An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Iran

Executive Summary

The Islamic Republic of Iran is an authoritarian theocratic republic with a Shia Islamic political system based on velayat-e faqih(guardianship of the jurist or governance by the jurist). Shia clergy, most notably the rahbar (supreme jurist or supreme leader), and political leaders vetted by the clergy dominate key power structures.

The supreme leader is the head of state. The members of the Assembly of Experts are in theory directly elected in popular elections, and the assembly selects and may dismiss the supreme leader. The candidates for the Assembly of Experts, however, are vetted by the Guardian Council (see below) and are therefore selected indirectly by the supreme leader himself. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has held the position since 1989. He has direct or indirect control over the legislative and executive branches of government through unelected councils under his authority. The supreme leader holds constitutional authority over the judiciary, government-run media, and armed forces, and indirectly controls internal security forces and other key institutions. While mechanisms for popular election exist for the president, who is head of government, and for the Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament or majles), the unelected Guardian Council vets candidates and controls the election process. The supreme leader appoints half of the 12-member Guardian Council, while the head of the judiciary (who is appointed by the supreme leader) appoints the other half. Candidate vetting excluded all but six candidates of 1,636 individuals who registered for the 2017 presidential race. In May 2017 voters re-elected Hassan Rouhani as president. Restrictions on media, including censoring campaign materials and preventing prominent opposition figures from speaking publicly, limited the freedom and fairness of the elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

In response to nationwide protests that began in late December 2017 and continued throughout the year, the government used harsh tactics against protesters. Human rights organizations reported at least 30 deaths of protesters during the year, thousands of arrests, and suspicious deaths in custody.

The government’s human rights record remained extremely poor and worsened in several key areas. Human rights issues included executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard of “most serious crimes” and without fair trials of individuals, including juvenile offenders; numerous reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, and torture by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; systematic use of arbitrary detention and imprisonment, including hundreds of political prisoners; unlawful interference with privacy; severe restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminalization of libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; egregious restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on political participation; widespread corruption at all levels of government; unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by government actors to support the Assad regime in Syria; trafficking in persons; harsh governmental restrictions on the rights of women and minorities; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting LGBTI persons; and outlawing of independent trade unions.

The government took few steps to investigate, prosecute, punish, or otherwise hold accountable officials who committed these abuses, many of which were perpetrated as a matter of government policy. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.

The country materially contributed to human rights abuses in Syria, through its military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hizballah forces there; in Iraq, through its aid to certain Iraqi Shia militia groups; and in Yemen, through its support for Houthi rebels and directing authorities in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen to harass and detain Bahais because of their religious affiliation.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, the practices occurred frequently during the year. President Rouhani’s 2016 “Citizen’s Rights Charter” enumerates various freedoms, including “security of their person, property, dignity, employment, legal and judicial process, social security and the like.” The government did not implement these provisions. Detainees may appeal their sentences in court but are not entitled to compensation for detention.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Several agencies shared responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order, including the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and law enforcement forces under the Interior Ministry, which report to the president, and the IRGC, which reports directly to the supreme leader. The supreme leader holds ultimate authority over all security agencies.

The Basij, a volunteer paramilitary group with local organizations across the country, sometimes acted as an auxiliary law enforcement unit subordinate to IRGC ground forces. Basij units often engaged in repression of political opposition elements or intimidation of civilians accused of violating the country’s strict moral code, without formal guidance or supervision from superiors.

Impunity remained a problem within all security forces. Human rights groups frequently accused regular and paramilitary security forces, such as the Basij, of committing numerous human rights abuses, including acts of violence against protesters and participants in public demonstrations. According to Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, the attorney general is responsible for investigating and punishing security force abuses, but the process was not transparent, and there were few reports of government actions to discipline abusers. In a notable exception, in November 2017 authorities sentenced former Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi to two years in prison for his alleged responsibility for the torture and death of protesters in 2009. Media reported that Mortazavi, after initial reports that he had disappeared, was taken to prison in April to commence his sentence.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and law require a warrant or subpoena for an arrest and state that arrested persons should be informed of the charges against them within 24 hours. Authorities, however, held some detainees, at times incommunicado, for days, weeks, or months without charge or trial and frequently denied them contact with family or timely access to legal representation.

The law obligates the government to provide indigent defendants with attorneys for certain types of crimes. The courts set prohibitively high bail, even for lesser crimes, and in many cases, courts did not set bail. Authorities often compelled detainees and their families to submit property deeds to post bail, effectively silencing them due to fear of losing their families’ property.

The government continued to use house arrest without due process to restrict movement and communication. At year’s end former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, as well as Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, remained under house arrest imposed in 2011 without formal charges. Security forces continued to restrict their access to visitors and information. Concerns persisted over Karroubi’s deteriorating health, reportedly exacerbated by his treatment by authorities.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities commonly used arbitrary arrests to impede alleged antiregime activities. Plainclothes officers arrived unannounced at homes or offices, arrested persons, conducted raids, and confiscated private documents, passports, computers, electronic media, and other personal items without warrants or assurances of due process.

Individuals often remained in detention facilities for long periods without charges or trials, and authorities sometimes prevented them from informing others of their whereabouts for several days. Authorities often denied detainees’ access to legal counsel during this period.

International media and human rights organizations documented an increase in detentions of dual nationals–individuals who are citizens of both Iran and another country–for arbitrary and prolonged detention on politically motivated charges. One of the environmentalists detained, Iranian-Canadian Kavous Seyed-Emami, died in custody in February in Evin Prison, in what authorities called a suicide (see section 1.c.). Dual nationals, like other citizens, faced a variety of due process violations, including lack of prompt access to a lawyer of their choosing and brief trials during which they were not allowed to defend themselves.

In September, Human Rights Watch documented the cases of 14 dual or foreign nationals whom the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization has arrested since 2014. Several of those were American citizens, including Xiyue Wang, a doctoral student at Princeton University, who was arrested in August 2016. Wang had been conducting research for his dissertation on the history of the Qajar dynasty. In July 2017, Iranian state media reported that a Revolutionary Court had sentenced Wang to 10 years in prison on charges of “cooperating with an enemy state.” Revolutionary Court Judge Abolqasem Salavati presided over the case. In August 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said Wang’s detention was arbitrary and “motivated by the fact that he is a United States citizen,” and recommended the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Wang immediately.

Spiritual leader Mohammad Ali Taheri, founder of the spiritual doctrine Interuniversalism and the Erfan-e Halgheh group, had been in prison–mostly in solitary confinement–since his arrest in 2011. He was sentenced to five years in 2011 for “insulting the sanctities” and then was sentenced to death in 2015 for “corruption on earth.” In August 2017 Taheri was sentenced to death for a second time. The Supreme Court subsequently rejected Taheri’s death sentence and ordered him retried. At year’s end Taheri was serving a second five-year prison sentence handed down in March. According to media and NGO reports, the IRGC also detained dozens of Taheri’s followers.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was often arbitrarily lengthy, particularly in cases involving alleged violations of national security law. In other cases authorities held persons incommunicado for lengthy periods before permitting them to contact family members. Instances of unjust and arbitrary pretrial detention were commonplace and well documented throughout the year involving numerous prisoners of conscience, particularly following the countrywide protests beginning in December 2017. According to HRW, a judge may prolong detention at his discretion, and pretrial detentions often lasted for months. Often authorities held pretrial detainees in custody with the general prison population.

According to HRW, since January the IRGC’s intelligence organization had arbitrarily arrested at least 50 environmental activists across the country and imprisoned them without bringing formal charges or evidence. These included several environmentalists affiliated with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation who were arrested in January for espionage. They were accused of using environmental projects as a cover to collect classified information. In July family members of Houman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Sam Rajabi, Taher Ghadirian, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, and Morad Tahbaz demanded their release in a published open letter, saying the environmentalists had been imprisoned for six months without a “shred of evidence.”

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees may appeal their sentences in courts of law but are not entitled to compensation for detention and were often held for extended periods without any legal proceedings.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions, particularly concerning migrants and women. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with regard to refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq.

In-country Movement: Judicial sentences sometimes included internal exile after release from prison, which prevented individuals from traveling to certain provinces. Women often required the supervision of a male guardian or chaperone to travel and faced official and societal harassment for traveling alone.

Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for foreign travel for all citizens. Citizens who were educated at government expense or received scholarships had to either repay the scholarship or receive a temporary permit to exit the country. The government restricted the foreign travel of some religious leaders, members of religious minorities, and scientists in sensitive fields.

Several journalists, academics, opposition politicians, human and women’s rights activists, and artists remained subject to foreign travel bans and had their passports confiscated during the year. Married women were not allowed to travel outside the country without prior permission from their husbands.

Exile: The law does not provide for forced exile abroad. Many citizens practiced self-imposed exile to express their beliefs freely or escape government harassment.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

According to UNHCR, the government had granted registration to 950,142 Afghan and 28,268 Iraqi refugees under a system known as amayesh, through which authorities provide refugees with cards identifying them as legally registered refugees. The cards enable refugees to access basic services and facilitate the issuance of work permits. In addition to registered refugees, the government estimated it hosted 450,000 Afghans who hold Afghan passports and Iranian visas and 1.5 million undocumented Afghans.

HRW and other groups reported that the government continued its mistreatment of many Afghans, including physical abuse by security forces, deportations, forced recruitment to fight in Syria (see section 1.g.), detention in unsanitary and inhuman conditions, forced payment for transportation to and accommodation in deportation camps, forced labor, forced separation from families, restricted movement within the country, and restricted access to education or jobs.

Refoulement: According to activist groups and NGOs, authorities routinely arrested Afghans without amayesh cards and sometimes threatened them with deportation. According to the International Organization for Migration, from the beginning of the year to August, more than 219,254 undocumented Afghans returned to Afghanistan, with many claiming they were pressured to leave. In addition more than 273,089 were deported there throughout the year.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants. While the government reportedly has a system for providing protection to refugees, UNHCR did not have information regarding how the country made asylum determinations. According to HRW, the government continued to block many Afghans from registering to obtain refugee status.

Afghans not registered under the amayesh system who had migrated in the past decades of conflict in their home country continued to be denied access to an asylum system or access to register with the United Nations as refugees. NGOs reported many of these displaced asylum seekers believed they were pressured to leave the country but could not return to Afghanistan because of the security situation in their home provinces.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees faced restrictions on in-country movement and faced restrictions from entering certain provinces, according to UNHCR.

Employment: Only refugees with government-issued work permits were able to work. NGO sources reported that amayesh cards were difficult to renew and were often prohibitively expensive for refugees to maintain due to steep annual renewal fees.

Access to Basic ServicesAmayesh cardholders had access to primary education and received primary health care, including vaccinations, prenatal care, maternal and child health, and family planning from the Ministry of Health. They also benefited from a universal basic health insurance package for hospitalization and paraclinical services (medicine, doctor’s visits, radiology, etc.) similar to citizens, and those with qualifying “special diseases” received comprehensive coverage.

In 2017 more than 112,000 vulnerable refugees enrolled in the Universal Public Health Insurance scheme providing coverage for 12 months, and in 2018 92,000 vulnerable refugees were expected to benefit from subsidized premium support from UNHCR.

The government claimed to grant refugees access to schools. More than 420,000 refugee children were enrolled in primary and secondary school, out of whom 103,000 were undocumented Afghan children. According to media reporting, however, Afghans continued to have difficulty gaining access to education. The government sometimes imposed fees for children of registered refugees to attend public schools.

There were barriers to marriage between citizens and displaced Afghans. Authorities required Afghans to obtain documentation from their embassy or government offices in Afghanistan to register their marriage in the country, according to media reporting. The law states, “Any foreigner who marries an Iranian woman without the permission of the Iranian government will be sentenced to two to five years in prison plus a cash penalty.” Furthermore, authorities considered children born from such unions eligible for citizenship only if the child’s father is a citizen and registers the child as his, potentially leaving many children stateless.

Most provinces’ residency limitations on refugees effectively denied them access to public services, such as public housing, in the restricted areas of those provinces.

STATELESS PERSONS

There were no accurate numbers on how many stateless persons resided in the country. Stateless persons included those without birth documents or refugee identification cards. They were subjected to inconsistent government policies and relied on charities, principally domestic, to obtain medical care and schooling. Authorities prohibited stateless persons from receiving formal government support or travel documents.

Women may not directly transmit citizenship to their children or to noncitizen spouses. Only children born to Iranian mothers and non-Iranian fathers who reside in Iran for 18 years and whose parents’ marriage is officially registered with the government are eligible to apply for citizenship. According to media reports, between 400,000 and one million persons lacked Iranian nationality despite having an Iranian citizen mother, due to limitations on citizenship transmission (see section 6, Children).

Human Rights Reports
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select A Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future