United Nations member states urge Iran to improve human rights

21 November 2016

Human Rights Council
Eighty-five United Nations (UN) member states voted on 15 November 2016 calling upon Iranian authorities to take real steps in correcting its human rights record. The resolution builds upon last year’s adopted resolution where Iran accepted 130 recommendations made to its human rights record and practices stemming from the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process in 2014, which Freemuse contributed to in its stakeholder submission. The current resolution, sadly, re-iterates many of the same recommendations and calls from the previous resolution and second UPR.

Freemuse Executive Director Ole Reitov said:

Freemuse welcomes the latest UN resolution and is encouraged that nearly half of the member states voted in favour for Iran to strengthen its human rights practices and policies, as well as its cooperation with international bodies and representatives. However, we remain cautious about what Iranian authorities, both religious and legislative, and social groups will actually do in response to these calls. We have seen them go back on their promises before and revert to the same non-transparent, arbitrary and discriminatory practices they have become synonymous with for decades.

The resolution does acknowledge that authorities have increased their dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran and that authorities “have expressed readiness” to engage in more bilateral talks on human rights.

However, it also notes that there is still a lot of work to do on improving the nation’s treatment of all members of its society, its cooperation with UN bodies and mechanisms, and its implementation of all accepted UPR recommendations from 2010 and 2014.

Targeting women
In its March 2014 UPR stakeholder submission on Iran, Freemuse specifically pointed out that the systemic discrimination against women in Iran has affected women in every walk of life, including women artists. This has especially affected women musicians who have not been able to perform solo in public before mixed audiences since the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979, and who cannot perform with men in public or in recordings.

In December 2015, Iranian authorities did not allow the distribution of Majid Derakhshani’s latest album ‘Khoroosh’. Additionally, he has been banned from musical activity due to his collaboration with the Mah Banoo group, comprised of mostly female musicians and singers. Derakhshani, as well as members of the group, have been summoned by security forces on several occasions and in January 2015, security officials at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport confiscated his passport, banning him from traveling abroad.

In November 2015, event organisers cancelled a concert by the Tehran Symphony Orchestra scheduled to take place before the World Wrestling Clubs Cup because some of the musicians were female, saying that “it’s absolutely impossible for women to play musical instruments on stage”.

Paragraph 14 of the latest resolution also highlights the need for Iranian authorities to “eliminate, in law and in practice, all forms of discrimination and other human right violations against women and girls”.

Freemuse noted in its UPR submission that legally, a woman’s testimony in court is only considered to have half the value of a man’s testimony, and that in sentencing a woman’s life is also valued at that of half of a man’s. Further, socially, a husband can prevent his wife from work that is “incompatible with the family interests or the dignity of himself or his wife”.

Targeting artists
Freemuse has documented that Iran has consistently targeted artists for years, making it one of the top five worst violators of the human right to artistic freedom every year since 2012 when the organisation began documenting violations of artistic freedom globally.

So far, in 2016, Freemuse has documented at least 35 cases of violations of artistic freedom in Iran, including the imprisonment of several artists, as well threatening and censoring several artists and their works from being seen or performed in public.

Freemuse, as well as the two United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Cultural Rights, Karima Bennoune, and freedom of expression, David Kaye, have called for Iranian authorities to free musician Mehdi Rajabian and his filmmaker brother, Hossein Rajabian, from prison after they were sentenced to three years imprisonment for running a music website that promoted what officials consider “underground music”. The statement was also endorsed by the Special Rapporteurs on Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, and torture Mr. Juan E. Méndez.

In a recent letter penned in prison by Hossein on behalf of him and his brother, he said that not only has their health deteriorated, but they have also been denied access to their lawyer. According to Amnesty International, Mehdi was punched in the stomach by a prison doctor during his most recent hunger strike. When the brothers were originally arrested and detained in 2013 for two months in solitary confinement, Mehdi was repeatedly tortured.

Paragraph 10 of the latest resolution calls for Iranian authorities “to ensure, in law and practice, that no one is subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and that no punishments are “grossly disproportionate to the nature of the offence”.

Earlier in November 2016, musician Amir Tataloo was sentenced to five years in prison and 74 lashes after being found guilty of “spreading Western immorality”, and in June 2016, eight music producers were arrested for producing “obscene” music videos that were aired on what authorities consider to be a “famous anti-revolutionary television channel”.

Iranian authorities often target artists who appear, or whose work appears, on foreign-based Persian-language television or online platforms they deem to be against the state or that spread ideas contrary to what religious and government authorities deem to be proper.

In October 2015, Iranian authorities banned 26 popular musicians and singers from performing in Iran after their music was aired by networks abroad.

An “enabling environment” for everyone
Paragraph 13 of the latest resolution calls upon the Iranian government to create an “enabling environment” for all members of its civil society, including artists, filmmakers, human rights defenders and all religious minorities, to be able to freely express their opinions, and be able to freely gather and peacefully assemble. The resolution also calls upon Iranian authorities to release prisoners that have been “arbitrarily detained for the legitimate exercise of these rights”.

Paragraph 15, further extends the call to include such freedoms and protection to all other minorities, including ethnic and linguistic minorities.

In November 2016, visual artist Shahriar Siroos continues to await a judgment on his appeal over a five-year prison sentence on charges of establishing a group to “perturb the security of the country” related to him teaching art classes in his home.

Though officials have said they weren’t persecuting Siroos for his religious beliefs, the artist, who is of the Bahá’í faith, has been repeatedly questioned by authorities throughout the mid-2000s. Further, in his most recent arrest, Intelligence Ministry agents searched the apartments of all the residents in the building, all of whom were of the same faith, and did so without a warrant.

In the latest UN resolution, paragraph 17 calls for a “comprehensive accountability process” that extends to Iranian judiciary and security agencies to end them acting with impunity in cases of serious human right violations.

» Read the full UN General Assembly resolution, dated 31 October 2016, here:
Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

» See the voting record of UN member states on the resolution here

» Read the full UN General Assembly resolution, adopted on 17 December 2015, here: Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran


» International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran – 16 November 2016:
85 UN member states say Iran must improve its human rights

More from Freemuse

» 16 November 2016: Iran: Artists’ medical condition on hunger strike growing worse

» 11 November 2016: Iran: Artist awaits appeal of five-year prison sentence

» 8 November 2016: Iran: Musician sentenced to five years in prison and 74 lashes

» 24 June 2016: UN: “Artistic expression is not a crime” – Special Rapporteurs urge the Iranian government to free jailed artists

» 8 June 2016: Eight producers arrested for “obscene” music videos

» 7 January 2016: Iran: Album by prominent musician denied distribution

» 30 November 2015: Iran: Concert cancelled for having female musicians

» 4 November 2015: Iran: 29 popular singers banned from performing

» 17 March 2014: Freemuse to United Nations: Iran discriminates women artists

Home / News / United Nations member states urge Iran to improve human rights