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New report outlines how national security and terrorism measures are used to commit widespread human rights abuses in Iran

The Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights (CCCR) and Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) has today (29 June 2020) jointly published a new report uncovering widespread human rights abuses by the Iranian regime, particularly on its citizens.

The report, titled In the Name of Security: Human rights violations under Iran’s national security laws is authored by prominent human rights activist Drewery Dyke and follows their earlier reports: Rights Denied: Violations against ethnic and religious minorities in Iran (2018) and Beyond the Veil: Discrimination against women in Iran (2019)

The new document outlines how the regime has pursued a “securitisation of governance” to counter national security threats and combat terrorism, initially borne out of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and reinforced by an eight-year war with Iraq and decades of disputes with the United States.

Ultimately, these measures taken to securitise the political arena have crept into “cultural and social domains of the country as well”. The result has had far-reaching impacts on the rights of people living in Iran, including but not limited to political dissidents, minorities, dual nationals and migrants.

Speaking on the launch of the report, Dyke said:

“Iran’s securitised worldview sees all political challenge as an existential threat…This has led to unfettered and illegal killings during recent state-wide protests over the dire economic situation and botched efforts to deal with Covid-19 effectively.”

As the report correctly points out, the ideological nature of the Islamic Republic means that political, cultural and social elements of life in Iran are intrinsically interlinked. Leading them to state:

“The notion of security as defined by the Islamic Republic encompasses most aspects of social life”

The exertion of power into all aspects of social life can be seen through the growing influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which has continually risen in prominence over the past four decades. By 2017, the IRGC had an estimated 150,000 individuals under its command.

The IRGC now plays “the decisive role in the intimidation and prosecution of those whom it considers a threat”, with its anti-riot officers the most widely used tool for suppressing any public dissent, protests, or rioting.

Iran’s national security imperative has allowed its country’s judicial, intelligence and IRGC officials to “harass, arbitrarily detain and ill-treat individuals in Iran for reasons of their identity or for peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression.”

The report highlights how:

“Human rights activists maintain that such detentions constitute a form of hostage-taking that has nothing to do with national security but everything to do with political leverage and financial benefit for the state apparatus.”

The International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR) supports these findings, having consistently advocated for the release of foreign and dual nationals held in Iran for no reason than to be used as bargaining chips in the diplomatic arena.

In October 2019, Nizar Zakka spoke to IOHR about Iran’s use of “hostage diplomacy”:


The CCCR and MRGI report also highlights how “scores of journalists, labour activists, women’s rights campaigners and other human rights defenders are detained every year on spurious national security grounds”.

Migrants, in particular those from Afghanistan are also subjected to widespread abuses. There are around 1 million Afghans in Iran including nearly 1 million documented refugees. The report explains how:

“For at least the last 15 years, Afghans in Iran have faced mounting discrimination and increasing restrictions to their rights. The government has forced families to change their place of residence, forcibly moving them significant distances, substantially dislocating their lives”

Minorities in Iran are often subjected to abuse and. The report argues minority activists from Kurdistan and Baluchistan communities, as well as Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks and Turkmen – all located on Iran’s border – are often “falsely and deliberately conflated with separatism and terrorism”.

Speaking to IOHR, Drewery Dyke said:

“Iran’s securitised worldview sees political challenge – even if benign – as an existential threat. As a result, the authorities treat equally, in law, the acts of armed groups; advocates of Arab, Azerbaijani,Kurdish language and cultural rights and the cross-border trade of socio-economically marginalised communities. And it is on account, in large part, of a desire to project power rooted in a national security imperative that, likewise, the state has trafficked  vulnerable Afghan to fight on its behalf”

Before adding:

“Yet, the securitised lens was exactly the one that resulted in unfettered and illegal killings during recent state-wide protests over the dire economic situation. This approach risks creating a human rights emergency. It really must stop.”

The most recent illustration of the regimes overreach for securitisation comes with their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report finds that “the threat posed by COVID-19 was treated by the Iranian authorities not just as a public health challenge but also as a national security issue”.

State media peddled disinformation, discrediting the virus as a ‘bioweapon’ of the United States, a line then peddled by parliamentarians. All the time the government was using national security measures to conceal the true scale of the pandemic.

Citing Radio Farda, the new report highlights how as of 20 April 2020:

“Authorities had detained 3,600 people for challenging the government’s narrative on the virus in Iran. On 10 May, officials announced the arrest of a further 320 people for spreading ‘false and provocative’ information on social media”

The report concludes by making a number of recommendations, including but not limited to: The regime adhering to its international obligations under the human rights treaties it has ratified; permitting “UN Special Procedures, including the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, to enter the country for monitoring visits.”; release all activists currently held for peaceful advocacy; and immediately end the practice of detaining dual nationals for political leverage.

You can read the full report here:

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