UN report reveals horrors of daily life for many in Iran

UN report reveals horrors of daily life for many in Iran
Pedestrians cross a street in Tehran, Iran. (AP/File)
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Updated 09 March 2021

UN report reveals horrors of daily life for many in Iran

UN report reveals horrors of daily life for many in Iran
  • Women, girls, minorities, human-rights campaigners and protesters are among those who face abuse, jail, torture and execution
  • Study shows ways in which members of certain groups, including activists campaigning for basic freedoms, are targeted

NEW YORK: Women and girls in Iran continue to be treated “as second-class citizens,” according to a new UN report. Published on March 8, International Women’s Day, it details the scale of human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime in Tehran against members of many groups in the country.
The research, by independent expert Javaid Rehman, reveals that women, girls, human rights advocates, ethnic minorities, writers, journalists and people with dual nationality are among those targeted by the regime. They face abuse, torture, arbitrary detention, harassment, forced confessions, and even the death penalty.
Rehman, who will present his report on March 9 to the UN’s Human Rights Council, said females suffer as a result of deep-rooted discrimination in law and day-to-day life. He raised serious concerns about domestic violence, and while he welcomed the introduction of a new law to tackle acid attacks against women, he urged the Iranian government to do more to protect them.
“Violence against women, patriarchal values and misogynist behaviors permeate many segments of Iranian life, with discriminatory legal provisions exacerbating the vulnerabilities of women to domestic abuse,” said Rehman, who is the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
His report also highlights the problem of child marriage, noting that more than 16,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 got married in Iran in just six months last year.
“One of the most concerning issues in Iran today, when it comes to the rights of women and girls, is the issue of child marriage,” Rehman said. “The current legal marriage age is simply unacceptable.”
According to Human Rights Watch, girls as young as 13 can marry in Iran with their father’s permission, and at an even younger age if authorized by a judge.
“It is clear that child marriage is harmful for the development and well-being of girls, including in terms of education, employment and to live free of violence,” Rehman added.
His requests to visit Iran were denied and so he compiled his report using data collected from government, non-governmental and media sources. He also interviewed victims of abuses, along with their families and lawyers.
His report also sounds an alarm about the continuing harassment, arrest and imprisonment of women’s rights advocates, both women and men, including those who campaign against compulsory veiling laws.
Some officials have encouraged attacks against women who do not observe these laws and threatened their safety in other ways, the report stated. The enforcement of veiling laws by the police, Basij militia and vigilante “morality police” often results in violence against women, including acid attacks and murder.
Rehman’s report also details how blatant gender discrimination permeates almost all aspects of the law and daily life in Iran, including marriage, divorce, employment and culture, with the result that women are treated as second-class citizens.
He calls on the Iranian government to repeal discriminatory laws and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women. Iran is one of the few states not to have signed it.
Regarding the Iranian regime’s failure to investigate a brutal crackdown by security forces on protesters during the nationwide demonstrations on Nov. 19, or to hold the perpetrators accountable, Rehman presents evidence that suggests firearms were used “in a manner that amounted to a serious violation of international human rights law,” resulting in the deaths of more than 300 people, including women and children.
In the days following the protests, the report states that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps raided homes, hospitals, schools and workplaces to arrest demonstrators, including children, and crush what Iranian officials described as “a very dangerous conspiracy.”
More than 7,000 detainees were held in secret facilities without access to lawyers, many of them in solitary confinement where they were tortured, starved and forced to make false confessions.
Relatives seeking information on the whereabouts of loved ones were also harassed and detained. Targeting of relatives in an effort to force human rights activists to halt their campaigning has been widely documented.
In July 2020, for example, Alireza Alinejad, the brother of human rights campaigner Masih Alinejad, was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison “on spurious national security charges, in reprisal against his sister’s advocacy,” the report noted.
Rehman also called for an end to the culture of impunity in Iran. This has been reinforced by government reprisals against those who raised allegations of human rights abuses during the protests.
The special rapporteur also voiced concern about the high rate of death sentences in Iran, especially the execution of child offenders, and the recent cases in which protesters received the death penalty.
There have also been reports of secret executions in connection with the protests “following unfair trials and after the systematic use of torture to extract forced confessions.” On Sep. 12 last year, for example, wrestler Navid Afkari, who had participated in Aug. 2018 protests in Shiraz, was put to death “without prior notice in contravention of Iranian law.”
The report also raises concern about the fate of detained human rights activists, journalists, labor rights campaigners, dual and foreign nationals, and lawyers. It points out that the Iranian regime continues to target individuals who advocate for basic freedoms, including Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arabshahi and Mojgan Keshavarz, who were imprisoned for taking part in protests on International Women’s Day 2019 against compulsory veiling laws.
Payam Derafshan, who opposed a government ban on the Telegram messaging application, remains detained while he awaits a Supreme Court review of a two-and-a-half year prison sentence.
Rehman also notes with concern “the authorities’ repeated disruption of telecommunications.” Telegram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are “permanently blocked and inaccessible without circumvention tools,” in an attempt to prevent protesters from revealing regime abuses to the world.
“Internet shutdowns and the blanket blocking of websites and applications represent a violation of the right to freedom of expression,” said Rehman.
He also said that ongoing discrimination against ethnic, religious and sexual minorities continues to be cause for alarm, and the report includes details of executions and enforced disappearances of political prisoners from ethnic minorities.
For example, Hedayat Abdollahpour, a Kurd, was executed for allegedly taking up arms against the state, despite a lack of evidence supporting his conviction and a confession extracted under torture.
Iran also targets ethnic and religious minorities simply for “practicing their culture, language or faith.”
On Aug. 15 last year, Liza Tebyanian was arrested and jailed for “teaching the Baha’i faith.” Many Gonabadi Dervishes also remain in prison.
Rehman’s report also includes examples of forced evictions from ethnic-minority areas. These include a raid on a village in Ahwaz, in Khuzestan province, in which demolition orders were issued for 300 houses, security forces fired tear gas at residents who resisted the confiscation of their land and demolition of their homes, and 130 people were arrested despite proof of ownership.
Since Rehman completed his report, further “disturbing incidents” involving the targeting of minorities have come to light, including: more than 20 executions of Baloch prisoners; the “suspicious” death of a Dervish follower; excessive use of force against protesters in Sistan and Balochistan province; the detention of 100 Kurdish activists, and house raids and land confiscations targeting members of the Baha’i faith.
Individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender also experience human rights violations and widespread discrimination. Consensual sexual activity between members of the same sex can be punishable by death, while people convicted of “touching and kissing” can be flogged. The report said that “senior officials describe members of the LGBT community in hateful terms, including “subhuman” and “diseased.”
Rehman said he was also disturbed by the Iranian government’s continued targeting of journalists and writers who report on subjects such as corruption and the COVID-19 pandemic. Health experts who question the regime’s management of the health crisis also reportedly face prosecution or losing their jobs.
Although the report raises concerns that international sanctions have hampered Iranian efforts to respond to the pandemic, it criticized the government’s “opaque and inadequate coronavirus response (which has) resulted in excess deaths, including the deaths of medical workers who were left to fend for themselves without sufficient protective equipment.”
Detainees were also abandoned in “overcrowded and unhygienic” prisons, Rehman adds. According to the World Health Organization, in June 2020 there were 211,000 prisoners in Iran’s state prisons, 2.5 times the official capacity.


How Middle East public attitudes have evolved, 1 year into COVID-19 pandemic

Health workers check worshippers entering the Grand Mosque in Makkah on April 18, 2021 as part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (SPA)
Health workers check worshippers entering the Grand Mosque in Makkah on April 18, 2021 as part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (SPA)
Updated 22 min 6 sec ago

How Middle East public attitudes have evolved, 1 year into COVID-19 pandemic

Health workers check worshippers entering the Grand Mosque in Makkah on April 18, 2021 as part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (SPA)
  • Data from polling agency YouGov suggests pandemic will have long-lasting impact on attitudes towards public health
  • Fear of catching COVID-19 has fallen among Saudi and UAE respondents, while willingness to accept vaccines has grown

DUBAI: On March 11, 2020, just a matter of months after it first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, outbreaks of the novel coronavirus were reported from multiple continents — marking the start of an unprecedented health emergency and an abrupt change in daily habits.

After the World Health Organization (WHO) decision to raise its alert from a scattering of localized epidemics to a full-blown pandemic, governments in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) area were quick to respond.

Mandatory nationwide closures were put in place, schools and workplaces emptied, front-line workers mobilized and households ordered to stay home. Few could remember a time of such disruption or ever seeing their streets so empty.

Data collected by British polling agency YouGov found that in April 2020, at the outset of the pandemic, some 75 percent of respondents across Saudi Arabia and the UAE felt “somewhat” or “very scared” of contracting the virus. This fear has generally fallen as the pandemic has worn on.

To curb the spread of COVID-19, governments placed much of the onus on the general public to abide by new personal hygiene and social distancing guidelines.

In the same YouGov poll, 78 percent of Saudi and UAE respondents said they had improved their personal hygiene (frequently washing their hands and using hand sanitizer), while 80 percent said they had avoided public places and 70 percent said they had started wearing face masks in public.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through contact with infected individuals when airborne particles are expelled through coughing and sneezing. It can also be spread by touching contaminated surfaces and transferring particles to the eyes, nose and mouth.

A Saudi police officer inspects a motorist's permit to travel during the lockdown in the Kingdom in April 2020 to fight the spread of COVID-19. (SPA file photo)

The combination of lockdown measures and ubiquitous public health messages has had a profound effect on people’s daily lives, running the gamut from how they work and study to how they travel and socialize.

It has also highlighted the significant role that widespread community uptake of hygiene and social distancing rules can play in successfully containing outbreaks.

During the first six months of the pandemic, YouGov data showed rates of mask wearing were high in the GCC. Some 80 percent of UAE respondents and 69 percent of Saudi respondents said they were consistently wearing face masks during this period.

Throughout the pandemic, at-risk groups, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, have been urged to be extra vigilant. In August 2020, 80 percent of Saudi respondents over the age of 45 reported having avoided public places, whereas just 58 percent of 18-24-year-old Saudis said they took the same precautions.

In the same month in the UAE, 81 percent of people aged over 45 reported wearing a face mask in public, while just 66 percent of 18-24 year olds said they were complying with the mandatory mask rule.

Although men and women are equally susceptible to catching coronavirus, medical data suggests men are more likely to suffer from severe symptoms and ultimately die from the disease.

In August 2020, four out of every five Saudi respondents over the age of 45 reported having avoided public places. (Reuters file photo)

And yet, despite WHO advice to the contrary, YouGov data found that male Saudi and UAE residents were less likely to improve their personal hygiene, less likely to wear face masks, less likely to avoid crowded places and less likely to avoid touching potentially contaminated surfaces.

Since the pandemic began, nearly 142 million people have been infected worldwide and more than 3 million have died. The UAE has seen about 500,000 COVID-19 cases, while Saudi Arabia’s total is approaching the 405,000 mark.

Compared with many European states, where governments were slower to react to the pandemic, the outbreak in the GCC has been relatively mild, with a much lower death rate. But even here, as vaccines are rolled out and restrictions are gradually eased, things feel a long way from normal.


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“What’s happening to us may seem to so many people to be alien and unnatural, but plagues are not new to our species — they’re just new to us,” writes social epidemiologist Dr. Nicholas Christakis in his book “Apollo’s arrow: The profound and enduring impact of coronavirus on the way we live.”

And just like the great epidemics of the past, writes Christakis, the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually pass, bringing with it a brighter period in which people seek out long-denied social interactions.

The Yale professor even predicts a second “roaring 20s” similar to the decade of prosperity and cultural resurgence that followed the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918.

But in order for this to happen, people must be safe — and feel safe. Annual vaccinations, improved treatments and vaccine passports are all possible tools to get societies and economies back on track.

Until then, the behavior of those least at risk will continue to impact those most at risk. Therefore, getting “back to normal” will depend not only on medical science, but on the actions of the community as a whole.

Without a widespread uptake of vaccines and containment measures, the virus will enjoy a stronger foothold and a greater chance of mutating, allowing it to become more transmissible and its symptoms more severe.

“When a virus is widely circulating in a population and causing many infections, the likelihood of the virus mutating increases,” according to the WHO’s “Vaccine Explained” series. “The more opportunities a virus has to spread, the more it replicates — and the more opportunities it has to undergo changes.”

INNUMBERS

83% Saudi respondents who believe the pandemic situation is improving.

14% UAE respondents who believe the pandemic situation is getting worse.

70% Saudi and UAE respondents who say they will continue avoiding crowded places.

Source: YouGov COVID-19 Public Monitor, March 2021

A major factor in uptake is the trustworthiness of the vaccines on offer.

In early December last year, the UAE became one of the first countries to approve the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use. YouGov’s polling data at the end of that month found that just 56 percent of UAE respondents felt comfortable taking the vaccine or had already done so. In Saudi Arabia, that figure was only 42 percent.

An Emirati man gets vaccinated against COVID-19 at al-Barsha Health Centre in Dubai on December 24, 2020. (AFP file photo)

Since the national vaccination program was launched in Saudi Arabia, more than 2 million doses have been administered at 500 centers across the Kingdom. In the UAE, which has one of the highest vaccination rates per head of the population in the world, more than 10 million have been administered.

Since the December 2020 poll, confidence in the safety and efficacy of the new crop of COVID-19 vaccines has grown. Data from the YouGov COVID-19 Public Monitor in March 2021 showed an increase in willingness to take the vaccine by 20 percent of respondents in Saudi Arabia and 26 percent in the UAE.

Now the vast majority of respondents in the UAE (82 percent) and in Saudi Arabia (62 percent) say that they have either received a vaccine, or are willing to take one.

In other findings, 83 percent of Saudi respondents believe the pandemic situation is improving; only 14 percent UAE respondents believe the pandemic situation is getting worse, while but 70 percent of Saudi and UAE respondents intend to continue avoiding crowded places.

None of this is surprising given that scientists still have a lot to learn about COVID-19, its mutations, spread patterns, long-term symptoms and its ability to outmaneuver the vaccines and treatments doctors throw at it.

Mask wearing, hand sanitizing and social distancing might therefore be requisite behaviors for some time yet to come.

 


Deputy commander of Iran’s Quds Force dies from ‘heart condition’

Deputy commander of Iran’s Quds Force dies from ‘heart condition’
Updated 18 April 2021

Deputy commander of Iran’s Quds Force dies from ‘heart condition’

Deputy commander of Iran’s Quds Force dies from ‘heart condition’

RIYADH: The deputy commander of Iran’s military wing that oversees its foreign proxy militias has died from a “heart condition.”
Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hejazi’s death was announced by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iranian media reported. No further details were given about his death.
He was a senior figure in the Quds Force, the overseas arm of the IRGC, whose overall commander Qassem Soleimani was killed by a US airstrike in January 2020.
The statement said Hejazi, who was 65, was involved in operations in Lebanon where Iran supplies and funds Hezbollah.
The Quds force is considered a terrorist organization by the US, Europe and many countries in the Middle East.


Abducted Yemeni model in Houthi prison threatens hunger strike

Abducted Yemeni model in Houthi prison threatens hunger strike
Entesar Al-Hammadi. (Social media)
Updated 18 April 2021

Abducted Yemeni model in Houthi prison threatens hunger strike

Abducted Yemeni model in Houthi prison threatens hunger strike
  • The organizations said that the Houthis are still holding hundreds of people inside small, insanitary and overcrowded cells in the military prison in Sanaa

AL-MUKALLA: Abducted Yemeni model Entesar Al-Hammadi has threatened to launch a hunger strike as the Houthis refuse to release her or allow local prosecutors to question her, the model's lawyer told Arab News on Sunday.

Khaled Mohammed Al-Kamal said that the Houthi-controlled Central Prison, where the model has been held since Feb. 20, has rejected a request to transfer the model to the court for investigation.

“My client has threatened to go on hunger strike if she is not released. She has also complained about [verbal] abuses by her [female] captors,” Al-Kamal said, adding that the Central Prison officials gave no convincing reasons for not transferring the model to the court.

“The prison has rejected three demands to transfer my client to the court. I believe that they refused to release her due to the huge media coverage of the case,” the lawyer said.

The 20-year-old model and actress was on her way to a film set when a Houthi checkpoint stopped her vehicle and abducted her and two friends.

“There are no clear charges brought against my client,” he said.

The abduction has triggered outrage on social media as activists renewed demands for designating the Houthis a terrorist organization for their crimes against Yemenis.

The Mothers of Abductees Association, an umbrella organization for thousands of female relatives of war prisoners, strongly condemned the abduction, saying that the Houthis prevented the model’s relatives and lawyer from visiting her.

In a statement, the organization demanded the international community and right groups to pressure the Houthis to stop abusing women and release all abductees.

“The Houthi group is fully responsible for the lives of Entesar and all kidnapped women in its prisons,” the organization said.

Several prisoners have launched a hunger strike in Houthi-held Sanaa to force the Houthis to release them, complaining about prison treatment and the refusal of their captors to set them free, two right groups said.

SAM, the organization for rights and liberties, and the Mothers of Abductees Association said in a joint statement on Saturday that several prisoners who were abducted by the Houthis in 2015, were transferred from the military prison to an unknown location after they launched a hunger strike, and they cautioned that their captors might torture them to force them to end their strike.

The organizations said that the Houthis are still holding hundreds of people inside small, insanitary and overcrowded cells in the military prison in Sanaa.

In March, hundreds of African migrants were killed or wounded when the Houthis caused a fire inside their overcrowded detention center in Sanaa in aa attempt to suppress a riot.

The rebels later used force to disperse a protest by survivors of the fire who demanded justice and compensation, and then deported them to government-controlled areas in southern Yemen.


Iran hit by 5.9-magnitude quake in nuclear plant province

Iran hit by 5.9-magnitude quake in nuclear plant province
Updated 18 April 2021

Iran hit by 5.9-magnitude quake in nuclear plant province

Iran hit by 5.9-magnitude quake in nuclear plant province

TEHRAN: A 5.9-magnitude earthquake Sunday hit Iran's southwestern Bushehr province, which houses a nuclear power plant, injuring five people but causing no major damage, state media said.
The 10-kilometre (six mile) deep quake hit 27 kilometres northwest of the port city of Genaveh at 11:11 am local time (0641 GMT) and was felt in nearby provinces, Iran's seismological agency said.
State news agency IRNA reported that the quake and several aftershocks caused power blackouts and cut phone lines nearby but caused "no damage" at the Bushehr nuclear complex about 100 kilometres away.
"The minor damage to Genaveh's water, electricity, telecommunication and gas infrastructure has been repaired," the head of the province's crisis management told IRNA.
Iran sits astride the boundaries of several major tectonic plates and experiences frequent seismic activity.
In 2003, a 6.6-magnitude quake in southeastern Iran levelled the ancient mud-brick city of Bam and killed at least 31,000 people.
Iran's deadliest quake was a 7.4-magnitude tremor in 1990 that killed 40,000 people in the north, injured 300,000 and left half a million homeless.


Rockets hit Iraqi air base, 2 security forces wounded

Rockets hit Iraqi air base, 2 security forces wounded
Updated 18 April 2021

Rockets hit Iraqi air base, 2 security forces wounded

Rockets hit Iraqi air base, 2 security forces wounded
  • Two crashed into a dormitory and a canteen of US company Sallyport
  • There have been around 20 attacks against US interests since Biden took office

BAGHDAD: Multiple rockets hit an Iraqi air base just north of the capital Baghdad Sunday, wounding two Iraqi security forces, an Iraqi military commander said.
In comments to Iraq’s official news agency, Maj. Gen. Diaa Mohsen, commander of the Balad air base, said at least two rockets exploded inside the base, which houses US trainers. The attack comes days after an explosives-laden drone targeted US-led coalition forces near a northern Iraq airport, causing a large fire and damage to a building.
Mohsen said the attack resulted in the injury of two security forces, one of them in serious condition and the other only slightly. There was no material damage inside the base from the attack, he added.
The incident was the latest in a string of attacks that have targeted mostly American installations in Iraq in recent weeks. There was no immediate responsibility claim, but US officials have previously blamed Iran-backed Iraqi militia factions for such attacks.
American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but returned in 2014 at the invitation of Iraq to help battle Daesh after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country. In late 2020, US troop levels in Iraq were reduced to 2,500 after withdrawals based on orders from the Trump administration.
Calls grew for further US troop withdrawals after a US-directed drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad in January 2020.
Last month, a base in western Iraq housing US-led coalition troops and contractors was hit by 10 rockets. One contractor was killed.