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. These included 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. Security forces used lethal force against peaceful protesters leading to numerous deaths. On November 13, a court sentenced one protester to death and five others to between five and 10 years in prison, according to state media. On December 1, state media reported that three children who participated in the protests were being tried on charges that could carry the death penalty. On December 8, Amnesty International reported authorities executed Mohsen Shekari less than three weeks after he was convicted on charges of “enmity against God,” “blocking a street in Tehran,” and allegedly concealing a knife on his person while attending protests. Shekari was sentenced to death after a “grossly unfair sham trial.” Majid-Reza Rahnavard was publicly executed in Mashhad on December 12 on similar charges connected to protest activity. Amnesty International’s December report further identified at least 18 other individuals at risk of execution who were at different stages of the criminal process in connection with the protests.
Media and human rights groups documented suspicious deaths while in custody or following shooting of protesters by security forces throughout the year. Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and others assessed those authorities used the death penalty, lengthy prison sentences, mass arrests, and violence in detention to suppress freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The government launched a so-called investigation into the nationwide protests that broke out after the killing of Mahsa Jina Amini, but it focused on the acts of the protesters (whom the government called “rioters”) with no indication it would investigate the conduct of security forces and members of the judiciary. The UN special representative on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (UNSR) noted, “The Iranian Government has consistently presented unsubstantiated ‘reports’ and reiterated assertions claiming that Amini did not die as a result of any violence or beatings. In other reports, the government denied reports that security forces killed the children, claiming they committed suicide, fell from a height, were poisoned, or were killed by anonymous “enemy agents.”
Media and human rights groups documented allegations of deaths in custody due to actions by security forces.
In September, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, also known by her Kurdish first name Jina, died after reportedly being beaten while in the custody of the morality police. On September 13, police detained Amini for her alleged “improper hijab” while she was visiting Tehran from her home in the Kurdistan region. According to Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), her family was initially told she would be released from the Vorzara Detention Center in an hour, but instead she was transported to a hospital on September 14. Authorities claimed Amini had suffered a “heart problem” while in custody and was pronounced dead on September 16. A photograph was later circulated showing Amini lying in a hospital bed with apparent severe facial injuries. Her father told domestic media outlet Rouydad 24 that the hospital at first would not allow her family to see her, and when they did, her head and body were entirely covered to hide her bruises. The family also reported being pressured by the government to bury Amini at night to bring less attention to the death.
At year’s end, HRANA reported 512 persons had been killed by security officials in protest-related clashes or had died due to unknown causes while in detention since the protests began and published the identities of 481 individuals, including 69 children. NGOs and international media reported numerous instances of protesters being tortured, beaten, or raped in detention. On December 6, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported five persons were sentenced to death for allegedly killing a member of the Basij, reportedly during protests in the city of Karaj. Many others, including children, faced charges that could carry the death penalty, including rapper Toomaj Salehi, arrested in October after posting videos of himself protesting. He was charged with “corruption on earth” as well as spreading propaganda.
Although many individuals were executed during the year reportedly for homicide, 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., Transnational Repression), rape, adultery, recidivist alcohol use, consensual same-sex sexual conduct, “working to undermine the Islamic establishment,” “cooperating with foreign agents or entities,” and “insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini and against the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic.” The UN secretary-general noted in his June report that capital punishment was imposed for these charges, and the UNSR expressed concern in his July report that “the death penalty is imposed on the basis of overbroad and vaguely defined offenses.” 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.”
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 coercion or torture. Judges may impose the death penalty on appeal, which deterred appeals in criminal cases. The judiciary is required to review and validate death sentences, but this rarely happened.
According to the NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR), authorities executed 89 percent more persons in the first 10 months of the year, compared with the same period in 2021. According to HRANA, the 565 known executions included at least five juvenile offenders and 11 women. NGOs estimated, however, the government did not announce more than 88 percent of executions. Amnesty International and IHR noted the real numbers of persons secretly executed, as well as those at risk of execution, were likely much higher. Even in executions it made public, the government often did not release information such as names, dates, or crimes for which they were executed.
Members of marginalized ethnic communities were overrepresented among victims, in particular the Baluch minority. According to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, minorities made up 31 percent of the total executions during the year, with 150 of those executed – 27.5 percent of the total – from the Baluchi ethnic group, which constitutes only 5 percent of the population.
NGOs also reported multiple mass executions in prisons during the year. According to the UNSR, between March 4 and 16, at least 16 of 52 individuals sentenced to death on drug-related charges were executed at Shiraz Central Prison, while the government officially confirmed only three drug-related executions in that period. According to Amnesty International, on May 14 authorities executed nine persons in Zahedan Prison, Vakilabad Prison, Adelabad Prison, and Isfahan Central Prison (Dastgerd), followed on June 6 by at least 12 executions in Zahedan Prison and on June 15 by another 12 executions in Rajai Shahr Prison. Amnesty International also reported that an average of five persons per week were executed at Rajai Shahr Prison in the first six months of the year. According to the UNSR, “at the time of nationwide protests in May 2022, more than 55 individuals were executed, representing the highest monthly execution rate since 2017.”
Islamic law as applied by the country’s judicial system allows for the execution of juvenile offenders, starting at age nine for girls and 13 for boys, the legal age of maturity. As of January, the United Nations reported more than 85 individuals remained on death row for alleged offenses committed when they were younger than 18. The NGO Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported three juveniles were among the 15 protesters tried in a revolutionary court in the city of Karaj and faced charges of “corruption on earth” and “waging war,” which carry the death penalty, for allegedly being involved in the death of a Basij member on November 3. According to IHR, authorities executed Afghan national Mohammad Hossein Alizadeh in Qom Central Prison on August 10, accused of homicide in a fight at age 16, and ethnic Baluch Omid Alizehi in Zahedan Central Prison on August 19, accused of homicide in a fight at age 17.
In January UN Human Rights Council experts called for a stay of execution for Hossein Shahbazi, who was sentenced to death for crimes he allegedly committed at age 17 based in part on confessions obtained through torture and mistreatment.
According to HRANA, in February the Supreme Court revoked the death sentence of Mohammad-Reza Haddadi, sentenced for a crime committed at age 15. Haddadi spent 18 years in prison and was sent to the gallows on multiple occasions prior to the revocation of the sentence.
Responding to criticism from the United Nations on the practice of executing juvenile offenders, Majid Tafreshi, a senior official and member of the state-run High Council for Human Rights, documented the government’s current position in a 2021 interview with Agence France-Presse that criticism of the practice of executing underage individuals was “not fair.” Tafreshi said the government executed juvenile offenders “three to four times” a year, “mainly our 17 years old big boys (where) the court recognized their maturity,” and he claimed this was “not a symbol of violations of human rights.”
Capital punishment also may be imposed for possession, sale, or transport of more than approximately 110 pounds of unprocessed drugs, such as opium, or approximately 4.4 to 6.6 pounds of manufactured narcotics, such as heroin or cocaine. It also 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. The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran reported that almost half of executions were for drug-related offenses.
On January 13, according to HRANA, Isfahan Central Prison authorities executed Abolrahim Sargolzai and Shahin Khosravi for drug-related crimes. On September 7, according to IHR, Minab Prison authorities executed Allah Nour Salarzehi, a Baluch, for drug-related offenses.
According to human rights organizations and media reports, the government continued to carry out some executions by cruel and inhuman practices, 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.
On October 26, a terrorist attack on a Shia shrine in the southern city of Shiraz killed 15 individuals and injured an estimated 40 others. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. On November 7, the intelligence ministry announced the arrest of 26 individuals on charges related to the attack. President Raisi attempted to connect the protests to the attack, saying in televised remarks that “these riots pave the ground for terrorist attacks.”
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. The UN secretary-general’s annual report on the human rights situation in Iran published in June noted that protesters were subject to enforced disappearances, with several initially held in facilities run by the Intelligence Ministry or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). NGOs reported disappearances continued during the protests following Mahsa Amini’s death.
On September 20, teenager Nika Shakarami disappeared after taking part in protests. She was missing for 10 days, until authorities called her family and said they could pick up her body from the morgue. Authorities claimed she committed suicide by jumping off a building, but her family and NGOs stated she was killed. Her mother said in a video message broadcast by Radio Farda that authorities were pressuring her to parrot the official line that Shakarami died by suicide. She also said that security forces seized her daughter’s body while the family was planning funeral services and secretly buried her.
On November 29, according to IranWire, 17-year-old Iliad Rahmanipour disappeared. Three days later, authorities told his family they found his body surrounded by pills and empty glasses, implying he had killed himself with alcohol and drugs. His family said his face was bruised and he appeared to have been beaten. Prior to his disappearance, Rahmanipour had posted on his Instagram page in support of the protests and had attended demonstrations. His family said he sent a video to a friend before his death in which he discussed committing suicide – a video his family believed was forced.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Abuses
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, including in cases of detained protesters. 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, rape, and sexual assault, as well as threats of rape of prisoners or their family members, 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 several prison facilities, including Evin Prison in Tehran, Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, Greater Tehran Penitentiary, Qarchak Prison, Adel Abad Prison, Vakilabad Prison, Zahedan Prison, 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 informal secret prisons and detention centers outside the national prison system, where abuse reportedly occurred.
There were widespread reports of torture and sexual assault against detained protesters. On August 11, Iran International reported that military intelligence agents repeatedly threatened to kill or rape Ali Younesi and Amir Hossein Moradi, two physics students arrested in 2020 on charges of affiliation with the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) opposition group, while they were in solitary confinement. NGOs and media reported widely that prior to their July 2021 conviction, the students were beaten while held in solitary confinement to force confessions, which both retracted in court. Younesi reportedly bled from his eye for 60 days from beatings after his arrest.
On November 30, IranWire reported that a 22-year-old woman detained during the protests told fellow inmates at Urmia Prison that IRGC agents repeatedly raped her during her interrogation. She reportedly took her own life after release from detention. A political activist who previously spent time in Urmia Prison told IranWire she had heard from at least eight women who said IRGC members raped them during their preliminary interrogation. Davand also said those who were arrested during the protests were being kept away from other prisoners, packed into overcrowded rooms, and forced to take sleeping pills.
Courts continued to impose corporal punishments. These included flogging, blinding, stoning, and amputation. At least 148 crimes are punishable by flogging, while 20 may carry the penalty of amputation. On May 31, according to Amnesty International, authorities at Evin Prison amputated the fingers of Sayed Barat Hosseini without anesthesia. Hosseini was previously sentenced to amputation after a criminal court in Kermanshah convicted him of theft.
In June the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged the government to rescind sentences to amputate the fingers of eight prisoners convicted of theft. Hadi Rostami, Mehdi Sharafian, Mehdi Shahivand, Amir Shirmard, Morteza Jalili, Ebrahim Rafiei, Yaghoub Fazeli Koushki, and one unnamed man were sentenced to “have four fingers on their right hands completely cut off so that only the palms of their hands and their thumbs are left.” The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center reported that three of the men, Hadi Rostami, Mehdi Shahivand, and Mehdi Sharafian, were interrogated for more than a month in police investigation bureaus in Orumiyeh, Ardebil, and Bandar Anzali, and were kicked, beaten, flogged with a cable, and hung from their wrists and feet. One was threatened with rape. Rostami said he was beaten until he signed a blank piece of paper, which was then populated with admissions to burglaries he had not committed. His codefendants said they were coerced to testify to Rostami’s involvement in the thefts. While awaiting amputation, Rostami attempted suicide twice. No updates were available by year’s end regarding the other seven prisoners.
Impunity remained a widespread problem throughout all security forces. 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. According to the July UNSR report, “No steps were taken to strengthen the accountability framework in law or policy to allow effective channels for obtaining truth, justice and non-occurrence of serious human rights violations.”
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.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and frequently life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, inadequate sanitary conditions, and withholding of adequate medical care. Prisoner hunger strikes in protest of their treatment were frequent. With the surge in arrests during the protests, NGOs and media outlets reported the conditions deteriorated further with an influx of inmates.
Abusive Physical Conditions: Overcrowding, widespread infrastructure deficiencies, lack of clean water, lack of quality food and sanitary facilities, denial of access to medical care, and insufficient numbers of beds continued to represent serious threats to prisoners’ lives and health. 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. There were reported deaths in custody and prisoner-on-prisoner violence, which authorities sometimes failed to control. Overall health-care conditions, which worsened significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, remained dire. In December human rights activist Atena Daemi reported on the situation facing women inmates in Evin Prison in a series of Twitter posts, based on information from recently released women. She reported that seven or eight prisoners were held in one cell, leaving no room to move around or lie down. Daemi said shower use was limited to twice a week due to high numbers of prisoners, and officials refused to provide cleaning supplies to address the problem of dirty bathrooms.
Prison authorities often refused to provide medical treatment for pre-existing conditions, injuries 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 political prisoners and as intimidation against prisoners who filed complaints or challenged authorities. Medical services for women prisoners were reported as grossly inadequate. An August report from the UN secretary-general expressed increasing concern regarding denial of adequate medical care or medical furlough, even for severely ill inmates, and particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting a number of cases of denial of medical care had resulted in deaths. According to an Amnesty International report released in April, at least 92 men and four women in 30 prisons had died in state custody since 2010 due to deliberate denial of access to adequate health care.
In January, according to multiple NGOs and media reports, poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin died in state custody after contracting COVID-19 in Evin Prison, after reportedly being denied access to adequate health care. According to PEN America, Abtin was serving a six-year sentence on charges of “anti-government propaganda” and “assembly and collusion against national security.” In 2019 Abtin told CHRI that the charges were for statements made by the Iranian Writers Association, of which he was a board member, articles in the organization’s internal newsletter, and holding memorial ceremonies for association members who were believed to have been killed by the state in 1998.
In March prison officials refused to release labor rights activist Sepideh Gholian to the hospital when she became seriously ill from COVID-19, moving her to the prison quarantine but denying medical care. Gholian was initially arrested in 2018 and was held in several prisons, including Bushehr Prison. In September 2021, she detailed, in a series of Twitter posts while she was on temporary furlough from Bushehr Prison, the abuse she witnessed of fellow inmates in the women’s ward.
The judiciary’s news agency, Mizan, reported that eight prisoners were killed and 61 injured when a fire broke out at Evin Prison on the night of October 15. IranWire later reported the number of dead at 13, claiming that four died in the hospital while eight were shot. HRANA reported that external security forces armed with pellet guns and live ammunition clashed with prisoners. Authorities claimed “rioters” in the prison started the fire, while NGOs alleged the authorities started the fire to cover up shootings at the prison.
Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. A 2020 UNSR report noted that 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.
Regulations allow women prison inmates to keep their children with them until the age of two, but IranWire reported in March that children often stayed behind bars until they were much older. The NGO Children of Imprisoned Parents International reported older children who lived with their incarcerated mothers in multiple prisons did not have access to medical care or educational and recreational facilities. The children were often exposed to drug use and witnessed violence and in some instances subjected to physical and sexual abuse from inmates.
In March hacktivist group Edalat-e Ali (Ali’s Justice) released video footage to Radio Farda showing prisoners in Evin Prison lying wall-to-wall on floors and stacked three-high on metal bunk beds. The group released similar footage in November 2021. In August a letter written by a group of women political prisoners held in Evin Prison emphasized a sharp increase in the prison population and corresponding concerns regarding the rise of COVID-19 among inmates. Also in August, imprisoned journalists and women’s rights activists Narges Mohammadi and Aliyeh Motallebzadeh – who had been held in Qarchak Prison (a women’s prison) prior to their July transfer to Evin Prison – wrote a separate letter in which they called for the closure of Qarchak Prison due to inhuman conditions. These included lack of effective air-conditioning, dirty undrinkable water (unusable even for showers), lack of natural light or a sewer system, old and unsuitable facilities, and sudden transfer of political prisoners, which they stated was a tactic used to silence inmates.
There were also numerous reports of attempted prisoner suicides throughout the year in response to prison conditions or mistreatment. According to Kurdistan Human Rights Network, Saada Khedirzadeh, a Kurdish woman from West Azerbaijan, attempted to hang herself on August 18 in Urmia Prison. IranWire reported Khedirzadeh was arrested in October 2021 on unknown charges. In May, while pregnant, she went on an 11-day hunger strike and was denied medical furlough. She told a human rights organization she was being “held on trumped-up charges” and “threatened with a forced confession.”
According to reports from human rights NGOs, prison authorities regularly denied prisoners access to visitors, telephone calls, and other correspondence privileges. Families of executed prisoners did not always receive notification of scheduled executions, or if they did, it was often very short notice. Authorities frequently denied families the ability to perform funeral rites or to have an impartial and timely autopsy performed.
Administration: In most cases authorities did not initiate credible investigations into allegations of inhuman conditions or suspicious deaths in custody. According to an April report from Amnesty International, since 2010 authorities had not conducted independent and transparent investigations into the deaths in custody of almost 100 persons whose cases involved allegations of denied medical care.
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. According to CHRI, on July 23, human rights lawyer Mostafa Nili tweeted that he was being put on trial for “propaganda against the state” for giving an interview in which he described the conditions his clients endured in Qarchak Prison.
Prisoners practicing a religion other than Twelver 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). The UNSR noted continued denial of access to the country in his July report.
D. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, the practices occurred frequently. 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, frequently 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. At year’s end, 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, including during the protests that began in September in response to the death of Mahsa Amini in custody of the morality police. 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 an Amnesty International report released in March, in 2021 several thousand men, women, and children were interrogated and unfairly prosecuted or arbitrarily detained solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly during the November 2019 protests.
During the protests that began in September, HRANA reported that security forces arrested more than 19,000 protesters by year’s end. Arrests were often conducted with brutality, and detainees were commonly charged with vague offenses such as “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” and “disrupting public order,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
International media and human rights organizations documented dual nationals enduring arbitrary and prolonged detention on politically motivated charges. Dual nationals, like other citizens, faced a variety of due-process violations, including lack of prompt access to a lawyer of their choosing, summary trials during which they were not allowed to defend themselves, and denial of timely medical treatment. In March 83-year-old Australian-Iranian Shokrollah Jebelli died in detention after being denied medical furlough despite deteriorating health. He was transferred to the hospital one day before his death.
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. After more than seven years in prison, Namazi was furloughed to house arrest on October 1 but forced to return to Evin Prison on October 12. 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 was not allowed to leave the country until October 5, at the age of 85.
Dual nationals Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi also remained in detention after convictions on charges that international human rights organization stated were lacking evidence and were tried lacking fair trail guarantees. Tahbaz was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “assembly and collusion against Iran’s national security” and espionage. In March he was briefly released on furlough, and in July his lawyer said he had been released on bail, but in October his family said he had been returned to prison. Shargi was first arrested and imprisoned in 2018, and although he was cleared of charges and released later that year, authorities retained his passport and he was unable to travel. He was subsequently rearrested in 2020, having been convicted in absentia on charges his family says were unclear.
Other dual and foreign nationals reported by the UN secretary-general who remained in arbitrary detention included Ahmadreza Djalali, Kamran Ghaderi, Massud Mossaheb, Mehran Raoof, and Nahid Taghavi (see section 7.a.).
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 continued waves of COVID-19 spreading through prison populations. 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 maintained that trials did not adhere to international standards of fairness.
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 statutes enacted since the founding of the Islamic Republic 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 the judges’ 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. The courts were originally intended as a temporary measure to try high-level officials of the deposed monarchy, but they were 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.
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. Often these forced confessions were broadcast on state television. The UNSR expressed extreme concern regarding the continued practice of confessions extracted under torture and a lack of due process or a fair trial, citing, in particular, the use of closed proceedings and a “low standard of evidence used…in cases involving the death penalty.”
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. As of year’s end, the NGO United for Iran identified at least 1,134 prisoners of conscience in the country.
The four most common reasons for imprisonment were “support for underground opposition groups,” “alleged rebellion,” “religious practice,” and “political activism.” The government often charged political dissidents with vague crimes, some of which carry the death penalty, 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, adopted in 2016, defines a “political crime” as “propaganda” against the ruling establishment (as opposed to action against the ruling establishment, which is considered a national security crime). Insulting and defaming government officials as well as visiting heads of state or political representatives are considered political crimes if carried out with “the intent to reform the country’s affairs without damaging the foundations of the ruling establishment. Courts and the Public Prosecutor’s Office retain responsibility for determining the nature of the crime. Under the political crimes law, the accused has 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, however, and the government continued to arrest and charge students, journalists, lawyers, political activists, women’s rights 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. 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.
In August the Hengaw Human Rights Organization reported that inmates convicted of violent crimes beat political prisoner Khadijeh Mehdipour in Ilam Prison. She was previously attacked by inmates in February, resulting in an eye injury. IRGC intelligence agents arrested Mehdipour in October 2021, and in January the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Ilam sentenced her to 20 months in prison for “propaganda against the regime, insulting the founder of the Islamic republic and insulting its leadership,” based on her activism on social media. According to HRANA, she also faced new charges while in prison for “insulting Islamic sanctities.”
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.
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.
In January, while serving a 30-month sentence for propaganda and defamation charges, human rights defender and journalist Narges Mohammadi was sentenced to an additional eight years in prison and 70 lashes. She had been incarcerated at Evin and Qarchak Prisons since November 2021, reportedly in solitary confinement. In February she was granted a medical furlough to undergo heart surgery but returned to prison on April 12. Her husband said she had been denied necessary medication since her reincarceration. According to PEN America, Mohammadi was again hospitalized in June for arrhythmia and shortness of breath but was returned to prison days later. 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 organization Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty. After her release in 2020, Mohammadi led a high-profile lawsuit by civil rights activists against the use by authorities of prolonged and routine solitary confinement in prisons. She also detailed via a video message in February 2021 how Evin Prison warden Gholamreza Ziaei beat her for participating in a peaceful sit-in inside the prison in 2019.
According to HRW, on June 19, Branch 29 of the revolutionary court sentenced five human rights defenders to prison for attempting to file a lawsuit in accordance with Article 34 of the constitution against state officials for grossly mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic and negligence, including, “causing the death of thousands of Iranians” by banning Western-made vaccines and hiding the extent of infections and deaths. The five – Mehdi Mahmoudian (civil activist), Mostafa Nili (lawyer), Arash Keykhosravi (lawyer), Mohammadreza Faghihi (lawyer), and Maryam Afrafaraz (civil activist) – received sentences ranging from 95 days to four years in prison and other penalties, including one-to-two-year bans on media appearances or practicing law. The defendants’ lawyers said they planned to appeal their convictions.
As of year’s end, 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, who also holds U.S. and United Kingdom citizenship – remained incarcerated in Evin Prison on charges for various “national security” crimes, which are used to silence critics of the government. They were arrested and convicted in 2018 following a 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. An eighth environmentalist, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, was convicted alongside them but was released on medical furlough in 2020. A ninth, Iranian-Canadian national Kavous Sayed Emami, died in detention in 2018 only 18 days after his arrest, reportedly as a result of torture. His family’s request for an autopsy was denied.
The government continued to engage in acts of transnational repression to intimidate or exact reprisal against individuals outside of the country’s sovereign borders, including against members of diaspora populations such as political opponents, civil society activists, human rights defenders, and journalists. In its report on transnational repression released in June, Freedom House noted Iranians were among those nationalities subjected to “digital and physical transnational repression while in Turkey” and stated extraterritorial killings “have been a staple of the Iranian regime since the 1979 revolution.” Iran was listed in the report as one of six countries known to be conducting aggressive campaigns against political opponents abroad. Freedom House reported the Iranian regime had an “expansive definition of who constitutes a threat,” labeling dissidents and journalists as terrorists to justify violence and disregard for due process.
Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: The country is credibly alleged to have killed or kidnapped persons and used violence and threats of violence against individuals in other countries, including to force their return to the country, for purposes of politically motivated reprisal.
In July New York City police arrested Khalid Mehdiyev outside the home of U.S.-based journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad. Mehdiyev was carrying a loaded assault rifle; the U.S. Department of Justice stated Mehdiyev and two others arrested were part of a murder-for-hire plot. This incident occurred a year after a New York federal court indicted four Iranian intelligence officials on charges connected to a plot to kidnap Alinejad and forcibly transport her to Iran to silence her criticism of the Iranian government. The intelligence officials reportedly directed a “network” that targeted and surveilled victims in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
In August Hadi Matar stabbed and severely wounded author Salman Rushdie multiple times as Rushdie prepared to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in New York State. Rushdie is the subject of a still active, 33-year-old fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini following the publishing of his book The Satanic Verses, which the then supreme leader deemed blasphemous. In 2019 Ayatollah Khamenei tweeted that his predecessor’s fatwa was “irrevocable.” The Iranian 15 Khordad Foundation offered a bounty of more than three million dollars for Rushdie’s life. Matar pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder and assault charges in a New York state court; the judge ordered him to remain in custody without bail.
In July Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court held the sixth session of the trial of Jamshid Sharmahd, a member of the promonarchist group Tondar (Thunder) or Kingdom Assembly of Iran, which was based outside the country. According to IranWire, NGOs, and other reporting, Ministry of Intelligence officials detained Sharmahd in July 2020 while he was on a layover in the Dubai airport on his way to India. Shortly after his detention and disappearance in Dubai, a video appeared of him on Press TV, the English-language service arm of the state’s Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) channel, giving a forced confession of planning a terrorist attack in 2008. Sharmahd was accused of being responsible for a deadly 2008 bombing at a religious center in Shiraz and of plotting other attacks, which he denied.
Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: Freedom House reported the regime employs a range of tactics to exert pressure on or exact reprisal against individuals located outside Iran, which “amount to a constant barrage of harassment, intimidation, and surveillance.”
In February the BBC filed a complaint with OHCHR regarding escalating “extra-territorial threats” against journalists working for the BBC’s Persian language service and their families, both in Britain and other countries. The complaint included reports from staff members of increased harassment of family members in Iran, increased financial pressure including asset freezes, increased intelligence and counterintelligence activity, and increased and continued online attacks. The BBC stated such threats from Iran had continued for more than a decade but worsened since 2021. OHCHR raised these concerns with Iran authorities in May in a communique made public in August. The BBC reported the Iranian government responded with claims that the BBC’s journalism “is aimed at ‘the overthrow of the Islamic Republic’” and complained of “hostile” coverage that had “incited riots.”
In September cybersecurity firm Mandiant released a report on APT42, an Iranian state-sponsored cyber espionage and surveillance group that employs highly targeted social engineering tactics to target civil society organizations, nonprofits and education organizations, governments, and media in at least 14 countries. The report noted that the group was believed to operate on behalf of the IRGC. In additional to spear-phishing campaigns designed to steal users’ credentials, the group was also believed to conduct surveillance operations targeting the locations and communications of “individuals of interest to the Iranian government, including activists and dissidents.”
In August the U.S. Justice Department announced charges against Shahram Poursafi, also known as Mehdi Rezayi, for “the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire and providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot” against former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton. Poursafi is a member of Iran’s IRGC and allegedly sought to have Bolton killed in retaliation for the 2020 killing of IRGC general Qassem Soleimani by the United States.
Misuse of International Law Enforcement Tools: Unlike in 2021, there were no 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.
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 abuses. The High Council for Human Rights, a subdivision of the judicial branch, “is charged with the responsibility of guiding and following up on all human rights related matters, domestically as well as internationally.” Much of the High Council’s messaging, however, was focused on countering accusations of human rights abuses from other countries.
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. Amnesty International reported an increase in seizures affecting members of the Baha’i religious minority. On June 25, an appeal court upheld a verdict authorizing the confiscation of 18 Baha’i properties in Semnan Province, alleging the owners were leaders of the “perverse Baha’i sect” who had engaged in “illegal activities and espionage to the advantage of foreigners.”
Amnesty International reported that between July 31 and August 24, Ministry of Intelligence agents raided and confiscated dozens of Baha’i properties. The ministry accused targets of engaging in espionage, propagation of Baha’i teachings, and seeking “to infiltrate various levels of the educational sector across the country, especially kindergartens.”
On August 2, according to Amnesty International and reported in IranWire, authorities bulldozed six Baha’i houses and confiscated more than 50 acres of land in the village of Roshankouh in Mazandaran Province in northern Iran.” State media reported several judicial and executive officials observed the incidents. Residents told Amnesty International more than 200 security agents descended on the village, confiscated residents’ mobile phones to prevent documentation, and beat residents who protested the demolition.
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 routinely intimidated activists and government critics by detaining their family members as a form of reprisal. No comprehensive data-protection laws exist that provide legal safeguards to protect users’ data from misuse. The operation of domestic messaging applications was based inside the country and content shared on these applications was susceptible to government control and surveillance.
In September HRANA reported the arrest of the sister, brother, and sister-in-law of wrestler Navid Afkari, executed in 2020 for confessing under torture to the killing of a law enforcement officer during antigovernment protests in 2018 in Shiraz. Elham Afkari, along with Habib Afkari and his wife Fatemeh Namjoo, were detained on their way to commemorate the anniversary of Navid’s death at his grave but were later released. In November security forces arrested Elham and her three-year-old daughter for allegedly cooperating with diaspora-based media. In December HRANA reported that Elham was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of “intention to cause unrest and disruption via spreading the calls for protests on the Internet.” Another brother, Vahid Afkari, remained in solitary confinement in Adelabad Prison as of July 31, according to NGO United for Iran. He was arrested with his brother Navid and received a 25-year prison sentence for allegedly aiding Navid.
Activists Manouchehr Bakhtiari remained in prison in poor health serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence on charges related to activism on behalf of his son, Pouya Bakhtiari, who was killed by security forces in Karaj City during the November 2019 protests. 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. Manouchehr Bakhtiari’s wife and Pouya’s mother, Fatemeh Sepehri, was also in prison.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
The government provided financial but also military and fighter recruitment support to armed groups and others through the Middle East. This included reports of primarily the IRGC-Qods Force directly supporting the Assad regime and assisting in the recruitment of fighters, providing support to pro-Iran militias and armed groups in Iraq, and giving significant financial and military technical support to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. In 2022, the IRGC-Qods Forces’ military support to Russia caused significant civilian harm.
Child Soldiers: The U.S. Government has determined that Iran recruited or used child soldiers from April 2021 to March 2022. Please see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: The government supported regimes in other countries whose governments committed human rights abuses.
In Syria, there continued to be reports the Iranian government, primarily through the IRGC, directly supported the Assad regime and recruited Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani Shia fighters, as well as Syrians, which contributed to prolonging the civil war, associated human rights abuses, and the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians during the year (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria).
In Iraq, Iranian 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). During the protests in Iran in September and November, news outlets widely reported Iranian missile and drone strikes in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, targeting the headquarters of Iranian Kurdish opposition parties, which the government claimed to be supporting the protests. The strikes reportedly killed at least 28 individuals and injured dozens, including Iranian refugees.
In Yemen, the Iranian government has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support to Houthi rebels since 2015 and proliferated weapons that exacerbated and prolonged the conflict there, including support to Houthi rebels in developing their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) capability. 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).
Iran’s military support to Russia resulted in violations of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 through its provision of military UAVs without requisite advance, case-by-case approval of the UN Security Council. The production and transfer of Iranian Shahed- and Mohajer-series UAVs to the Russian Federation resulted in the death of Ukrainian civilians and caused significant damage to Ukraine’s critical infrastructure (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine and Russia).