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

On August 1, a series of mass show trials began in Tehran. The first two were broadcast on Iranian television and showed hundreds of disheveled detainees dressed in pajama-like prison garb, looking dazed and confused. Although a list of defendants has never been made public, many were recognizable by the public including former vice-president Mohammad-Ali Abtahi and Dr. Mohsen Mirdamadi, the secretary general of the Islamic Iran Participation Front. The mass show trials bore little resemblance to criminal trials, under Iranian or international law. At each, the prosecution read a political document accusing the detainees and others outside of Iran, including foreign governments, of fomenting a “velvet revolution.” The readings were followed by confessions by select defendants.

Since August, detainees have also appeared on television confessing to crimes involving national security, belonging to terrorist organizations and conspiring with foreign powers. On October 5, the government began announcing sentences. The first four were death sentences handed down to men who had been arrested before the elections. As of December 31, at least a hundred sentences of lengthy prison terms, flogging, or banishment have been announced. However, the identities of many of those detained and tried remain unknown.

This preliminary report that documents and analyzes the Iranian government’s brutal suppression of dissent following the June 12 election. To meet publication deadlines, it ends its coverage on December 31, 2009. However, the Islamic Republic’s suppression efforts continue to escalate, and Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) fully expects that in the coming weeks, months and years, further details will come to light.

This report begins with a brief description of the presidential election, which is followed by a catalogue of the regime’s brutal suppression of the demonstrations. The regime’s refusal to issue demonstration permits to opposition groups, 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 right to life under Iranian and international law. The killing of demonstrators was simply murder.

The third section covers the arbitrary arrests of demonstrators and the brutal treatment they suffered while imprisoned in violation of Iranian and international law. Demonstrators were imprisoned without charge, and once imprisoned, were not afforded fundamental due process, including contact with their lawyers and families. Detainees were mistreated, denied medical care, beaten, raped, tortured, and killed. The regime’s failure to inform families of the whereabouts of their loved ones also constituted forced disappearances in violation of international law.

This is followed by a section describing the arrest and imprisonment of large swaths of Iran’s political and civil society. The arrests, interrogations and torture of the non-demonstrators violated Iranian and international law for the same reasons these acts violated the rights of the demonstrators. Political detainees were held for extended periods of time, often in solitary confinement, with minimal access to family or their chosen counsel. Those who were assigned legal counsel were allowed little contact with their chosen lawyers. If it is found that the torture, killings or forced disappearances were widespread, systematic, and with the knowledge of the perpetrators, each also constitutes a crime against humanity.

The last section of this report describes the five mass show trials and the sentencing of both demonstrators and activists. The parading of detainees in mass show trials, and subsequent sentencing of election-related arrestees violated Iranian and international law, both of which require observance of basic due process, including presumption of innocence, and the right to an attorney of one’s choice, and prohibit reliance on forced confessions in criminal proceedings.

The responsibility for this brutal wave of suppression begins at the top of the Iranian regime with the Supreme Leader and flows down through Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the heads of the law enforcement organizations, including the Sepah, the Basij and the police (NAJA), the heads of the Judiciary, and continues down through the ranks to the Basij on motorcycles running demonstrators down on the street, sadistic prison guards and other judicial employees. The perpetrators and their superiors are responsible under Iranian and international law.

Much of the material presented in this report is from thirty-two interviews conducted by IHRDC with activists, experts and victims of the government’s suppression. Most have chosen to remain anonymous for security reasons. Given the Iranian government’s concerted efforts to hide and distort the record, this report also analyzes and compares witness testimony with reports in the official Iranian press and the international press.


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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