HRW slams Tehran for ‘relentless repression of dissent’

HRW slams Tehran for ‘relentless repression of dissent’
People stop their cars on a highway to protest increased gas prices in Tehran, Iran, November 16, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 January 2021

HRW slams Tehran for ‘relentless repression of dissent’

HRW slams Tehran for ‘relentless repression of dissent’
  • Human Rights Watch: ‘Iranian authorities treating local civil society as number one threat, remain unaccountable for their abuses’
  • HRW said Iranian authorities have responded to regular protests across the country with extreme violence and the baseless arrests of thousands of peaceful demonstrators

LONDON: Human Rights Watch (HRW) has slammed the Iranian regime over numerous rights violations throughout 2020.

In its annual World Report 2021, published on Wednesday, the NGO highlighted the state’s ruthless grip over civil society.

Paying particular attention to peaceful activism and anti-regime protests — which have drawn global attention in recent years — HRW accused Tehran of “jailing lawyers, human rights defenders, and those who protested government corruption, mismanagement, and repression.”

The report also focused on Iran’s handling of its coronavirus outbreak, noting that while some prisoners were offered temporary release as the state struggled to contain the spread of COVID-19, many were excluded from this clemency. Political prisoners were forced to remain behind bars as the virus spread through cells.

“Despite numerous geopolitical, health, and economic crises facing the country, Iranian authorities are treating local civil society as their number one threat and remain unaccountable for their abuses,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

“By suppressing human rights defenders and other activists, the authorities are simply fueling more dissent and frustration.”

The report underlined Tehran’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters. It said since January 2018, the Iranian authorities have responded to regular protests across the country with extreme violence and the baseless arrests of thousands of peaceful demonstrators.

At the height of the protests in November 2019, when global attention was drawn to Iran, HRW said the regime initiated a “brutal crackdown” by ordering a near-total shutdown of internet services.

HRW quoted figures from Amnesty International, which claimed that the state’s response to the protests led to the deaths of 304 people. Tehran puts the figure at 230. 

The report also criticized the regime for its indiscriminate use of the death penalty. HRW said as of Sept. 21, 2020, the authorities had executed two people convicted of murder during the protests, including Navid Afkari, a 27-year-old champion wrestler, “without investigating serious allegations of torture he said he experienced in detention.”

Ali Safavi, an official with the foreign affairs committee of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, told Arab News: “The ruling theocracy’s draconian repressive measures, including the stepped-up executions, arrests and torture of dissidents, must be viewed in the context of the regime’s increasingly precarious state in the face of tremendous public rage.”

He added that the brutal crackdown on dissidents could lead to an “eruption of another nationwide uprising, far greater in scope and intensity than the one which engulfed nearly 200 cities nationwide in November 2019.” 

Safavi said the conclusions of the HRW report are hardly a surprise when “the economy is near collapse, Iran’s national currency has been in freefall, government corruption is rampant, and factional feuding at the top has reached new heights.”

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 57 min 50 sec ago

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.