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Iran arrested more than 7,000 dissidents last year

New figures show that Iran arrested over 7,000 people in a sweeping crackdown last year that led to hundreds being jailed or flogged, at least 26 protesters being killed and nine people dying in custody amid suspicious circumstances, according to a new report published on 24 January by Amnesty International. Among those arrested were journalists, lawyers, minority rights activists and anti-hijab protesters. Managers of channels on the popular mobile messaging application Telegram were also targeted.

Iranian authorities beat unarmed protesters and used live ammunition, teargas and water cannon throughout the year – particularly in January, July and August – with thousands arbitrarily arrested and detained, the new figures assert.

Overall in 2018, whether in the context of protests or as a result of their work, 11 lawyers, 50 media workers and 91 students were detained arbitrarily.

“2018 will go down in history as a year of shame for Iran,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East research and advocacy director in a press release. “The staggering scale of arrests, imprisonments and flogging sentences reveal the extreme lengths the authorities have gone to in order to suppress peaceful dissent.”

At least 20 media workers were sentenced to long prison or flogging sentences after unfair trials. One journalist, Mohammad Hossein Sodagar, from the Azerbaijani Turkic ethnic minority, was flogged 74 times in the city of Khoy after being convicted of “spreading lies”.

Another media worker, Mostafa Abdi, who is an administrator of the Majzooban-e-Noor website reporting on human rights abuses against the Gonabadi Dervish religious minority, was sentenced to 26 years and three months in prison, 148 lashes, and other punishments.

In addition, at least 112 women human rights defenders were arrested or remained in detention in Iran during 2018.

“Throughout 2018, the Iranian authorities waged a particularly sinister crackdown against women’s rights defenders. Instead of cruelly punishing women for demanding their rights, the authorities should put an end to the rampant and entrenched discrimination and violence they face,” Philip Luther stated.

In 2018, an unprecedented protest movement against the abusive and discriminatory forced hijab (veiling) laws in Iran took place. Women took to the streets and stood on top of raised structures in public places, silently waving their headscarves on the ends of sticks. In response, they suffered a bitter backlash from the authorities, facing violent assault, arrest and torture and other ill-treatment. Some were sentenced to prison terms after grossly unfair trials.

Shaparak Shajarizadeh was sentenced to 20 years in prison, 18 of which were suspended, for her peaceful protest against forced hijab. She fled Iran after she was released on bail and has since described in media interviews how she was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in solitary confinement and denied access to her lawyer.

Her lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was herself arrested in June and faces several charges related to national security for defending those protesting against forced hijab-wearing. She is already serving a five-year sentence for campaigning against the death penalty.

Amid a deepening economic crisis in the Middle East country that triggered worker-led protests that were brutally suppressed, Amnesty said Iran also intensified its discriminatory crackdown against religious and ethnic minorities, limiting their access to education, employment and other services.

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