UN rights council to hold urgent session on Iran crackdown

A woman takes part in protests which erupted across Iran in September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was detained by the country’s morality police. (Keystone/AP Photo/Middle East Images)

The United Nations Human Rights Council will hold a special session on the human rights situation in Iran amid the government’s deadly crackdown on protests that have engulfed the country.

The UN announced on Monday that the rights body will hold an urgent meeting on 24 November to address “the deteriorating human rights situation” in Iran following a push by Western nations.

Germany and Iceland submitted a request on Friday on behalf of 42 countries to hold a special session, “especially with respect to women and children”, amid the government’s crackdown on the anti-government protests that erupted two months ago.

The demonstrations against Iran’s clerical establishment began in mid-September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody after she was arrested by the country’s morality police for allegedly breaking strict hijab rules.

They have reportedly spread to 140 cities and towns, growing into the most significant challenge to the Islamic Republic in over a decade.

The protests have been met with a violent crackdown by the country’s security forces, with thousands of people thought to have been detained.

Iranian officials have not released casualty figures during the protests, however a number of rights groups have put the death toll at over 300 people.

According to Norway-based NGO Iran Human Rights, at least 326 protesters, including 43 children and 25 women, have been killed, while the monitoring group Human Rights Activists in Iran has said at least 328 people have been killed and another 14,285 others arrested.

Iranian officials have portrayed the protests as “riots” driven by the country’s foreign enemies and begun holding fast-tracked courts for people involved, who rights groups have warned could face execution if convicted.

Last week, the country’s judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei declared that “key perpetrators” should be identified as soon as possible and handed sentences that would have a deterrent effect on others.

He warned “rioters” could be charged with “moharebeh” (enmity against God), “efsad fil-arz” (corruption on Earth) and “baghy” (armed rebellion), all of which can carry the death penalty in Iran’s Sharia-based legal system. He said those possessing and using a weapon or firearm, disrupting national security, or killing someone could receive “qisas” (retaliation in kind).

This comes after the majority of the members of Iran’s parliament called on the judiciary last week to “deal decisively with the perpetrators of these crimes [the protests] and with all those who assisted in the crimes and provoked rioters”.

The first death sentence to a person arrested for taking part in the protests was issued by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran on Monday. The court found the defendant, who was not named, had set fire to a government facility and was guilty of “enmity against God”.

At least 20 people are currently facing charges punishable by death, according to Iran Human Rights, who has called on the international community to “send a strong warning to the Iranian authorities that implementation of the death sentence for protesters is not acceptable and will have heavy consequences.”

More than 2,000 people have already been charged with participating in the “recent riots”, according to judiciary figures.

A group of UN experts, including the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran Javaid Rehman, released a statement on Friday calling on Iranian authorities to stop indicting people with charges punishable by death for participating in the protests.

Rights groups have condemned Iran for its brutal response to the demonstrations, while a number of countries including the United States and the European Union have imposed human rights sanctions on Iranian officials and entities.

Iran has retaliated with sanctions of its own and hit out at Western governments for their response to the protests.

The Human Rights Council meeting has the support of more than one-third of the council’s voting members, which is necessary to hold an urgent meeting outside the body’s agenda. It will be the first time a special session has been held on Iran.