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Report Documents An Alarming Rise In Iran’s Rights Violations

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As 2023 ends, a human rights group has documented numerous cases of violations, including those targeting religious and ethnic groups, women and labor activists.

Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA) published its annual report for 2023 on December 28, in which diverse cases of human rights violations were detailed and categorized.

Spanning January 1 to December 20, 2023, the publication is the result of the collection, analysis and documentation of 9,656 human rights reports from 111 media and legal sources.

Crackdown On Labor Activists

According to the report, at least 2,021 protest rallies were held in Iran in 2023, the majority of which were trade union and labor demonstrations, including 111 labor strikes. Security and intelligence agencies used intimidation, arrests and prosecutions to intimidate labor activists.

Over the past months, protests and strikes have continued in different sectors as the Islamic Republic grapples with growing unrest fueled by unmet demands from retirees and workers.

Striking steel workers in Ahvaz, southern Iran, December 2023

Toward the end of December, workers at the Esfahan Steel Company halted operations, conveying their discontent through organized gatherings and chanting slogans. 

Amidst the labor unrest, the regime-run Statistics Center of Iran (SCI) reported a household inflation rate of 45.5%. Alarmingly, one-third of the country is experiencing inflation rates exceeding 50%, as indicated by the same report.

Ongoing Repression Of Ethnic, Religious Minorities

The HRA 2023 report also stated that 324 people were arrested over their ethnic activism, 19 of whom were given 984 months of imprisonment by the Islamic Republic’s judiciary. In comparison with 2022, the numbers show a 44-percent increase in arrests and a 31-percent increase in prison sentences given to ethnic activists in Iran.

142 people were arrested for religious reasons and a total of 5,113 months of imprisonment were handed down to members of religious monitories in Iran. The HRA went on to say, that 85 percent of the reports regarding rights violations of religious monitories concern the Baha’i community.

In November, the Court of Appeals in northern Mazandaran province sentenced 14 Baha’i citizens to imprisonment and fines.

The Baha’i faith is not recognized as a legitimate religion by Iran’s Shiite clerical regime, leading to systematic and longstanding violations of the rights of Baha’is in the country.

Approximately 300,000 Baha’is reside in Iran, and they frequently document a pattern of regular rights violations. The violations encompass harassment, forced displacement from their residences and businesses, and unequal treatment regarding government employment and access to higher education.

Regime Targets Women Activists

Women activists were also severely targeted by the Iranian government in 2023. HRW reported that 44 women were arrested for their activism for women’s rights and 3,176 were prosecuted by the government over their refusal to wear compulsory hijab.

26 cases of rape and sexual harassment and 82 cases of murdering women were also documented by HRW. The report also stipulated that the Iranian government systematically deprives LGBT and queer groups of their rights.

In September, the Iranian parliament greenlit a bill titled “Protection of Family Through Promotion of Hijab and Chastity Culture.” Initially introduced by the government and subsequently amended by hardliner lawmakers, the legislation outlined penalties, including substantial fines, for women diverging from the prescribed Islamic dress code.

Freedom Of Speech Violations & Academic Repression

Violating freedom of thought and speech, the Iranian regime arrested 3,130 people in 2023 and handed down 25,124 months of imprisonment, according to the HRA report.

Human Rights Activists in Iran also documented 3,067 cases of university students being summoned to “disciplinary committees” at their academic institutions and 23 cases of interrogations by judiciary and intelligence entities outside universities. School students were targeted by a campaign of mysterious chemical poisoning in late 2022 and early 2023. Six thousand such cases of poisonings were reported in 2023.

Many Iranians suspect the mysterious poisoning incidents that affected tens of thousands of students across the country following anti-government protests were orchestrated as revenge by the regime or the religious hardliners it protects. This was perceived as a measure to intimidate and subdue the youth involved in the protest movement. The poisonings began in Qom on November 30, 2022, spreading nationwide until April, leading to hospitalizations and at least one reported death.

File photo of a group execution in Iran

The Islamic Republic’s Juggernaut of Executions

HRA also noted that 746 people were executed in Iran in 2023, with 6 being executed in public, with 56 percent of the executions carried out over drug-related crimes and 35 percent over murder.

The United Nations, the European Union, and human right activists and groups have repeatedly voiced concern over the Islamic Republic’s execution juggernaut and its near-record killing spree in 2023.

In October, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted a surge in executions in Iran in a report submitted to the 78th session of the General Assembly. 

A comparison with HRW’s 2022 report it becomes apparent that the Islamic Republic has intensified its crackdown against religious, ethnic and gender minorities, and also political and labor activists in 2023.