UN human rights experts expressed grave concern today about a violent crackdown on civil society in Iran, including the arrest of members of labour unions and teachers protesting low wages and poor working conditions, and urged those responsible for using excessive force to be held accountable through independent investigations.
Teachers protested in a number of cities across Iran on May 1, 2022, on the occasion of International Workers’ Day and Teachers’ Day, with the support of workers’ unions such as the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and the Suburbs Bus Company.
Over 80 teachers were arrested or summoned by security forces or the judiciary prior to the 1 May protests, and the homes of several trade unionists and teachers were raided. A lawyer was not made available to any of the teachers. The authorities claimed that the arrests were made as a result of “foreign-affiliated elements infiltrating the ranks of teachers and workers,” posing a threat to the country’s order and security.
“The space for civil society and independent associations to carry out their legitimate work and activities is becoming impossibly narrow,” the experts said, citing large-scale civil society arrests and the recent Court of Appeals decision to dissolve the Imam Ali Popular Students Relief Society.
The decision to dissolve the country’s largest non-governmental organization, the Imam Ali Popular Students Relief Society, which did extensive poverty alleviation work, was upheld by a Court of Appeals on May 26, 2022. The Ministry of Interior filed the motion to dissolve the NGO. Several prominent lawyers have been summoned as part of the crackdown, with some facing national security charges.
Since the beginning of May, protests have erupted across Iran in various cities and regions in response to the government’s decision to reduce food subsidies. As a result of security forces’ excessive use of force, at least five protesters have been killed. Separately, after a 10-story building collapsed in Abadan on May 23, killing over 40 people and leaving many more missing, protests erupted in Khuzestan.
Protesters charged the authorities with negligence and corruption for allowing the building to be built despite expert advice to the contrary.” In the absence of meaningful channels of participation in Iran,” the experts said, “peaceful protests are now the only remaining means for individuals and groups to express themselves and share their grievances with the authorities.”
“We are deeply concerned that the authorities’ first response is one of security, involving the use of excessive force against protestors and what appears to be an active policy of shielding perpetrators and preventing accountability.
“The crackdown is taking place in the midst of an extremely dire economic situation, which the authorities have admitted.” We must remember that the government has primary responsibility for the protection and promotion of human rights, including mitigating the effects of sanctions. We demand that the authorities address the root causes of the protests and ensure that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.”