Human Rights Watch denounces Iran’s ‘abusive charges against rights defenders’ 

Earlier this month, Iran’s judicial authorities charged Niloufar Bayani (L), an environmental conservationist lawyer already serving a 10-year sentence. n a separate case, imprisoned student activist Parisa Rafiee was charged with “propaganda against the state.” (Social Media/NCRI)
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Updated 24 October 2020

Human Rights Watch denounces Iran’s ‘abusive charges against rights defenders’ 

  • Two women already serving long jail terms face additional charges after revealing abuses in jail
  • A student activist who was given a virginity test by her interrogator faces further charges for speaking up

LONDON: Human Rights Watch (HRW) have condemned Tehran’s decision to level additional charges against two detained human rights defenders who alleged mistreatment while in detention.  

Earlier this month, Iran’s judicial authorities charged Niloufar Bayani, an environmental conservationist lawyer already serving a 10-year sentence, with an additional crime of “publishing false information.”

In a separate case, imprisoned student activist Parisa Rafiee was charged with “propaganda against the state” after releasing a letter about her detention conditions.

“Punishing people reporting mistreatment in Iranian detention facilities shows a warped sense of justice,” said Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The judiciary’s recent rhetoric on ‘transparency’ rings especially hollow if prosecutors silence alleged torture victims rather than impartially investigating their claims.” 

Bayani, a former UN employee, made headlines in February after she released a letter detailing her mistreatment at the hands of prison authorities. She spoke of “1,200 hours of interrogations,” “long hours of interrogation while standing,” being threatened “with a hallucinogenic injection” and “sexual insults” at the hands of the state.

She and several of her colleagues from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, an environmental conservation group, were charged with “using environmental projects as a cover for espionage.”

Seven of them were sentenced to jail time of between six and ten years each for “cooperating with the hostile state of the US.” One member of the group has since died in custody. 

HRW said that over the past two years, several senior Iranian government officials have indicated that they did not find any evidence to suggest that the detained activists are spies. 

Similarly, Parisa Rafiee, a student activist at the University of Tehran, was already serving a sentence of seven years behind bars on charges of “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” “propaganda against the state” and “disturbing public order” — charges that her lawyer claims she faced for activities such as participating in peaceful protests on campus.

In a letter published in May 2019, Rafiee wrote that she had been kept in solitary confinement for 21 days, had been given a virginity test by her interrogator, and said she had not been allowed to file a complaint about her degrading treatment.

In response to the letter, the judiciary opened a new case against the student, charging her with propaganda against the state.

Despite their track record as one of the worst human rights abusers in the world, Iran’s judiciary recently published documents that emphasize human rights issues such as the prohibition of torture and arbitrary arrests and the right to access a lawyer. 

Sepehri Far said: “If the judiciary actually wants to curb ongoing abuse, it can start by quashing abusive charges against human rights defenders who are already unfairly behind bars, investigate their torture allegations, and hold those responsible to account.”


Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

Mask-clad shoppers walk past shops in Beirut's Hamra street on May 7, 2020, as Lebanon gradually eases its lockdown measures against the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 51 min 7 sec ago

Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

  • The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks

BEIRUT: The Ministry of Education will reopen schools for integrated education starting on Monday.

This comes after two weeks of closure and amid objections from civil bodies and commentators working in the public field.

Hilda El-Khoury, director of the counseling and guidance department at the Ministry of Education, said: “Returning to education through the combined method will be within the preventive measures that were previously approved.”

However, the Civil Emergency Authority in Lebanon said: “The decision will lead to a health crisis affecting the most vulnerable people, namely children and underage students, especially with the number of cases not declining since before the closure, and with the noticeable increase in the daily number of deaths.”

The Ministerial Committee for Combating the Coronavirus has meanwhile maintained its decision to impose a partial curfew in Lebanon but amended its implementation hours. Instead of starting at 5:00 p.m. each evening, the curfew now begins at 11 p.m. and ends at 5 a.m., provided that restaurants, cafes and malls close at 10:00 pm.

During its meeting on Sunday, the committee decided to restore vehicle movement on roads but maintained the suspension of social activities, cinemas and nightclubs.

Health minister for Lebanon’s caretaker government, Hamad Hassan, said that the adoption of the strategy, permitting odd/even license plate vehicles on the roads on alternate days, had doubled the number of COVID-19 cases due to people’s reliance on shared transportation.

He said: “The rate of commitment to complete closure in all Lebanese territories has reached 70 percent over the past two weeks.”

Hassan said that the aim of the measures was to alleviate the pressure on the medical and nursing staff.

“The required medical measures, completed in terms of expanding the hospitals’ capacity to accommodate the COVID-19 cases, have been completed,” he said.

The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks.

Abdul Rahman Al-Bizri, an infectious disease specialist and member of the emergency committee on coronavirus, regretted the lack of plans for the period following the closure due to a lack of coordination on COVID-19 between state departments.

He said that this had kept the country in a state of confusion and chaos while citizens paid a high price in light of the difficult economic and living conditions.

Al-Bizri said: “The repeated closures are unsuccessful, and one of their consequences is the decline in economic activity, the life cycle, and the living conditions.”

Meanwhile, video footage of Health Minister Hamad Hassan went viral on Saturday. It showed him cutting a cake for the birthday of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in the open market in Baalbek city.

The video was circulated on social media and caused a scandal following a similar episode in which the same minister was involved months ago.

The people of his town in the Bekaa met him during the peak of the spread of coronavirus, and he danced among them carrying a sword. Some people carried him on their shoulders and other social distancing measures were also not observed.

The Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-Clubs and Pastries has called in the past few days for the sector to reopen to save what is left of it.

In a statement issued on the eve of the ministerial committees’ meeting, the syndicate called on the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, to “adopt a health-economic approach for the benefit of the rest of the sector.”

The syndicate added: “The sector has fully fulfilled its duties with regard to the preventive measures.

“We have also advanced a new approach related to the capacity of institutions, whereby chairs and tables are reallocated to accommodate only 50 percent of the original capacity, guaranteeing that no overcrowding will occur.

“We insist on adopting this as a new measure, and we discussed it with the minister of interior, and the sector will reopen its doors on Monday morning while remaining committed to all procedures and laws.”

Bechara Asmar, the head of the General Labor Union, called for the reopening of the country “because it secures a return to the economic cycle during the month of the holidays, protects workers, employees and daily-paid workers in all private, public, and official sectors, and preserves their livelihood at a time when they risk having their wages reduced, starving to death or dying of the coronavirus.”