April 30, 2018 | Parliament of Canada, House of Commons - Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development

Human Rights Situation in Iran

Read the full testimony here


Mr. Chair, distinguished members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify. I applaud the committee for holding Iran to account for its poor human rights record, which lies at the root of the regime’s destabilizing behavior across the region.

The nationwide protests that began to consume Iran in late December reflect longstanding frustration with Tehran’s repression, corruption, economic mismanagement, water shortages, and foreign adventurism. Though the country has witnessed hundreds of protests in recent years, the latest demonstrations, which continue to this day, mark the first major, widely covered eruption since the quashed 2009 Green Revolution, and represent a potential inflection point in the clerical regime’s long-term viability. Protestors have challenged not only specific policies, but also the government’s very legitimacy as a putative representative of the Iranian people. Chants of “death to Khamenei” and “death to Rouhani” – referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani – have routinely punctuated the mass demonstrations.

The uprising also highlights the broken promises of President Rouhani, who rose to power in 2013 – and won reelection last year – with repeated pledges to end the regime’s longstanding domestic repression. In late 2016, he released a detailed Charter on Citizens’ Rights, which vowed to advance fundamental democratic norms, including freedom of speech, press, religion and association, fair trials and due process, and governmental transparency and accountability.[1]

However, as the late Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, noted in a report written just before her death in February, improvements in Tehran’s human rights record under Rouhani “are either not forthcoming or are being implemented very slowly and in piecemeal.” Iran’s actions, she wrote, “contrast starkly” with its rhetoric. The regime has continued to impose arbitrary arrests, large numbers of executions, restrictions on speech and assembly, torture in prison, and discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities.[2] Rouhani, she said in an October 2017 press conference, will “have to walk the talk.”[3]

Though the protests have largely faded from the headlines in recent weeks, they continue to unfold throughout the country. In April, mass demonstration began in the city of Kazeroon. “Our enemy’s right here; they lie and say it’s America!” protestors chanted.[4] Demonstrators also gathered in Iran’s Kurdish regions to highlight their economic plight.[5] In Isfahan, protestors drew attention to chronic water shortages.[6] In March, Iranians protested against the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, the regime’s major propaganda organ, in Khuzestan Province.[7] In recent days, Iranians also protested Tehran’s censorship by writing anti-regime slogans on Iranian banknotes and posting them on Twitter.[8]

“A careful review of the evidence clearly indicates that the protests were not a short-lived phenomenon with temporary impact,” wrote Ivan Sascha Sheehan, the incoming executive director of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. “Rather, they marked a turning point and permanent change in the trend of events and political calculations in Iran.”[9]

Read the full testimony here

[1] Islamic Republic of Iran, “Charter on Citizens’ Rights,” December 19, 2016. (http://media.president.ir/uploads/ads/148214250789390200.pdf)

[2] UN Human Rights Council, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” A/HRC/37/68, March 5, 2018. (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session37/Documents/A_HRC_37_68.docx)

[3] “The situation of human rights in Iran – Press Conference (26 October 2017),” UN Web TV, October 26, 2017. (http://webtv.un.org/watch/the-situation-of-human-rights-in-iran-press-conference-26-october-2017/5625925716001/)

[4] “Protests Continue In Kazeroon Despite Police Presence,” Radio Farda, April 21, 2018. (https://en.radiofarda.com/a/iran-protests-kazeroon/29183629.html); Joyce Karam, “Large protests return to the Iranian city of Kazeroon,” The National (UAE), April 20, 2018. (https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/large-protests-return-to-the-iranian-city-of-kazeroon-1.723398)

[5] “Merchants On Strike In Iran’s Kurdistan As Border Closure Hurts Trade,” Radio Farda, April 19, 2018. (https://en.radiofarda.com/a/iran-kurdistan-merchants-strike/29177135.html)

[6] Michael Lipin and Shahram Bahraminejad, “Iranian Police Crackdown on Water Shortage Protests,” Voice of America, April 14, 2018. (https://www.voanews.com/a/iranian-police-crackdown-water-shortage-protests/4348441.html)

[7] “Growing Demands For Apology From Iranian State TV Over Discriminatory Kids Show,” Center for Human Rights in Iran, April 17, 2018. (https://www.iranhumanrights.org/2018/04/growing-demands-for-apology-from-iranian-state-run-tv-over-discriminatory-kids-show/)

[8] “Iranians launch banknote protest to get round censorship,” BBC, April 29, 2018. (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43942604)

[9] Ivan Sascha Sheehan, “The Rebellion in Iran: A Comprehensive Assessment,” Modern Diplomacy, April 10, 2018. (https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2018/04/10/the-rebellion-in-iran-a-comprehensive-assessment/); Aaron Kliegman, “The Iran Protests No One Is Covering,” Washington Free Beacon, April 20, 2018. (http://freebeacon.com/blog/iran-protests-no-one-covering/)