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Many observers hoped that the combination of the Rouhani government in Iran and the successful conclusion of the deal on Iran’s nuclear programme would lead to a warming of Iranian relations with Western countries and an improvement in the human rights situation inside Iran. While there has been some limited progress on matters such as investment by Western companies, no political transformation has taken place in the country. Hard-line factions in the judiciary and the intelligence and security forces, resentful at having failed to prevent the nuclear deal, are using all the levers at their disposal to maximise their influence. That means fighting against any loosening of political and religious repression.

Judicial process and the death penalty

The huge amount of executions in Iran continues to cause concern. According to Amnesty International, the authorities executed 567 people in 2016, and an article by Iran Human Rights says that one execution was carried out every four hours from July this year. Amnesty drew attention to the judicial process in Iran, which it said is not impartial:

“… death sentences in Iran are particularly disturbing because they are invariably imposed by courts that are completely lacking in independence and impartiality. They are imposed either for vaguely worded or overly broad offences, or acts that should not be criminalized at all, let alone attract the death penalty. Trials in Iran are deeply flawed, detainees are often denied access to lawyers in the investigative stage, and there are inadequate procedures for appeal, pardon and commutation.”

Detainees are often subjected to torture, according to Human Rights Watch.

Freedom of speech

Broad national security offences are often used against journalists to silence them in Iran, and the country remains one of the most repressive to journalists in the world: 165th out of 180, according to the NGO Reporters without Borders. Four bloggers and three journalists were imprisoned in 2016. Kurdish reporters and others from minority groups that the Iranian authorities find challenging are the most likely to face arbitrary arrest and detention.

Human rights lawyers are also vulnerable to arrest with increasingly harsh prison sentences. Free trade unions are also banned.


Women are subjected to various forms of discrimination and the authorities do not do enough to prevent violence – there is no law against domestic violence, for example. The legal age for marriage is 13 for a girl, although girls can be married at an earlier age if their father or grandfather decides, and is given court clearance. In one year there were more than 40,000 marriage registrations where the girl was aged between 10 and 14 years, Human Rights Watch reported.

Iranian government

The Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied in 2015 that people were jailed for their opinions in Iran:

“We do not jail people for their opinions. The government has a plan to improve [and] enhance human rights in the country, as every government should. And I believe we have an obligation as a government to our own people to do that. But people who commit crimes, who violate the laws of the country, cannot hide behind being a journalist or being a political activist. People have to observe the law.”

UK government

The UK government says that it is working hard to improve the human rights situation in Iran. It summarised its actions in the 2016 Human Rights and Democracy report

“The UK has consistently pressed Iran to improve its human rights record, both through bilateral engagement and with our international partners, including through the UN and the EU. In 2016, we strongly supported the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur. In December, we welcomed the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Resolution on Human Rights in Iran. The UK lobbied hard for global support and the Resolution passed with an increased number of positive votes.

In 2017, we will continue to engage with our international partners to hold Iran to account for its human rights record. In particular we look forward to working with the new UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Asma Jahangir, and call on Iran to allow her access to the country. We will also support the upcoming EU/Iran dialogue on human rights.

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