With Julie Bishop flying off to try and broker a deal with Iran to take back asylum seekers who have been refused refugee status, it is worth looking at the human rights record and conditions in Iran.
Since Iran’s crackdown against anti-government protests following the 2009 presidential election the human rights crisis in the country has only deepened. There is a broad-based campaign underway to severely weaken civil society by targeting journalists, lawyers, rights activists, and students. The number of executions has risen sharply since 2010, and authorities tightly restrict access to information by blocking websites, slowing down internet speeds, and jamming foreign satellite broadcasts. In March 2011 the UN Human Rights Council appointed a Special Rapporteur on Iran in response to the worsening rights situation in Iran, but authorities have so far refused to allow him access to the country.
In 2012, Iran carried out more than 544 executions, second in number only to China, according to Amnesty International, which reported that at least 63 executions were carried out in public. Crimes punishable by death include murder, rape, trafficking and possessing drugs, armed robbery, espionage, sodomy, adultery, and apostasy. Most of those executed were convicted of drug-related offenses following flawed trials in revolutionary courts.
Iran is almost certainly the world leader in executing juvenile offenders, putting to death 14 in 2014 and as many as 77 in the past 10 years. Iran also continued to impose new death sentences on child offenders last year. In total, at least 160 juvenile offenders are awaiting execution in the country, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported in February.
At least 40 journalists and bloggers were in Iran’s prisons in 2014, according to Reporters Without Borders. On December 28, 2012, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly warned journalists and others against suggesting that Iran’s elections would not be free.
Dozens of other rights defenders, including prominent lawyers such as Mohammad Seifzadeh and Abdolfattah Soltani, remained in prison on politically motivated charges.
The government denies freedom of religion to adherents of the Baha’i faith, Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, and discriminates against them. On July 31, an Iranian daily reprinted a fatwa, or religious edict, previously issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, stating that Baha’is are part of a “deviant and misleading sect” and urging Iranians to “avoid” them. One hundred and fourteen Baha’is were in Iran’s prisons as of September 2013, according to the Baha’i International Community.
Authorities restrict political participation and employment of non-Shia Muslim minorities, including Sunnis, who account for about 10 percent of the population. They also prevent Sunnis from constructing mosques in Tehran and conducting separate Eid prayers. Government targeting of Sufis, particularly members of the Nematollahi Gonabadi sect, continued unabated. In July, revolutionary courts in Tehran and Shiraz sentenced members of the Nematollahi Gonabadi sect to terms of one to 10.5 years for their peaceful activities.
The government restricted cultural as well as political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, Arab, and Baluch minorities.
Iranian women face discrimination in many areas including personal status matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. A woman needs her male guardian’s approval for marriage regardless of her age, and cannot generally pass on her nationality to her foreign-born spouse or their children. A woman may not obtain a passport or travel outside the country without the written permission of a male guardian. Child marriage, though not the norm, continues in Iran, where the law provides that girls can marry at the age of 13 and boys at the age of 15; and below such ages with the permission of a judge.
Amnesty International released a report raising concerns about the possible passage of two bills before Iran’s parliament that would further restrict women’s rights. One would prohibit voluntary sterilization as part of the country’s efforts to boost population growth and strengthen the place of what are deemed “traditional” families in society. The other would “further entrench gender-based discrimination, particularly against women who choose not to or are unable to marry or have children,” Amnesty said.
A day later, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, released his fourth report to the U.N. Human Rights Council describing the dire state of human rights in the country. His report cited the concerns about gender discrimination that Human Rights Watch and others had raised during Iran’s 2014 Universal Periodic Review, a review of every U.N. state’s human rights record every four years by the Human Rights Council.
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians with serious illnesses have been put at imminent risk by the unintended consequences of international sanctions, which have led to dire shortages of life-saving medicines such as chemotherapy drugs for cancer and bloodclotting agents for haemophiliacs.
Naser Naghdi, the head of Darou Pakhsh, which supplies about a third of Iran’s pharmaceutical needs, said he can no longer buy medical equipment such as autoclaves (sterilising machines), essential for the production of many drugs, and that some of the biggest western pharmaceutical companies refuse to have anything to do with Iran.
According to The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), social and economic conditions in Iran are quickly declining.
Unemployment and poverty in Iran are rising. The unemployment rate averaged 11.67 percent from 2001 until 2014. Inflation is reaching record levels and the very low minimum wage means most citizens must take on several jobs just to survive. Workers also lack the right to organize freely and effectively. All of this is leading to an extreme income gap between the rich and the poor.
A recent report titled Measurement and Economic Analysis of Urban Poverty showed that between 44.5 percent and 55 percent of Iran’s urban population lives below the poverty line.
Furthermore, 46 percent of Iranian women ages 15 to 24 are unemployed, and the unemployment rate for young adults is twice that of the general unemployment rate. This means that the country is officially in an unemployment crisis.
And it seems that Iranians who are employed are powerless in pushing to increase pay, benefits and working conditions.
“Attempts in recent years to establish independent trade unions have been harshly repressed,” said Karim Lahidji, President of FIDH. “Labor leaders have been imprisoned on charges including ‘acting against national security’ and ‘spreading propaganda against the system.’”
Workers’ rights are often violated on religious, ethnic or political grounds. And the regime is particularly harsh to women in the workplace.
“Government policies marginalize women in flagrant contradiction of the universal principle of equality between men and women. Recent measures to overhaul population control policies in order to induce a higher fertility rate further deepen discrimination against women,” said Lahidji.
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (and its 1967 Protocol), to which Australia is a signatory, defines a refugee as:
Any person who owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.
Considering that every asylum seeker, by their very action, could be considered critical of the regime, an offence which has seen many jailed, can Julie Bishop guarantee the safety of all these people should they be forcibly returned to Iran?
Tony Abbott said “we’ll be talking to the Iranian government about taking back people who are Iranian citizens because they deserve to be in Iran.” I’m not sure that anyone “deserves” that sort of life but I am very sure that Peter Dutton should not be the person making that decision.