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

3.2.3       Forced Disappearances

The authorities’ failure to notify families of the whereabouts of their loved ones or their remains constitutes a violation of Iran’s obligation under international law to protect people from forced disappearances. The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPAPED) codified the prohibition against forced disappearances in the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, and included additional provisions targeted at preventing forced disappearances and combating impunity for them.[437]

The ICPAPED defines “enforced disappearance of persons” as a deprivation of a person’s freedom by a state or by persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of a state, and the absence of information on the fate or whereabouts of such persons or refusal to acknowledge deprivation of freedom, thereby placing the person outside the protection of the law.[438] A “victim” can be the disappeared person as well as “any individual who has suffered harm as a direct result of an enforced disappearance.”[439] It requires that each victim be told the truth regarding the circumstances and fate of a disappeared person.[440] In the event of a disappeared person’s death, it requires the state to “respect and return their remains.”[441]

Iran violated, and continues to violate, its fundamental duty to prevent the forced disappearances of the demonstrators who were killed following the June 12 election. The Iranian authorities repeatedly withheld bodies from family members for days, sometimes weeks, prevented them from learning the cause of death and forbade funerals. Reports of deaths of demonstrators started surfacing as early as Saturday, June 13.[442] Maysam Ebadi, a seventeen-year-old who died Saturday in Tajrish Hospital, is believed to have been one of the first gunshot victims. Five days after his death, his brother had yet to receive his body.[443]

Sohrab Arabi, who also died from gunshot wounds, disappeared on Monday, June 15, but family members report that the arrival of his body was recorded at the coroner’s office on June 19. They did not manage to gain access to his body until July 11 and still do not know whether the nineteen-year-old died on the street, at a hospital or in detention.[444]

Arabi’s mother, Parvin Fahimi, became a prominent member of the Mourning Mothers—a group of mothers who call for the release of all detainees and the arrest and prosecution of those who killed protestors.[445] The group is repeatedly harassed at their gatherings, and reportedly, Fahimi’s residence was raided by security forces who tore down pictures of her dead son.[446]

On June 16, the Governor of Tehran Province, Morteza Tamaddon, confirmed the deaths of only seven people who had died around Azadi Square the day before.[447] By Wednesday, Tahkim-e Vahdat could only confirm seven killings in the attacks on the universities in Tehran and Shiraz.[448] At the end of the week, Amnesty International put the total minimum number of the dead at ten, while pointing out that four university students remained unaccounted for.[449] It was not until July 29 that Reporters Without Borders could confirm the Monday, June 15 death of Alireza Eftekhari. Eftekhari was a former reporter for the newspaper Abrar-e Eqtesadi and the first reporter killed in the post-election violence. He was bludgeoned to death.[450]

The regime’s failure to notify families about the whereabouts of their loved ones, its refusal to allow families to bury their loved ones, and its refusal to provide the remains to family members violate Iran’s obligation under international law to protect people from forced disappearances. If it is found that the forced disappearances were widespread, systematic, and with the knowledge of the perpetrators, they also constitute a crime against humanity.[451]

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Sexual Violence, Death Penalty, Political Killings, Executions, Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Punishment, Personal Liberty, Arbitrary Detention, Travel Restrictions, Due Process, Right to an Attorney, Illegal Search and Seizure, Free Speech, Right to Protest, Protests, Political Freedom, Equality Before the Law, Discrimination, Reports