Khuzestan Province to protest against state-sanctioned discriminatory policies. The protests were in part triggered when IRIB excluded the community’s cultural identity in an Iranian New Year television show that was supposed to highlight the country’s diversity. The protesters’ peaceful demands for an apology from IRIB were met by a violent crackdown from government security forces. According to reports from Ahwazi rights groups and eyewitness accounts, at least 400 Ahwazis were unjustly arrested in cities across Khuzestan Province.
Ahwazi human rights groups reported that the government rounded up hundreds of Ahwazis following the September attack on a military parade in Ahwaz (estimates reported in November ranged from 600 to more than 800 arrests), while the state-run Tasnim news agency reported the arrest of 22 in connection with the attack (see section 1.a.). Ahwazi human rights groups also reported instances of torture of detainees in the Intelligence Ministry detention center in Ahwaz.
Ethnic Azeris, who number more than 18 million, or approximately 23-25 percent of the population, were more integrated into government and society than other ethnic minority groups and included the supreme leader. Azeris reported that the government discriminated against them by harassing Azeri activists or organizers and changing Azeri geographic names.
According to international media reports and Azeri human rights groups, in July authorities arrested at least 50 Azeris days ahead of an annual gathering at Fort Babak in Eastern Azerbaijan Province and threatened others. According to reports, the government has tried to prevent thousands of Iranians, mostly Azeri speaking activists, from meeting every year at Babak Fortress to peacefully celebrate the birthday of a historic figure, Babak Khorramdin. The annual gathering has general overtones of Azeri nationalism.
Local and international human rights groups alleged discrimination during the year against the Baluchi ethnic minority, estimated at between 1.5 and two million persons. Areas with large Baluchi populations were severely underdeveloped and had limited access to education, employment, health care, and housing, and Baluchi activists reported that more than 70 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.
According to activist reports, the law limited Sunni Baluchis’ employment opportunities and political participation. Activists reported that throughout the year, the government sent hundreds of Shia missionaries to areas with large Sunni Baluch populations to try to convert the local population. According to Baluchi rights activists, Baluchi journalists and human rights activists faced arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and unfair trials. In February Baloch Activists Campaign (BAC) told CHRI that law enforcement agents had shot and killed at least 20 ethnic Baluchis and wounded 19 while allegedly pursuing suspected traffickers in Sistan va Baluchestan Province. According to BAC, government forces acted with impunity, with little provided in terms of justification for the deaths or means of restitution provided to victims’ families.
See section 2.b. for information on mass arrests of Gonabadi Sufi dervishes.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable by death, flogging, or a lesser punishment. The law does not distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual same-sex intercourse, and NGOs reported this lack of clarity led to both the victim and the perpetrator being held criminally liable under the law in cases of assault. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals they suspected of being LGBTI. In some cases security forces raided houses and monitored internet sites for information on LGBTI persons. Those accused of “sodomy” often faced summary trials, and evidentiary standards were not always met. The Iranian LGBTI activist group 6Rang noted that individuals arrested under such conditions were traditionally subjected to forced anal or sodomy examinations, which the United Nations and World Health Organization said can constitute torture, and other degrading treatment and sexual insults. Punishment for same-sex sexual activity between men was more severe than between women. UNSR Jahangir reported in March receiving reports of the continued discrimination, harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, punishment, and denial of rights of LGBTI persons.
The government censored all materials related to LGBTI status or conduct. Authorities particularly blocked websites or content within sites that discussed LGBTI issues, including the censorship of Wikipedia pages defining LGBTI and other related topics. There were active, unregistered LGBTI NGOs in the country. Hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms did not exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes.
The law requires all male citizens older than age 18 to serve in the military but exempts gay men and transgender women, who are classified as having mental disorders. New military identity cards listed the subsection of the law dictating the exemption. According to 6Rang, this practice identified gay or transgender individuals and put them at risk of physical abuse and discrimination.
NGOs reported that authorities pressured LGBTI persons to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
According to a May report by 6Rang, the number of private and semigovernmental psychological and psychiatric clinics allegedly engaging in “corrective treatment” of LGBTI persons continued to grow during the year. 6Rang reported the increased use at such clinics of electric shock therapy to the hands and genitals of LGBTI persons, prescription of psychoactive medication, hypnosis, and coercive masturbation to pictures of the opposite sex. Many of these practices may constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment under international law. According to the report, one such institution is called “The Anonymous Sex Addicts Association of Iran,” with branches in 18 provinces.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Despite government programs to treat and provide financial and other assistance to persons with HIV/AIDS, international news sources and organizations reported that individuals known to be infected with HIV/AIDS faced widespread societal discrimination. Individuals with HIV/AIDS, for example, continued to be denied employment as teachers.