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Further encroachments on Iranian civil society as Iran’s largest NGO is dissolved

A Tehran court has upheld an Interior Ministry motion to dissolve the Imam Ali Popular Students Relief Society (IAPSRS), a prominent anti-poverty NGO and the only Iranian organisation to hold consultative status with the United Nations.

The IAPSRS was dedicated to the provision of humanitarian services, with an emphasis placed on the advancement of children’s rights in some of Iran’s most impoverished and destitute areas. The largest Iranian NGO, it employed thousands of people to support and monitor some of the nation’s most vulnerable groups.

In recent years, members of the Iranian regime have accused the charity of being misused for “political purposes” and “hurting the Islamic republic by highlighting problems”, following its work with international bodies and other foreign organisations.

The group’s founder, Sharmin Meymandinejad, was detained in June 2020, and charged with “insulting the Supreme Leader”. Media outlets affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps also alleged that he had contacted “anti-Iran centers outside the country”.

The move to dissolve the IAPSRS is another example of the regime’s persistent attacks on Iranian civil society and rights defenders. Hadi Ghaemi, executive director at the Center for Human Rights in Iran, said that the ruling is:

“a continuation of the systematic state policy of using the courts to do the bidding of the security agencies and silence independent voices in society”

In a report published by Amnesty International in February 2019, Iran was listed among the fifty countries employing “bullying techniques and repressive regulations” to impede the work of NGOs. The report found that laws cited by the Iranian judiciary:

“contravene the principle of legality as they are overly broad and vague, allowing the authorities to apply them arbitrarily”

The report also states that exploitation of the Islamic Penal Code, in the form of criminalising “informal networks or campaigns”, has seen rights defenders such as Narges Mohammadi and Nasrin Sotoudeh imprisoned for their connections to LEGAM and other informal groups.

Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said that the regime’s attacks on rights defenders and activists were “fuelling more dissent and frustration” and that:

“Despite numerous geopolitical, health, and economic crises facing the country, Iranian authorities are treating local civil society as their number one threat and remain unaccountable for their abuses”

At a time when Iran is experiencing a myriad of humanitarian crises, the priority of the regime should not be the dissolution of organisations dedicated to their alleviation. Iranian authorities must ensure that their actions are not antithetical to the existence of open civic space.


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