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Iran political prisoners jailed for exercising basic rights: HRW

Pressure mounts on Iranian President Rouhani to step in as HRW highlights 'egregious' violations in cases of political detainees
Human Rights Watch documented the cases of 189 political prisoners in one city alone (Twitter / @amybrauns)

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged authorities in Iran to release immediately and unconditionally almost 200 prisoners jailed in one northern city "for exercising their basic rights.”

In a lengthy report titled Locked up in Karaj: Spotlight on Political Prisoners in One City, the body studied the cases of 189 people locked up in Karaj, 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of the capital Tehran.

HRW said that in 63 cases prisoners had been arrested, convicted and sentenced "solely because they exercised fundamental rights such as free speech and rights to peaceful assembly or association.”

In 35 other cases, in which prisoners were sentenced to death for terrorism-related offences, the group said it suspected "egregious" due process violations that may have tainted the judicial process.

At least one of the prisoners facing death was reportedly under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged crime - execution of such detainees is a violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Iran ratified that convention in 1994, with the proviso that if the text “becomes incompatible with the domestic laws and Islamic standards at any time or in any case, the Government of the Islamic Republic shall not abide by it.”

The HRW report aimed to highlight the ongoing plight of “several hundred political prisoners” detained on “vague and sweeping charges” throughout Iran, a year after reformist President Rouhani came to power.

"The election of a new, avowedly moderate president a year ago raised hopes that many of Iran's political prisoners would soon walk free, but many remain behind bars," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.

"The lion's share of responsibility for releasing these prisoners rests with the judiciary, but President Hassan Rouhani and his cabinet should be doing more to press for their release," he added in a statement.

“President Rouhani should speak out clearly for an immediate moratorium on executions given the serious doubts about the fairness of revolutionary courts trials,” Stork said. “And Iran needs to release anyone being held for exercising their legal rights.”

The body expressed concern at the detention of nine journalists and bloggers, and seven human rights lawyers including Mohammad Seifizadeh, who is close to Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Last month three journalists were arrested, and on Monday, an official gave Iran’s first public statement on the case, saying they were being detained for “security” reasons.

HRW also said several dozen members of the Baha'i community, Iran's largest non-Muslim minority, are serving sentences for charges including "spreading corruption on earth”, are being held along with four Christians.

United Nations human rights experts have expressed alarm at a recent flurry of arrests and harsh sentences inflicted on journalists in Iran.