Arbitrary arrests, threats, executions: in the country of the mullahs, forty years after the proclamation of the Islamic Republic, repression continues to strike defenders of freedoms and critical voices of the regime.

His speeches were in contrast to those of his predecessor. White turbans and grey beards, the “moderate” Hassan Rohani advocated greater social openness and more freedom for Iranians. After eight years of chairing the ultra-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his arrival in power in 2013 – before his re-election in 2017 – was to mark a break with the promise of an improvement in the human rights situation in the country.

After hope comes disillusionment. While all the levers of power are in the hands of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the people’s aspiration for democratic change still faces a locked system since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. And any criticism of the regime’s policy can be repressed.

Discriminatory laws against women

In 2018, the regime also intensified its repression against women’s rights defenders. While many of them participated in the 1979 revolution, leading to the fall of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the establishment of the Islamic Republic caused them to lose many freedoms.

Despite achievements in education and health, they continue to face discrimination in employment, and are exposed to domestic violence from which the law does not protect them. Check and learn more about women rights in Iran. They cannot obtain a passport or travel abroad without the written permission of their husbands. In addition, in November 2017, the Iranian Parliament’s Committee on Judicial Affairs rejected the draft reform of the Civil Code aimed at raising the minimum age of marriage for girls in Iran from 13 to 16 years.

Iran, the second most executed country in the world

This repression, far from being unprecedented, is specific to the Islamic Republic. After China, Iran is the most executed country in the world. According to Human Rights Watch, 225 people were executed in 2018, including at least five individuals for crimes they allegedly committed when they were minors.

Under Iranian laws, based on Sharia law, apostasy, homosexual relations, adultery and drug trafficking are punishable by the death penalty. And the regime continues to use it against political dissidents, accused of “conspiracy against national security” and “propaganda against the regime”.

In 1988, in particular, thousands of political dissidents were victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions in prisons. “Today, we can say that there have been between 30,000 and 40,000 executions since the beginning of the revolution 40 years ago,” says Karim Lahidji, Honorary President of the International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH).

“The condemnations of the international community are symbolic, without sanctions. The Iranian regime criticizes the UN recommendations and considers them as a political weapon against itself and even against Islam,” he explains.

Persecution of ethnic and religious minorities

Another target of choice for the regime, in a country where the official religion is Shia Islam (89% of the population): ethnic and religious minorities. Admittedly, the Constitution recognizes the Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian minorities present on its territory, which have reserved seats in Parliament. But the primacy of Islam at all levels of Iranian society effectively discriminates against non-Muslims (not allowed to marry a Muslim woman), but also Sunni Muslims (nearly 10%), considered as second-class citizens.

According to Amnesty International, 171 Christians were arrested in 2018 for practicing their faith, some of whom were sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. But the most persecuted community is the Bahai’s, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran (about 300,000 people). Not recognized by the Constitution, because it is considered a “deviant” cult, its members are deprived of all rights. As of November 2018, at least 79 Baha’is were detained in Iranian prisons, according to Human Rights Watch.

We cannot deny that it is a very black picture of human rights in Iran. Karim Lahidji said that he sees no sign of any change in policy on the part of President Hassan Rohani and especially the Supreme Leader,but he added with hope that despite the repression, Iranian civil society is still alive. On the social and societal level, Iranian youth want to live differently. They don’t give up.