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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). Shia clergy – most notably the rahbar (supreme leader) – and political leaders vetted by the clergy dominate key power structures. The supreme leader is the head of state and holds constitutional authority over the judiciary, government-run media, and other key institutions. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has held the position since 1989. The Assembly of Experts selects and may dismiss the supreme leader. Although assembly members are nominally directly elected in popular elections, the supreme leader has indirect influence over the assembly’s membership via the Guardian Council’s vetting of candidates and control over 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. The supreme leader also has indirect influence over the legislative and executive branches of government. The Guardian Council vets candidates for the presidential and Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament or majles) elections, routinely disqualifying some based on political or other considerations, and controls the election process. Neither 2021 presidential elections nor 2020 parliamentary elections were considered free and fair.

The supreme leader holds ultimate authority over all security agencies. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security and law enforcement forces under the Interior Ministry, which report to the president, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which reports to the supreme leader, share responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order. The Basij, a nationwide volunteer paramilitary group, sometimes acts as an auxiliary law enforcement unit subordinate to the Revolutionary Guard. The Revolutionary Guard and the national army (artesh) provide external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses throughout the year.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government and its agents, most commonly executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard of “most serious crimes” or for crimes committed by juvenile offenders, as well as after trials without due process; forced disappearance attributed to the government and its agents; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the government and its agents; arbitrary arrest or detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners and detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country, including killings, kidnappings, or violence; serious problems with independence of the judiciary, particularly the revolutionary courts; unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in a conflict, including military support for terrorist groups throughout the region, Syrian President Bashar Assad, pro-Iran Iraqi militia groups, and Yemeni Houthi rebels, all of which were credibly accused of abuses (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria, Iraq, and Yemen), as well as unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by government actors in Syria; severe restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminalization of libel and slander; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on religious freedom; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic or international human rights organizations; lack of meaningful investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; violence against ethnic minorities; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took few steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corruption. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

The government and its agents reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, most commonly executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard of “most serious crimes” or for crimes committed by juvenile offenders, as well as executions after trials without due process. As documented by international human rights observers, so-called revolutionary courts (see section 1.e., Trial Procedures) continued to issue the vast majority of death sentences and failed to grant defendants due process. The courts regularly denied defendants legal representation and, in many cases, solely considered as evidence confessions often extracted through torture. Judges also may impose the death penalty on appeal, which deterred appeals in criminal cases. On October 25, the UN special rapporteur (UNSR) on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javaid Rehman, told the UN General Assembly that almost all executions in the country constituted an arbitrary deprivation of life, noting “extensive, vague and arbitrary grounds in Iran for imposing the death sentence, which quickly can turn this punishment into a political tool.”

According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Activists in Iran, the government did not disclose accurate numbers of those executed and kept secret as many as 60 percent of executions. NGOs Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), Human Rights News Activists (HRANA), Iran Human Rights (IHR), and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center reported there were almost 150 executions as of mid-August, while the government officially announced approximately 20 executions in that time. Amnesty International and IHR stressed that the real numbers of persons at risk of execution and those who had been secretly executed were likely much higher, since officials and domestic media avoided reporting figures. The government often did not release further information, such as names of those executed, execution dates, or crimes for which they were executed.

In early January IHR and the digital news outlet IranWire reported that authorities executed two Baloch prisoners, Hassan Dehvari and Elias Qalandarzehi, in Zahedan Prison; both were sentenced to death for “armed rebellion” based solely on their affiliation with family members belonging to dissident groups.

On January 30, according to Amnesty International and other NGOs, authorities executed Javid Dehghan in Zahedan Central Prison after sentencing him to death for “enmity against God” based on a “confession” extracted through torture. Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Zahedan sentenced Dehghan to death in 2017 for alleged membership in the banned armed group Jaish al-Ald and alleged involvement in an armed ambush that killed two Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldiers. Following Dehghan’s 2015 arrest, authorities concealed his whereabouts from his family for three months. IRGC intelligence agents held him in solitary confinement in an undisclosed detention facility affiliated with Zahedan Central Prison, where they subjected him to beatings, floggings, and nail extraction. On February 4, UN human rights experts expressed their shock at the execution of Dehghan in an open letter to the Iranian government, which took place despite their public appeal to have it halted because of “serious fair trial violations,” “lack of an effective right to appeal,” and a “torture-induced forced confession.” In the letter they noted that Dehghan’s execution was one of several carried out against prisoners from the Baloch ethnic minority in a short time; at least 21 Balochi prisoners were executed between mid-December 2020 and January 30. Many had been convicted on drug or national security charges, following flawed legal processes.

In a February letter to the UN secretary-general, imprisoned human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh asked the international community to “pay attention to the issue of executions in Iranian society, especially that of religious, ethnic minorities, and women, and take necessary measures to prevent such extensive executions.” Sotoudeh cited the case of Zahra Esmaili, who was executed on February 17 with eight other prisoners. According to the United Kingdom-based Iran International television station, Esmaili was sentenced to death for shooting and killing her husband, Alireza Zamani, a Ministry of Intelligence official, in 2018. Media reports during her trial suggested Zamani abused his children and threatened to kill Esmaili. Didban Iran website reported a claim that one of the children had killed Zamani and her mother confessed to protect her.

On February 28, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), authorities at Sepidar Prison executed the following four ethnic Arab political prisoners: Jasem Heidary, Hossein Silawi, Ali Khasraji, and Nasser Khafajian (Khafaji). Security forces summoned the prisoners’ relatives without informing them of the imminent executions. After a 20-minute visit, the families were told to wait near the visitation center, and a few hours later they were given the bodies of their relatives. Ministry of Intelligence agents arrested Heidary in Tehran in 2017, and he “confessed” under torture to collaborating with a group opposed to the Islamic Republic. A revolutionary court in Ahvaz convicted Heidary of “armed insurrection” and sentenced him to death, and the Supreme Court upheld the verdict. Amnesty International reported he was held for months in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or his family and was subjected to torture and other mistreatment. Security forces detained Silawi, Khasraji, and Khafajian in 2017 as alleged suspects in an armed attack on a police station and military outpost near Ahvaz. Authorities held the three in a Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Ahvaz without access to lawyers or their families and subjected them to torture. Prior to their execution, Amnesty International reported on February 12 that Khasraji, Silawi, and Heidary had sewn their lips together as part of a hunger strike since January 23 in Sheiban Prison “in protest at their prison conditions, denial of family visits, and the ongoing threat of execution.”

In February authorities killed 10 fuel carriers (sookhtbars) in Sistan va Baluchestan Province at the border with Pakistan, who were protesting government blockades of cross-border shipments. On February 22, IRGC units fired lethal ammunition on protesters and bystanders, adding two more to the death toll and injuring many. The death toll was difficult to verify following the disruption of local mobile data networks, according to the United Nations (see sections 1.b., 1.c., and 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

Islamic law allows for the execution of juvenile offenders starting at age nine for girls and age 13 for boys, the legal age of maturity. The government continued to execute individuals sentenced for crimes committed before age 18. In June UN human rights experts expressed concern for the more than 85 individuals on death row for alleged offenses committed when they were younger than age 18, including Hossein Shahbazi and Arman Abdolali, who were arrested and sentenced to death for crimes they allegedly committed at age 17. According to Amnesty International, their trials included the use of “torture-tainted ‘confessions.’” According to widespread media reports, on November 24, Abdolali was executed.

According to Amnesty International and IHR, in August authorities at Kermanshah Central Prison (Dizelabad) hanged Sajad Sanjari for a murder he committed in 2010 when he was 15 years old. Sanjari claimed he acted in self-defense after the man tried to rape him, but the trial court rejected the self-defense claims after several witnesses attested to the deceased’s good character. Sanjari was granted a retrial in 2015; a criminal court resentenced him to death, and the Supreme Court later upheld the sentence.

According to UN and NGO reports, authorities executed at least six persons in 2020 who were minors at the time of their alleged crimes: Majid Esmaeilzadeh, Shayan Saaedpour, Arsalan Yasini, Movid Savadi, Abdollah Mohammadi, and Mohammad Hassan Rezaiee.

Responding to criticism from the United Nations, Majid Tafreshi, a senior official and member of the state-run High Council for Human Rights, stated in an English interview with Agence France-Presse in 2020 that the government was working to reduce juvenile executions eventually to zero by “trying to convince the victim’s family to pardon” and claimed “96 percent of cases” resulted in a pardon.

According to human rights organizations and media reports, the government continued to carry out some executions by torture, including hanging by cranes, in which prisoners are lifted from the ground by their necks and die slowly by asphyxiation. Adultery remains punishable by death by stoning, although provincial authorities were reportedly ordered not to provide public information regarding stoning sentences since 2001, according to the NGO Justice for Iran.

According to the United Nations, between January 1 and June 18, authorities executed at least 108 individuals, mostly from minority groups, including 35 for drug charges. Although the majority of executions during the year were reportedly for murder, the law also provides for the death penalty in cases of conviction for “attempts against the security of the state,” “outrage against high-ranking officials,” moharebeh (which has a variety of broad interpretations, including “waging war against God”), fisad fil-arz (corruption on earth, including apostasy or heresy; see section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country), rape, adultery, recidivist alcohol use, consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and “insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini and against the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic.” Capital punishment also applies to the possession, sale, or transport of more than approximately 110 pounds of natural drugs, such as opium, or approximately 4.4 to 6.6 pounds of manufactured narcotics, such as heroin or cocaine. It applies to some drug offenses involving smaller quantities of narcotics if the crime is carried out using weapons, employing minors, or involving someone in a leadership role in a trafficking ring or who was previously convicted of drug crimes and sentenced to more than 15 years’ imprisonment. Prosecutors frequently charged political dissidents and journalists with the capital offense of “waging war against God” and accused them of “struggling against the precepts of Islam” and against the state that upholds those precepts. Authorities expanded the scope of this charge to include “working to undermine the Islamic establishment” and “cooperating with foreign agents or entities.” The UNSR expressed deep concern in his July report that “vague and broadly formulated criminal offenses,” – including “waging war against God,” “corruption on earth,” and “armed rebellion” – had been used to sentence individuals to death for participation in protests or other forms of dissent, even absent evidence for the accusations. According to the report, authorities executed at least 15 individuals in 2020 for these offenses.

The judiciary is required to review and validate death sentences; however, this rarely happened.

In late 2020 the Supreme Court reaffirmed the death sentence of dual-national scientist Ahmadreza Djalali, leading observers to believe his execution was imminent. A court initially sentenced Djalali to death in 2017 on espionage charges in a trial UN experts said was “marred by numerous reports of due process and fair trial violations, including incommunicado detention, denial of access to a lawyer, and forced confession.” In March UN experts described Djalali’s situation as “truly horrific” and said his “prolonged solitary confinement for over 100 days with the threat of imminent execution” in Ward 209 of Evin Prison amounted to torture. Authorities were reportedly “shining bright lights in his small cell 24 hours a day to deprive him of sleep.” On April 14, he was moved out of solitary confinement. Prison officials repeatedly denied Djalali access to medical care, which led to dramatic weight loss, stomach pain, and breathing problems to the point where he had trouble speaking, according to his wife. As of November he remained in prison.

On August 29, Ebrahim Yousefi, one of death row prisoner Heydar (Heidar) Ghorbani’s former cellmates, published an audio file describing the marks of torture he had seen on Ghorbani’s body following his interrogation by authorities in the Ministry of Intelligence’s detention center in Sanandaj in 2017. In January 2020 a revolutionary court in Kurdistan Province convicted Ghorbani of “armed rebellion” and sentenced him to death, despite the court acknowledging in the verdict that he was never armed. According to a September 2020 report by Amnesty International, authorities arrested Ghorbani in 2016 following the killing of several IRGC members in the city of Kamyaran. The court sentenced him to 90 years in prison and 200 lashes for “assisting in intentional murder” and “membership and collaboration” with the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, a banned political opposition group. On August 12, his lawyer said, “The accusation of armed rebellion against Mr. Ghorbani is not valid because a rebel is someone who is a member of an organization and uses a weapon against the Islamic Republic, and none of those apply to my client,” according to a report by CHRI.

On December 20, the government executed Ghorbani without prior notice. Authorities summoned his family to Sanandaj Prison in Kurdistan Province after his death to view his grave, but the family was not permitted to collect his body.

Media and human rights groups also documented suspicious deaths while in custody or following beatings of protesters by security forces throughout the year.

According to IHR, two days after 21-year-old Mehrdad Taleshi was arrested on February 1, he reportedly died at the Shapour criminal investigation department police station. His relatives told IHR that a Shapour police ambulance transferred his corpse to the Baharloo Hospital, where they reported seeing torture marks around his neck, as well as severe marks of injury on his head. Officials at the police station told Taleshi’s family they arrested him for marijuana possession; the family told IHR that Mehrdad was an athlete and did not even smoke cigarettes. As of August the findings of a postmortem forensic exam remained undetermined, and the family’s complaint to the criminal court had not been acknowledged.

In July UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed “extreme concern” regarding deaths and injuries, as well as widespread arrests and detentions, by authorities in response to protests that broke out across multiple cities on July 15 over severe water shortages in Khuzestan Province. According to an Amnesty International report, on July 22, security forces in Izeh attacked largely peaceful protesters with live ammunition, killing 11 persons, including 17-year-old Hadi Bahmani.

In a July report, UNSR Rehman reiterated his “alarm” that authorities had not undertaken a credible investigation into those responsible for the killing of at least 304 protesters responding to fuel price hikes in November 2019. Instead, authorities continued to prosecute individuals who participated in the protests on charges including “taking up arms to take lives or property and to create fear in the public” (moharabeh), which carries the death penalty, and national security charges that carry long prison sentences. In response, human rights organizations outside of the country held a nonbinding people’s tribunal, called the Aban Tribunal, in London to investigate the killing of protesters and numerous human rights violations that took place on November 15-18, 2019, in Iran.

On August 10, a Swedish court, drawing on the principle of universal jurisdiction, opened the trial of a former Iranian prosecutor, Hamid Nouri, for his alleged role in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in Iran in the 1980s. Human rights organizations and UNSR Rehman called for an independent inquiry into allegations of state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, including the role played by newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi as Tehran’s deputy prosecutor at the time.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of politically motivated abductions during the year attributed to government officials. Plainclothes officials seized lawyers, journalists, and activists without warning, and government officials refused to acknowledge custody or provide information on them. In most cases the government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts.

On February 3, 36 civil society and international human rights organizations published an open letter calling for urgent attention to “an ongoing wave of arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions, and enforced disappearances by the Iranian authorities” targeting members of the Kurdish ethnic minority. Between January 6 and February 3, the intelligence unit of the IRGC or Ministry of Intelligence agents arrested 96 Kurdish individuals across 19 cities, and at least 40 of the detainees were subjected to forced disappearances, for whom authorities refused to reveal any information regarding their fate or whereabouts to their families.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the constitution prohibits all forms of torture “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information,” use of physical and mental torture to coerce confessions remained prevalent, especially during pretrial detention. There were credible reports that security forces and prison personnel tortured and abused detainees and prisoners throughout the year.

Commonly reported methods of torture and abuse in prisons included threats of execution or rape, forced vaginal and anal examinations, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, suspension, forced ingestion of chemical substances, deliberate deprivation of medical care, electroshock including the shocking of genitals, burnings, the use of pressure positions, and severe and repeated beatings.

Human rights organizations frequently cited some prison facilities, including Evin Prison in Tehran, Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, Greater Tehran Penitentiary, Qarchak Prison, Adel Abad Prison, Vakilabad, Zahedan, Isfahan Central Prison (Dastgerd), and Orumiyeh Prison, for their use of cruel and prolonged torture of political opponents, particularly Wards 209 and Two of Evin Prison, reportedly controlled by the IRGC. Authorities also allegedly maintained unofficial secret prisons and detention centers outside the national prison system, where abuse reportedly occurred.

In August according to the Associated Press and widespread media reports, the hacker group Edalet-e Ali (Ali’s Justice) posted online security camera footage from Evin Prison of prison authorities beating and mistreating inmates, the attempted suicide of prisoners without authorities intervening, and emaciated inmates being dragged by their arms and left in stairwells. Human Rights Watch (HRW) assessed that the leaked footage was “likely the tip of the iceberg” of the abuses occurring in detention facilities, as it did not include footage from two prison wards inside Evin Prison controlled by the intelligence agencies, “where political prisoners often face serious abuse, including prolonged solitary confinement, use of blindfolds, and torture.”

According to a February report by IHR, authorities held a public interrogation session at the Palace of Justice for physics students Ali Younesi and Amir Hossein Moradi, both arrested in April 2020 on charges of affiliation with the Mojahedin-e Khalgh (MEK) opposition group, which the Iranian regime has banned. The session revealed that beatings by Ministry of Intelligence agents of Younesi during his interrogation caused his eye to bleed for 60 days after his arrest. In August 2020 UN human rights experts sent a letter to the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations urging that he “take all necessary measures to guarantee the right of Mr. Younesi not to be deprived of his liberty, to protection from any act of torture or ill-treatment[,] and to fair-trial proceedings,” a reference to his 59 days of solitary confinement and possible exposure to COVID-19 in overcrowded cells. On July 3, Younesi and Moradi were charged with “corruption on earth,” which carries the death penalty, and other crimes. As of November 22, both students remained in Evin Prison’s Ward 209.

Before their execution in early January (see section 1.a.), Hassan Dehvari and Elias Qalandarzehi described in a letter the seven months of torture they endured. Dehvari wrote, “In the (Ministry of) Intelligence (detention center), we were subjected to physical and psychological torture including being threatened with rape, tying us to the “miracle bed” (a bed used for flogging prisoners), all types of instruments, like whips, cable wires, a metal helmet that would be wired with electric shocks to our heads, attempting to pull out hand and toe nails, turning on an electric drill and threatening to drill our arms and legs, bringing my wife and a video camera and [telling] me that either I accept the charge or they would rape her and film it in front of me.”

Judicially sanctioned corporal punishments continued. These included flogging, blinding, stoning, and amputation, which the government defends as “punishment” and does not consider to be torture. At least 148 crimes are punishable by flogging, while 20 may carry the penalty of amputation. According to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, between January 1 and September 2, authorities sentenced at least 77 individuals to amputation and carried out these sentences in at least eight cases. There were no recorded cases of amputation during the year.

According to Amnesty International, authorities flogged Hadi Rostami, an inmate at Orumiyeh Prison in West Azerbaijan Province, 60 times on February 14 for “disrupting prison order.” Extrajudicial punishments by authorities involving degrading public humiliation of alleged offenders were also frequently reported throughout the year. Authorities regularly forced alleged offenders to make videotaped confessions that the government later televised.

On September 9, labor rights activist Sepideh Gholian detailed, in a series of tweets while she was on temporary furlough from Bushehr Prison, the abuse she witnessed of fellow inmates in the women’s ward. Gholian described how the prison warden punished a female inmate for taking a shower “at the wrong hour” by hosing her down naked in a public space and forcing other inmates to watch and jeer. Gholian alleged the warden forcibly sent female inmates to the men’s wards where they were subjected to sexual assault under the guise of “temporary marriages” (sigheh). She also detailed officials’ abuse of an Afghan child living with his mother in prison and the denial of undergarments for female prisoners as punishment, including for some who were menstruating. On October 10, Gholian was rearrested and taken to Evin Prison, where she remained at year’s end.

Impunity remained a widespread problem throughout all security forces. Human rights groups frequently accused regular and paramilitary security forces such as the Basij of committing numerous human rights abuses, including torture, forced disappearances, and acts of violence against protesters and bystanders at public demonstrations. The government generally viewed protesters, critical journalists, and human rights activists as engaged in efforts to undermine the 1979 revolution and consequently did not punish security forces for abuses against those persons even when the abuses violated domestic law. According to Tehran prosecutor general Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, the attorney general is responsible for investigating and punishing security force abuses. If any investigations took place during the year, the process was not transparent, and there were few reports of government actions to discipline abusers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Prisoner hunger strikes in protest of their treatment were frequent.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding, widespread infrastructure deficiencies, lack of clean water and sanitary facilities, and insufficient numbers of beds continued to represent a serious threat to prisoners’ lives and health, according to a July report by UNSR Rehman.

Overall conditions worsened significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a 2020 report by Amnesty International, which cited letters written by senior prison authorities, prisons lacked the disinfectant products and protective equipment needed to address the spread of virus. The letters reportedly acknowledged many prisons held individuals with underlying health conditions, which increased their risk of complications if infected with COVID-19. According to CHRI, the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which started in July, greatly increased the risks of outbreaks among prisoners. CHRI cited multiple political prisoners describing how authorities had not taken appropriate steps to ensure prisoner safety, such as not disinfecting prison telephones or allowing prisoners to purchase personal hygiene products in Qarchak Prison. CHRI also quoted Saeid Janfada, the head of the State Prisons Organization in Khorasan Razavi Province, who stated on June 27 that “about nine” prisoners had died of COVID-19 in the province since March. According to UNSR Rehman’s July report, authorities claimed “no one had died inside prison due to COVID-19 but acknowledged the death of 38 prisoners or prison staff in hospitals or treatment centers.” Prisoners of conscience were mostly excluded from prison furloughs in 2020, including human rights defenders, foreign and dual nationals, environmentalists, individuals detained due to their religious beliefs, and persons arbitrarily detained in connection with the November 2019 protests.

There were reported deaths in custody and prisoner-on-prisoner violence, which authorities sometimes failed to control. In April 2020 Amnesty International reported at least 35 prisoners were killed and others injured in at least eight prisons across the country when security officials used live ammunition and tear gas to suppress riots because of COVID-19 safety fears. As of September there was no indication the government had investigated these events.

According to IranWire and human rights NGOs, guards beat both political and nonpolitical prisoners during raids on wards, performed nude body searches in front of other prisoners, and threatened prisoners’ families. In some instances, according to HRANA, guards singled out political prisoners for harsher treatment.

Prison authorities often refused to provide medical treatment for pre-existing conditions, injuries that prisoners suffered at the hands of prison authorities, or illnesses due to the poor sanitary conditions in prison. Human rights organizations reported that authorities used denial of medical care as a form of punishment for prisoners and as intimidation against prisoners who filed complaints or challenged authorities. Medical services for female prisoners were reported as grossly inadequate.

A 2020 statement by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed serious concern regarding a consistent government pattern of denying medical treatment to detainees, including political prisoners, which was heightened during the year due to the spread of COVID-19 throughout prisons. The statement called for the unconditional release of human rights defenders, lawyers, political prisoners, peaceful protesters, and all other individuals deprived of their liberty for expressing their views or otherwise exercising their rights. In July UNSR Rehman’s report documented that some political prisoners in particular had become critically ill because they had not received urgently needed medical care.

According to HRW, CHRI, and media reports, two political prisoners died in the hospital after being denied adequate health care. On February 21, Behnam Mahjoubi died in the hospital of multiple seizures. He had been transferred from Evin Prison after the State Medical Examiner concluded he was not fit to be incarcerated. Mahjoubi was a Gonabadi Sufi who had been serving a two-year sentence for “national security” charges since 2020. According to the Iranian Students’ News Agency, Sassan Niknafs died on June 5 after losing consciousness in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary. Niknafs was serving a five-year sentence on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state.”

Civil rights activist Saeed Eghbali reportedly suffered permanent hearing damage in Evin Prison after prison authorities denied him treatment for a ruptured ear drum. Notably, HRW reported that according to prisoner accounts, “Evin Prison, where most high-profile detainees are kept, actually has a higher standard of hygiene and access to medical care compared to other prisons, especially those far from [Tehran].”

The United Nations and NGOs consistently reported other unsafe and unsanitary detention conditions in prisons, including contaminated food and water, frequent water and food shortages, rodent and insect infestations, shortages of bedding, intolerable heat, and poor ventilation.

Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Previous reports indicated a deliberate practice of holding political prisoners in wards with allegedly violent and dangerous criminals, with the goal of “breaking” the political prisoners’ will. A July 2020 report by UNSR Rehman noted that prisoners ordinarily held in wards controlled by the IRGC or Ministry of Intelligence were moved to public wards after the sharp increase in detainees following the 2019 protests, and child and juvenile detainees were reportedly held in the same cells as adults in some facilities, including Saghez Central Prison in Kurdistan Province. 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 segregated detention facilities, according to NGO reports.

IranWire reported multiple prisons across the country held older children who lived with their incarcerated mothers without access to medical care or educational and recreational facilities.

There were numerous reports of attempted prisoner suicides throughout the year in response to prison conditions or mistreatment. According to a March 3 report by the human rights NGO United for Iran, political prisoner Mohammad Nourizad, who suffered from heart disease, cut his face and neck with a razor in Evin Prison during a visit with his family in March to protest being denied access to medical care. Imprisoned since 2019 for signing an open letter with 13 others calling for the resignation of the supreme leader, Nourizad was released from Evin Prison in July.

According to a June 12 report by IHR, a juvenile prisoner on death row, Ali Arjangi, attempted suicide by slitting his throat and veins in Ardabil Central Prison. Arjangi’s mother, a person with disabilities, was not able to pay the billion toman ($23,700) blood money (diya) to the victim’s family by May 12 for the alleged murder he committed at age 17. On June 30, he was released after charities and individuals helped raised the necessary funds.

Administration: In most cases authorities did not initiate credible investigations into allegations of inhuman conditions or suspicious deaths in custody. After videos of mistreatment in Evin Prison were made public, the head of the State Prisons Organization, Mohammad Mehdi Haj Mohammadi, apologized in a tweet “for these unacceptable behaviors” and promised to “deal seriously with wrongdoers.” Iran International reported that the judiciary began legal proceedings against six of the guards seen in the footage and announced, “a four-member committee to be based in Evin [Prison] to investigate the conditions and management of the prison.”

Prisoners were able to submit complaints to judicial authorities but often faced censorship or retribution in the form of slander, beatings, torture, and denial of medical care and medication or furlough requests, as well as charges of additional crimes.

In October 2020 HRW highlighted the cases of environmentalist Niloufar Bayani and student activist Parisa Rafiee, both of whom authorities had charged with “publishing false information,” and “propaganda against the state,” for reporting abuse in detention, including threats of sexual violence and rape. According to United for Iran, Rafiee was released. As of August 31, Bayani remained in Evin Prison.

According to reports from human rights NGOs, prison authorities regularly denied prisoners access to an attorney of their choice, visitors, telephone calls, and other correspondence privileges. Families of executed prisoners did not always receive notification of their scheduled executions, or if they did, it was often provided on very short notice (see section 1.a.). Authorities frequently denied families the ability to perform funeral rites or to have an impartial and timely autopsy performed.

Prisoners practicing a religion other than Shia Islam reported experiencing discrimination.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions. Prisoners and their families often wrote letters to authorities and, in some cases, to UN bodies to highlight and protest their treatment (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

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 prolonged periods 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 routinely 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 family property.

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

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities commonly used arbitrary arrests to impede alleged antiregime activities, including by conducting mass arrests of persons in the vicinity of antigovernment demonstrations. According to Amnesty International, these arrests sometimes included children and bystanders at protests and were often conducted in a violent manner, to include beating detainees. Plainclothes officers arrived unannounced at homes or offices; conducted raids; arrested persons; 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 or longer. Authorities often denied detainees access to legal counsel during this period.

According to a September 2020 report by Amnesty International, at least 7,000 persons were arrested in relation to the November 2019 protests, and at least 500 were subjected to criminal investigations on vague and unsubstantiated charges as of August 2020, although Amnesty International estimated the number to be “far higher.” There was no update on the number of detainees still in prison as of year’s end.

International media and human rights organizations documented dual nationals enduring arbitrary and prolonged detention on politically motivated charges. UNSR Rehman continued to highlight cases of dual and foreign nationals whom authorities had arrested arbitrarily and subjected to mistreatment, denial of appropriate medical treatment, or both. The UNSR noted most dual and foreign nationals did not benefit from temporary furloughs granted by authorities to many other prisoners. The UNSR previously concluded the government subjected dual and foreign nationals to “sham trials which have failed to meet basic fair trial standards and convicted them of offenses on the basis of fabricated evidence or, in some cases, no evidence at all, and has attempted to use them as diplomatic leverage.” 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.

Authorities continued to detain dual-national Siamak Namazi on spurious charges of espionage following a lower court trial with numerous procedural irregularities, according to international media and NGO reports. Authorities detained Namazi in 2015, followed by his father, Baquer, in 2016. Baquer Namazi was granted medical furlough in 2018 and was subsequently cleared of all charges, but he remained under an exit ban and was not allowed to leave the country.

In January an Iranian state-run media organization affiliated with the IRGC, the Young Journalists Club, reported that dual-citizen Emad Shargi was detained in Evin Prison. According to The New York Times, authorities initially detained Shargi in April 2018. He was reportedly detained for eight months in Ward 2A, the IRGC’s intelligence unit inside Evin Prison, and interrogated about his business ties and travels, then released on bail in December 2018. In December 2019 the revolutionary court issued an order informing Shargi that he was cleared of all spying and national security charges; however, authorities refused to return his passport. He was called before the revolutionary court three times throughout 2020. In November 2020 Judge Abolqasem Salavati summoned Shargi to inform him that he had been tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage. Shargi was denied access to his lawyer and family members and only allowed to make brief, monitored telephone calls. As of September he remained detained in Evin Prison.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was often arbitrarily lengthy, particularly in cases involving alleged violations of “national security” law. Authorities sometimes held prisoners 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 protesters and prisoners of conscience who were not granted furloughs despite the rampant spread of COVID-19 in prison. Some were returned to prison after short furloughs despite having medical problems and the risk of COVID-19. 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.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides that the judiciary be “an independent power” that is “free from every kind of unhealthy relation and connection.” The court system, however, was subjected to political influence, and judges were appointed “in accordance with religious criteria.”

The supreme leader appoints the head of the judiciary. The head of the judiciary, members of the Supreme Court, and the prosecutor general are clerics. International observers continued to criticize the lack of independence of the country’s judicial system and judges and maintained that trials disregarded international standards of fairness.

Trial Procedures

According to the constitution and law, a defendant has the right to a fair trial, to be presumed innocent until convicted, to have access to a lawyer of his or her choice, and to appeal convictions in most cases that involve major penalties. These rights were frequently not upheld.

Panels of judges adjudicate trials in civil and criminal courts. Human rights activists reported trials in which authorities appeared to have determined the verdicts in advance, and defendants did not have the opportunity to confront their accusers or meet with lawyers. For journalists and defendants charged with crimes against national security, the law restricts the choice of attorneys to a government-approved list.

When postrevolutionary statutes do not address a situation, the government advises judges to give precedence to their knowledge and interpretation of sharia (Islamic law). Under this method judges may find a person guilty based on their own “divine knowledge.”

The constitution does not provide for the establishment or the mandate of the revolutionary courts, which were created pursuant to the former supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s edict immediately following the 1979 revolution, with a sharia judge appointed as the head of the courts. They were intended as a temporary emergency measure to try high-level officials of the deposed monarchy and purge threats to the regime. The courts, however, became institutionalized and continue to operate in parallel to the criminal justice system. Human rights groups and international observers often identified the revolutionary courts, which are generally responsible for hearing the cases of political prisoners, as routinely holding grossly unfair trials without due process, handing down predetermined verdicts, and rubberstamping executions for political purposes. These unfair practices reportedly occur during all stages of criminal proceedings in revolutionary courts, including the initial prosecution and pretrial investigation, first instance trial, and review by higher courts.

The IRGC and Ministry of Intelligence reportedly determine many aspects of revolutionary court cases. Most of the important political cases are referred to a small number of branches of the revolutionary courts, whose judges often have negligible legal training and are not independent.

During the year human rights groups and international media noted the absence of procedural safeguards in criminal trials, and courts routinely admitted as evidence confessions made under duress or torture. UNSR Rehman expressed concerns regarding allegations of confessions extracted by torture and a lack of due process or a fair trial, including in cases of persons arrested for participating in the 2019 protests.

The Special Clerical Court is headed by a Shia Islamic legal scholar, overseen by the supreme leader, and charged with investigating alleged offenses committed by clerics and issuing rulings based on an independent interpretation of Islamic legal sources. As with the revolutionary courts, the constitution does not provide for the Special Clerical Court, which operates outside the judiciary’s purview. Clerical courts were used to prosecute Shia clerics who expressed controversial ideas and participated in activities outside the sphere of religion, such as journalism or reformist political activities.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Official statistics regarding the number of citizens imprisoned for their political beliefs were not available. According to United for Iran, as of September 23, at least 550 prisoners of conscience were held in the country, including those jailed for their religious beliefs.

The government often charged political dissidents with vague crimes, such as “antirevolutionary behavior,” “corruption on earth,” “siding with global arrogance,” “waging war against God,” and “crimes against Islam.” Prosecutors imposed strict penalties on government critics for minor violations.

The political crimes law defines a political crime as an insult against the government, as well as “the publication of lies.” Political crimes are those acts “committed with the intent of reforming the domestic or foreign policies of Iran,” while those with the intent to damage “the foundations of the regime” are considered national security crimes. Courts and the Public Prosecutor’s Office retain responsibility for determining the nature of the crime.

The political crimes law grants the accused certain rights during arrest and imprisonment. Political criminals should be held in detention facilities separate from ordinary criminals. Political criminals should also be exempt from wearing prison uniforms, not subject to rules governing repeat offenses, not subject to extradition, and exempt from solitary confinement unless judicial officials deem it necessary. Political criminals also have the right to see and correspond with immediate family regularly and to access books, newspapers, radio, and television.

Many of the law’s provisions were not implemented, and the government continued to arrest and charge students, journalists, lawyers, political activists, women’s activists, artists, and members of religious minorities with “national security” crimes that do not fall under the political crimes law. Political prisoners were also at greater risk of torture and abuse in detention. They were often mixed with the general prison population, and former prisoners reported that authorities often threatened political prisoners with transfer to criminal wards, where attacks by fellow prisoners were more likely. Human rights activists and international media reported cases of political prisoners confined with accused and convicted violent criminals, being moved to public wards in cases of overcrowding, and having temporary furloughs inequitably applied during the COVID-19 pandemic (see section 1.c., Physical Conditions). The government often placed or “exiled” political prisoners to prisons in remote provinces far from their families as a means of reprisal, denied them correspondence rights and access to legal counsel, and held them in solitary confinement for long periods. The government reportedly held some detainees in prison for years on unfounded charges of sympathizing with real or alleged terrorist groups.

In March, as reprisal for signing an open letter accusing the government of routinely denying medical care to prisoners, authorities transferred Maryam Akbari-Monfared from Evin Prison to a prison 124 miles away from her family. Akbari-Monfared had been imprisoned for nearly 12 years for seeking justice for her siblings, who were disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret in 1988. Authorities originally tried and convicted Akbari-Monfared on charges of supporting the banned MEK opposition group in 2010, on the offense of “waging war against God.”

Lawyers who defended political prisoners were often arrested, detained, and subjected to excessive sentences and punishments for engaging in regular professional activities. The government continued to imprison lawyers and others affiliated with the Defenders of Human Rights Center advocacy group.

The government issued travel bans on some former political prisoners, barred them from working in their occupations for years after incarceration, and imposed internal exile on some. During the year authorities occasionally gave political prisoners suspended sentences and released them on bail with the understanding that renewed political activity would result in their return to prison. The government did not permit international humanitarian organizations or UN representatives access to political prisoners.

On November 16, authorities rearrested human rights defender and journalist Narges Mohammadi to serve a sentence handed down in May of 30 months in prison and 80 lashes for alleged propaganda, defamation, and “rebellion” crimes. She was arrested while attending a ceremony in Karaj to honor a protester killed during protests in 2019 and reportedly placed in solitary confinement in Evin Prison. Mohammadi had been previously arrested in 2015, convicted in 2016, and given a 16-year sentence for “propaganda against the state,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” and establishing the illegal Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty organization. After her release in October 2020, Mohammadi led a high-profile lawsuit by civil rights activists against the use by authorities of prolonged and routine solitary confinement in prisons, describing it as a form of “white torture.” She also publicly detailed via a video message in February how Evin Prison warden Gholamreza Ziaei had beaten her for participating in a peaceful sit-in inside the prison in 2019. During her previous confinement, authorities repeatedly denied her telephone contact with her family and appropriate medical treatment following her contraction of COVID-19 in 2020, as well as treatment related to a major operation she underwent in 2019.

According to CHRI and IHR, in March authorities transferred activist Atena Daemi from Evin Prison to Rasht Central Prison, far from her family. As of August 21, Daemi was on an indefinite hunger strike to protest the frequent and unjustified restrictions on prisoners’ telephone use rights. In 2020 authorities arbitrarily extended her five-year prison sentence by two years, shortly before she was due to be released after serving the full term on “national security” charges and for insulting the supreme leader. The additional two-year sentence reportedly stemmed from Daemi singing a song in prison honoring executed prisoners.

CHRI reported in July that authorities had sentenced at least three human rights attorneys to unjust prison sentences. Branch four of the Revolutionary Court of Mashhad, Judge Mansouri presiding, sentenced Javad Alikordi, a defense attorney and law professor, to prison for “creating and managing a channel on the Telegram messaging application with the intention of overthrowing the state” (six and one-half years), “insulting the supreme leader” (one and one-half years), and “propaganda against the state” (eight months). Alikordi was imprisoned in Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad. He also received a two-year ban on teaching, a two-year ban on traveling abroad, and a two-year ban on membership in political and social groups.

On July 13, the Tehran Revolutionary Court reimposed on defense attorney Amirsalar Davoudi a sentence of 30 years and 111 lashes that had been revoked by the Supreme Court. Davoudi, also imprisoned for running a Telegram channel, was required to serve 15 years of the sentence. As of November 17, Davoudi was temporarily free on bail.

Mohammad Najafi, a defense attorney imprisoned in 2018 for speaking out about the death of a protester who died in police custody, was released on medical furlough in February, according to United for Iran. He was then ordered in July to serve 10 years behind bars on new charges of “propaganda against the state” and “calling for the boycott of elections and the removal of the supreme leader.”

According to CHRI, on August 14, judicial authorities in Tehran arrested six prominent lawyers and human rights activists – Arash Keykhosravi (lawyer), Mehdi Mahmoudian (civil activist), Mostafa Nili (lawyer), Leila Heydari (lawyer), Mohammad Reza Faghihi (lawyer), and Maryam Afrafaraz (civil activist) – and confiscated their cell phones and other personal belongings without a warrant. The six were preparing to file a lawsuit in accordance with Article 34 of the constitution against state officials for grossly mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic and negligence, “causing the death of thousands of Iranians.” Heydari was released the following day and Afrafaraz and Faghihi were subsequently released. They were pressured to drop the lawsuit and charged with national security crimes ostensibly relating to previous advocacy work. As of November 18, Keykhosravi, Nili, and Mahmoudian remained in prison.

According to IranWire, on September 1, Ministry of Intelligence agents rearrested journalist and workers’ rights activist Amirabbas Azarmvand on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and transported him to Ward 209 of Evin Prison. Azarmvand worked on economic and labor stories for SMT/Samt newspaper and was previously arrested in 2009, 2017, 2018, and on July 31 for his activism.

Human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh was temporarily released several times during the year on medical furloughs but remained in Qarchak Prison as of year’s end. A revolutionary court sentenced Sotoudeh in 2019 to a cumulative 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for providing legal defense services to women charged with crimes for not wearing a hijab. Sotoudeh was previously arrested in 2010 and pardoned in 2013. In August 2020 she launched a 46-day hunger strike in Evin Prison to protest poor health conditions in prisons.

As of August 31, seven environmentalists affiliated with the now-defunct Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation – Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani, Sam Rajabi, Taher Ghadirian, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, and Morad Tahbaz – remained incarcerated in Evin Prison. According to HRW, in February 2020 a judiciary spokesperson announced a revolutionary court had upheld the prison sentences of eight environmentalists sentenced to between six and 10 years for various “national security” crimes. Authorities arrested the eight environmentalists, including U.S.-United Kingdom-Iranian national Morad Tahbaz, in 2018, and convicted them following an unfair trial in which a judge handed down the sentences in secret, did not allow the defendants access to defense lawyers, and ignored their claims of abuse in detention. The eighth environmentalist, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, was released on medical furlough in March 2020, and Iranian-Canadian national Kavous Sayed Emami died in detention in 2018, reportedly as a result of torture. Sayed Emami died only 18 days after his arrest, supporting the claim that he died as a result of torture. His family’s request for an autopsy was denied.

Hossein Sepanta’s request for parole was repeatedly denied, despite deteriorating health conditions and denial of medical care. He had been imprisoned since 2014 in Adelabad Prison in Shiraz on a 10-year sentence for charges of “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security.”

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside of the Country

Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: In July a New York federal court indicted four Iranian intelligence officials – Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani (aka Verezat Salimi and Haj Ali), Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi, and Omid Noori – for conspiracies related to kidnapping, sanctions violations, bank and wire fraud, and money laundering. The charges were connected to plotting since at least June 2020 to kidnap U.S.-based journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, to silence her criticism of the Iranian government. It was reported that, as part of the kidnapping plot, one of the intelligence officials researched methods of transporting Alinejad out of the United States for rendition to Iran, including placing her onto a military-style speedboat in New York City and transporting her by sea to Venezuela, whose government had friendly relations with Iran. The announcement stated these intelligence officials directed a “network” that also targeted victims in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States and had conducted similar surveillance of dissidents in those countries.

In August 2020 Reuters reported Ministry of Intelligence officials detained dual-national Jamshid Sharmahd, a member of the promonarchist group Tondar (Thunder) or Kingdom Assembly of Iran, which was based outside the country. While the government did not disclose how or where its officials detained Sharmahd, his son told Radio Free Europe that Sharmahd was likely captured in Dubai and taken to Iran. Sharmahd was accused of responsibility for a deadly 2008 bombing at a religious center in Shiraz and of plotting other attacks. A man who identified himself as Sharmahd appeared on Iranian television blindfolded and “admitted” to providing explosives to attackers in Shiraz. In April Amnesty International described his detention as “akin to an enforced disappearance” and stated he was being held “without trial and access to an independent lawyer of his choosing and consular assistance.”

In November 2020 al-Arabiya reported that Iranian-Swede Habib Asyud (also known as Habib Chaab), the former leader of a separatist group for the ethnic Arab minority in Khuzestan Province called the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), was arrested in Turkey and later resurfaced in Iran under unclear circumstances. Neither Turkey nor Sweden officially commented on Asyud’s case. The Iranian government held ASMLA responsible for a terrorist attack in 2018 on a military parade that killed 25 individuals, including civilians.

In 2019 France-based Iranian activist Ruhollah Zam was abducted from Iraq. Iranian intelligence later took credit for the operation. Zam was executed in Iran in December 2020.

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: In July the technology news site ZD Net reported a series of phishing attacks from an Iranian hacker group known as both Charming Kitten and Phosphorus, allegedly affiliated with Iran’s intelligence services. The hackers posed as academics at a United Kingdom university in phishing attacks designed to steal the passwords of experts in Middle Eastern affairs from universities, think tanks, and media. In January 2020 the same group used phishing attacks to target journalists as well as political and human rights activists.

According to international human rights organizations, the Ministry of Intelligence arrested and intimidated BBC employees’ family members in the country, including the elderly. The government froze and seized assets of family members, demoted relatives employed by state-affiliated organizations, and confiscated passports. The government also compelled family members of journalists from other media outlets abroad to defame their relatives on state television. In June the BBC reported their legal representatives had urged the UN Human Rights Council to act on this issue. The same report noted that in a March 2020 internal survey of 102 BBC Persian staff, 71 claimed they had experienced harassment.

Misuse of International Law-enforcement Tools: There were credible reports that the government attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as reprisals against specific individuals located outside the country, such as entering “red notices” for dozens of U.S. officials in 2021, including former U.S. president Donald Trump, through Interpol.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens had limited ability to sue the government and were not able to file lawsuits through the courts against the government for civil or human rights violations.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The constitution allows the government to confiscate property acquired illicitly or in a manner not in conformity with Islamic law. The government appeared to target ethnic and religious minorities in invoking this provision.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution states that “reputation, life, property, [and] dwelling[s]” are protected from trespass, except as “provided by law.” The government routinely infringed on this right. Security forces monitored the social activities of citizens; entered homes, offices, and places of worship; monitored telephone conversations and internet communications; and opened mail without court authorization. The government also routinely intimidated activists and government critics by detaining their family members as a form of reprisal.

Two brothers of Navid Afkari, executed in 2020 for the murder of a law enforcement officer during antigovernment protests in 2018 in Shiraz, remained in Adelabad Prison without access to their families or medical care. Vahid Afkari was arrested with his brother Navid and received a 25-year prison sentence for aiding him. In December 2020 according to HRANA, authorities arrested Afkari’s father and another brother, Habib, as they sought to clear a site in Fars Province to install a gravestone memorializing Navid Afkari’s death. Habib Afkari was sentenced to 27 years and three months in prison plus 74 lashes, and Vahid Afkari received a new sentence of 54 years and six months plus 74 lashes, both on vague “national security” charges. HRANA reported authorities tortured the brothers during interrogations and Vahid attempted suicide twice following “severe torture.” On August 23, HRANA reported that the Supreme Court rejected Vahid Afkari’s request for a retrial.

On April 28, according to Iran International, security forces assaulted and arrested Manouchehr Bakhtiari for a third time, on charges related to activism on behalf of his son, Pouya, killed by security forces in the city of Karaj during November 2019 demonstrations. They beat family members present at the time of the arrest, including two children. Authorities threw Bakhtiari in the trunk of their vehicle and took him to an undisclosed location. A revolutionary court subsequently sentenced him to six years in prison, two and one-half years in “internal exile,” and a two-year ban on leaving the country. The government previously detained 10 other members of Pouya Bakhtiari’s family, including his 11-year-old nephew and two of his elderly grandparents, to prevent them from holding a traditional memorial service for Bakhtiari 40 days after his death.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in July 2020 authorities arrested Farangis Mazloom, the mother of imprisoned photojournalist Soheil Arabi, and in October 2020 sentenced her to 18 months in prison on charges of “meeting and plotting against the national security” and antigovernment propaganda, presumably as a result of activism on behalf of her son. An appeals court confirmed the sentence in March. Arabi had been imprisoned since 2013 on blasphemy and other expression-related charges. According to Mazloom, in October 2020 Evin Prison authorities moved her son to solitary confinement. In January IHR published a letter from Arabi in which he claimed authorities broke his arm while transferring him between prisons and forced him to witness 200 executions in the 34 days he spent in “exile” at Rajai Shahr Prison.

No comprehensive data-protection laws exist that provide legal safeguards to protect users’ data from misuse. Online activity was heavily monitored by the state despite Article 37 of the nonbinding Citizens’ Rights Charter, which states that online privacy should be respected.

Because the operation of domestic messaging applications is based inside the country, content shared on these applications is more susceptible to government control and surveillance. Lack of data-protection and privacy laws also means there are no legal instruments providing protections against the misuse of applications data by authorities.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

Killings:

Syria: There continued to be reports the government, primarily through the IRGC, directly supported the Assad regime in Syria and recruited Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani Shia fighters, as well as Syrians, which contributed to prolonging the civil war and the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians during the year (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria). According to IranWire, in August pro-Iranian militias reinforced Syrian regime forces undertaking operations against opposition groups in southwestern Syria with the aim of disrupting ceasefire negotiations in Daraa. Fighting had restarted when Syrian government forces imposed a blockade on the main highways into the city of Daraa, leading to shortages of medical supplies and food, to punish the inhabitants of the area for not supporting the widely contested May presidential election that gave Bashar al-Assad a fourth term. The NGO Syrian Network for Human Rights attributed 88 percent of civilian deaths in Syria since the beginning of the conflict to government forces and Iranian-sponsored militias.

Iraq: The government supported pro-Iran militias operating inside Iraq, including terrorist organization Kata’ib Hizballah, which reportedly was complicit in summary executions, forced disappearances, and other human rights abuses in Iraq (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Iraq).

Yemen: Since 2015 the government has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support to Houthi rebels in Yemen and proliferated weapons that exacerbated and prolonged the conflict there. Houthi rebels used Iranian funding and weapons to launch attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure both within Yemen and in Saudi Arabia (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen and Saudi Arabia).

In February 2020 the Baha’i International Community stated that a Houthi court in Yemen was prosecuting a group of Baha’is under “directives from Iranian authorities.” The court continued to prosecute the case despite the Houthis’ release and deportation of six Baha’i prisoners in July 2020. Baha’is continued to face harassment in Yemen throughout the year because of their religious affiliation (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen).

Child Soldiers: In a 2017 report, HRW asserted that the IRGC had recruited Afghan children as young as age 14 to serve in the Fatemiyoun Brigade, reportedly an Iranian-supported Afghan group fighting alongside government forces in Syria and noted that at least 14 Afghan children had been killed fighting in the Syrian conflict. In a July 2020 interview by IranWire, a Fatemiyoun Brigade member claimed he had joined the brigade in 2018 at age 16, and another brigade member said he had joined at age 15.

Iran has, since 2015, provided funding and weapons to the Houthis, who launched attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure both within the country and in Saudi Arabia. (See the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia and Yemen.)

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Hackers linked to Iran continued cyberattacks against Syrian opposition groups to disrupt reporting on human rights violations. IRGC authorities constructed a new prison near the Zamla gas field in Raqqa, Syria, where most detainees were held on charges of being affiliated with ISIS or espionage, according to the news website Al-Monitor.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” According to the law, “anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.”

The nonbinding Citizens’ Rights Charter acknowledges the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression. The charter grants citizens the right to seek, receive, publish, and communicate views and information, using any means of communication; however, it has not been implemented.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press and used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights problems, as well as to compel ordinary citizens to comply with the government’s moral code.

According to NGO reports, in February then president Rouhani signed additional provisions to Articles 499 and 500 of the penal code that could further restrict freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief and disproportionately impact members of religious and ethnic minority groups. According to the NGO Article 19, Article 499 bis prescribes a prison sentence or fine for “anyone who insults Iranian ethnicities, divine religions, or Islamic schools of thought recognized under the Constitution with the intent to cause violence or tensions in the society or with the knowledge that such [consequences] will follow.” Article 500 bis prescribes a prison sentence or fine for anyone who commits “any deviant educational or proselytizing activity that contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam.” Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions, as well as those who publicly criticized the president, cabinet, and parliament. In July UNSR Rehman expressed “deep concern” regarding authorities’ continued targeting of individuals for exercising their right to freedom of expression, including journalists, media workers, writers, and cultural workers. The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and for insulting the regime, citing as evidence letters, emails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened individuals with arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.

Several activists who signed letters calling on the supreme leader to step down in 2019 remained in prison during the year on charges of “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or did not renew for individuals facing criminal charges or who were incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country. The ministry required foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limited their ability to travel within the country, and forced them to work with a local “minder.”

Under the constitution, private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), a government agency. Radio and television programming, the principal source of news for many citizens, particularly in rural areas with limited internet access, reflected the government’s political and socioreligious ideology. The government jammed satellite broadcasts as signals entered the country, a continuous practice since at least 2003. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous. Those who distributed, used, or repaired satellite dishes faced fines. Police, using warrants provided by the judiciary, conducted periodic campaigns to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes throughout the country.

Under the constitution the supreme leader appoints the head of the Audiovisual Policy Agency, a council composed of representatives of the president, judiciary, and parliament. Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations.

Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting on issues considered sensitive by the government. The government also harassed many journalists’ families (see section 1.e., Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion). According to information provided by Journalism is not a Crime, an organization devoted to documenting freedom of the press in the country, at least 99 journalists or citizen-journalists were imprisoned as of November, a significant increase from 2020.

According to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, in late January security forces arrested the editor of the Kurdish-focused news outlet Aigrin Roj Weekly, Mahmoud Mahmoudi, in Sandaj and transferred him to an unknown location. Mahmoudi had signed an open letter in late January protesting the mass arrest of civil, student, and environmental activists in Kurdistan Province. According to the same article, on June 20, the editor in chief of the Tehran-based Nour-e Azadi magazine, Reza Taleshian Jelodarzadeh, posted on his social media accounts that he had been arrested and was being transferred to Greater Tehran Penitentiary to serve a three-year sentence. In 2019 Jelodarzadeh was charged with “disturbing public opinion” and “spreading antiestablishment propaganda” for his posts on social media.

On February 7, RSF reported that freelance journalist Fariborz Kalantari was sentenced to three years in prison and 74 lashes for using his Telegram channel to circulate articles about corruption charges brought against former vice president Eshaq Djahangiri’s brother, Mehdi Djahangiri.

On February 17, authorities arrested photojournalist Noushin Jafari in her Tehran home and took her to Qarchak Prison to begin serving a five-year prison sentence she received in 2019, on charges of “insult(ing) Islam’s sacred values” on her social media account.

RSF also reported that in March photojournalist and women’s rights activist Raha Askarizadeh was summoned to serve a two-year prison sentence and was banned from leaving the country for two years for her social media activity. Arrested in December 2019, she had been released on bail a month later pending trial.

According to Journalism is not a Crime, in September intelligence agents in the city of Paveh in Kermanshah Province detained two local journalists for publishing on local Telegram channels a story of the rape of a seven-year-old girl (see section 6, Child Abuse).

As of year’s end, poet, author, and activist Baktash Abtin had been being placed into a medically induced coma to treat his severe COVID-19 symptoms after months of medical neglect in Evin Prison. Another fellow author and member of the Iranian Writers Association Board, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, was also transferred from Evin Prison to a hospital in December for COVID-19 treatment. The 73-year-old editor of the monthly political magazine Iran-e-Farda, Keyvan Samimi Behbahani, and another author Keyvan Bajan, remained in prison at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law forbids government censorship but also prohibits dissemination of information the government considers “damaging.” The Ministry of Culture reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitutions for terms deemed inappropriate.

During the year the government censored publications that criticized official actions or contradicted official views or versions of events. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) determined the main topics and types of news to be covered and distributed topics required for reporting directly to various media outlets, according to the IHRDC. “Damaging” information included discussions of women’s rights, the situation of minorities, criticism of government corruption, and references to mistreatment of detainees. Authorities also banned national and international media outlets from covering demonstrations in an attempt to censor information about protests and intimidate citizens from disseminating information about them. As noted above, officials routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship through arrests and imprisonments. Public officials often filed criminal complaints against newspapers, and the Press Supervisory Board, which regulates media content and publication, referred such complaints to the Press Court for further action, including possible closure, suspension, and fines. According to RSF, judicial offices or Ministry of Intelligence officers summoned at least 42 journalists due to their news coverage in the period preceding the presidential election in June. Government authorities issued a range of prohibitions to journalists, including making “negative or critical comments about the election” and criticizing then candidate Ebrahim Raisi.

On July 13, reformist newspaper Etemad fired three of its political correspondents. While some commentators suggested the terminations were politically motivated, the newspaper did not offer any public explanation for the firings. On September 7, IRIB news presenter Hamid Arun announced via Twitter that he had been notified by his employer of his termination after he tweeted his disappointment at the sacking of a distinguished professor of philosophy, Bijan Abdolkarimi, from Islamic Azad University.

According to Freedom House, during the November 2019 protests and subsequent internet shutdown, journalists and media were issued official guidelines from the Ministries of Intelligence and of Culture and Islamic Guidance on how to cover the protests. The ministries threatened journalists with criminal prosecution if they strayed from official guidance, which instructed that the protests not be made into “headline news” and should instead be portrayed as civil protests while minimizing the extent of violence.

As the outbreak of COVID-19 escalated, the head of the Cyber Police, Commander Vahid Majid, announced the establishment of a working group for “combatting online rumors” relating to the spread of the virus. In April 2020 a military spokesman stated authorities had arrested 3,600 individuals for spreading COVID-19 “rumors” online, with no clear guidance on what authorities considered a “rumor.”

Libel/Slander Laws: The government commonly used libel and slander laws or cited national security to suppress criticism. According to the law, if any publication contains personal insults, libel, false statements, or criticism, the insulted individual has the right to respond in the publication within one month. By law “insult” or “libel” against the government, government representatives, or foreign officials while they are in the country, as well as “the publication of lies” with the intent to alter but not overthrow the government, are considered political crimes and subject to certain trial and detention procedures (see section 1.e.). The government applied the law throughout the year, often citing statements made in various media outlets or on internet platforms that criticized the government in the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing of individuals for crimes against national security.

According to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, citing IranWire and Tasnim News Agency, on July 5, Judge Abbas Shaghaghi of Branch 6 of Tehran’s Media Court convicted Mizenaft managing director Hamid Hajipour, Naftema managing director Mehdi Ghadiri, and two others from Etelaterooz whose names were not released, after the three media outlets published stories on alleged corruption by Kamran Mehravar, a director at the Ministry of Oil. Mehravar reportedly filed a lawsuit against the three websites, all of which covered energy news. As of November there was no indication the court had sentenced the journalists; keeping open files is a tactic the government used to intimidate journalists.

National Security: As noted above, authorities routinely cited laws on protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or to deter criticism of government policies or officials.

On June 17, authorities arrested poet and civil society activist Aram Fathi in a crackdown against dissidents initiated in connection with the presidential election. Fathi was charged with “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the regime with the intention of disrupting the elections.” According to family members, intelligence officers tortured Fathi with an electric shock device and punched and kicked him to extract a confession during his 11-day detention in Marivan. On July 28, he was released on bail, and as of September 9, he was waiting to appear before the revolutionary court in Marivan, according to Journalism is Not a Crime.

Internet Freedom

The Ministries of Culture and of Information and Communications Technology are the main regulatory bodies for content and internet systems, and they maintain monopoly control over internet traffic flowing into, in and out of the country. The Office of the Supreme Leader includes the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, charged with regulating content and systems. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs.

The law makes it illegal to use virtual private networks and distribute circumvention tools, and former minister of information and communications technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi was quoted in the press stating that using circumvention tools was illegal.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers (ISPs). The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the agencies that compose the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Content (also referred to as the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites or Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content), the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. These agencies include the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Ministry of Intelligence, and Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cybercafes from having high-speed internet access.

The government restricted and disrupted access to the global internet, including fully blocking access in Khuzestan for almost two weeks during protests that initially broke out over water shortages in July, and for almost one week during nationwide protests in November 2019. Social media users reported internet outages across the country throughout the water shortage protests in July, which the independent internet watchdog NetBlocks corroborated and described as “consistent with a regional internet shutdown intended to control protests.”

Authorities blocked access to independent news sites and several social media and communication platforms deemed critical of the state and continued to monitor private online communications and censor online content. Individuals and groups practiced self-censorship online.

According to Freedom House, authorities employed a centralized filtering system that can effectively block a website within a few hours across the entire network. Private ISPs were forced either to use the bandwidth provided by the government or route traffic containing site-visit requests through government-issued filtering boxes developed by software companies within the country.

The government continued to implement the National Information Network (NIN, also known as SHOMA). As described by Freedom House, NIN enabled the government to reduce foreign internet connection speeds during politically sensitive periods, disconnect the national network from global internet content, and disrupt circumvention tools. According to Freedom House, several domestically hosted websites such as national online banking services, domestic messaging applications, and hospital networks remained online using the NIN infrastructure while global traffic was disconnected during the November 2019 protests.

Authorities restricted access to tens of thousands of websites, particularly those of international news and information services, the political opposition, ethnic and religious minority groups, and human rights organizations. They continued to block online messaging tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, although the government operated Twitter accounts under the names of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Raisi, Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, and other government-associated officials and entities, including after shutting down most of the country’s internet access during both the November 2019 protests and the July water shortage demonstrations. According to Freedom House, websites were blocked if they contradicted state doctrine regarding Islam, as well as government narratives on domestic or international politics. News stories that covered friction among political institutions were also frequently censored.

Government organizations, including the Basij Cyber Council, Cyber Police, and Cyber Army, which observers presumed to be controlled by the IRGC, monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyberthreats to national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on officially banned social networking websites such as Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and they reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government or raised sensitive social problems online.

The popular messaging application Telegram remained blocked during the year, although it continued to be accessed using circumvention tools.

In October a cyberattack against the Oil Ministry computer system blocked motorists’ ability to use their specialized smart cards to purchase subsidized fuel at 4,300 gas stations for several days. No group claimed responsibility for the attack; however, multiple officials blamed anti-Iranian forces from “abroad” for carrying it out.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by banning independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education because of their political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula.

Authorities barred Baha’i students from higher education and harassed those who studied through the unrecognized online university of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education. According to the Baha’i International Community, on March 17, authorities expelled two Baha’i students midsemester from the University of Applied Science and Technology in Shiraz. The university president reportedly showed the students a letter from the Ministry of Education that requested the expulsion of nine Baha’i students from the Universities of Applied Science and Technology across the country. Three other students were expelled from universities midsemester under similar circumstances.

The government maintained control over cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits and censored those productions deemed to transgress Islamic values. The government censored or banned films deemed to promote secularism and those containing what it deemed as non-Islamic ideas concerning women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism.

According to the IHRDC, the nine-member film review council of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, consisting of clerics, former directors, former parliamentarians, and academics, must approve the content of every film before production and again before screening. Films may be barred arbitrarily from screening even if all the appropriate permits were received in advance.

In December 2020 film authorities sentenced director Reza Mihandoust to six years in prison for “membership in a group seeking to overthrow the government” and levied against him an additional six-month prison term for “spreading antigovernment propaganda.” According to a relative of Mihandoust, these charges were linked to a documentary he directed in 2009 about women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, as well as his participation in the nationwide protests in November 2019. Despite being on temporary release, Mihandoust was reportedly unable to find work due to the national security charges he faces.

Officials continued to discourage teaching music in schools. Authorities considered heavy metal and foreign music religiously offensive, and police continued to repress underground concerts and arrest musicians and music distributors. The Ministry of Culture must officially approve song lyrics, music, and album covers to ensure they comply with the country’s moral values, although many underground musicians released albums without seeking such permission.

In September musician Mehdi Rajabian told BBC News he was prepared to face prison for releasing a new album he recorded “undercover in his basement” that included songs inspired by his abuse in Evin Prison, as well including female singers, despite the ban on them. Rajabian was previously arrested on “immorality” charges at least three times for his work but remained free as of December.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government severely restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government’s failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedoms of assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution permits assemblies and marches of unarmed persons, “provided they do not violate the principles of Islam.” To prevent activities it considered antiregime, the government restricted this right and closely monitored gatherings such as public entertainment and lectures, student and women’s meetings and protests, meetings and worship services of minority religious groups, labor protests, online gatherings and networking, funeral processions, and Friday prayer gatherings.

According to activists, the government arbitrarily applied rules governing permits to assemble, since proregime groups rarely experienced difficulties, while groups viewed as critical of the regime experienced harassment regardless of whether authorities issued a permit.

According to HRANA, security forces detained 361 persons, and at least six individuals died and many were wounded during the two-week-long protests in Khuzestan and other parts of the country in mid-July over water shortages (see section 1.a.). Authorities responded with lethal force and used targeted internet shutdowns in areas of protests to prevent the flow of information. Similarly, after tolerating weeks of peaceful water protests initiated by farmers suffering from droughts and water shortages in Isfahan, security forces suppressed demonstrations on November 25 and 26 by firing tear gas and birdshot rounds, shutting down the internet and, according to a police commander in Isfahan, Hasan Karami, arresting 67 protesters. According to HRANA, as of November 29, authorities had arrested at least 214 individuals in Isfahan, including 13 minors. IHR reported that several of the detainees were injured by pellet guns and beatings and transferred to Isfahan Central Prison (also called Dastgerd Prison).

An Iranian military court began a hearing on November 21 to investigate the downing of Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752, which killed 176 persons in 2020, with reportedly 10 military personnel of various ranks and family members of the deceased present. The government undertook no credible investigations into the excessive use of force in January 2020 against protesters in several cities who had gathered to express discontent with the handling of the investigation into the plane’s downing nor into security officials’ harassment of victims’ families, as reported by Human Rights Watch in May. The government did not investigate the killing of at least 304 protesters by security forces in November 2019 (see section 1.a.).

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional and political associations, and Islamic and recognized religious minority organizations, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of freedom, sovereignty, national unity, or Islamic criteria, or question Islam as the basis of the country’s system of government. The government limited the freedom of association through threats, intimidation, the imposition of arbitrary requirements on organizations, and the arrests of group leaders and members (see section 7.a., Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining). The government continued to broaden arbitrarily the areas of civil society work it deemed unacceptable, to include conservation and environmental efforts (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest).

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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.

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 either to 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.

Numerous 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.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. According to UNHCR, the government recognized 780,000 Afghans in the country under a system known as Amayesh, through which authorities provide refugees with cards identifying them as de facto refugees. The cards enable refugees to access basic services, facilitate the issuance of work permits, and serve as a safeguard against arrest and deportation. Amayesh cardholders must obtain permission for any travel outside their province of registration. In late July 2020 the Amayesh reregistration exercise started and expanded the eligibility criteria for Amayesh card renewal to include those who missed the four previous rounds. Undocumented spouses and family members of Amayesh cardholders were reportedly also able to enroll. NGO sources reported Amayesh cards, which are valid only for one year, were increasingly difficult to renew and prohibitively expensive for refugees to maintain, due to increased annual renewal fees. In addition to registered refugees, the government hosted approximately 586,000 Afghans who hold Afghan passports and Iranian visas and an estimated 2.6 million undocumented Afghans. The country also recognized 20,000 Iraqi refugees under a similar system known as Hoviat.

After the Taliban took control of the Afghan government in August, official border crossings between Afghanistan and Iran were closed on August 16 to persons without valid passports and Iranian visas, and the government does not allow the entry of undocumented persons. UNHCR issued a nonreturn advisory for Afghanistan on August 16 and continued to call on countries to keep their borders open to Afghans seeking international protection. Most Afghans fleeing to Iran entered irregularly through unofficial border crossings and with the help of smugglers. UNHCR reported an increase in the number of Afghans in need of international protection, and 27,816 newly arrived Afghans approached UNHCR offices in Iran in during the year. UNHCR believed the total number of new arrivals to be much higher. According to preliminary estimates by the government, up to 500,000 Afghans arrived during the year.

In August UNHCR expressed concern regarding an incident in which 200 Afghan refugees fled across the border from Nimruz Province into Iran over a single weekend. On August 9, semiofficial news agency Fars reported Iran’s refusal to hand over Afghan refugees to the Taliban following the group’s capture of the “Milak” border terminal in the Sistan and Baluchistan Province. According to Fars, Iran’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian and UN Special Envoy Jean Arnault met that same day, and Arnault reportedly praised Iran’s “constructive role” towards Afghanistan. At the end of a three-day visit to Iran in December, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi urged the international community to scale up its support to the government and people of Iran, who were receiving Afghans fleeing a deteriorating situation in their country.

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 blocked many Afghans from registering to obtain refugee status.

Afghans not registered under the Amayesh system who had migrated during past decades of conflict in their home country continued to be denied access to an asylum system or access to registering with UNHCR 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.

Refoulement: According to activist groups and NGOs, authorities routinely arrested Afghans without Amayesh cards and sometimes threatened them with deportation. From the beginning of the year to November 28, according to the International Organization for Migration, 1,150,842 undocumented Afghans returned to Afghanistan, with some claiming they were pressured to leave or left due to abuse by police or state authorities. As of December the government continued to return Afghans who were apprehended while trying to enter Iran, despite advocacy by UNHCR to provide asylum to those fleeing conflict. In December UNHCR estimated the government deported 65 percent of all newly arriving Afghan asylum seekers.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: HRW and other groups reported the government continued its mistreatment of many Afghans, including through physical abuse by security forces, deportations, forced recruitment to fight in Syria, 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.

In May 2020 Iranian border guards reportedly forced a group of 57 Afghan migrant workers they had detained entering the country into a fast-flowing river near Zulfiqar at gunpoint. According to a Reuters report sourced to Afghan lawmakers investigating the incident, at least 45 of the men drowned. There was no information regarding the status of a joint investigation into the incident by the Iranian and Afghan governments.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees faced certain restrictions on in-country movement and faced restrictions from entering certain provinces, according to UNHCR. They could apply for laissez-passer documents allowing them to move among those provinces where Afghans were permitted to travel.

Employment: Only refugees with government-issued work permits were able to work.

Access to Basic Services: Amayesh cardholders had access to education and health care, including vaccinations, prenatal care, maternal and child health care, and family planning from the Ministry of Health. All registered refugees may enroll in a basic health insurance package similar to the package afforded to citizens, which covered hospitalization and paraclinical services (medicine, doctor’s visits, radiology, etc.). During the year UNHCR covered the insurance premium for 120,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, including refugees who suffered from special diseases and their families. The remaining refugee population may enroll in health insurance by paying the premium themselves during four enrollment windows throughout the year.

The government claimed to grant Afghan children access to schools. During the 2020-21 academic year, more than 470,000 Afghan children were enrolled in primary and secondary schools, including 138,000 undocumented Afghan children. According to media reports, however, Afghans continued to have difficulty gaining access to education.

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

g. Stateless Persons

There were no accurate numbers on how many stateless persons resided in the country. Persons without birth registration, identity documents, or refugee identification were at a heightened risk of statelessness. They were subjected to inconsistent government policies and relied on charities, principally domestic, to obtain medical care and schooling. Authorities did not issue formal government support or travel documents to stateless persons.

In November 2020 the government began implementing a law passed in 2019 granting Iranian citizenship to the children of Iranian women married to foreign men (see section 6, Children). Previously, female citizens married to foreign men were not able to transmit citizenship to their children, unlike male citizens, whose children and spouses receive citizenship automatically. As a result of this disparity, between 400,000 and one million children of the more than 150,000 Iranian women married to foreign men lacked Iranian nationality, according to media reports. Under the new law, the children of Iranian women and foreign men qualify for citizenship, although it is not automatic; the mother must apply for them. Children who turn 18 may apply for nationality themselves, even if their mother is deceased. Foreign men married to Iranian women may receive legal residency.

Human rights activists noted concern that the amended law requires the Ministry of Intelligence and the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization to certify that no “security problem” exists before approving citizenship for these specific applications, and this vaguely defined security provision could be used arbitrarily to disqualify applicants if they or their parents are seen as critical of the government.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose the president, as well as members of the Assembly of Experts and parliament, provided all have been vetted and approved by the Guardian Council. Elections are based on universal suffrage. Candidate vetting conducted by unelected bodies, however, abridged this right in all instances. Reported government constraints on freedom of expression and media; peaceful assembly; association; and the ability freely to seek, receive, and impart information and campaign also limited citizens’ right to choose freely their representatives in elections.

The Assembly of Experts, which is composed of 86 popularly elected clerics who serve eight-year terms, elects the supreme leader, who acts as the de facto head of state and may be removed only by a vote of the assembly. The Guardian Council vets and qualifies candidates for all Assembly of Experts, presidential, and parliamentary elections, based on criteria that include candidates’ allegiance to the state and adherence to Shia Islam. The council consists of six clerics appointed by the supreme leader and six jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary (who is appointed by the supreme leader) and approved by parliament.

Observers noted that the supreme leader’s public commentary on state policy exerted significant influence over the actions of elected officials.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential elections held on June 18 fell short of international standards for free and fair elections, primarily because of the Guardian Council’s controlling role in the political process, including determining which individuals could run for office and, in certain instances, arbitrarily removing winning candidates. Overwhelmingly positive media coverage of a single candidate and the reformist political leaders’ unwillingness to coalesce behind a challenger also contributed to the election outcome. The election turnout of 48.8 percent was the lowest in the history of the Islamic Republic, breaking the 1993 election record low of 50.66 percent. Former judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, widely asserted to be the supreme leader’s choice for his eventual successor, won the election and took office on August 3. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Guardian Council disqualified 7,296 candidates in the period preceding the election. The council barred all reformist candidates from running, as well as the conservative former parliament speaker Ali Larijani, who was widely considered the strongest challenger to hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Domestic and foreign media reports and social media users noted mostly unspecified or ambiguous violations on election day. One incident acknowledged by officials occurred when some electronic voting machines in Tehran went offline for brief periods of time, but those officials stated backup analog vote counting procedures prevented significant voting disruptions.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for the formation of political parties, but the Interior Ministry granted licenses only to parties deemed to adhere to the “governance of the jurist” system of government embodied in the constitution. Registered political organizations that adhered to the system generally operated without restriction, but most were small, focused around an individual, and without nationwide membership. Members of political parties and persons with any political affiliation that the regime deemed unacceptable faced harassment and sometimes violence and imprisonment. The government maintained bans on several opposition organizations and political parties.  Security officials continued to harass, intimidate, and arrest members of the political opposition and some reformists (see section 1.e.).

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Women faced significant legal, religious, and cultural barriers to political participation. According to the Guardian Council’s interpretation, the constitution bars women, as well as persons of foreign origin, from serving as supreme leader or president; as members of the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council; and as certain types of judges.

In an October 2020 press conference, former guardian council spokesperson Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei claimed there was no prohibition on women running for president in the 2021 election. Nonetheless, the Guardian Council disqualified all 40 women who registered as candidates for the 2021 presidential election.

All cabinet-level ministers were men. A limited number of women held senior government positions, including that of vice president for women and family affairs. Women made up approximately 6 percent of parliament.

In December 2020 Fars News, an agency managed by the IRGC, reported that Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced former vice president for women and family affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi to 30 months in prison. Fars stated the sentence included two years on charges of divulging “classified information and documents with the intent of disrupting national security” and six months for “propaganda against the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Observers noted Molaverdi had over the years defended the right of women to attend sporting events in stadiums, criticized the marriage of girls younger than age 15, and been involved in other high-profile issues. Fars reported Branch 2 of Tehran’s Criminal Court also sentenced Molaverdi for encouraging “corruption, prostitution, and sexual deviance.” Similar charges were brought in the past against individuals flouting mandatory hijab laws or encouraging others to do so. Molaverdi responded that she would appeal the verdicts; there was no update of her case by year’s end.

In early September President Raisi appointed Ansieh Khazali as the vice president for women and family affairs. Unlike Molaverdi, Khazali was against UNESCO’s 2030 initiative that includes eliminating gender discrimination from education and said she supported child marriage.

Practitioners of a religion other than Shia Islam are barred from serving as supreme leader or president, as well as from being a member in the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council. There are two seats reserved in parliament for Armenian Christians, one for Assyrian and Chaldean Christians together, one for Jews, and one for Zoroastrians. There were no non-Muslims in the cabinet or on the Supreme Court. The law allows constitutionally recognized religious minorities to run in local elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government implemented the law arbitrarily, sometimes pursuing apparently legitimate corruption cases against officials, while at other times bringing politically motivated charges against regime critics or political opponents. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Many expected bribes for providing routine services or received bonuses outside their regular work, and individuals routinely bribed officials to obtain permits for otherwise illegal construction.

Endowed religious charitable foundations (bonyads) accounted for one-quarter to one-third of the country’s economy, according to some experts. Government insiders, including members of the military and clergy, ran these tax-exempt organizations, which are defined under law as charities. Members of the political opposition and international corruption watchdog organizations frequently accused bonyads of corruption. Bonyads received benefits from the government, but no government agency is required to approve their budgets publicly.

Numerous companies and subsidiaries affiliated with the IRGC engaged in trade and business activities, sometimes illicitly, including in the telecommunications, mining, and construction sectors. Other IRGC entities reportedly engaged in smuggling pharmaceutical products, narcotics, and raw materials.

The domestic and international press reported that individuals with strong government connections had access to foreign currency at preferential exchange rates, allowing them to exploit a gap between the country’s black market and official exchange rates.

Corruption: In January a court sentenced Mahdi Jahangiri, the brother of Eshaq Jahangiri, who served as a vice president during the Rouhani administration, to two years in prison on corruption charges. Jahangiri was arrested in 2017 for financial crimes, including “professional currency smuggling.”

See section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media; and Violence and Harassment for examples of journalists persecuted for reporting on corruption.

In June 2020 media reported Romanian authorities arrested Iranian judge Gholamreza Mansouri at Iran’s request after Mansouri and several other judges in Iran were accused of accepting more than 21 billion tomans ($500,000) in bribes. Several days prior, RSF filed an official complaint with German federal judicial authorities highlighting Mansouri’s role in suppressing and jailing dozens of Iranian journalists and urging his arrest, in the belief that Mansouri was present in Germany. In June 2020 Mansouri was found dead after an apparent fall from the sixth story of the hotel where he was staying while awaiting extradition to Iran under Romanian supervision. There were no reports of further investigation into his death during the year.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The government restricted the operations of, and did not cooperate with, local or international NGOs investigating alleged violations of human rights. The government restricted the work of domestic activists and often responded to their inquiries and reports with harassment, arrests, online hacking, and monitoring of individual activists and organization workplaces.

By law NGOs must register with the Ministry of Interior and apply for permission to receive foreign grants. Independent human rights groups and other NGOs faced harassment because of their activism, as well as the threat of closure by government officials, following prolonged and often arbitrary delays in obtaining official registration.

During the year the government prevented some human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, and scholars from traveling abroad. Human rights activists reported intimidating telephone calls, threats of blackmail, online hacking attempts, and property damage from unidentified law enforcement and government officials. The government summoned activists repeatedly for questioning and confiscated personal belongings such as mobile phones, laptops, and passports. Government officials sometimes harassed and arrested family members of human rights activists. Courts routinely suspended sentences of convicted human rights activists, leaving open the option for authorities to arrest or imprison individuals arbitrarily at any time on the previous charges.

In his July report, UNSR Rehman stated he remained concerned regarding the continued intimidation and imprisonment of human rights defenders and lawyers. He noted forcible prison transfers and lack of medical care appeared to be used as reprisals against activists for starting peaceful protests inside prisons or undertaking hunger strikes (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

According to NGOs, including HRW and Amnesty International, the government’s human rights record and its level of cooperation with international rights institutions remained poor. The government continued to deny requests from international human rights NGOs to establish offices in or conduct regular investigative visits to the country. The most recent visit of an international human rights NGO was by Amnesty International in 2004 as part of the EU’s human rights dialogue with the country.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: During the year the government continued to deny repeated requests by the UNSR on the situation of human rights in Iran to visit the country.

On November 17, for the ninth consecutive year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution expressing serious concern regarding the country’s continuing human rights violations, including death sentences imposed following unfair trials and reports of forced confessions obtained through torture, while underlining the disproportionate application of the death penalty to individuals belonging to minority groups, such as the Kurds and Baluch, who were particularly targeted for alleged involvement in political activities. The resolution repeated its call for the country to cooperate with UN special mechanisms, citing the government’s failure to approve repeated requests from UN thematic special procedures mandate holders to visit the country. The most recent visit by a UN human rights agency to the country was the 2005 survey of the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. Miloon Kothari. The resolution also drew attention to the government’s continued failure to allow UNSR Rehman into the country to investigate human rights abuses despite repeated requests, in view of the absence of independent or transparent investigations into the regime’s killings of at least 304 protesters in November 2019. It further highlighted the government’s long-standing efforts to target Iranians, dual nationals, and foreign citizens outside its borders via harassment, killing, and abduction to Iran, where some faced trial and execution.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The High Council for Human Rights is part of the judicial branch of the government and lacks independence. As of October 8, the Raisi administration had not named a successor to former council head Ali Bagheri-Kani. The council continued to defend the imprisonment of high-profile human rights defenders and political opposition leaders, and it assured families they should not be concerned for the “security, well-being, comfort, and vitality” of their loved ones in prison, according to IRNA. In 2020 Bagheri-Kani continued to call for an end to the position of the UNSR for Iran and asserted that the country’s criteria for human rights was different because of the “religious lifestyle” of its citizens. There was no information available on whether the council challenged any laws or court rulings during the year.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

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, which carries the death penalty. Rape victims also feared societal reprisal or ostracism. There were reports that approximately 80 percent of rape cases went unreported.

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.

The law does not prohibit domestic violence. Authorities considered spousal and intrafamilial abuse a private matter and seldom discussed it publicly.

An April 2020 IRNA article noted a “dramatic increase” in domestic violence-related telephone calls to public social welfare hotlines. The State Welfare Organization sent a public text message the same day highlighting the existence of the hotlines. Calls to the hotlines reportedly doubled after the text message was sent, according to a government official. In a call with an expatriate media outlet, women’s rights activist Shahla Entesari also reported higher rates of domestic violence during pandemic-related lockdowns in the country.

In previous years assailants conducted “acid attacks” in which they threw acid capable of severe disfiguration at women perceived to have violated various “morality” laws or practices. Although the Guardian Council reportedly approved a law increasing sentences for the perpetrators of these attacks, the government instead continued to prosecute individual activists seeking stronger government accountability for the attacks. In October 2020 a court sentenced Aliyeh Motalebzadeh to two years in prison for “conspiracy against state security” for advocating for women who were victims of acid attacks. Motalebzadeh was a member of the “One Million Signatures” campaign to change discriminatory laws against women. Also in October 2020 authorities arrested Negar Masoudi for holding a photograph exhibition featuring victims of acid attacks and for advocating to restrict the sale of acid.

According to Iran International, on August 8, a man in the city of Orumiyeh allegedly used his motor vehicle to run over two women, seriously injuring one of the women, after accusing them of “bad hijab,” interpreted by some as not appropriately following the Islamic dress code.

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 diya equal to half the full amount of diya for the woman’s life.”

Little recent data were 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 and was inflicted on girls ages five through eight, primarily in Shafi’i Sunni communities.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were reports of killings motivated by “honor” or other harmful traditional practices during the year. There are no official statistics kept in the country concerning honor killings, but according to academic articles and university thesis estimates cited by the daily newspaper Ebtekar, every year between 375 and 450 such killings occur, in which mostly women are killed by their male relatives – including their husbands, fathers, and brothers – in the name of preserving the family’s “honor.”

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, because fathers (but not mothers) are considered legal guardians and are exempt from capital punishment for murdering their children.

In June 2020 Reza Ashrafi reportedly beheaded his 14-year-old daughter, Romina Ashrafi, with a farming sickle because she had “run off” with her 29-year-old Sunni Muslim boyfriend. In June 2020, in response to a national outcry over Ashrafi’s killing, the Guardian Council approved a law making it a crime to abuse emotionally or physically or abandon a child, but it left unchanged the maximum sentence of 10 years for a father convicted of murdering his daughter. Observers noted the Guardian Council had rejected three previous iterations of the bill. In August 2020 a court reportedly convicted and sentenced Ashrafi’s father to nine years in prison, sparking further outrage at the leniency of the sentence. Ashrafi’s mother said she planned to appeal the sentence to seek a stricter penalty, but there were no reported updates to the case.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits physical contact between unrelated men and women. There were no reliable data on the extent of sexual harassment, but women’s and human rights observers reported that sexual harassment was the norm in many workplaces. In April multiple women, including model and actress Boshra Dastournezhad, came forward on social media sites such as Clubhouse and Instagram to accuse singer and songwriter Mohsen Namjoo of sexual harassment and sexual assault. They circulated a petition calling on media outlets to ban his presence until the allegations were investigated. According to IranWire, on April 18, Namjoo apparently apologized for the sexual harassment accusations but denied other sexual assault allegations via his YouTube channel. The incident fueled online debate regarding victims’ accounts of sexual harassment and assault.

According to IranWire, on October 12, Tehran police chief Hossein Rahimi announced that bookstore owner Keyvan Emamverdi confessed to raping 300 women after 30 women filed legal complaints against him. Police stated he would be charged with “corruption on earth,” a capital offense. On November 15, Emamverdi’s trial began before a revolutionary court in Tehran, where he reportedly denied all charges.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

It is illegal for a single woman to access contraception, although most single women had access to contraception, particularly in urban areas. Government health care previously included full free access to contraception and family planning for married couples. In 2012 on the supreme leader’s orders, the government ended the Family and Population Planning Program. On November 16, President Raisi signed into law the “rejuvenation of the population and support of the family” bill, which directs authorities to prioritize population growth. These policies include measures such as outlawing voluntary sterilization and banning the free distribution of contraceptives by the public health-care system. The law also stipulates that content on family planning in university textbooks should be replaced with materials on an “Islamic-Iranian lifestyle,” with a framework drawn up in cooperation with religious seminaries and the Islamic Propaganda Organization. In January according to a report by Iran International, the Ministry of Health banned health centers in nomadic tribal areas from providing contraceptives to women. On November 16, UN human rights experts “urge[d] the Government to immediately repeal [the law] and to take measures to end the criminalization of abortion and to ensure that all women can access all necessary health services, including sexual and reproductive care, in a manner that is safe, affordable, and consistent with their human rights.”

The government did not provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not available as part of clinical management of rape.

According to human rights organizations, an increase in child marriage – due in part to a government “marriage loan” program providing financial relief to poor families who want to marry off their girls – was likely adversely affecting the quality of health care for such girls and increasing maternal mortality rates. The practice of female genital mutilation, which primarily occurs on girls ages five through eight in Shafi’i Sunni communities, was associated reportedly with increased obstetric problems and may increase maternal mortality rates.

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 hindered the ability of civil society organizations to fight for and protect women’s rights.

In June 2020 the president issued a decree enacting into law an amendment to the country’s civil code that allows Iranian women married to foreign men to transmit citizenship to their children (see section 2.g, Stateless Persons and section 6, Children). 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 temporary wives (sigheh), based on a Shia custom under which couples may enter a limited-time civil and religious contract that outlines the union’s conditions. The law does not grant women equal rights to multiple husbands.

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 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 age 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 one-half that of a man’s and value a woman’s life as one-half that of a man’s life. By law the diyeh paid in the death of a woman is one-half the amount paid in the death of a man, except for car accident insurance payments. According to a CHRI report, in 2019 the government declared equality between men and women in the payment of blood money. Per the Supreme Court ruling, the amount paid for the intentional or unintentional physical harm to a woman remains one-half the blood money paid for harm to a man, but the remaining difference would be paid from a publicly funded trust.

Women have access to primary and advanced education. Quotas and other restrictions nonetheless limited women’s admissions to certain fields and degree programs.

The Statistical Center of Iran reported that the overall unemployment rate in the second quarter of the year was 8.8 percent. Unemployment of women in the country was twice as high as it was of men. Overall female participation in the job market was 18.9 percent, according to the Global Gender Gap 2021 report. Women reportedly earned significantly less than men for the same work.

Women continued to face discrimination in home and property ownership, as well as in 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 over the head (hijab) 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 (and men) were subjected to the opinions of various disciplinary and security force members, police, and judges.

Authorities continued to arrest women for violating dress requirements, and courts applied harsh sentences. In February an appeals court upheld sentences of 16 to 23 years for Yasaman Aryani, her mother Monireh Arabshahi, and Mojgan Keshavarz for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “inciting corruption and prostitution.” They were arrested after posting a video for International Women’s Day in 2019 during which they walked without headscarves through a Tehran metro train, handing flowers to female passengers. As of September 19, all three women remained in prison.

In May 2020 the lawyer for imprisoned activist Saba Kord Afshari said on Twitter that judicial authorities had reinstated a seven and one-half-year prison sentence for “corruption and prostitution” against his client without explanation. An appeals court had previously dropped that charge against Kord Afshari, who was also found guilty of “gathering and conspiring” and “spreading propaganda” related to videos she posted to social media in which she walked without a hijab and stated her opposition to compulsory dress requirements. Kord Afshari’s cumulative sentence reverted to 15 years with the reinstated portion of the sentence. In February 2020 Kord Afshari’s mother, Raheleh Ahmadi, began serving a two-year sentence for “national security” crimes related to advocacy on behalf of her daughter. Human rights groups reported both mother and daughter were denied requested medical treatment and furlough during the year. Kord Afshari was “exiled” to Ward 6 of Qarchak Prison in Varamin in late January, where reportedly authorities beat her and held her alongside violent criminals. She ended her hunger strike in May. Ahmadi reportedly suffered spinal cord damage in Evin Prison upon hearing of her daughter’s transfer. As of September 19, both women remained in prison.

In a February 2020 letter to Iranian authorities, the world soccer governing body International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) insisted women be allowed to attend all soccer matches in larger numbers than the government previously permitted. In October authorities reversed their earlier announcement that 10,000 vaccinated spectators – including women – could watch Iran play in a FIFA qualifying match and allowed no spectators into the stadium.

As noted by the former UNSR and other organizations, female athletes were 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.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution grants equal rights to all ethnic minorities, allowing minority languages to be used in media. The law grants the right of citizens to learn, use, and teach their own languages and dialects. Nonetheless, the government discriminated against minorities.

Human rights organizations observed that the government’s application of the death penalty disproportionately affected ethnic minorities (see section 1.a.). 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 of which they were accused. 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. In a July report, UNSR Rehman again expressed concern regarding the reported high number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience from the Azeri, Kurdish, and Ahwazi Arab communities.

Another widespread complaint among ethnic minority groups, 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 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.

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.

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 freedoms 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. The UNSR noted in his July report that in the early part of the year many Kurdish individuals were arrested and detained in unknown locations.

According to the same UNSR report, authorities continued to target Kurdish-language teacher Zara Mohammadi, who supported learning in mother tongue languages, when an appeals court confirmed a five-year prison sentence on February 13 related to national security charges. Authorities detained without furlough Kurdish political prisoner Zeinab Jalalian, who was arrested in 2008 for allegedly being a part of a banned armed Kurdish political group, and reportedly denied her access to adequate health care.

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.

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 property titles issued during the prerevolutionary era.

Ethnic Azeris, who number more than 18 million, or approximately 24 percent of the population, were more integrated into government and society than other ethnic minority groups, to include Supreme Leader Khamenei. Azeris reported the government discriminated against them by harassing Azeri activists or organizers and changing Azeri geographic names.

In July the UNSR reported that authorities continued to target Azeri civil society actors, including Abbas Lisani and Alireza Farshi, for their advocacy of minority rights. According to a February report by CHRI, Farshi, who was convicted and imprisoned on national security charges for peaceful activities on International Mother Language Day in 2014, was transferred from Evin Prison to Greater Tehran Penitentiary after being subjected to physical violence by authorities that resulted in injuries. He was also reportedly facing new charges related to his advocacy. Between January and June 14, Lisani and seven other Azeri political prisoners refused liquids in protest over Farshi’s mistreatment. Authorities reportedly agreed to address their concerns, which included access to medical leave and a cessation of the transfer of prisoners convicted of violent crimes into their ward, but authorities did not fulfill these promises.

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. 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.

According to widespread media reports and the UNSR’s July report, on February 22, IRGC officials killed 10 fuel couriers in Sistan va Balochistan Province, leading to protests. Authorities used excessive force including live ammunition to suppress these protests, causing two additional deaths (see section 1.a., Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings). UNSR Rehman previously noted in July 2020 that “in the border areas of Kurdistan, Ilam, West Azerbaijan and Kermanshah Provinces, Kurdish couriers (kolbars) continue to face excessive and lethal force by border officials. In 2019 there were 84 reported deaths and 192 injuries of kolbars, continuing a trend that has seen more than 1,000 kolbars killed or injured due to the actions of border officials since 2014. It is with concern that cases of violence against kolbars are often either dismissed by the courts or closed without conviction or compensation for the victims and their families.”

The UNSR’s report noted that excessive force was routinely used in antinarcotic operations in Sistan va Balochistan Province. In May for example, antinarcotic police in Iranshahr reportedly fatally shot a five-year-old child in the head.

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides Iranian mothers the right to apply for citizenship for children born to fathers with foreign citizenship (see section 2.g, Stateless Persons and section 6, Women). Although the law is retroactive, mothers do not receive equal treatment; they must file an application for their children, whereas children born to Iranian fathers automatically have citizenship. The law also includes a stipulation of obtaining a security clearance from the security agencies prior to receiving approval. 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. According to HRW the child protection law passed in June 2020 following the killing of Romina Ashrafi (see section 6, Other Harmful Traditional Practices) sets out financial penalties for parents or guardians who fail to provide for their child’s access to education through secondary level. Secondary education is free. Children without state-issued identification cards are denied the right to education. In a 2019 report, UNSR Rehman expressed concern regarding access to education for minority children, including references to high primary school dropout rates for ethnic minority girls living in border provinces.

The government consistently barred use of minority languages in school for instruction.

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. In June 2020 the Guardian Council approved legislation to support a child’s safety and well-being, including penalties against physical harm and for preventing access to education. The law defines a set of punishments, which include imprisonment and “blood money,” for negligence by anyone, including parents, that results in death, disability, bodily harm, and sexual harassment. The law requires the State Welfare Organization to investigate the situation of children in “extreme danger” of abuse, exploitation, or being out of school, among other concerns. The state also has the authority to remove children from a household and put them under state supervision until the prosecutor takes on the case. The law also applies to all citizens younger than age 18, despite the earlier age of maturity.

Reports of child abuse reportedly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The head of the State Welfare Organization in Mashhad noted an eightfold increase in child abuse cases reported in Mashhad in 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. According to IranWire, in October the head of Paveh city’s intelligence office ordered officers to detain and interrogate harshly two journalists for reporting on the rape of a seven-year-old girl by a 43-year-old man on September 20. The same intelligence office banned a psychiatrist from treating the child and left her with no medical care. Authorities threatened to arrest the journalists if they continued investigating the case.

According to IranWire, the Students’ Basij Force stepped up efforts in 2020 to recruit young persons into the organization. Although “most of these activities are of an educational and ideological nature,” there were reports that during recent domestic unrest, some younger Basij forces armed with light military equipment were seen on the streets of some cities. There continued to be reports of IRGC officials recruiting Afghan child soldiers, including to support Assad regime forces in Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan (see section 1.g., Child Soldiers). In a 2018 interview by IranWire, a Fatemiyoun Brigade commander confirmed Afghan minors as young as 14 served in his unit in Syria.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for girls is 13, but girls as young as age nine may be married with permission from a court and their fathers. According to HRW, the child protection law does not criminalize child marriage.

According to the UNSR’s January report, between March 2018 and March 2019 the National Organization for Civil Registration registered 13,054 marriages of girls younger than 13. In 2019 a deputy minister warned that banks offering “marriage loans” without age restrictions increased child marriage. He stated that from March to August 2019, 4,460 girls younger than 15 had received such loans. Between March and June 2020, 7,323 marriages involving girls ages 10 to 14 were registered. The report also noted that a survey found that 37.5 percent of those subjected to child marriage were illiterate and a significant number reported domestic abuse.

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 or provide a punishment for it.

According to CHRI, the ambiguity between the legal definitions of 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 reports of 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.

UNHCR stated school enrollment among refugees was generally higher outside the 20 settlements, where more resources were available and where 96 percent of the refugees resided.

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/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The law recognizes Jews as a religious minority and provides for their representation in parliament. According to the Tehran Jewish Committee, the population includes approximately 9,000 Jews. Members of the Iranian Jewish community were reportedly subjected to government restrictions and discrimination. Government officials, including the supreme leader, routinely engaged in egregious anti-Semitic rhetoric and Holocaust denial and distortion. On May 7, so-called Jerusalem Day, Supreme Leader Khamenei issued numerous anti-Semitic tweets calling those who live in Israel “racists,” questioning the Holocaust, and calling again for a referendum of original inhabitants to determine the future status of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

Cartoons in state-run media outlets repeatedly depicted foreign officials as puppets of Jewish control. In September 2020 a government-controlled arts organization, the Hozeh Honari, announced it would hold a third “Holocaust Cartoon Festival,” the previous two having been held in 2006 and 2016. The contest results were released on January 1.

According to media reports, officials and media propagated conspiracy theories blaming Jews and Israel for the spread of COVID-19. According to NGO reports, school textbooks contained content that incites hatred against Jews as part of the state curricula for history, religion, and social studies.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Organ Harvesting

It is legal for persons to sell their kidney. The government matches buyers and sellers and sets a fixed price, but a black market for organs also existed.

Persons with Disabilities

According to HRW the 2018 Law for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities increases pensions and extends insurance coverage to disability-related health-care services, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination. According to CHRI, as of 2019 the government did not allocate a budget to enforce the law. The law prohibits persons with vision, 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 were largely unable to meet the needs of the entire population.

In 2019 HRW and CHRI reported persons with disabilities remained cut off from society, a major obstacle being a mandatory government medical test that may exclude children with disabilities from the public school system. Based on government figures, during the 2018-19 school year, 150,000 children of school age with disabilities were enrolled in school, and more were in “special schools” that segregated them from other students. Estimates put the total number of school-age children with disabilities at 1.5 million. They continued to face stigma and discrimination from government social workers, health-care workers, and others. Subsequently, many persons with disabilities remained unable to 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 historic sites. Government buildings that predated existing accessibility standards remained largely inaccessible, and general building accessibility, including access to toilets for persons with disabilities, remained a problem. Individuals with disabilities had limited access to informational, educational, and community activities. CHRI reported in 2018 that refugees with disabilities, particularly children, were often excluded or denied the ability to obtain the limited state services provided by the government.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Despite government programs to treat and provide financial and other assistance to persons with HIV or AIDS, international news sources and organizations reported that individuals known to be infected with HIV or AIDS faced widespread societal discrimination.  Individuals with HIV or AIDS, for example, continued to be denied employment as teachers.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, 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.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

While few details were available for specific cases, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists expressed concern that the government executed LGBTQI+ individuals under the pretext of more severe, and possibly specious, criminal charges such as rape. Security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals they suspected of being LGBTQI+. In some cases security forces raided houses and monitored internet sites for information on LGBTQI+ persons. Those accused of “sodomy” often faced summary trials, and evidentiary standards were not always met. The Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network (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 stated may constitute torture – and other degrading treatment and sexual insults. Punishment for same-sex sexual activity between men was more severe than between women.

According to Amnesty International, on May 4, 20-year-old Alireza Fazeli Monfared, who identified as a nonbinary gay man, was abducted by male relatives in his hometown of Ahwaz in Khuzestan Province. The next day these men reportedly told Monfared’s mother they had killed him and dumped his body under a tree. Authorities confirmed his throat was slit and announced an investigation; however, according to Amnesty International in September, none of the suspected perpetrators had been arrested.

According to an August factsheet by CHRI, a 2020 survey by 6Rang of more than 200 individuals living in the country and identifying as LGBTQI+ found that 46 percent reported being victims of sexual violence at their school or university, 49 percent reported being victims of sexual violence by their peers, and more than 52 percent reported being victims of sexual violence in public spaces. Anonymous respondents reported being beaten, detained, and flogged by security authorities.

The government censored all materials related to LGBTQI+ status or conduct. Authorities particularly blocked websites or content within sites that discussed LGBTQI+ issues, including the censorship of Wikipedia pages defining LGBTQI+ and other related topics. There were active, unregistered LGBTQI+ NGOs and activists in the country.

In 2019 a revolutionary court sentenced Rezvaneh Mohammadi, a gender-equality activist, to five years in prison. According to CHRI, authorities arrested Mohammadi in 2018 and held her in solitary confinement for several weeks at Evin Prison, where they pressured her, including via threat of rape, to confess to receiving money to overthrow the government. Mohammadi was reportedly freed on bail.

Hate-crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms do 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. Military identity cards list 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.

While LGBTQI+ status and conduct are criminalized, many clerics believed that LGBTQI+ persons were trapped in a body of the wrong sex, and NGOs reported that authorities pressured LGBTQI+ persons to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Reports indicated these procedures disregarded psychological and physical health and that many persons recommended for surgery did not identify as transgender but were forced to comply to avoid punishment for their LGBTQI+ identity. According to a July 2020 report by 6Rang, the number of private and semigovernmental psychological and psychiatric clinics allegedly engaging in “corrective treatment” or reparative therapies of LGBTQI+ persons continued to grow. The NGO 6Rang reported the increased use at such clinics of electric shock therapy to the hands and genitals of LGBTQI+ persons, prescription of psychoactive medication, hypnosis, and coercive masturbation to pictures of persons of the opposite sex. According to 6Rang, one such institution was called the Anonymous Sex Addicts Association of Iran, with branches in 18 provinces.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association but does not provide for the right of workers to form and join trade unions. The law states that workers may establish an Islamic labor council or a guild at any workplace, but the rights and responsibilities of these organizations fell significantly short of international standards for trade unions. In workplaces where workers established an Islamic labor council, authorities did not permit any other form of worker representation. The law requires prior authorization for organizing and concluding collective agreements. Strikes are prohibited in all sectors, although private-sector workers may conduct “peaceful” campaigns within the workplace. The law does not apply to establishments with fewer than 10 employees.

Authorities did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and the government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government severely restricted freedom of association and interfered in worker attempts to organize. Labor activism is considered a national security offense for which conviction carries severe punishments up to and including the death penalty. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination and does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Penalties were not imposed for violations involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

Antiunion discrimination occurred, and the government harassed trade union leaders, labor rights activists, and journalists during crackdowns on widespread protests. According to NGO and media reports, as in previous years, several trade unionists, including members of teachers unions, were imprisoned or remained unjustly detained for their peaceful activism. Independent trade unionists were subjected to arbitrary arrests, tortured, and if convicted subjected to harsh sentences, including the death penalty.

In February authorities reportedly summoned to prison Ali Nejati, a labor rights activist and former employee of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company, to serve a five-year sentence. Nejati had previously been pardoned, but the judiciary reportedly informed his lawyer his pardon had been a “mistake.”

According to media and NGO reports, on May 1, International Labor Day, police violently attacked and arrested at least 30 activists who had gathered for peaceful demonstrations demanding workers’ rights in Tehran and elsewhere. All detainees were later released on bail. The government barred teachers from commemorating International Labor Day and Teachers’ Day. Several prominent teachers and union activists remained in prison without facing trial or, if convicted, awaited sentencing, including Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi (see below in this subsection).

According to Radio Zamaneh, in June 2020 Jafar Azimzadeh, the general secretary of the board of the Free Union of Iranian Workers and a prominent labor activist, was sentenced to 13 months in prison for “propaganda against the regime.” Azimzadeh was previously arrested in 2015 and sentenced to six years in prison by Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran for organizing a petition that collected 40,000 signatures seeking to raise the national minimum wage. In September 2020 Azimzadeh was transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison after ending a 21-day hunger strike to protest being denied medical treatment after contracting COVID-19. On April 10, Azimzadeh was released from prison.

In his July report, UNSR Rehman drew attention to the prolonged solitary confinement of labor rights activist and British-Iranian dual-national Mehran Raoof as “especially disturbing.” According to Amnesty International, in October 2020 IRGC intelligence agents arrested Raoof, along with several other labor rights activists throughout the country. In June Raoof reportedly appeared in court on vague charges of involvement in banned political groups. He subsequently was being held in solitary confinement in Ward 2A of Evin Prison and was denied legal counsel and calls to his immediate family members, who lived abroad.

The Interior Ministry; the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare; and the Islamic Information Organization determined labor council constitutions, operational rules, and election procedures. Administrative and judicial procedures were lengthy. The Workers’ House remained the only officially authorized national labor organization, and its leadership oversaw, granted permits to, and coordinated activities with Islamic labor councils in industrial, agricultural, and service organizations with more than 35 employees.

According to CHRI, the labor councils, which consisted of representatives of workers and a representative of management, were essentially management-run unions that undermined worker efforts to maintain independent unions. The councils, nevertheless, sometimes could block layoffs and dismissals. There was no representative worker organization for noncitizen workers.

According to international media reports, security forces continued to respond to workers’ attempts to organize or conduct strikes with arbitrary arrests and violence. As economic conditions deteriorated, strikes and worker protests continued across the country throughout the year, often prompting a heavy police response. Security forces routinely monitored major worksites. According to CHRI, workers were routinely fired and risked arrest for striking, and labor leaders were charged with national security crimes for trying to organize workers.

In 2018 security forces violently suppressed protests at the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company factory. In 2019 the protests there restarted in response to the announcement of a joint indictment issued against five journalists and two labor rights activists. Sepideh Gholian, Amir Hossein Mohammadifard, Sanaz Allahyari, Ali Amirgholi, Asal Mohammadi, Esmail Bakhshi, and Ali Nejati were charged with “assembly and collusion against national security,” “forming groups with the intention to disturb national security,” and “contacts with antistate organizations.” They each received a prison sentence of five years. Except for Gholian, all, including syndicate member Mohammad Khanifar, were reportedly pardoned during the year. Gholian was rearrested a week after being released on bail in June 2020 and was transferred to Evin Prison. On October 10, Gholian was rearrested and returned to Evin Prison in retribution for posting on social media while on furlough from Bushehr Prison about the sexual abuse and torture she witnessed against incarcerated women and children (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).

According to Radio Zamaneh, workers at Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company began striking in June 2020 to reverse the privatization of the company and to demand the arrest of CEO Omid Asadbeigi, who was accused of currency theft and the embezzlement of their wages. In September 2020 the Supreme Auditing Court ruled that Haft Tappeh’s sale must be annulled “due to violations in transferring the ownership of the company, failure to achieve goals set by the sale, and the buyers’ bad faith in honoring their commitments,” thereby removing Asadbeigi as owner. The Haft Tappeh Workers Syndicate then issued a statement declaring a temporary halt to the protest. In May, according to Radio Zamaneh, a Tehran court ruled in favor of the dismissal of Asadbeigi and Mehrdad Rostami, the two owners of the factory. A few days after the ruling, due to pressure from the government, the previous owners halted production at the factory. The Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Workers’ Union announced on April 23 that the factory workers’ lawyer Farzaneh Zilabi had been summoned to court in Shush city, Khuzestan Province, where his license was then suspended. According to labor activists, the company’s executives had not paid workers’ salaries since March, and authorities reduced the company’s water rights by half. The workers’ union reported that on June 3, police opened fire to disperse workers gathered outside the factory to protest the situation.

On April 4, security forces detained labor activist and retired worker Ismail Gerami in his Tehran home in a reported effort to prevent a rally of retirees. According to Radio Zamaneh, in May retirees – including retirees of social security, Laleh Hotel, Shiraz Telecommunication, the steel industry, Iran Air, and the health-care sector – took to the streets in multiple cities for several weeks to demand an increase in their retirement pay. The Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced Gerami to five years in prison, 74 lashes, and a fine.

The government continued to arrest and harass teachers’ rights activists from the Teachers Association of Iran and related unions. In response to an announcement by the head of the Plan and Budget Organization, Masoud Mirkazemi, that the new government had abandoned the plan to raise teachers’ salaries, on September 5, large groups of teachers gathered outside of parliament to protest, according to CHRI.  Reportedly they chanted, “The poverty line is 12 million tomans ($2,800); our salary is three million tomans ($710).” On September 14, another protest was held around the country.

According to a CHRI report, Mahmoud Beheshti-Langroudi, the former spokesman for the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA) who had been jailed since 2017, continued serving a 14-year combined sentence for charges associated with his peaceful defense of labor rights. Esmail Abdi, a mathematics teacher and former ITTA secretary general, continued serving his six-year prison sentence for labor rights activism. He was arrested in 2015 and convicted in 2016 for “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security.” In March 2020 Abdi was furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but a month later was returned to Evin Prison to serve a suspended 10-year sentence he received in 2010 for “gathering information with the intention to disrupt national security” and “propaganda against the state.” He contracted COVID-19 after being returned to Evin. As reportedly occurred with other activists and political prisoners throughout the year, on March 16, authorities suddenly “exiled” or transferred Abdi from Evin Prison to Rajai Shahr Prison as reprisal for a 13-day hunger strike in protest of restrictions of prisoner rights. In his July report, UNSR Rehman expressed concern regarding Abdi’s detention.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law and made no significant effort to address forced labor during the year. It was unclear whether the law prescribes penalties that were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes such as kidnapping. Conditions indicative of forced labor sometimes occurred in the construction, domestic labor, and agricultural sectors, primarily among adult Afghan men and boys younger than age 18. Family members and others forced children to work.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 15 and places restrictions on employment of children younger than 18, such as prohibiting hard labor or night work. The law does not apply to domestic labor and permits children to work in agriculture and some small businesses from age 12. The government did not adequately monitor or enforce laws pertaining to child labor, and child labor remained a serious problem. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other analogous, serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The United Nations in 2016 cited a 2003 law that exempts workshops with fewer than 10 employees from labor regulations as increasing the risks of economic exploitation of children. The UN report also noted serious concerns with the large number of children employed under hazardous conditions, such as in garbage collection, brick kilns, and industrial workshops, without protective clothing and for very low pay. A 2020 law that protects children and adolescents includes penalties for certain acts that harm a child’s safety and well-being, including physical harm and preventing access to education. The law reportedly allows officials to relocate children in situations that seriously threaten their safety. The law imposes financial penalties for parents or guardians who fail to provide for their child’s access to education through secondary level (see section 6, Children).

According to Borna News Agency, on February 1, a 14-year-old from Mahshahr named Mohammad hanged himself after COVID-19 left him unemployed. He reportedly had been forced to drop out of school in 2020 due to poverty and was selling purified water for a living.

There were reportedly significant numbers of children, especially of Afghan descent, who worked as street vendors in major urban areas. According to official estimates, there were 60,000 homeless children, although many children’s rights organizations estimated up to 200,000 homeless children. The Committee on the Rights of the Child reported that street children in particular were subjected to various forms of economic exploitation, including sexual abuse and exploitation by the public and police officers. Child labor also was used in the production of carpets and bricks. Children worked as beggars, and there were reports criminals forced some children into begging rings. According to the Iranian Students’ News Agency, Reza Ghadimi, the managing director of the Tehran Social Services Organization, stated in 2018 that, according to a survey of 400 child laborers, 90 percent were “molested.”

Also, see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution bars discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, and social status “in conformity with Islamic criteria,” but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. According to the constitution, “everyone has the right to choose any occupation he wishes, if it is not contrary to Islam and the public interests and does not infringe on the rights of others.” Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation occurred in several categories, including gender, ethnicity, and disability. It was unclear whether penalties for violations were commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference.

Despite this constitutional provision, the government made systematic efforts to limit women’s access to the workplace, and their participation in the job market remained as low as 16 percent. Women reportedly earned 41 percent less than men for the same work. Unemployment for women in the country was twice as high as it was for men. Hiring practices often discriminated against women, and the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare guidelines stated that men should be given preferential hiring status. An Interior Ministry directive requires all officials only hire secretaries of their own gender. The law restricts women from working in jobs deemed hazardous or arduous. Women remained banned from working in coffee houses and from performing music alongside men, with very limited exceptions made for traditional music. Women in many fields were restricted from working after 9 p.m.

Kurds, Ahwazis, Azeris, Baha’is, and Baluchis reported political and socioeconomic discrimination regarding their access to economic aid, business licenses, and job opportunities.

CHRI reported that, according to the director of the State Welfare Organization, 60 percent of persons with disabilities remained unemployed.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law does not provide for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy. In 2018 the Supreme Labor Council, the government body charged with proposing labor regulations, agreed to raise the minimum monthly wage by 19.8 percent. There were reported complaints that the minimum wage increase was too low in light of the plunging value of the Iranian rial against the United States dollar, which is used to price day-to-day goods. The minimum wage is commonly below the poverty line in rural areas. In April 2020 media reported that following failed meetings, workers, employers, and the government agreed to increase the minimum wage from the previous year by 21 percent. According to CHRI, the Free Union of Iranian Workers issued a statement denouncing the Supreme Labor Council’s method of averaging the inflation rate for a basket of essential goods and services “that is less than half the actual rate of inflation and as a result lowers what workers will earn down to a level below the poverty line.”

The law establishes a maximum six-day, 44-hour workweek with a weekly rest day, at least 12 days of paid annual leave, and several paid public holidays. Any hours worked above that total entitle a worker to overtime. The law mandates a payment above the hourly wage to employees for any accrued overtime and provides that overtime work is not compulsory. The law does not cover workers in workplaces with fewer than 10 workers, nor does it apply to noncitizens.

Employers sometimes subjected migrant workers, most often Afghans, to abusive working conditions, including below-minimum-wage salaries, nonpayment of wages, compulsory overtime, and summary deportation. The government did not effectively enforce the laws related to wages, hours, and occupational safety and health. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

According to media reports, many workers continued to be employed on temporary contracts, under which they lacked protections available to full-time, noncontract workers and could be dismissed at will. In June 2020 a group of nurses protested after their temporary contracts were not renewed. While the Health Ministry had complained of a shortage of up to 100,000 nurses, health-care centers and hospitals increasingly took advantage of labor laws that allowed them to hire nurses with 89-day contracts, which were not renewed. The problem was compounded by the pandemic, as many private and state hospitals lost business from revenue-generating procedures, which were placed on hold. Health-care workers continued to protest during the year in several cities after hospitals failed to pay government-approved wages. None had received overtime pay or COVID-19 health benefits. Large numbers of workers employed in small workplaces or in the informal economy similarly lacked basic protections.

Low wages, nonpayment of wages, and lack of job security due to contracting practices continued to contribute to strikes and protests, which occurred throughout the year. In early June authorities arrested nine workers of District 2 Municipality for protesting. According to the FTUIW, Boroujerd police raided a gathering of Saman Time workers in April and arrested several protesting workers.

According to HRANA, Javanmir Moradi, a labor activist and member of the Electricians’ Union in Kermanshah, was arrested and tried in 2020 and sentenced to one year in prison. During the year the appeals court commuted his sentence to a fine. According to Radio Zamaneh, Branch 2 of Shahria’s Revolutionary Court sentenced Haidar Ghorbani, a construction worker and member of the FTUIW, to 11 years in prison on national security charges and “propaganda against the regime.” In addition to directly suppressing and detaining protesting workers, employers threatened to fire workers inside production units. Managers at the General Directorate of Ports and Maritime Affairs in Khuzestan Province asked workers to pledge not to participate in protests. They also prevented two workers’ representatives from entering the workplace. In the Arvand Free Zone Organization, service workers in the Abadan and Khorramshahr industrial towns who protested wage arrears and went on strike were threatened with dismissal. Gharib Havizavi and Hossein Rezaei, labor representatives for the Ahwaz National Steel Industrial Group, were fired on March 30. Since late March workers in oil refining, petrochemicals, and drilling industries continued to strike in at least 25 rallies across the country over working conditions, employment contracts that disadvantaged workers, and unpaid wages.

Occupational Safety and Health: Little information was available regarding labor inspection and related law enforcement activity. While the law provides for occupational health and safety standards, the government did not effectively enforce these standards. Penalties for violations of the law were not commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. The law states inspections may be done day or night, without prior notice. Family businesses require written permission of the local prosecutor. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations rests with the technical protection and occupational health committee of workplaces designated by the Ministry of Labor.

Labor organizations reported that hazardous work environments resulted in the deaths of thousands of workers annually. In February 2020, according to a report issued by a state media outlet, the head of the Public Relations and International Affairs Office of the Iranian Forensic Medicine Organization, Hamed Naeiji, announced that in 2019 the number of work-related deaths and injuries increased by 8.5 percent compared with the same period of the previous year. Naeiji stated the three main reasons for work-related deaths were falls, being struck by hard objects, and electrocution. In 2018 the Iranian Labor News Agency quoted the head of the Construction Workers Association as estimating there were 1,200 deaths and 1,500 spinal cord injuries annually among construction workers, while local media routinely reported on workers’ deaths from explosions, gas poisoning, electrocution, or similar accidents.

Informal Sector: The law does not provide for occupational health and safety standards for workers in the informal economy. Large numbers of workers were employed in small workplaces or in the informal economy. Workers lacked basic protections in construction, domestic labor, and agricultural sectors, primarily among adult Afghan men and boys younger than age 18.

Iraq

Executive Summary

Iraq is a constitutional parliamentary republic. The October 10 parliamentary elections were generally considered free and fair. The elections were observed by the European Union and domestic civil society organizations and monitored by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq. Domestic and international elections observers cited procedural and transparency improvements to the electoral process over the 2018 elections. They noted, however, that violence and intimidation by paramilitary militia groups in the months ahead of the elections likely affected voters’ choice and voter turnout. The elections came because of widespread protests that began in October 2019 and led to the resignation of former prime minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi in December 2019. Parliament confirmed Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in May 2020.

Numerous domestic security forces operate throughout the country. The Iraqi Security Forces are organized administratively within the Ministries of Interior and Defense, as well as within the quasi-ministerial Counterterrorism Service. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for domestic law enforcement and maintenance of order; it oversees the Federal Police, Provincial Police, Facilities Protection Service, Civil Defense, and Department of Border Enforcement. Energy police, under the Ministry of Oil, are responsible for protecting energy infrastructure. Conventional military forces under the Ministry of Defense also carry out counterterrorism and internal security operations in conjunction with the Ministry of Interior. The Counterterrorism Service reports directly to the prime minister and oversees the Counterterrorism Command, an organization that includes three brigades of special operations forces. The National Security Service intelligence agency reports directly to the prime minister.

The country’s regular armed forces and domestic law enforcement bodies struggled to maintain order within the country, operating in parallel with the Popular Mobilization Committee, a state-sponsored umbrella military organization composed of approximately 60 militia groups, also known as Popular Mobilization Forces. Although the Popular Mobilization Forces are part of the Iraqi Security forces and receive funding from the government’s defense budget, their operations are often outside government control and in opposition to government policies. Most popular mobilization unit members are Shia Arabs, reflecting the demographics of the country, while Sunni Arab, Yezidi, Christian, and other minority groups tended to organize their own units, generally operating within or near their home regions. All popular mobilization units officially report to the chairman of the Popular Mobilization Committee and are under the ultimate authority of the prime minister, but several units were in practice also responsive to Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The two main Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, each maintain an independent security apparatus. Under the federal constitution, the Kurdistan Regional Government has the right to maintain internal security forces, but the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party separately control additional Peshmerga military units, as well as separate police forces under nominal Kurdistan Regional Government Ministry of Interior control. The constitution also allows for a centralized, separate Asayish internal security service; however, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan also each maintain Asayish forces. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan also maintain separate intelligence services, nominally organized under the Kurdistan Region Security Council.

Federal civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over some elements of the security forces, particularly certain Iran-aligned Popular Mobilization Force units and the Popular Mobilization Committee. Poorly defined administrative boundaries and disputed territories between the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and the central government led to confusion over the jurisdiction of security forces and the courts. Members of the security forces committed numerous documented abuses.

The country experienced large-scale protests in Baghdad and several Shia-majority provinces beginning in 2019 and lasting through mid-2020, with reports of more than 500 civilians killed and 20,000 or more injured. During the year sporadic protests continued amid a campaign of targeted violence against activists. The government took minimal steps to bring to justice those responsible for the violence.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by the Popular Mobilization Forces; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement of women; forced returns of internally displaced persons to locations where they faced threats to their lives and freedom; threats of violence against internally displaced persons and returnee populations perceived to have been affiliated with ISIS; serious government corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; significant restrictions on worker freedom of association; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government, including the Office of the Prime Minister, took some steps to identify, investigate, and prosecute, but rarely punished, those officials responsible for perpetrating or authorizing human rights abuses. Many senior government officials and security force personnel, including the Iraqi Security Forces, Federal Police, Popular Mobilization Forces, and certain units of Kurdistan Regional Government Asayish internal security services, operated with impunity. The government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who were involved in corruption.

Despite a reduction in numbers, ISIS continued to commit serious abuses and atrocities, including killings through suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices. The government continued investigations and prosecutions of allegations of ISIS abuses and atrocities and, in some instances, noted the conviction of suspected ISIS members under the counterterrorism law.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see also section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, case of Hisham Mohammed). Nongovernmental militias and ISIS affiliates also engaged in killings (see section 1.g.).

The country experienced large-scale protests in Baghdad and several Shia-majority provinces that began in 2019 and lasted through mid-2020. Sporadic protests continued during the year amid a continued campaign of targeted violence against activists. According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), 591 protesters were killed from October 2019 until the end of May. For the same period, the IHCHR stated 54 protesters were still missing and that there were 86 attempted killings of activists, 35 of which were carried out successfully.

The government took minimal steps to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths. The prime minister ordered an investigation committee to determine if prosecution should be pursued. The committee is composed of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, the National Security Service (NSS), and the operations command where the incident took place. The judiciary also investigated incidents at the behest of families of the victims. Although there have been several arrests related to targeted killings, few cases appeared to have moved beyond the investigative phase.

Human rights organizations reported that Iran-aligned Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia groups engaged in killing, kidnapping, and extortion throughout the country, particularly in ethnically and religiously mixed provinces. Unlawful killings by unidentified gunmen and politically motivated violence occurred frequently throughout the country. On May 9, unidentified gunmen purportedly from PMF militias shot and killed prominent activist and protest movement leader Ehab al-Wazni near his home in Karbala. Wazni’s death sparked protests in Karbala that saw demonstrators block roads and bridges with burning tires; dozens of protesters also burned tires and trailers outside the Iranian consulate the same night. The government announced in May the arrest of two suspects based on a third suspect’s confession; the case remained ongoing.

During the year the security situation remained unstable in many areas due to intermittent attacks by ISIS and its affiliated cells; sporadic fighting between the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and ISIS strongholds in remote areas; the presence of militias not fully under the control of the government, including certain PMF units; and sectarian, ethnic, and financially motivated violence.

b. Disappearance

There were frequent reports of forced disappearances by or on behalf of government forces, including Federal Police and PMF units. In May UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that at least 20 activists abducted by “unidentified armed elements” remained missing.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the constitution prohibits torture and forced confessions, there is no law setting out the legal conditions and procedural safeguards to prevent torture. Consequently, noncompliance enabled the practice of torture in jails, detention facilities, and prisons to be hidden from effective legal oversight. Moreover, the types of conduct that constitute torture are not legally defined under the law, and the law gives judges full discretion to determine whether a defendant’s confession is admissible, often without regard for the way it was obtained. Courts routinely accepted forced confessions as evidence, which in some ISIS-related counterterrorism cases was the only evidence considered. Numerous reports from local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) indicated that government officials employed torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Federal Police, Popular Mobilization Forces, and certain units of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Asayish internal security services, operated with impunity.

For example on July 28, social media outlets circulated widely news of the death of a young man, Hisham Mohammed, who was severely beaten by police officers during his arrest by the anticrime directorate in Basrah Province. His lawyer asserted that Mohammed had been arrested because of a similarity in his name to that of a fugitive accused of murder. Mohammed died from his injuries after police officers reportedly employed torture to secure a confession. The Ministry of Interior formed an investigative committee, but its results were not published.

As in previous years, there were credible reports that government forces, including Federal Police, the NSS, and the PMF, abused and tortured individuals – particularly Sunni Arabs – during arrest and pretrial detention and after conviction. Former prisoners, detainees, and international human rights organizations documented cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in Ministry of Interior-run facilities and, to a lesser extent, in Ministry of Defense-run detention facilities.

Human rights organizations reported that both Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense personnel tortured detainees. According to government forensics officials, some victims showed signs of excessive beating, in addition to bone fractures. Local NGOs reported that deaths at pretrial detention facilities, deportation prisons, and prisons were due to the continuation of systematic torture and the poor conditions in detention centers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and occasionally life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, and the threat of COVID-19 and other communicable illnesses. In June the Ministry of Justice announced it had carried out a vaccination campaign of its entire prison population against COVID-19. The ministry spokesperson confirmed that prison staff were vaccinated and that there had been no positive cases recorded since May.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in government-run prisons was a systemic problem exacerbated by the number of alleged ISIS members detained by the government. The Iraqi Correctional Service, a part of the Ministry of Justice, administered 29 facilities in the country. The Justice, Defense, and Interior Ministries operated 24 detention facilities. In August a senior Ministry of Justice official warned that the overcrowding at Ministry of Justice-administered prisons could lead to the spread of communicable diseases.

In September a senior Ministry of Justice official reported that the five correctional facilities for juveniles held more than 150 percent of their maximum capacity, with more than half of juveniles held for terrorism-related convictions. Local NGOs published photos of overcrowded prison cells and called on the government to improve prison conditions, especially juvenile prisons. According to Ministry of Justice data, in prisons that held alleged ISIS-affiliated women, authorities also detained children up to 12 years old with their mothers. The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights published photos of juveniles being held with adults at detention centers in Ninewa Province.

In October the Ministry of Justice released 68 juveniles under a special amnesty, and in August a senior ministry official stated that 1,300 inmates, including 86 juveniles, received special pardons to reduce overcrowding.

Across the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), there were six correctional centers: three for male prisoners and three for women and juvenile pretrial detainees and prisoners. The centers designated for women and juveniles held both pretrial detainees and prisoners, while male pretrial detainees were held at police station detention sections throughout the IKR. The total number of detainees incarcerated exceeded the designated capacity of each facility. The Independent Human Rights Commission Kurdistan Region (IHRCKR) reported in September that the Erbil Correctional Center, for example, which was built to house 900 detainees, held 1,875 inmates. In some detention centers and police-run jails, KRG authorities occasionally held juveniles in the same cells as adults.

The IHRCKR reported that IKR correctional centers suffered from long-term problems of overcrowding, inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities, use of violence during preliminary detention, and outdated infrastructure at women’s and juvenile centers. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic also adversely affected prisoners’ health, and several died in custody. Limited medical staff was unable to provide adequate medical services to all prisoners.

Administration: The government reported it took steps to address allegations of mistreatment in government-administered prison and detention facilities, but the extent of these steps was not known. Both local and international human rights organizations asserted that judges frequently failed to investigate credible allegations that security forces tortured terrorism suspects and often convicted defendants based solely on coerced confessions. In addition, despite their concerns being raised, authorities ignored physical signs of torture, and the complaints procedures appeared to be neither fair nor effective. Many detainees chose not to report such treatment due to a lack of trust or fear of reprisals.

Prison and detention center authorities sometimes delayed the release of exonerated detainees or inmates due to lack of prisoner registration or other bureaucratic problems, or they extorted bribes from prisoners prior to their release at the end of their sentences. International and local human rights groups reported that authorities in numerous instances denied family visits to detainees and convicts. Guards allegedly demanded bribes or beat detainees when detainees asked to call their relatives or legal counsel.

The KRG inconsistently applied procedures to address allegations of abuse by KRG Ministry of Interior officers or the Asayish security forces. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported in August and December some IKR prisons failed to respect basic standards and procedural safeguards and that the mechanisms in place to receive complaints of torture did not appear to be effective or to provide remedy.

Independent Monitoring: Corrections Service prisons allowed regular visits by independent nongovernmental observers. Following virtual monitoring visits due to COVID-19 in 2020, observers during the year again were permitted physical visits to prisons. While such visits were irregular due to COVID-19 concerns early in the year, by December the Ministry of Justice reported 40 visits to adult correctional facilities and 20 visits to juvenile correctional facilities had taken place. Visits also included the provision of technical, health, and training support.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Despite such protections there were numerous reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions, predominantly of Sunni Arabs, including internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law prohibits the arrest or remand of individuals, except by order of a competent judge or court or as established by the code of criminal procedures. The law requires authorities to register the detainee’s name, place of detention, reason for detention, and legal basis for arrest within 24 hours of the detention – a period that may be extended to a maximum of 72 hours in most cases. For offenses punishable by death, authorities may legally detain the defendant as long as necessary to complete the judicial process. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for updating and managing these registers. The law requires the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the NSS to establish guidelines for commanders in battlefield situations to register detainees’ details in this central register. The law also prohibits any entity, other than legally competent authorities, to detain any person.

Human rights organizations reported that Iraqi Security Forces, among them the Federal Police, NSS, PMF, as well as the Peshmerga and Asayish security forces in the Kurdistan Region, frequently ignored the law. Local media and human rights groups reported that authorities arrested suspects in security sweeps without warrants, particularly under the antiterrorism law, and frequently held such detainees for prolonged periods without charge or registration. The government periodically released detainees, usually after concluding that it lacked sufficient evidence for the courts to convict them, but many others remained in detention pending review of other outstanding charges.

The law allows release on bond for criminal (but not security) detainees. Authorities rarely released detainees on bail. The law provides for judges to appoint free counsel for the indigent. Attorneys appointed to represent detainees frequently complained that insufficient access to their clients hampered adequate attorney/client consultation. In many cases detainees were not able to meet their attorneys until their scheduled trial date.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were numerous reports of arbitrary arrest or unlawful detention by government forces, including by the ISF, NSS, PMF, Peshmerga, and Asayish security forces. There were no reliable statistics available regarding the total number of such acts or the length of detentions. Authorities often failed to notify family members of the arrest or location of detention, resulting in incommunicado detention if not enforced disappearance. Humanitarian organizations also reported that, in many instances, federal authorities did not inform detainees of the reasons for their detention or the charges against them. Many reports of arbitrary or unlawful detention involved suspected members or supporters of ISIS and their associates and family members.

There were reports of Iran-aligned PMF groups also arbitrarily or unlawfully detaining Kurds, Turkmen, Christians, and other members of minority groups in Ninewa Province. There were numerous reports of 30th and 50th PMF Brigades’ involvement in extortion, illegal arrests, kidnappings, and detention of individuals without warrants. Credible law-enforcement information indicated that the 30th PMF Brigade continued to operate secret prisons in several locations in Ninewa Province, which held unknown numbers of detainees arrested on sectarian-based and reportedly false pretenses. Leaders of the 30th PMF Brigade allegedly forced families of the detainees to pay large sums of money in exchange for the release of their relatives.

Human rights organizations reported frequently that KRG authorities arbitrarily detained journalists, activists, and protesters. These detentions included individuals who came to be known as the Badinan detainees, arrested in Duhok Province in 2020 for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Many were denied access to their lawyers and were not informed of the charges against them, nor were their families informed of their whereabouts in a timely manner. Many of those arrested were held in detention for lengthy periods without being brought before a judge, in violation of the law, only to be released without charges (see section 2.a.).

Pretrial Detention: The Ministries of Justice, Defense, Interior, and Labor and Social Affairs are authorized by law to hold pretrial detainees. The NSS intelligence agency and the Counterterrorism Service, which both report directly to the Prime Minister’s Office, may also hold pretrial detainees in limited circumstances, for a brief period. Lengthy pretrial detentions without due process or judicial review were a systemic problem, particularly for those accused of having ties to ISIS.

The Ministry of Justice ran five pretrial detention facilities, the Ministry of Defense ran two, and the Ministry of Interior ran 17 such facilities. In its annual report for 2020, the IHCHR reported 28,853 detainees held in detention facilities under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, 197 under the Ministry of Defense, and 116 under the Counterterrorism Service, the latter of which reported directly to the prime minister and were in the Counterterrorism Command. There were no independently verified statistics, however, concerning the approximate percentage of the prison and detainee population in pretrial detention, or the average length of time held.

The lack of judicial review resulted from several factors, including the large number of detainees, undocumented detentions, slow processing of criminal investigations, an insufficient number of judges and trained judicial personnel, authorities’ inability or reluctance to use bail or other conditions of release, lack of information sharing, bribery, and corruption.

Lengthy pretrial detentions were particularly common in areas liberated from ISIS, where the large number of ISIS-related detainees and use of makeshift facilities led to significant overcrowding and inadequate services. There were reports of detention beyond judicial release dates and unlawful releases. In May a local human rights organization reported that PMF-affiliated militias ran two makeshift detention facilities in Diyala and Salah al-Din Provinces, reportedly holding more than 7,000 ISIS-related detainees without due process or judicial review.

Authorities reportedly held numerous detainees without trial for months or years after arrest, particularly those detained under the antiterrorism law. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado, without access to defense counsel, presentation before a judge, or arraignment on formal charges within the legally mandated period.

KRG authorities also reportedly held detainees for extensive periods in pretrial detention (see section 1.d.). KRG officials noted prosecutors and defense attorneys frequently encountered obstacles in carrying out their work and that trials were unnecessarily delayed for administrative reasons.

According to the IHRCKR, some detainees remained in KRG internal security service facilities for extended periods even after court orders were issued for their release. Lawyers provided by an international NGO continued to have access to and provide representation to any juvenile without a court-appointed attorney.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but certain articles of law restricted judicial independence and impartiality.  The country’s security situation and political history left the judiciary weak and dependent on other parts of the government. The Federal Supreme Court rules on matters related to federalism and the constitution, and a separate Higher Judicial Council manages and supervises the court system, including disciplinary matters. The parliament amended the Federal Supreme Court law in March and replaced the entire Supreme Court bench in April. The amended law was criticized by both political parties and civil society for formalizing politicized and sectarian appointments to the court, while minority and other civil society groups blocked an effort by Islamist parties to add Islamic jurists to the bench. The amendment and replacement process also removed the only Christian judge from the bench and created a new secretary general position, without voting powers, that was filled by a Christian judge.

Corruption or intimidation reportedly influenced some judges in criminal cases at the trial level and on appeal at the Court of Cassation.

Numerous threats and killings by sectarian, tribal, extremist, and criminal elements impaired judicial independence. Judges, lawyers, and their family members frequently faced death threats and attacks. For example, in January unknown gunmen killed the head of the Dhi Qar Advocates Chamber, Ali al-Hamami, while another lawyer survived an attempted killing two days later in the same province.

The Kurdistan Judicial Council is legally, financially, and administratively independent from the KRG Ministry of Justice, but KRG senior leaders reportedly influenced politically sensitive cases. The IKR’s strongest political parties also reportedly influenced judicial appointments and rulings. A December 22 joint UNAMI and OHCHR report raised concerns regarding documented statements by KRG officials that “may amount to undue influence in the judicial process, including over the outcome of any subsequent appeal proceedings.”

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not enforce this right for all defendants. Some government officials, international organizations including UNAMI and OHCHR, and civil society organizations (CSOs) reported that trial proceedings fell short of international standards.

By law accused persons are innocent until proven guilty. International NGOs throughout the year indicated that judges in ISIS-related cases, however, sometimes reportedly presumed defendants’ guilt based upon presence or geographic proximity to activities of the terrorist group, or upon a spousal or familial relationship to another defendant. The law requires detainees to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and of their right to a fair, timely, and public trial. Nonetheless, officials routinely failed to inform defendants promptly or in detail of the charges against them. Trials were public, except in some national security cases. Numerous defendants experienced undue delays in reaching trial.

Defendants’ rights under law include the right to be present at their trial and the right to a privately retained or court-appointed counsel, at public expense, if needed. Defendants frequently did not have adequate time or facilities to prepare a defense. Insufficient access to defense attorneys was a serious defect in investigative, trial, and appellate proceedings. This scenario was typical in counterterrorism courts, where judicial officials reportedly sought to complete convictions and sentencing for thousands of suspected ISIS members quickly, including through mass trials.

Defendants also have the right under law to the free assistance of an interpreter, if needed. The qualifications of interpreters varied greatly. Some foreign missions provided translators to their citizen defendants. When no translator was available, judges reportedly postponed proceedings and sent the foreign defendants back to jail.

Judges assemble evidence and adjudicate guilt or innocence. Defendants and their attorneys have the right, under law, to confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Nevertheless, defendants and their attorneys were not always granted access to evidence, or government officials demanded a bribe in exchange for access to the case files. In numerous cases judges reportedly relied on forced or coerced confessions as the primary or sole source of evidence in convictions, without the corroboration of forensic evidence or independent witness testimony. The law provides for retrials of detainees convicted due to forced or coerced confessions or evidence provided by secret informants, but local organizations reported the law was selectively implemented.

The public prosecution, defendant, and complainant each have the right to appeal an acquittal, conviction, or sentence in a criminal court ruling. Appeals are heard by the criminal committee, consisting of a presiding judge and a minimum of four other judges, within the Federal Court of Cassation in Baghdad. The criminal committee automatically reviews all cases with a minimum sentence of 25 years, life imprisonment, or death. The committee may uphold a decision or overrule it and return the case to the trial court for a retrial or for additional judicial investigation.

On February 16, the Erbil Criminal Court found the so-called Badinan Five guilty of “undermining national security” and sentenced them to six years in prison. Erbil’s appellate court upheld the original ruling on May 4. UNAMI and OHCHR observed the two-day trial and reported serious concerns that basic international fair trial standards were not respected during the hearing. All five defendants alleged in court that Asayish extracted their confessions under torture, but the trial judge dismissed these allegations without further examination. Defense counsel also told the court it was not given adequate time to prepare for trial and had no opportunity to access and review key evidence against the defendants provided by secret informers or to challenge that evidence through cross-examination or by presenting rebuttal evidence.

NGO staff, independent activists, and Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament (IKP) opposition members of parliament called the court’s September and October trial postponements of another 11 Badinan detainees unnecessary and accused the KRG of purposely delaying to fabricate evidence and tamp down public support for the detainees. In their December 22 report, UNAMI and OHCHR called the cases “emblematic” of the KRG criminal justice system and described “a consistent lack of respect for the legal conditions and procedural safeguards necessary to guarantee fair judicial proceedings before an independent and impartial tribunal,” including the use of secret witnesses, and allegations of torture for at least eight of the defendants, which were “dismissed without further examination.” On October 19 and 21, six Badinan detainees were sentenced to a year in prison, on lesser charges of involvement in illegal gatherings and criminal conspiracy (as opposed to the more serious original charges of espionage and “undermining national security”), while a seventh was acquitted. On November 8, the Erbil criminal court convicted the remaining four of undermining the security of the IKR and espionage (the same charges as the Badinan Five faced, although these four defendants received less than the law’s five-year minimum sentencing guideline). The defendants filed an appeal December 6. According to one NGO, as of December at least another 34 Badinan-related activists remained in custody with no scheduled court date and many without formal charges.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government did not consider any incarcerated persons to be political prisoners and argued they had violated criminal statutes. It was difficult to assess these claims due to lack of government transparency, prevalence of corruption in arrest procedures, slow case processing, and extremely limited access to detainees, especially those held in counterterrorism, intelligence, and military facilities. Political opponents of the government alleged the government imprisoned individuals for political activities or beliefs under the pretense of criminal charges ranging from corruption to terrorism and murder. Prime Minister al-Kadhimi ordered the immediate release of all detained protesters in May 2020, and the Higher Judicial Council ordered courts to comply.

Amnesty: The law includes amnesty for corruption crimes under the condition that the stolen money be returned. NGOs and politicians complained that authorities implemented the law selectively and in a manner that did not comply with the intended goal of providing relief for those imprisoned under false charges or for sectarian reasons.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for, or cessation of, human rights abuses through domestic courts. Administrative remedies also exist. The government did not effectively implement civil or administrative remedies for human rights abuses due in part to the overwhelming security focus of the executive branch on maintenance of law and order, coupled with an understaffed judiciary.

Unlike federal law, KRG law provides for compensation to persons subject to unlawful arrest or detention and survivors of the Anfal chemical weapons campaign waged by the former regime of Saddam Hussein; the KRG Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs handles such cases. After reviewing and removing duplicate cases in June, the ministry approved an additional 1,300 cases (many historical) that received compensation consisting of a piece of land, 10 years’ salary, and college tuition for one family member, although the government could not always pay compensation due to budget constraints.

Individuals in the IKR and the rest of the country who were imprisoned for political reasons under the Saddam regime received a pension as compensation from the government. While KRG political prisoners’ monthly pensions were approximately 500,000 dinars ($342) plus 50,000 dinars ($34) for each year of being imprisoned, the central government paid other Iraqis a minimum of 1.2 million dinars ($822).

In March parliament passed the Yezidi Survivors’ Law which established a new Survivors’ Directorate at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The Survivors’ Directorate is mandated to provide psychosocial support and restitution to victims of ISIS. As of October 1, the government had neither fully funded nor issued implementing regulations for the directorate.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The constitution and law prohibit the expropriation of property, except for the public benefit and in return for just compensation. In previous years government forces and PMF units forced suspected ISIS members, in addition to members of religious and ethnic minority groups, from their homes and confiscated property without restitution. Although home and property confiscations continued to decline during the year, many of those who confiscated the homes still occupied them or claimed ownership to the property. This factor, among other concerns, contributed to low rates of return for IDPs to these areas.

In June the Iraqi Commission of Integrity (COI) announced that the Integrity Investigation Court in Ninewa ordered the freezing of 844 state land assets that were illegally seized or allocated to various parties until an investigation of their status was completed. There was no information available on the status of the investigation. In May the mayor of Mosul City, Zuhair al-Araji, asked the Police Directorate in Mosul to take legal action against four members of Asa’ib A’hla al-Haq (AAH) who worked in the AAH Economic Office in Mosul, on charges of bulldozing and seizing a plot of land for the purpose of selling it; however, the Police Directorate took no action.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were numerous reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Government forces often entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.

Authorities reportedly detained spouses and other family members of fugitives – mostly Sunni Arabs wanted on terrorism charges – to compel the fugitives to surrender.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

Killings: Iraq Body Count, an independent NGO that records civilian deaths in the country, reported 417 civilians killed during the year due to internal conflict, a drop from 848 civilian deaths reported in 2020. An IHCHR commissioner attributed the drop in deaths to reduced protest activity.

Despite its territorial defeat in 2017, ISIS remained a major perpetrator of abuses and atrocities. The remaining fighters operated out of sleeper cells and strike teams that carried out sniper attacks, ambushes, kidnappings, and killings against security forces and community leaders. These abuses were particularly evident in Anbar, Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din Provinces. On March 13, ISIS claimed responsibility for killing seven members of a single family in the Albu Dor region south of Tikrit in Salah al-Din Province.

Abductions: There were frequent reports of enforced disappearances by or on behalf of government forces, including the ISF and PMF, as well as non-PMF militias and criminal groups.

A 2020 UNAMI report released and shared with government officials on enforced disappearances in Anbar Province called for independent and effective investigations to establish the fate of approximately 1,000 civilian men and boys who disappeared during military operations against ISIS in Anbar during 2015-16. As of October the IHCHR had not received any information regarding these individuals, and the government had not added the names to their databases of known missing persons.

On August 1, the KRG Office for Rescuing Kidnapped Yezidis stated that 2,763 (1,293 women and 1,470 men) of the 6,417 Yezidis kidnapped by ISIS in 2014 remained missing.

Members of other minority populations were also victims of human rights abuses committed by ISIS forces. In February Ali Hussein of the Iraqi Turkmen Front reported a revised estimate of kidnapped Turkmen at 1,300 since 2014. Among the abductees, 470 were women, 130 children, and 700 men.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Reports from international human rights groups stated that government forces, including Federal Police, NSS, PMF, and Asayish, abused prisoners and detainees, particularly Sunni Arabs. In May, Afad Center for Human Rights reported that the detainees who were most frequently subjected to torture were Sunnis from the northern and western provinces, Baghdad belt region, and other areas that were subjected to ISIS occupation.

Child Soldiers: There was one verified report of recruitment and use of children by the Popular Mobilization Forces. The government and Shia religious leaders expressly prohibited children younger than 18 from serving in combat.

In previous years ISIS was reported to have recruited and used children in combat and support functions. Due in part to ISIS’ territorial defeat, little information was available on its use of children in the country during the year.

In August the United Nations Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict published its annual report on children and armed conflict, in which the UN Secretary General commended the government for its continuing discussion with the United Nations on developing an action plan to prevent the recruitment and use of children by the Popular Mobilization Forces; however, it noted that one new case of recruitment and use of a child soldier by the Popular Mobilization Forces was verified.

See also the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Conflict disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of persons throughout the country, particularly in Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Salah al-Din, and Ninewa Provinces.

Government forces, including the ISF and PMF, established or maintained roadblocks that reportedly impeded the flow of humanitarian assistance to communities in need, particularly in disputed territories such as the Ninewa Plain and Sinjar in Ninewa Province. ISIS continued to attack religious observances, including funerals, and civilian electricity and other infrastructure. In 2017 the UN Security Council, in cooperation with the government, established the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) to support domestic efforts to hold ISIS accountable by collecting, preserving, and storing evidence, to the highest possible standards, of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed by ISIS.

In May Special Adviser Karim Khan presented to the UN Security Council that UNITAD had established “clear and convincing evidence” that the crimes committed by ISIS against the Yezidis constituted genocide. UNITAD reported that ISIS was “responsible for acts of extermination, murder, rape, torture, enslavement, persecution, and other war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Yezidis.” In September the UN Security Council extended UNITAD’s mandate for another year. In October government authorities, in cooperation with UNITAD, completed the excavation of a mass grave site in Bir Mantiqa al-Halwat, Anbar Province, where ISIS atrocities had reportedly occurred in 2014. The general director of mass graves at the IKR Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs confirmed in a public statement on December 8 that there were 90 mass graves in the Sinjar region. UNITAD-supported exhumation and identification activities continued throughout the year.

Militias and local authorities in some areas, including Ninewa and Diyala Provinces, tried to exercise control over NGO activities and staff recruitment. During August two humanitarian organizations reported to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs that security actors requested names and personnel details of employees as a condition for continuing humanitarian operations.

There were reports of physical harm to humanitarian staff operating in the country. Three staff of an international NGO were reportedly injured during Turkish military operations in and around Sinjar, Ninewa Province in August. Press outlets reported that these Turkish operations included airstrikes on what may have been a makeshift medical facility, killing four medical staff in addition to members of a militia affiliated with both the PKK and elements of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media if such does not violate public order and morality, or express support for the banned Baath Party. Despite this provision, media and social activists faced various forms of pressure and intimidation from authorities, making the primary limitation on freedom of expression self-censorship due to a credible fear of reprisals by the government, political parties, ethnic and sectarian forces, militias, terrorist and extremist groups, or criminal gangs. A media environment in which press outlets were closely affiliated with specific political parties and ethnic factions, an opaque judiciary, and a still-developing democratic political system combined to place considerable restrictions on freedom of expression, including the press.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately but not without fear of reprisal.  Paramilitary militias harassed activists and new reform-oriented political movements online and in person, including through online disinformation, bot attacks, and threats or use of physical violence to silence them and halt their activities.

Iraqi Security Forces (mostly those under the Ministry of Interior, within the NSS, or from the PMF), in addition to KRG forces (primarily Asayish), arrested and detained protesters and activists critical of the central government and of the KRG, respectively, according to statements by government officials, NGO representatives, and press reports.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: Despite the constitutional protection for freedom of expression, central government and KRG oversight and censorship sometimes interfered with media operations, at times resulting in the closure of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, denying access to public information, and interference with internet service.

Local media was active and expressed a variety of views, largely reflecting owners’ political viewpoints. Media also self-censored to comply with government restrictions against “violating public order” and because of a fear of reprisal by political figures and parties, militias, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, government officials, and private individuals. Political parties strongly influenced or controlled outright most of the several hundred daily and weekly print publications, as well as dozens of radio and television stations.

The KRG’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) prioritized access to the outlets they owned. In KDP strongholds, Kurdistan Television, Rudaw, and K24 had access to all public places and information, while in PUK-dominated Sulaymaniyah Province, Kurdsat News and GK Television enjoyed the same privilege. Conversely, outlets belonging to opposition parties or lacking party affiliation had limited access to public information in the IKR.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face threats, intimidation, and attacks by militia or security forces.

Government forces occasionally prevented journalists from reporting, citing security reasons. Some media organizations reported arrests and harassment of journalists, as well as government efforts to prevent them from covering politically sensitive topics, including security matters, corruption, and government failure to provide adequate services. For example on June 21, security forces confiscated the equipment of media crews of the BMC, Rudaw, and Kurdish Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) to stop them from covering a confrontation between security forces affiliated with the IKR vice president and Sulaymaniyah Asayish. Impunity in cases of violence against the press and a lack of a truly independent judiciary and press regulation body diminished the effectiveness of journalists.

During the year parliament introduced a revised draft of the Combatting Cybercrimes bill that was the subject of intense national debate. NGOs shared concerns that the law would most likely be used to restrict free speech and the work of journalists, whistleblowers, and activists.

Throughout the IKR there were reports of beatings, detentions, and death threats against media workers, particularly toward journalists working for opposition-affiliated outlets. In some cases the aggressors wore KRG military or police uniforms. On August 11, the local NGO Metro Center reported that while covering public demonstrations protesting the lack of water in Erbil, government-affiliated persons attacked an NRT crew and prevented NRT and Speda TV crews from covering the protest. On July 13, security forces affiliated with PUK co-leader Bafel Talabani raided the headquarters of IPlus TV, a new outlet preparing to open reportedly affiliated with PUK co-leader Lahur Talabani. Security forces held the reporters inside the building for a few hours, following political disputes between the two leaders. The outlet was then shut down and was not permitted to open.

Certain KRG courts applied the more stringent criminal code and laws in lawsuits involving journalists rather than the KRG’s local press law, which provides greater protection for freedom of expression and forbids the detention of journalists. For example, the KRG security forces detained KNN journalist Qahraman Shukri on January 27, and the court sentenced him on June 27 in the absence of legal counsel, on unknown charges. On June 12, the Halabja court sentenced freelance journalist Nasih Abdulrahim to six months in prison on charges of defamation and misuse of a telecommunication device following a lawsuit filed by the Halabja Health Directorate concerning a Facebook post concerning an investigation into a workers’ complaint at the Health Directorate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits producing, importing, publishing, or possessing written material, drawings, photographs, or films that violate public integrity or decency. The penalties for conviction include fines and imprisonment. Fear of violent retaliation for publishing facts or opinions critical of political factions inhibited free expression. The Ministry of Culture must approve all books published in or imported into the country, thereby subjecting authors to censorship.

On July 14, the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq (PFAA) reported that security forces had raided and closed the Baghdad bureau of RT (Russia Today), confiscating equipment and briefly detaining Ashraf al-Azzawi, the Baghdad correspondent of RT’s Arabic channel. According to PFAA, the order had come from the Communication and Media Commission (CMC), but the CMC provided no reason for the raid.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes slander, blasphemy, and defamation, including the insulting of government leaders. The judiciary, militias, and government officials used arrest warrants in defamation cases to intimidate, silence, and in some instances apparently “flush out” activists and journalists from hiding. Human rights organizations recommended the government revise the law, which they said was used to silence dissent and calls for reform. In November the judiciary issued an arrest warrant against prominent activist Ahmed al-Washah for defaming Mohammed al-Sadr, the father of Sadrist Trend leader Muqtada al-Sadr, based on Washah’s social media posts criticizing the Sadr family.

National Security: Paramilitary militias in the PMF frequently threatened Sunni and minority communities with terrorism charges to silence their dissent, especially in areas where the militias have taken over local land and economic activities and blocked the return of Sunni IDPs.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental and quasi-governmental actors, including militias outside of state control, terrorist groups, and criminal organizations, threatened journalists with violence for reporting on sensitive subjects. According to the PFAA, on May 31, al-Tagheer TV channel employees and its owner received death threats from unknown militias in response to a television program criticizing militias in the country. The PFAA also received reports of other threats to media correspondents by militia groups.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content, and there were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Government restrictions on access to the internet were overt, but the government denied that it monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Despite restrictions, political figures and activists used the internet to criticize politicians, organize demonstrations, and campaign for candidates through social media platforms. Militias used bots and disinformation campaigns to attack and defame activists, independent elections candidates, and the electoral commission.

Civil society organizations reported their activists’ social media pages were monitored by government and militia forces, and that the activists faced harassment or criminal charges filed against them based on what they posted on Facebook and other social media platforms. For example on November 16, the Kirkuk Province misdemeanor court charged Hazhar Kakai, a lawyer and a human rights advocate, 510,000 dinars ($350) for a Facebook post allegedly describing the acting governor of Kirkuk Rakan al-Jabouri as a Baathist.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Social, religious, and political pressures significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of choice in academic and cultural matters. In all regions various groups sought to control the pursuit of formal education and the granting of academic positions. Despite hosting several concerts and festivals during the year, the Tourism Security Directorate in some Shia provinces attempted to restrict the staging of concerts and use of public, non-Islamic music.

NGOs in the IKR reported that university president, dean, and senior professorship positions were easier to obtain for those with links to the KDP and PUK ruling parties. Privilege was also given to those affiliated with political parties in the pursuit of higher degrees.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government occasionally limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration “regulated by law,” and the government generally respected this right. Regulations require protest organizers to request permission seven days in advance of a demonstration and submit detailed information regarding the applicants, the reason for the protest, and participants. The regulations prohibit all “slogans, signs, printed materials, or drawings” involving “sectarianism, racism, or segregation” of citizens. The regulations also prohibit anything that would violate the constitution or law; encourage violence, hatred, or killing; or prove insulting to Islam, “honor, morals, religion, holy groups, or Iraqi entities in general.” Authorities generally issued permits in accordance with the regulations.

In June Amnesty International reported its investigation of 14 out of the more than 100 cases from the IKR’s Duhok Province known as the Badinan detainees. Observers alleged the detainees were arbitrarily arrested between March and October 2020 by Asayish and Parastin forces (Kurdistan Democratic Party intelligence) in connection with their participation in protests, criticism of local authorities, or journalistic work. Amnesty International found all members were held incommunicado for up to five months and at least six were forcibly disappeared for periods of up to three months; eight of them claimed they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated during detention. Amnesty International further documented four instances of harassment or intimidation of family members of these individuals in detention or hiding, including by arrest and verbal threats. A December UNAMI and OHCHR report raised similar concerns. While trials for some Badinan detainees have concluded (see section 1.e), others remained in detention without charges.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right to form and join associations and political parties, with some exceptions. The government generally respected this right, except for the legal prohibitions against groups expressing support for the Baath Party or “Zionist principles.”

NGOs registered in Baghdad could operate in the IKR, but NGOs registered solely in the IKR could not operate in the rest of the country. As a result, some NGOs registered only in the IKR could not operate outside the IKR and KRG-controlled disputed territories.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/ .

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not consistently respect these rights. Law and custom generally do not respect freedom of movement for women. For example the law prevents a woman from applying for a passport without the consent of her male guardian or a legal representative. Women could not obtain the Civil Status Identification Document, required for access to public services, food assistance, health care, employment, education, and housing, without the consent of a male relative.

In some circumstances authorities restricted movements of displaced persons, and authorities did not allow some IDP camp residents to depart without specific permission, thereby limiting access to livelihoods, education, and services. Many parts of the country liberated from ISIS control suffered from movement restrictions due to checkpoints of PMF units and other government forces. In other cases local authorities did not always recognize security permits of returnees or comply with the central government’s orders to facilitate, but not force, returns.

In-country Movement: The law permits security forces to restrict in-country movement and take other necessary security and military measures in response to security threats and attacks. There were numerous reports that government forces, including the ISF, Peshmerga, and PMF, selectively enforced regulations, including for ethno-sectarian reasons, as well as criminal extortion, requiring residency permits to limit entry of persons into areas under their control.

Multiple international NGOs reported that PMF units and the Peshmerga prevented civilians, including Sunni Arabs and members of ethnic and religious minority groups, from returning to their homes after government forces ousted ISIS (see section 6). UNHCR reported that local armed groups barred returns to certain areas of Baiji, Salah al-Din Province. Similarly, Christian CSOs reported that certain PMF groups, including the 30th and 50th PMF Brigades, prevented Christian IDP returns and harassed Christian returnees in several towns in the Ninewa Plain, including Bartalla and Qaraqosh. Members of the 30th Brigade also refused to implement a decision from the prime minister to remove checkpoints, and their continued obstruction led to forced demographic change in traditionally Christian areas of the Ninewa Plain.

The KRG authorities restricted movements in certain areas for nonresidents and required nonresidents to register with the local Asayish office to obtain a permit. These permits were generally renewable.  Citizens of all ethno-sectarian backgrounds, including Kurds, crossing into the IKR from central or southern regions were obligated to cross through checkpoints and undergo personal and vehicle inspection. The government imposed similar restrictions on IDPs from Ninewa Province and the disputed territories.

Security considerations, unexploded ordnance, destruction of infrastructure, COVID-19 curfews, and travel restrictions, as well as official and unofficial access restrictions, limited humanitarian access to communities in need. Insecurity caused by the presence of ISIS, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and PMF groups, central government and KRG access restrictions including requirement of National Operations Center letters approving intergovernorate movement, and COVID restrictions hindered the movement of humanitarian organizations, restricting their ability to monitor and implement some programs for a portion of the year.

Out of the estimated 2.4 million persons in need of humanitarian assistance in the country, in September alone more than 18,000 were affected by restrictions imposed on humanitarian movements, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA reported that while there were occasionally location- and context-specific restrictions on humanitarian NGO operations, these were usually temporary and eventually resolved. There were few to no areas where humanitarian NGOs were categorically prevented from working. There were, however, areas of high sensitivity where militias or local security actors were less comfortable with NGOs’ presence, which generally diminished the scale and pace of humanitarian operations in those areas.

In August humanitarian partners reported 21 access-related incidents in 12 districts, with approximately 85 percent comprising administrative restrictions on movement. Additionally, there were two reported incidents of interference in the implementation of humanitarian activities and one reported incident of violence against humanitarian personnel, assets, and facilities. Approximately 41,000 persons in need were affected by the reported incidents.

The number of reported humanitarian access incidents related to lack of national-level access letter authorizations was 60 percent lower than the average reported in 2020. From January to September an average of 21 access-related incidents per month were reported and recorded by the OCHA-managed tracking system, approximately 60 percent less than the monthly average reported in 2020 of 52 incidents per month. Access improved for humanitarian NGOs following the establishment of an online application system for access authorization letters, which became operational in early in the year. These letters were still not universally recognized by all local security actors, and humanitarian actors continued to face challenges, some of which were recurrent in particularly sensitive locations such as Kirkuk Province’s Hawija and Daquq Districts.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The constitution and national policy on displacement address IDP rights, but few laws specifically do so. The government and international organizations, including UN agencies and local and international NGOs, provided protection and other assistance to IDPs. Humanitarian actors continued to provide support to official IDP camps and implemented community-based services for IDPs residing outside of camps to limit strain on host community resources.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix, as of September 30, there were 1,189,581 persons internally displaced, with 182,240 residing in camps and an additional 103,000 in informal settlements, predominantly in Erbil, Duhok, and Ninewa Provinces. According to IOM, 102,372 IDPs lived in critical shelters, including unsafe and abandoned buildings, religious buildings, and schools, which were not safe, adequate, or permanent. IOM reported that 4,939,074 persons returned to areas of origin across the country since the liberation from ISIS.

Following government closures of 16 IDP camps in territory outside the IKR at the end of 2020, international NGOs reported only 41 percent of those leaving the camps were able to return to their previous residence, and thousands of IDPs were forced into secondary displacement. In November the government reclassified one of the two remaining IDP camps in central government-controlled territory as an informal settlement. The camp, in Anbar, accommodated 466 households (2,155 individuals). One-half of the camp population was part of female-headed households, many with perceived ISIS affiliations. The remaining IDP camp outside the IKR accommodated 1,020 households (5,279 individuals) in Ninewa.

After repeated advocacy from the United Nations and the international community, the government agreed to a coordinated return plan for both camps. The government worked with the Sunni Endowment to provide a million dinars ($685) to families who elected to leave the camps. In March the government approved a National Plan to Address Displacement in Iraq drafted by the Ministries of Planning and of Migration and Displacement.

In some areas violence, insecurity, and long-standing political, tribal, and ethno-sectarian tensions hampered progress on national reconciliation and political reform, complicating the protection environment for IDPs. Thousands of families faced secondary displacement due to economic and security concerns. Forced displacements strained the capacity of local authorities in areas with higher concentrations of IDPs.

Families returning to their place of origin often grappled with the destruction of their homes, a lack of access to services, and a dearth of livelihood opportunities. Many returnees were concerned by the prevalence of PMF groups or remnants of ISIS and, in Sinjar, militias aligned with the PKK. Displaced families, especially those with perceived ties to ISIS, including victims and survivors of ISIS crimes, were often unable to obtain or replace vital civil status documents, without which they were unable to work, go to school, or move about freely. In some cases this led to secondary displacement or a return to IDP camps.

In August the Ministry of Displacement and Migration acknowledged that the lack of security, services, and infrastructure in the cities destroyed by military operations in the provinces of Anbar, Salah al-Din, Ninewa, Kirkuk, and Diyala caused IDPs who had returned to their areas of origin to go back to IDP camps. Government assistance focused on financial grants to returnees, but payments were sporadic, and there was a large backlog in responding to applications. Faced with large movements of IDPs across the country, the government provided food, water, and financial assistance to some but not all IDPs, including in the IKR. Many IDPs lived in informal settlements without access to adequate water, sanitation, or other essential services.

Some local authorities also applied government compensation laws in a discriminatory manner and excluded families with perceived ISIS affiliations. Many families applied for but had not yet received compensation, and authorities prevented some families with perceived ISIS affiliations from applying. As a result, many IDPs did not have the resources to rebuild their homes.

All citizens were eligible to receive food under the Public Distribution System (PDS), but authorities implemented the PDS sporadically and irregularly, with limited access in areas that were among the last to be liberated. Authorities did not distribute all commodities each month, and not all IDPs could access the PDS in each province. There were reports of IDPs losing access and entitlement to PDS distributions and other services due to requirements that citizens could redeem PDS rations or other services only at their registered place of residence.

Local authorities often determined whether IDPs would have access to local services. KRG officials asserted that all IDPs and refugees in the Kurdistan Region benefited from access to public services and infrastructure (such as drinking water, electricity, education, health care, roads, and irrigation systems) on an equal basis with the local population, which they stated reflected the KRG’s commitment to safeguarding fundamental human rights and human dignity under pressing circumstances.

Almost a million of the country’s IDPs and refugees resided in the IKR, with approximately 30 percent living in camps and 70 percent outside camps, according to the KRG’s Joint Crisis Coordination Center (JCCC). The KRG hosted 25 of the 27 IDP camps in the country and committed not to close them until the IDPs returned to their area of origin voluntarily. According to the JCCC, as of August, 40 percent of IDPs throughout the IKR were Sunni Arabs, 30 percent were Yezidis, 13 percent were Kurds (of several religious affiliations), and 7 percent were Christians. Other religious minority groups comprised the remaining 10 percent. Despite the difficult economic situation and security challenges that occurred in the region, KRG officials reported that preserving the rights of these minorities was a top priority. Households with perceived ties to ISIS faced stigma and were at increased risk of being deprived of their basic rights. Individuals in IDP camps require government permission to return to their areas of origin, and government officials frequently denied these security clearances for displaced households with perceived ISIS affiliation. Because of this perceived affiliation, these households faced problems obtaining civil documentation and had limited freedom of movement, including the ability to seek medical treatment, due to the risk of arrest or inability to reenter the camps where they resided. Humanitarian organizations reported that female heads of household in multiple IDP camps struggled to obtain permission to move and were subject to verbal and physical harassment, including rape, sexual assault, and exploitation, by government forces and camp residents.

IDPs, particularly those suspected of ISIS affiliation, continued to face hostility from local government officials and populations, as well as expulsion when they attempted to return to areas of origin. In liberated areas of Anbar, Duhok, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din Provinces, humanitarian agencies reported movement restrictions for families with relatives suspected of ISIS affiliation. An Interior Ministry official estimated the number of those with perceived ISIS affiliation at 250,000. Tribal leaders and humanitarian actors reported that fabricated accusations of ISIS affiliation led to the stigmatization of IDPs. IDPs were also often the targets of stigmatization or discrimination because of familial rivalries or economic reasons, rather than because of affiliation with ISIS.

Many Christian IDPs refused to return to the town of Tal Kayf, citing fear of the PMF 50th Brigade that occupied it and the presence of the Tesferat detention center and court, which the International Committee of the Red Cross reported could hold women and minors suspected of being ISIS family members. Prior to 2002 there were between 800,000 and 1.4 million Christians in the country, but that figure had reportedly fallen to less than 150,000, located primarily in the Ninewa Plain. Only a very small number of the country’s population of 400,000 to 500,000 Yezidis had returned to their homes, with Sinjar having a return rate of only an estimated 35 percent. Many chose to stay in camps, saying a lack of a reconstruction plans or public services, as well as insecurity, discouraged them from returning home.

In October 2020 the government and the KRG signed the comprehensive Sinjar Agreement. It called for a new mayor and administrative committees to oversee Sinjar District, a local security police consisting of Yezidis, removal of PKK and PMF militias, and expanded reconstruction efforts to support voluntary returns of Yezidis still displaced in the IKR and abroad. Political disagreements stalled progress, and the agreement was yet to be fully implemented. UNHCR reported many of the IDPs who initially returned to Sinjar headed back to the camps in Duhok, citing a lack of security and access to livelihoods in Sinjar.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR, IOM, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. The government did not have effective systems to assist all these individuals, largely due to a lack of capacity.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the federal government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, while the IKR provides residency permits to asylum seekers and refugees in its territory outside the framework of the federal law. Syrians make up most of the refugee population, and almost all refugees resided in the IKR, which has 10 refugee camps. The system lacked procedural safeguards, including no effective right of appeal, and access was largely nationality-based. The law does not provide for specific provisions for groups with special needs, including children and persons with disabilities but neither does it preclude their access to protection.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Humanitarian protection experts assessed that residents of Iraqi IDP camps were highly susceptible to sexual exploitation and abuse, with conditions further exacerbated by COVID-19-related movement restrictions. Refugees and IDPs reported frequent sexual harassment, both in camps and cities in the IKR. Local NGOs reported cases in which camp management and detention employees subjected IDPs and refugees to various forms of abuse and intimidation.

Freedom of Movement: Syrian refugees continued to face restrictions on residence and movement outside the IKR. KRG authorities stated IDPs and refugees had freedom of movement within the IKR. There is an established practice that enables short-term visits to Syria to take place for a limited number of reasons, upon approval of the KRG. Kurdish Human Rights Watch confirmed the restrictions on residence and movement outside the IKR.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers were entitled to work in the private sector. Based on specific decrees and practice, Palestinian refugees generally enjoyed rights akin to citizens but were not able to naturalize or vote. In the IKR, Palestinians were allowed to work in the private sector but were required to renew their refugee status annually. Syrian refugees were able to obtain and renew residency and work permits both in refugee camps and in the IKR, although not in the rest of the country. Central government authorities did not permit refugees with IKR residence permits to work outside the IKR. According to UNHCR, both refugees and asylum seekers without a visa were allowed to work formally in the IKR if they obtained a KRG residency permit and were age 15 or older.

g. Stateless Persons

UNHCR estimated there were 46,500 individuals who were either stateless or at risk of statelessness. An estimated 15,000 displaced children lacked civil documentation and faced exclusion from local communities, including being barred from attending school, denied access to health care, and deprived of basic rights. Many of these children born under ISIS rule were issued birth certificates considered invalid by the government. They faced extreme difficulties in obtaining civil documentation due to perceived ISIS affiliation. This was made more difficult as women were unable to obtain birth certificates for their children without their husband present or a certificate of their husband’s death.

These women and children were stigmatized because of their association with ISIS, leaving them at heightened risk of suicide, retaliation, and sexual exploitation. Although some communities issued edicts and took steps to absolve women of perceived guilt associated with their sexual exploitation by ISIS fighters, honor killings remained a risk. Communities generally did not accept children born to ISIS fighters. Absent a consistent, countrywide plan to document children of Iraqi mothers and ISIS fathers, those children were at risk of statelessness.

The Yezidi community more willingly welcomed back Yezidi women who survived ISIS captivity but not children fathered through rape by ISIS fighters. The Yezidi community frequently forced women to give up such babies and minor children to orphanages under threat of expulsion from the community. Women who chose to keep their children faced the threat of ostracization from their community and honor killings. International NGOs provided shelter referrals to some Yezidi women and, in some cases, assisted mothers in finding homes for forcibly abandoned children. Those children that did not receive assistance were without parents, identification, clear country of birth, or settled nationality. The UNAMI reported that although the Iraqi Council of Representatives (COR) passed the Yezidi Survivors’ Law in March, the legislation did not include specific provisions related to the status of or benefits for ISIS-born children and their mothers, especially children born of sexual violence.

UNHCR’s advocacy, legal awareness raising, and civil documentation support continued to be available to persons at risk of statelessness. Documents most relevant to those at risk of statelessness, include birth, marriage, and nationality certificates.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Despite violence and other irregularities in the conduct of previously held elections, citizens were generally able to exercise this right.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: During the year the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) conducted elections for the Iraqi COR – the national parliament. The ISF, IDPs, and detainees voted at special polling stations October 8, and general voting took place October 10. Voter turnout based on the number of registered voters was 43 percent. Official IHEC statistics using a similar methodology showed 44 percent turnout in 2018; however, the elections during the year excluded out-of-country voters and restricted IDP voting to those IDPs with biometric voter IDs. The elections were observed by the EU and by domestic civil society organizations and monitored by UNAMI.

Domestic and international elections observers cited procedural and transparency improvements over the 2018 elections. IHEC experienced minor glitches with its new voting technologies, first introduced in 2018, but was able to overcome many of these challenges due to the robust presence of international advisers provided largely by UNAMI. Domestic and international elections observers cited that violence against activists and voter intimidation by paramilitary militia groups in the months ahead of the elections likely affected voters’ choice and voter turnout. International observers also cited that unregulated campaign spending and “rampant disinformation online, including by political stakeholders and groups affiliated with foreign countries” that spread false narratives and attacked and threatened candidates – especially women, journalists, and human rights activists – also negatively affected candidate participation. Credible allegations of vote buying were common.

The COR ratified a new election law in November 2020 which divided the country into 83 smaller electoral districts and effectively changed the country’s elections from a proportional representation system based on party lists to a single, nontransferable vote system. This system yielded more competitive and unexpected results than in prior elections, prompting some parties to allege the results were manipulated. Most observers dismissed these allegations, citing an independent audit of IHEC’s electronic results management system completed ahead of the elections.

Militia-affiliated parties staged paid demonstrations outside of Baghdad’s international zone that resulted in clashes with the ISF and the deaths of two militia members on November 5. Similar groups were also suspected of staging a rocket attack on government facilities in Baghdad on October 31 and an attack on Prime Minister al-Kadhimi’s residence on November 7 using explosive-laden drones. Separately, winning independent candidate Nadhim al-Shibly was attacked with an explosive device at his home in al-Qadisiyah Province on November 6. IHEC announced the final interim election results on November 30 following the Electoral Judicial Panel’s review of election appeals, which resulted in the change of the winners of five seats.

On December 27, the Federal Supreme Court (FSC) certified the results of the October 10 election, a few hours after rejecting a case brought by Fatah Alliance leader Hadi al-Amiri to invalidate the election results. The FSC ruled that Amiri must repay court-proceeding expenses and that the new COR could amend the election law to mandate manual results tabulation, in part to mitigate future controversies regarding alleged electronic tampering and appease election rejectionists.

The parliamentary election saw the first implementation of new biometric identification voter ID (BVID) requirements for special voting categories to include security forces, IDPs, and detainees. Due in part to these requirements, the number of eligible IDP voters dropped to 120,126 from 293,943 in 2018. IDP returns and government closures of IDP camps also affected IDPs’ ability to vote. IHEC made attempts to register IDPs for BVIDs using mobile outreach teams and by working with IDP camp administrators. Most detainees also did not have the documents required to obtain the BVID due to the government’s civil identity directorate COVID-19-limited hours. Access to prison populations was also restricted due to COVID-19 resulting in reduced electoral participation by these individuals.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties and coalition blocs tended to organize along either religious or ethnic lines, although some parties crossed sectarian lines. Membership in some political parties conferred special privileges and advantages in employment and education. IHEC confirmed the registration of 38 coalitions and 256 parties to participate in parliamentary elections, although some did not run candidates.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women, persons with disabilities (see section 6), or members of minority groups in the political process, and these groups did participate. The constitution mandates that women constitute at least 25 percent of parliamentary and provincial council membership. Female candidates comprised 29 percent of overall candidates, and women won a record 97 seats in parliament, including 54 that did not rely on the quota process. Nonetheless, political discussions often reportedly marginalized female members of parliament.

Of the 329 seats in parliament, the law reserves nine seats for members of minority groups: five for Christians from Baghdad, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Erbil, and Duhok Provinces; one for Yezidis; one for Sabean-Mandaeans; one for Shabak; and, following a parliamentary decision in 2019, one for Faili Kurds in Wasit Province. Members of minority groups won additional seats in parliament over their quota allotment, including three Yezidis and, for the first time, two Kaka’i.

The KRG reserves 30 percent of parliamentary and provincial council membership for women. Three women held cabinet-level positions as of October, and women constituted 86 of the IKR’s 435 judges and held an additional 383 positions in the judicial sector. Of 111 seats in the IKP, the law reserves 11 seats for members of minority groups along ethnic, rather than religious lines: five for (predominantly Christian) Chaldo-Assyrian candidates, five for Turkmen candidates, and one for Armenian candidates. No seats are reserved for self-described groups whom the KRG considers ethnically Kurdish or Arab, such as Yezidis, Shabak, Sabean-Mandaeans, Kaka’i, and Faili Kurds.

Major political parties partnered with, or in some cases created, affiliated minority group political parties in both the central government and IKR elections and encouraged other nonminority citizens to vote for their allied minority candidates for quota seats in the COR and IKP. Minority religious leaders and minority community activists complained this process disenfranchised them, and they advocated for electoral reform to limit voting for minority quota seats to voters of the relevant minority, as well as for additional quota seats in the COR and IKP.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government struggled to implement the laws effectively. The law allows some individuals convicted of corruption to receive amnesty upon repaying money obtained through corruption, which had the effect of allowing them to keep any profits from stolen funds.

Corruption remained a chief obstacle to effective governance at all institutional levels. Bribery, money laundering, nepotism, and misappropriation of public funds were common at all levels and across all branches of government. Family, tribal, and ethno-sectarian considerations significantly influenced government decisions at all levels and across all branches of government. Federal and KRG officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were, however, notable steps in 2020, including the approval of a national anticorruption strategy and subpoenas issued for and conviction of government officials for corruption in the IKR and the rest of the country.

The Council of Ministers Secretariat has an anticorruption advisor, and the COR has an Integrity Committee. There is also a Federal Commission of Integrity (COI), a COR-monitored commission established in 2004 and recognized under the 2005 constitution as an independent body tasked with preventing and investigating corruption at all levels of government. The Council of Ministers secretary general leads the Joint Anticorruption Council, which also includes agency inspectors general. Investigations of corruption were not free from political influence.

In June the government approved the provisions of the national anticorruption strategy proposed by the COI for 2021-24. The provisions of the national anticorruption strategy include the use of international companies that have experience and competence in the field of recovering smuggled funds from those convicted on corruption charges and working to control inflation and graft. The government made several arrests for corruption-related charges.

Anticorruption efforts were hampered by a lack of agreement concerning institutional roles, political will, political influence, lack of transparency, and unclear governing legislation and regulatory processes. The existence of armed militias, which were directly involved in corruption and provided protection for corrupt officials, made serious and sustainable anticorruption efforts difficult to enforce.

Although anticorruption institutions increasingly collaborated with civil society groups, the effect of expanded cooperation was limited. Media and NGOs attempted to expose corruption independently, but their capacity was limited. Anticorruption, law enforcement, and judicial officials, as well as members of civil society and media, faced threats, intimidation, and abuse in their efforts to combat corrupt practices.

Corruption: The Permanent Committee to Investigate Corruption and Significant Crimes established by the prime minister in 2020 to investigate and prosecute major corruption cases continued its work during the year. Because it had the support of the government counterterrorism services unit, which could implement warrants and judicial orders, corrupt officials reportedly began to feel pressured.

In October Babil Province health director general Mohammed Hashem al-Jaafari, was sentenced to six months in prison on bribery charges. The case of the director general of the General Establishment for Iron and Steel, Abbas Hayal, who had been arrested at the same time, was still pending. In August the director general of the Iraqi Cement Company, Ali Saleh Mahdi, who had been arrested by the committee in April, was sentenced to six years in prison for misuse of public funds.

In July the COI released its semiannual report, stating it issued 54 subpoenas against 33 officials with ministerial rank, and 243 subpoenas against 177 officials with director general rank or equivalent. Four officials with ministerial rank, as well as 74 directors general, were referred for trial. The COI also announced the sentencing of a retired judge under the graft law, which was applied for the first time. The judge was unable to prove the source of assets registered in his wife’s name worth 24 billion dinars ($17 million).

The KRG maintained its own COI. According to the KRG COI’s report, there were 277 corruption cases underway and 445 under criminal investigation, with 58 individuals convicted, and 54 awaiting a final trial decision. The convictions came from across the IKR, including Erbil (12), Duhok (41), and Sulaymaniyah (five).

Media reported that the head of the Garmian Appellate Court in the province of Sulaymaniyah on June 15 removed Judge Abdulamir Jum’a from the Garmian COI. NGOs and activists widely assessed this was due to his outspokenness on prominent corruption cases and because he issued arrest warrants for influential officials. The judge retained his seat on the Garmian Preliminary Court, but activists and NGOs declared his dismissal was intended as a warning to deter other judges who sought to combat corruption and was a greenlight to corrupt officials that they could continue their activities with impunity.

The Central Bank leads the government’s efforts to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The bank’s Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Office (AMLCFTO) worked with law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to identify and prosecute illicit financial transactions. The latest report released by the office in 2019 showed it investigated 400 potential cases of money laundering during 2019, with 34 cases referred to the judiciary and 192 cases under review by the office’s analysts. The AMLCFTO was not a member of the Egmont Group, the international organization responsible for coordinating secure information sharing with other countries, limiting the country’s ability to exchange information on illicit finance matters, including corruption.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Several domestic and international human rights groups operated, in most cases with little government restriction or interference, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. International NGOs reported that the government allowed their staff of certain nationalities to apply for visas on arrival after the government adopted a similar policy across visa categories. NGO staff then converted their visas to official work permits; however, international NGOs reported the process was time consuming and ad hoc.

Due to the ISIS-driven humanitarian crisis, many local NGOs focused on assisting refugees, IDPs, and other vulnerable communities. In some instances these NGOs worked in coordination with central government and KRG authorities. A few NGOs also investigated and published findings on human rights cases. There were some reports of government interference with NGOs investigating human rights abuses and violations involving government actors.

There were multiple reports of international and local aid workers being harassed, threatened, arrested, and accused of false terrorism charges in some cases. As of September the International NGO Safety Organization recorded 15 incidents against NGOs from January to October, with no fatalities reported.

NGOs faced capacity-related problems, did not have regular access to government officials, and, as a result, were not able to provide significant protections against failures in governance and human rights abuses. Domestic NGOs’ lack of sustainable sources of funding hindered the sector’s long-term development. The government rarely awarded NGOs contracts for services. While the law forbids NGOs from engaging in political activity, political parties or sects originated, funded, or substantially influenced many domestic NGOs. The government’s NGO Directorate announced November 24 that it would require any NGO to receive prior approval before conducting any surveys or questionnaires in the country. A group of local civil society organizations condemned the new directive and called it a “clear violation” of constitutional articles that enshrine the role of civil society and freedom of expression.

NGOs were prevented from operating in certain sectors (see section 6, Women). NGOs registered in Erbil could not operate outside the IKR and KRG-controlled disputed territories without additional permits from Baghdad (see section 2.b.). All NGOs, according to the law, were required to register with the NGO Directorate and in many cases provincial councils required additional local approval to allow NGOs to implement their activities. Additionally, NGOs registered with the federal government were not allowed to work in the IKR without registration and a permit from the NGO Directorate in the IKR.

The IKR had an active community of mostly Kurdish NGOs, many with close ties to and funding from political parties. Government funding of NGOs is legally contingent upon whether an NGO’s programming goals conform to already identified KRG priority areas. The KRG NGO Directorate established formal procedures for awarding funds to NGOs, which included a public description of the annual budget for NGO funding, priority areas for consideration, deadlines for proposal submission, establishment of a grant committee, and the criteria for ranking proposals; nonetheless, NGOs reported the KRG had not provided funding to local NGOs since 2013.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government and the KRG sometimes restricted the access of UNAMI and other international organizations to sensitive locations, such as Ministry of Interior-run detention facilities holding detainees suspected of terrorism.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The IHCHR is constitutionally mandated. It has 12 full-time commissioners and three reserve commissioners with four-year, nonrenewable terms. The IHCHR was staffed by more than 650 employees, nearly half of whom previously worked for the Ministry of Human Rights, which was dissolved in 2015. The law provides for the IHCHR’s financial and administrative independence and assigns it broad authority to receive and investigate complaints of human rights violations and abuses, initiate lawsuits related to violations of human rights and conduct visits to and assessments of detention centers and prisons. Some observers reported the commissioners’ individual and partisan political agendas largely stalled the IHCHR’s work. In July the COR appointed an ad hoc committee to manage the IHCHR’s financial and administrative affairs. Before its October 7 dissolution in advance of the election, the COR failed to appoint new IHCHR commissioners after the existing commissioners’ terms expired in July. As a result, the IHCHR’s 650 operational staff went unpaid and carried out their duties on a voluntary basis for several weeks. On September 14, the COR announced it would appoint a COR staff member to administer the IHCHR’s financial matters and pay the salaries of IHCHR staff. The government reinstated the commissioners on an interim basis on November 10 pending the formation of a new COR and the selection of new commissioners.

NGOs declared the COR’s ad hoc committee undermined and violated the IHCHR’s legal, administrative, political, and financial independence.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but does not specifically mention spousal rape; it permits a sentence not exceeding 15 years, or life imprisonment if the victim dies. The rape provisions of the law do not define, clarify, or otherwise describe “consent,” leaving the term up to judicial interpretation. The law requires authorities to drop a rape case if the perpetrator marries the survivor, with a provision protecting against divorce within the first three years of marriage. The survivor’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape. There were no reliable estimates of the incidence of rape or information on the effectiveness of government enforcement of the law.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, UNAMI reported a significant increase in the reports of rape, domestic violence, spousal abuse, immolation and self-immolation, self-inflicted injuries due to spousal abuse, sexual harassment of minors, and suicide due to increased household tensions because of COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as economic hardship due to the country’s declining economy. In February the Federal Police stated that domestic violence increased by nearly 20 percent because of the pandemic.

In the absence of legislation to combat domestic violence, each relevant central government ministry devised its own way to respond to domestic violence. Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. Men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom” and reduced sentences for violence or killing are applicable if the perpetrator had “honorable motives” or if the perpetrator caught his wife or female relative in the act of adultery. Domestic violence remained a pervasive problem.

Harassment of legal personnel who sought to pursue domestic violence cases under laws criminalizing assault, as well as a lack of trained police and judicial personnel, further hampered efforts to prosecute perpetrators.

The central government and KRG also struggled to address the physical and mental trauma endured by women who lived under ISIS rule. The Yezidi Survivors’ Law, passed by the COR in March, mandates a new Survivors’ Affairs Directorate under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to provide psychosocial support to victims of ISIS, including women and members of minority groups.

The Ministry of Interior maintained 16 family protection units under police authority, located in separate buildings at police stations around the country, designed to resolve domestic disputes and establish safe refuges for victims of sexual or gender-based violence. These units reportedly tended to prioritize family reconciliation over victim protection and lacked the capacity to support survivors. NGOs stated that survivors of domestic violence feared approaching the family protection units because they suspected that police would inform their families of their testimony. Some tribal leaders in the south reportedly banned their members from seeking redress through police family protection units, claiming domestic abuse was a family matter. The family protection units in most locations did not operate shelters.

KRG law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse, threats of violence, and spousal rape. The KRG implemented the provisions of the law and maintained a special police force to investigate cases of gender-based violence and a family reconciliation committee within the judicial system, but local NGOs reported these programs were not effective at combating gender-based violence.

Throughout the year the KRG General Directorate for Combatting Violence against Women and Families provided workshops and seminars to its law-enforcement officers and awareness campaigns about the impact of domestic violence on individuals and society. There was also a 24/7 hotline that received reports of violence: an average of 11,000 calls annually. Furthermore, the directorate, in coordination with the UN Population Fund, developed a mobile phone app to facilitate access to the hotline, which provided access to live consultations with psychologists and psychiatrists.

Two privately operated shelters and four KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs-operated shelters provided some protection and assistance for female survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking. Space was limited, and NGOs reported psychological and therapeutic services were poor. NGOs played a key role in providing services, including legal aid, to survivors of domestic violence, who often received no assistance from the government. Instead of using legal remedies, authorities frequently mediated between women and their families so that the women could return to their homes. Other than marrying or returning to their families, which often resulted in further victimization by the family or community, there were few options for women accommodated at shelters.

The Council of Ministers of the Kurdistan Region formed a judicial body after ISIS took control of the Sinjar Region and surrounding areas to investigate and document claims of ISIS crimes including with recorded testimonies of victims, survivors, claimants, and witnesses. Cases filed with the courts through November totaled 4,206, including 1,191 cases that pertained specifically to ISIS crimes committed against women during the period of ISIS’s control over Sinjar district and other areas in the Mosul Province. Similarly, in Duhok Province an additional 2,036 cases of ISIS violence against women were filed with the courts; the cases were elevated to the level of the International Criminal Court.

The KRG also maintained a genocide center in Duhok for treatment, support, and rehabilitation for women who survived ISIS captivity, including investigating and documenting rape crimes; provides health and psychological services within camps; and ran a center through the KRG Directorate of Yezidi Affairs in the Ministry of Religious and Endowment Affairs for the rehabilitation of approximately 163 liberated women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): NGOs and the KRG reported the practice of FGM/C persisted in the IKR, particularly in rural areas of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Kirkuk Provinces, despite a ban on the practice in IKR law. Rates of FGM/C, however, reportedly continued to decline. NGOs attributed the reduction in FGM/C to the criminalization of the practice and sustained public outreach activities by civil society groups. FGM/C was not common outside the IKR.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permitted “honor” as a lawful defense in violence against women, and so-called honor killings remained a serious problem throughout the country. A provision of the law limits a sentence for a murder conviction to a maximum of three years in prison if a man is on trial for killing his wife or a female dependent due to suspicion that the victim was committing adultery or engaged in sex outside of marriage. UNAMI reported that several hundred women died each year from honor killings. Some families reportedly arranged honor killings to appear as suicides.

The KRG Ministry of Interior’s Directorate General of Combating Violence against Women confirmed 19 honor killing cases in the IKR as of September.

There were reports that women and girls were sexually exploited through so-called temporary, or pleasure, marriages, under which a man gives the family of the girl or woman dowry money in exchange for permission to “marry” her for a specified period. Young women, widowed or orphaned by ISIS offensives, were especially vulnerable to this type of exploitation. In similar cases NGOs reported some families opted to marry off their underage daughters in exchange for dowry money, believing the marriage was genuine, only to have the girl returned to them months later, sometimes pregnant.

Government officials and international and local NGOs also reported that the traditional practice of nahwa, where a cousin, uncle, or other male relative of any woman may forbid or terminate her marriage to someone outside the family, remained a problem, particularly in southern provinces. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for an end to nahwas and fasliya (where women are traded to settle tribal disputes), but these traditions continued, especially in areas where tribal influence outweighed that of government institutions.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including in the workplace. Penalties for sexual harassment include fines of up to only 30 dinars (approximately two cents), imprisonment, or both, not to exceed three months for a first-time offender. The law provides relief from penalties if unmarried participants marry. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement, but penalties were very low. In most areas there were few or no government-provided women’s shelters, information, support hotlines, and little or no sensitivity training for police. Refugees and IDPs reported regular sexual harassment, both in camps and cities.

Female political candidates suffered harassment online and on social media, including posting of fake, nude, or salacious photographs and videos meant to harm their campaigns and their reputations – often labeled as “staining their family’s honor.” The Iraqi Women’s Network NGO cited several cases of women candidates being targeted because of their gender during the election campaign. Local human rights NGOs stated that the harassment was particularly targeted against independent women candidates or those from new political parties that lacked recourse or political connections to government security services.

During the year NGOs reported security personnel asked female IDPs for sexual favors in exchange for provision of basic needs. This was especially prevalent among female IDPs previously living under ISIS control. In other cases criminal gangs exploited female IDPs and forced them into commercial sex.

The KRG’s High Council of Women’s Affairs and Directorate General of Combating Violence Against Women (DCVAW) stated there was a spike in online harassment of girls and women. Per the DCVAW, 75 percent of gender-based violence cases resulted from social networking sites.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Hospitals provided menstrual health services free to women.

Various methods of contraception were widely available, including in the IKR; however, women in urban areas generally had greater access than those in rural parts of the country. A married woman could not be prescribed or use contraception without the consent of her husband. Unmarried single women were unable to obtain birth control. Divorced or widowed women did not have this same restriction.

Due to general insecurity in the country and attendant economic difficulties, many women received inadequate medical care. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that in some provinces the work of reproductive health and pregnancy care units, as well as health-awareness campaigns, had ceased almost entirely because of COVID-19’s impact on the health-care system.

In the IKR the KRG Ministry of Health reported that survivors of sexual violence received treatment from provincial health departments and emergency rooms. Judges, however, rarely considered forensic evidence that was collected. The government stated it provided full services for survivors of sexual violence and rape in all provinces because the law requires that survivors receive full health care and treatment. Emergency contraceptives were available as part of the clinical management of rape through government services and in private clinics, although advocates who worked with survivors reported many barriers to women accessing those contraceptives, as well as significant gaps in service delivery.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide women the same legal status and rights as men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, and inheritance laws discriminate against women. experienced discrimination in such areas as marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing.

For example in a court of law, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man in some cases and is equal in other cases. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses but does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony other than child support or in some cases two years’ financial maintenance; in other cases the woman must return all or part of her dowry or otherwise pay a sum of money to the husband. Under the law the father is the guardian of the children, but a divorced mother may be granted custody of her children until age 10, extendable by a court up to age 15, at which time the children may choose with which parent they wish to live.

All recognized religious groups have their own personal status courts responsible for handling marriage, divorce, and inheritance matters. Discrimination toward women on personal status matters varied depending on the religious group. The government’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except members of recognized religious minority groups. In all communities male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they do not, women have the right to sue.

The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.

Law and custom generally do not respect freedom of movement for women. For example, the law prevents a woman from applying for a passport without the consent of her male guardian or a legal representative (see section 2.d.). could not obtain the Civil Status Identification Document, required for access to public services, food assistance, health care, employment, education, and housing, without the consent of a male relative.

NGOs also reported cases in which courts changed the registration of Yezidi women to Muslim against their will because of their forced marriage to ISIS fighters.

The KRG provided some additional legal protections to women, maintaining a High Council of ’s Affairs and a ’s Rights Monitoring Board to enforce the law and prevent and respond to discrimination, but such protections were applied inconsistently. Other portions of KRG law continue to mirror federal law, and women face discrimination. KRG law allows women to set as a prenuptial condition the right to divorce her husband beyond the limited circumstances allowed by Iraqi law and provides a divorced wife up to five years’ alimony beyond childcare.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution holds that all citizens are equal before the law without discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, origin, color, religion, sect, belief, or opinion, or economic or social status. It prohibits any entity or program that adopts, incites, facilitates, glorifies, promotes, or justifies racism or ethnic cleansing. Nonetheless, restrictions on freedom of religion as well as violence against and harassment of minority groups committed by the ISF remained widespread outside the IKR, according to religious leaders and representatives of NGOs.

IKR law forbids “religious, or political, media speech individually or collectively, directly or indirectly that brings hate and violence, terror, exclusion, and marginalization based on national, ethnic, or religious or linguistic claims.” According to a representative of the Yezidi NGO Yazda, KRG authorities continued to discriminate against minorities, including Turkomans, Arabs, Yezidis, Shabak, and Christians, in territories claimed by both the KRG and the central government in the northern part of the country.

Children

Birth Registration: The constitution states that anyone born to at least one citizen parent is a citizen. Failure to register births resulted in the denial of public services such as education, food, and health care. Single women and widows often had problems registering their children, although in most cases authorities provided birth certificates after registration of the birth through the Ministries of Health and Interior; such registration was reportedly a lengthy and at times complicated process. The government was generally committed to children’s rights and welfare, although it denied benefits to noncitizen children. Humanitarian organizations reported the widespread problem of children born to ISIS members or in ISIS-held territory failing to receive a government-issued birth certificate. As a result, an estimated 15,000 displaced children still lacked civil documentation, including birth certificates.

Education: Primary education is compulsory for citizen children for the first six years of schooling and until age 15 in the IKR; it is provided free to citizens. Equal access to education for girls remained a problem, particularly in rural and insecure areas.

Schools continued to be closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic through the end of the 2020-21 school year, keeping more than 10 million students out of school. UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education to broadcast lessons through education television and digital platforms. Children’s access to alternative learning platforms via the internet and television, however, was hindered by limited connectivity and availability of digital devices, as well as lack of electricity. Moreover, the Ministry for Directorates of Education had not issued directives for guiding the delivery of distance learning.

Child Abuse: Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence but stipulates men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom.” The law provides protections for children who were victims of domestic violence or were in shelters, state houses, and orphanages, including access to health care and education. Violence against children reportedly remained a significant problem, but up-to-date, reliable statistics on the extent of the problem were not available. Local NGOs reported the government made little progress in implementing its 2017 National Child Protection Policy.

UNICEF reported that during the year at least 1.8 million children, half of them girls, were estimated to need at least one type of protective service. In addition, 1.3 million children needed assistance to continue their education; 38 percent of all children lived in poverty. UNICEF and its implementing partners continued to deliver psychosocial support; case management and specialized protection services for children, including birth registration; civil documentation and legal assistance; and capacity development for national partners.

KRG law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse and threats of violence. The KRG implemented the provisions of the law, but local NGOs reported these programs were not effective at combating child abuse. The KRG’s Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs, Education, and Culture and Youth operated a toll-free hotline to report violations against, or seek advice regarding, children’s rights. Multiple reports of child abuse surfaced during the year. Activists reported sexual abuse and assault by relatives was widespread and that some victims did not report crimes due to fear of retribution by family members.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but the law allows a judge to permit children as young as 15 to marry if fitness and physical capacity are established and the guardian does not present a reasonable objection. The law criminalizes forced marriage but does not automatically void forced marriages that have been consummated. The government reportedly made few efforts to enforce the law. Traditional early and forced marriages of girls, including temporary marriages, occurred throughout the country. UNICEF data from 2018 indicated that 7 percent of girls were married by age 15 and 28 percent by age 18. UNHCR reported the continued prevalence of early marriage due to conflict and economic instability, since many families arranged for girls to marry cousins or into polygamous households. Others gave their daughters as child brides to armed groups to ensure safety, access to public services in occupied territories, or livelihood opportunities for the entire family.

In the IKR the legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but KRG law allows a judge to permit a child as young as 16 to marry if the individual is entering into the marriage voluntarily and has received permission from a legal guardian. KRG law criminalizes forced marriage and suspends, but does not automatically void, forced marriages that have been consummated. According to the KRG High Council of Women’s Affairs, refugees and IDPs in the IKR engaged in child marriage and polygamy at a higher rate than IKR residents. Some Kurdish men crossed over into federal Iraqi territory to acquire a child bride since the federal laws are not as strict.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, the offering or procuring of commercial sex, and practices related to child pornography. Child sex trafficking was a problem, as were temporary marriages, particularly among the IDP population. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. Because the age of legal criminal responsibility is nine in the areas administered by the central government and 11 in the IKR, authorities often treated sexually exploited children as criminals instead of victims. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement.

Displaced Children: Insecurity and active conflict between government forces and ISIS caused the continued displacement of large numbers of children (see section 2.d.). Abuses by government forces, particularly certain PMF groups, contributed to displacement. Due to the conflict in Syria, children and single mothers from Syria took refuge in the IKR. UNICEF reported that almost one-half of IDPs were children.

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/reported-cases.html .

Anti-Semitism

The penal code stipulates that any person convicted of promoting Zionist principles, association with Zionist organizations, assisting such organizations through material or moral support, or working in any way to realize Zionist objectives, be subject to punishment by death. According to the code, Jews are prohibited from joining the military and cannot hold jobs in the public sector. The KRG did not apply the central government’s anti-Zionist laws and relied on IKR law number five, which provides protections for the rights of members of religious minority groups, including Jews. Following a controversial conference on normalization with Israel held in Erbil in September, one militia group referred to Israel as “the Satanic entity,” and another threatened violence against the participants.

A very small number of Jewish citizens lived in Baghdad. Media organizations reported that only four Jewish citizens remained in the country outside the IKR following the death of a Jewish doctor, Dhafer Eliyahu, in March. According to unofficial statistics from the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, there were as few as 100 to 250 Jewish families in the IKR. The Jewish community did not worship in public due to fears of retribution, discrimination, or violence by extremist actors. The KRG Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs dedicated one of its seven departments to Jewish affairs.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Organ Harvesting

The government took steps to combat the illegal trade and trafficking in human organs. For example, in November Baghdad’s anticrime directorate announced the arrest of a suspect who allegedly sold her child’s kidney. Separately, the Wasit Province criminal court announced six-year prison sentences for two persons who trafficked human organs across the country.

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities had limited access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services. The government did not provide information and communication in accessible formats.

Although a 2016 Council of Ministers decree mandates access for persons with disabilities to buildings and to educational and work settings, incomplete implementation continued to limit access. In September individuals with disabilities told Human Rights Watch that access barriers forced them to rely on assistance to reach the polling places. When that assistance came from political party members who had permission to use vehicles, those members sometimes tried to influence how persons with disabilities voted. Human Rights Watch also reported that ballot boxes were often on floors that individuals with mobility problems could not access. Those who were unable to reach the ballot box without assistance or were unable to fill out their ballots alone were forced to rely on a family member or election commission staff to cast their ballot, raising concerns regarding privacy and the right to vote independently. As a result, the electoral commission made efforts to improve access for persons with disabilities to polling centers. Haider Jassim, an individual with a physical disability, told Human Rights Watch he asked IHEC staff for assistance when he was unable to reach the second floor of the polling station in his wheelchair and was told that the ballot box could not be moved to accommodate him. Jassim explained to Human Rights Watch that he cited the previous IHEC announcements promoting accessibility, but staff stated they were unaware. Jassim returned to the polling station later in the day and with the help of a relative was able to access the second floor and vote, but he told Human Rights Watch that he knew many persons who were not able to vote due to accessibility problems.

The COR committee on labor and social affairs estimated there were three million persons with disabilities and stated there was deliberate negligence on the part of the government in addressing their needs. Local NGOs reported that despite the government adoption of a long-term strategy for sustainable development to persons with disabilities, the implementation of the program objectives remained poor throughout the year. Persons with disabilities continued to face difficulties in accessing health, education, and employment services.

The Ministry of Labor leads the Independent Commission for the Care of People with Disabilities. Any citizen applying to receive disability-related government services must first receive a commission evaluation. The Ministry of Labor operated several institutions for children and young adults with disabilities. The ministry provided loan programs for persons with disabilities for vocational training.

The constitution states the government, through law and regulations, provides for the social and health security of persons with disabilities, including through protection against discrimination and provision of housing and special programs of care and rehabilitation. Despite constitutional provisions, no laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. There is a 5 percent public-sector employment quota for persons with disabilities, but employment discrimination persisted (see section 7.d.). Mental health support for prisoners with mental disabilities did not exist.

The Ministry of Health provided medical care, benefits, and rehabilitation, when available, for persons with disabilities, who could also receive benefits from other agencies, including the Prime Minister’s Office.

The KRG deputy minister of labor and social affairs led a similar commission, administered by a special director within the ministry. KRG law prescribes greater protections for individuals with disabilities, including a requirement that 5 percent of persons with disabilities be employed in public-sector institutions and 3 percent with the private sector. The KRG provided a 100,000-dinar ($69) monthly stipend to government employees with disabilities and a 150,000-dinar ($102) stipend to those not employed by the KRG. A lack of funds led to less-than-full implementation of the law, including an inability to pay stipends to all persons with disabilities or register any new persons with disabilities for the stipend since 2013.

Disability rights advocates in the KRG reported that the IKR’s disability protections lacked implementation, including the 5 percent employment requirement. Lack of accessibility remained a problem with more than 98 percent of public buildings, parks, and transportation lacking adequate facilities to assist the more than 110,000 registered persons with disabilities in the region. Disability advocates reported employment was low among members of the community, and many youths with mental and physical disabilities lacked access to educational opportunities.

Persons with disabilities in the IKR frequently held protests and sit-ins to call on the KRG to improve their financial and living conditions. Disability unions stated they were discriminated against in terms of employment and that the social security payments they received from the government were not enough, especially as many had medical expenses. Persons with disabilities in the IKR reported societal discrimination, bullying, and sexual harassment, including from teachers. The KRG ministry covering persons with disabilities reported it was unable to undertake public awareness campaigns to combat discrimination.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct if those engaging in the conduct are younger than age 18, while it does not criminalize any same-sex activities among adults. Despite repeated threats and violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals, specifically gay men, the government failed to identify, arrest, or prosecute attackers or to protect targeted individuals. Some political parties sought to justify these attacks, and investigators often refused to employ proper investigation procedures. LGBTQI+ individuals also faced intimidation, threats, violence, and discrimination, and LGBTQI+ individuals reported they could not live openly without fear of violence at the hands of family members, acquaintances, or strangers.

In June a transgender woman named Misho, also known as Shakib, disappeared in Sidakan while attempting to retrieve documents from her father to renew her passport. NGO contacts reported her father and brother killed Misho, but the KRG was still investigating the case and no arrest warrants had been issued as of December 22. Security forces launched an operation to arrest “suspected” LGBTQI+ individuals in the city of Sulaymaniyah. Operation supervisor Pshtiwan Bahadin told local media that security forces arrested those they suspected to be LGBTQI+ for immorality and used derogatory terms to describe the community. The KRG subsequently put out a statement denying that LGBTQI+ persons were targeted and stated security forces were breaking up commercial sex rings.

According to NGOs, persons in the country who experienced severe discrimination, torture, physical injury, and the threat of death based on real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics had no recourse to challenge those actions via courts or government institutions. During the year the IKR NGO Rasan faced three lawsuits, including one brought by Sulaymaniyah officials of the KRG Directorate of NGOs, which alleged Rasan violated the terms of the NGO bylaws and its registration (to work on gender-based violence and women’s matters) by providing services to and advocacy for LGBTQI+ individuals. A decision remained pending at year’s end.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution states that citizens have the right to form and join unions and professional associations. The law, however, prohibits the formation of unions independent of the government-controlled General Federation of Iraqi Workers and in workplaces with fewer than 50 workers. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide reinstatement for workers fired for union activity. The law allows workers to select representatives for collective bargaining, even if they are not members of a union, and affords workers the right to have more than one union in a workplace.

The law also considers individuals employed by state-owned enterprises (which made up approximately 10 percent of the workforce) as public-sector employees. CSOs continued to lobby for a trade union law to expand union rights.

Private-sector employees in worksites employing more than 50 workers may form workers committees, that is, subdivisions of unions with limited rights, but most private-sector businesses employed fewer than 50 workers.

Labor courts have the authority to consider labor law violations and disputes, but no information was available concerning enforcement, including whether procedures were prompt or efficient or whether penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Strikers and union leaders reported that government officials threatened and harassed them.

The law allows for collective bargaining and the right to strike in the private sector, although government authorities sometimes violated private-sector employees’ collective bargaining rights. Some unions were able to play a supportive role in labor disputes and had the right to demand government arbitration.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including slavery, indebtedness, and trafficking in persons, but the government did not effectively monitor or enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those prescribed for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping.

Employers subjected foreign migrant workers, particularly construction workers, security guards, cleaners, repair persons, and domestic workers, to conditions indicative of forced labor, such as confiscation of passports, cellphones, ATM cards, and other travel and identity documents; restrictions on movement and communications; physical abuse, sexual harassment, and rape; withholding of wages; and forced overtime. There were cases of employers stopping payment on contracts and preventing foreign employees from leaving the work site.

Employers subjected women to involuntary domestic service through forced marriages and the threat of divorce, and women who fled such marriages or whose husbands divorced them were vulnerable to social stigma and increased vulnerability to further forced labor. Female IDPs, single women, and widows were particularly vulnerable to economic exploitation and discriminatory employment conditions.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/ .

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The constitution and law prohibit and criminalize all the worst forms of child labor. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government lacked programs that focused on assisting children involved in the worst forms of child labor, including forced begging and commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes because of human trafficking. The KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs estimated several hundred children worked in the IKR, often as street vendors or beggars, making them particularly vulnerable to abuse. The ministry operated a 24-hour hotline for reporting labor abuses, including child labor, that received approximately 200 calls per month.

In areas under central government authority, the minimum age for employment is 15. The law limits working hours for persons younger than 18 to seven hours a day and prohibits employment in work detrimental to health, safety, or morals of anyone younger than 18. The labor code does not apply to juveniles (ages 15 to 18) who work in family-owned businesses producing goods exclusively for domestic use. Since children employed in family enterprises are exempt from some protections in the labor code regarding employment conditions, there were reports of children performing hazardous work in family-owned businesses.

The law mandates employers bear the cost of annual medical checks for working juveniles. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 are not required to attend school, but they are not permitted to work. Penalties include imprisonment for a period of 30 days to six months and a fine) to be doubled in the case of a repeated offense. Data on child labor was limited, particularly regarding the worst forms of child labor, which further limited enforcement of existing legal protections. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is charged with enforcing the law prohibiting child labor in the private and public sectors, and labor law enforcement agencies took actions to combat child labor. Gaps existed within the authority and operations of the ministry that hindered labor law enforcement, including an insufficient number of labor inspectors, authority to assess penalties, and labor inspector training. Inspections continued, and resumed in areas liberated from ISIS, but due to the large number of IDPs, as well as capacity constraints and the focus on maintaining security and fighting terrorism, law enforcement officials and labor inspectors’ efforts to monitor these practices were ineffective. In the IKR education is mandatory until age 15, which is also the minimum age for legal employment.

According to the KRG Independent Commission of Human Rights, an influx of refugees and IDPs, lack of social awareness, economic crisis, and rising unemployment rates caused a rise in child labor in the IKR.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/  . 

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides that all citizens are equal before the law without discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, origin, color, religion, creed, belief or opinion, or economic and social status. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, religion, social origin, political opinion, language, disability, or social status. It also prohibits any forms of sexual harassment in the workplace. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. The labor law limits women from working during certain hours of the day and does not allow them to work in jobs deemed hazardous or arduous. Women must obtain permission from a male relative or guardian before being granted a Civil Status Identification Card for access to employment. Despite constitutional guarantees, no laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and they had limited access to employment. Local NGOs reported that despite the government adoption of a long-term strategy for sustainable development for persons with disabilities, the implementation of the program objectives remained poor throughout the year.

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The law allows employers to terminate workers’ contracts when they reach retirement age, which is lower by five years for women. The law gives migrant Arab workers the same status as citizens but does not provide the same rights for non-Arab migrant workers, who faced stricter residency and work visa requirements.

Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to work in the private sector. The central government does not recognize the refugee status of Palestinians, but the KRG does. Palestinians are allowed to work in the private sector but are required to renew their status annually. Syrian refugees were able to obtain and renew residency and work permits both in refugee camps and in the IKR, although not in the rest of the country. Authorities arrested refugees with IKR residence permits who sought work outside the region and returned them to the IKR.

Many persons of African descent lived in extreme poverty and nearly 80 percent were illiterate; more than 80 percent were reportedly unemployed. According to some sources, they constituted 15 to 20 percent of the Basrah Region’s 2.5 million inhabitants. They were not represented in politics, held no senior government positions, and reported that discrimination kept them from obtaining government employment. During the year there were many reports regarding migrant workers from African countries being subjected to extreme violence, forced to work as prostitutes, and subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse.

Stateless persons faced discrimination in employment and access to education. Many stateless persons were not able to register for identity cards, which prevented them from enrolling in public school, registering marriages, and gaining access to some government services. Stateless individuals also faced difficulty obtaining public-sector employment and lacked job security.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, foreign workers, and members of minority groups (see section 6). In May the COR Committee on Labor and Social Affairs reported 1.5 million foreign workers, mostly working in oil fields and state-owned companies, had led to an increase in the unemployment rate; as of May, seven million individuals were unemployed.

There were more than 15 unions, associations, and syndicates in the IKR. All heads of unions and syndicates were men, but board members included women. Each union had a separate women’s committee for women workers’ affairs. The committee was reportedly supported by local NGOs to support gender equality and advance women’s union leadership in the IKR.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum wage, set by federal labor law, was above the poverty line. The law limits the standard workday to eight hours, with one or more rest periods totaling 30 minutes to one hour, and the standard workweek to 48 hours. The law permits up to four hours of overtime work per day and requires premium pay for overtime work. For industrial work overtime should not exceed one hour per day. The Ministry of Labor has jurisdiction regarding matters concerning wages, occupational safety and health, and labor relations. The government did not effectively enforce regulations governing wages or working conditions. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards that are appropriate for the main industries. The ministry’s OSH staff worked throughout the country. The law states that for hazardous or exhausting work, employers should reduce daily working hours. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from a situation endangering health and safety without prejudice to their employment but does not extend this right to civil servants or migrant workers, who together made up the majority of the country’s workforce. It is unclear whether responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with OSH experts and not the workers. Penalties for OSH violations were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

The legal and regulatory framework, combined with the country’s high level of violence and insecurity, high unemployment, large informal sector, and lack of meaningful work standards, resulted in substandard conditions for many workers. Workplace injuries occurred frequently, especially among manual laborers; however, no data was available on the specific number of industrial accidents that resulted in death or serious injury.

In February the civil defense directorate reported the death of three sewage workers who accidentally inhaled methane gas during cleaning of water drainage holes. The directorate attributed the incident to a lack of adherence to OSH guidelines.

Informal Sector: A lack of oversight and monitoring of employment contracts left foreign and migrant workers vulnerable to exploitative working conditions and abusive treatment. Local NGOs reported that thousands of migrant workers faced poor work conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, including illegal layoffs, homelessness, unpaid wages, and sexual exploitation. In August the COR Labor, Social Affairs, Immigration and Displacement Committee blamed “illegal” foreign workers for high unemployment.