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Violent Aftermath: The 2009 Election and Suppression of Dissent in Iran

2.7       Violations of Iranian and International Law

The regime’s refusal to issue permits to opposition demonstrators, its use of excessive force to suppress the demonstrations, and its murder of demonstrators violated the rights of the demonstrators to freedom of assembly, protection against the use of excessive force by law enforcement, and their rights to life under Iranian and international law. The killing of demonstrators was murder.

2.7.1       Violations of Right to Assembly

The preamble to the Iranian Constitution recognizes that the fundamental right to freely assemble enabled the people of Iran to overthrow the repressive regime of the Shah:

In the course of this popular movement, the employees of all government establishments took an active part in the effort to overthrow the tyrannical regime by calling a general strike and participating in street demonstrations. The widespread solidarity of men and women, of all segments of society and of all political and religious factions, played a clearly determining role in the struggle.[293]

The preamble entrusts the fate of the people to the people themselves and encourages Iranian citizens to broadly and actively participate in society. In this fashion, the Constitution aims to guarantee the rejection of “tyranny” and “economic monopoly.”[294]

Article 27 provides that “public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.”[295] Gatherings may be held, and other rights may be exercised, if they are not detrimental to the public interest.[296] Article 9 provides that “[n]o individual, group, or authority, has the right to infringe in the slightest way upon the political, cultural, economic, and military independence or the territorial integrity of Iran under the pretext of exercising freedom.” It also provides:

Similarly, no authority has the right to abrogate legitimate freedoms, not even by enacting laws and regulations for that purpose, under the pretext of preserving the independence and territorial integrity of the country.[297] 

Under the Procedural Code of the Article 10 Commission,[298] the Interior Ministry, made up of presidential appointees, is responsible for approving or denying applications for demonstrations and public gatherings. Article 30 of this law states:

Request for demonstrations and gatherings must be submitted in writing and in person by the recognized official representative of the group to the Interior Ministry, a week before the date of demonstration or gathering.

Note – It is not necessary to observe the time set by this article for demonstrations that take place due to unforeseen events. It is up to the Interior Ministry to decide this matter.[299]

Under the Procedural Code, the Interior Ministry has broad discretion to grant or deny a permit.[300] For example, the Ministry has the latitude to determine whether a gathering will be detrimental to Islamic fundamentals.[301] This is a concept so vague that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) explicitly noted that such limitations could lead to the denial of the right to assemble and that the Islamic Republic should establish clear criteria to assess what a violation of such Islamic principles might entail.[302] There is no right to appeal. 

The fundamental right to freedom of assembly is also protected in international law. Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)[303] provides as follows:

The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.[304]

The United Nations Human Rights Commission (HRC), a body responsible for interpreting the ICCPR, has recognized that States may require advance notice even though it may restrict the right to assemble. It reasons that States should be allowed some time in which to prepare for a demonstration.[305] However, the HRC has expressed concern that a notification requirement of just three days may be overly restrictive.[306] It has also made it clear that any permit procedure should include an appeals process.[307]

In the HRC’s concluding observations in a case involving Togo, it criticized a pattern of restrictions strikingly similar to those in Iran:

The Committee is concerned at reports that peaceful demonstrations organized by civil society are regularly prohibited and forcibly dispersed by the authorities, while marches in support of the President of the Republic are regularly organized by the authorities.[308]

The Iranian government violated Iranian and international law by allowing rallies in support of Ahmadinejad to take place while denying permits to opposition demonstrators. On November 4, the authorities also used a double standard when demonstrators were not allowed near the official demonstration sanctioned by the government in front of the old U.S. Embassy building, and did not allow opposition protests to take place anywhere in Tehran.

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