On September 15, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) and ARTICLE 19 hosted a side event during the 54th session of the Human Rights Council, in collaboration with Impact Iran, to “examine the human rights violations that have taken place in Iran since the start of the nationwide Woman, Life, Freedom movement, particularly focusing on restrictions on women’s rights”. Panelists closely examined “the legal framework that has created the discriminatory system that led to the custodial death of Mahsa Jina Amini and sparked the protest movement […] and the wide array of suppressive tactics used by the Iranian government to stifle dissent.”
Participants included coalition members representatives such as Iran Human Rights Documentation Center’s Gissou Nia, Human Rights Activists in Iran’s Skylar Thompson, and ARTICLE 19’s Mahsa Alimardani.
Find excerpts and statements from each speaker below.
UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran
“I want to focus directly on what has happened since the death in police custody of Jina Mahsa Amini. What about the veiling laws? Have there been any lessons learned from the strategy and indeed the tragedies emerging from the deaths of hundreds of men, women, and children? The short answer to this painful question is no.“
I’ll begin by thanking colleagues and members of the Civil Society for this invitation for me to speak on this side event. The people of Iran have been facing the worst form of violations of human rights since September of last year.
Ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities continue to suffer from systematic and systemic persecution, targeting, and harassment. Women and girls of Iran are targeted with the most serious assault on their fundamental human rights and human dignity. These policies are intended to further violate women’s rights and their dignity by attempts to enforce the hijab.
The death in custody of the morality police of Jina Mahsa Amini on 16th of September last year unleashed one of the strongest waves of protests and civil unrest Iran has seen for the past four decades. She was arrested for allegedly failing to comply with Iran’s strict rules on women’s dress by wearing the so-called improper hijab. Her death, unfortunately, remains a tragic reflection of the violence against girls and women of Iran. In her case, there are also clear implications with an ethnic and religious dimension.
However, the law of enforced hijab and the manner of its enforcement by state authorities is emblematic of the violence, brutality, and the violation of fundamental human rights and human dignity of girls and women of the country.
So, I want to focus directly on what has happened since the death in police custody of Jina Mahsa Amini. What about the veiling laws? Have there been any lessons learned from the strategy and indeed the tragedies emerging from the deaths of hundreds of men, women, and children? The short answer to this painful question is no.
Iranian state laws and practices have unfortunately come full circle. The morality police is back on the streets of Iran, harassing, threatening, bullying, and detaining women. The currently proposed legislation by Iranian authorities is reinforcing further oppression against women and girls.
In highlighting my grave concerns, along with some of my special procedures colleagues, we issued a press release on 1st of September, just at the beginning of this month, in which we noted that the proposed law (and I read out from a press release) – we said that the proposed law could be described as a form of gender apartheid, as authorities appear to be governing through systemic discrimination with the intention of suppressing women and girls into total submission.
We also noted, again I quote from my press release, that the weaponization of public morals to deny women and girls their freedom of expression is deeply
.. to Fair trial and due process rights. These summary executions are the symbols of a state ready to use all means to instill fear and to cause protests. I am very concerned that several other individuals currently face charges that carry the death penalty. I am alarmed at the reports of targeting and victimization of ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities. It was extremely tragic to note that ethnic and religious minorities, who have suffered decades of systemic and systematic discrimination and persecution, have been so disproportionately impacted in the current phase of repression.
There is now an ongoing, continuing repression, harassment, and detention of students, human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists, and we have seen that increased over the last few months. Family members of individuals that were executed in connection with the protests have been summoned to courts or detained in Iran for seeking justice. Also, in the past month alone, the authorities have detained dozens of Human Rights defenders in what appears to be a concerted effort to caution any protest in advance of the anniversary of the September 2022 death in custody of Jina Mahsa Amini, which subsequently triggered nationwide demonstrations.
A concerning pattern of mistreatment of Human Rights Defenders, journalists, lawyers, and others in custody has also emerged, including force hospitalization in psychiatric centers. Moreover, the troubling practices of imprisoning defenders in remote cities instead of their home cities or towns in order to break their spirit has become increasingly concerning. In the past few months, some human rights defenders who have already endured extensive imprisonment face additional sentences while in prison, mainly for the advocacy of prisoners’ rights, their protests against prison abuses, and expressing dissenting views.
Persistent impunity and the absence of accountability for serious human rights violations, in particularly the failure to hold individuals accountable for gross human rights abuses, have serious consequences for any society. It damages the public trust in state institutions, including constitutional, administrative, legislative institutions, as well as the judicial institutions, which are specifically designed to dispense justice. This failure also represents a major obstruction in realizing or establishing principles of rule of law, democratic governance, and all that is enshrined in our ethos of Human Rights.
Establishing mechanisms of accountability, however, is not straightforward. Efforts to ensure accountability must be cognizant of and inextricably linked to rights, including the rights to truth, right to justice, and ensuring effective remedies for the victims of these violations. Within the Islamic Republic of Iran, all three elements underpinning accountability that I’ve just mentioned have remained non-existent, with a persistent denial of the right to truth and a refusal to allow access to justice. There are no institutional mechanisms of redress or remedies for victims of gross and serious violations of human rights.
I’m extremely concerned at the continuing violations of the right to fair trial because Iran has failed to adhere to due process standards, especially for those detained for exercising their freedom of opinion and expression. I ask, I demand that due process and the right to fair trial must be absolutely ensured and respected. I also call upon the Islamic Republic of Iran to address systematic impunity by establishing a system of accountability in accordance with international law, including constitutional, legislative, and administrative reforms, as well as ensuring the complete independence of the judiciary, and also to ensure effective remedies for the victims of human rights violations.
I thank you, ladies and gentlemen.”
Chair, UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls
“And not only that, but after a first layer of promises that the morality police would change its methods and approaches, we have seen that not only has this not happened, but actually the violations have increased, and the level of discrimination and segregation and exclusion of women and girls has become even harsher […] we are asking for states to be stronger, to have a more decided stance, to develop standards to really respond to the challenge of gender apartheid as a system of state-led and state-sponsored misogyny.”
Hello everyone, thank you so much to the organizers for this invitation and for the opportunity to share, in representation of the WG on Discrimination against Women and Girls, our concerns and our perspectives on this issue as we have just heard of the utmost gravity of the status of human rights violation in Iran.
I was requested to address how UN engagement can tackle these violations committed against women and girls, generally, which is our mandate, and particularly in Iran. I would say to that, mainly through three approaches: that as a working group, and at Human Rights special procedures more generally, we can adopt. So, one is to raise the voices of women and girls to these platforms, precisely as today in the Human Rights Council, these platforms of global accountability. So, as special procedures, mandate holders, it is part of our obligation, our mandate, and really our everyday working methods to consult with women and girls. We do so on an ordinary basis. We have done so with organizations of women and girls in Iran and document these violations and then accompany existing efforts, such as those of Women’s Life and Freedom Movement, the movement to engender apartheid in which several Iranian organizations of women are participating, and bring them to these forums to maintain the spotlight, create more awareness, and not take away the focus on these very serious violations.
We feel, and this is what the organizations themselves tell us, that this has value in and of itself. Of course, with the level of gravity of these violations, women and girls, and the people in Iran generally, as we just heard, do not want only that. They want more actions, they want effective accountability mechanisms. So, in that sense, the second value I would say of the engagement with UN mechanisms is how we address the state parties of the UN Charter, obviously, including Iran, and their obligations in terms of international law, international human rights law, and specifically, the right to equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex and/or gender if we consider women and girls. And we know, and this is a part of what the working group has documented, that women and girls often are not only discriminated against on the basis of their gender, but also there are other compounded layers and conditions of discrimination, for example, on the basis of ethnicity, of religious belief, of sexual orientation, and so, the working group and other special procedures have documented these intersectional forms of discrimination. And going to accountability, then, what we do with this information, and what we receive of documentation of violations from organizations, is to engage with the state and demand accountability and request further information of what we are receiving.
So, concretely, in the case of Iran, since the mandate of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls was created in 2010, we have issued a total of 31 Communications to the state of Iran. In the last two years, from 2021 to now, 10 Communications, and obviously, Communications concerning the death and custody of Jina Mahsa Amini and all the happenings since then, which we have heard about today.
Now, the level of State engagement and response to these communications varies. And we know that in this case, the response from Iran, the response that we would want to see, is missing. As was already emphasized by the special rapporteur, we have seen really no acceptance or remorse of this death in custody. And not only that, but after a first layer of promises that the morality police would change its methods and approaches, we have seen that not only has this not happened, but actually the violations have increased, and the level of discrimination and segregation and exclusion of women and girls has become even harsher.
So, the third point in which I believe that the engagement with the UN can hopefully prove valuable for women and girls in Iran, and women and girls really worldwide, is for us as human rights special procedures to remind States and also the Human Rights Council itself as an organization, of human rights obligations, really, of the ABC of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and all the main international treaties of which states are party to.
So, in this sense, it would seem very, very obvious that all human beings have the right to equality and non-discrimination. However, we see in practice and lived reality, the lived experiences of women and girls, that this is not actually part of their everyday life.
So, we have to remind states of this and then articulate different mechanisms when we see that the existing norms and standards may not be enough, but they may have gaps to address the level and the size of these challenges. So, as a special opportunity, we are asking for the need to revise the concept of gender apartheid, of this institutionalized system of gender-based discrimination, exclusion, and humiliation of women and girls to try to develop this concept normatively, as of this moment, it is a violation to international human rights law, but it is not yet an international crime. It is not yet recognized as a crime against humanity, as, for example, racial apartheid is.
So, we are asking for states to be stronger, to have a more decided stance, to develop standards to really respond to the challenge of gender apartheid as a system of state-led and state-sponsored misogyny.
Now, the working group since 2018 had already identified the gender backlash, the retrogression in women’s and girls’ human rights that is happening, that was happening then, and that we have seen unfolding more and more in the last five years in different parts of the world. So, Iran, other parts such as Afghanistan, and then other different indicators of growing violations to women and girls’ rights are happening in different parts of the world.
So, we would want these calls of attention to be taken into account before it is, as it has been for so many women and girls, too late. But we are still—we still have tools. We have to use the tools, we have to prevent this from becoming even more serious. And this is where we are working every day as the special rapporteur was saying and several special procedures involved in this, in trying to counter the gender backlash but also to provide organizations of women and girls with further tools that are more effective and that help to bring justice and accountability as a reality.
So, we hope and we invite all of you to keep on working together and to not lose hope because we can’t lose hope for the women and girls that are living these experiences every day and that are really our inspiration. We cannot afford to lose hope. We have to keep on the struggle. Thank you so much.
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center
“There is no pathway for justice domestically in Iran […] There needs to be a reliance on international institutions and also creative ways to find that justice elsewhere. […] the Fact-Finding Mission […] could lay the groundwork for some of these war crimes units in different European countries, in Canada, even in Argentina, and elsewhere where there are universal jurisdiction frameworks to rely on the FFMI’s findings and for them to have an impetus to open investigations […] another campaign is the effort to recognize gender apartheid under international law.”
I was really delighted to hear the remarks from Dr. Rehman and Dorothy Estrada-Tanck, because this crime of gender apartheid, so there was a… I’ll get into, you know, what we can possibly do, because what I would like to maybe express to this crowd, folks that are working at the missions, that are deeply involved with these procedures in advancing these issues in the system here before the Human Rights Council and in parallel functions, is that there are a lot of people inside Iran who feel let down. They are unclear as to how the UN system will advance change for them, and that is a very real thing that we need to grapple with.
So, I think, you know, part of our job as civil society and lawyers who are working on these files is really to explain to people that we work with inside the country about what the gains that have been made, because there has been a lot of activity. Last fall, we were thrilled to see a special session called at the Human Rights Council and establishment of a fact-finding mission. That was a huge step forward. Still, there are people in Iran who are unclear as to what the function of that mission is, and so we need to be able to explain that a bit better and make them understand why this is a benefit to the cause and to the struggle that they’re in.
There have been other gains that have been made, although this is something that happened in New York and there’s a mix of opinions about it. The fact that the Islamic Republic was removed from the UN Commission on the Status of Women was a real boon to a lot of the women’s rights frontline defenders that really requested that inside the country. I think there was some confusion about where that ask was originating from because obviously there are different states that took an outsized role in requesting those meetings and pushing that resolution along, but that ask really originated with frontline defenders in the country that communicated that to me and others, that that was something that they wish to see and they have their reasoning for that because they don’t believe that engaging with the authorities has really yielded a lot of tangible results for them.
So, the reason that I mentioned this is because I think often there’s a desire to try to see what sort of domestic approaches can be taken inside the country. You know, how can we engage with the authorities? How can we move change and see if there will be some kind of reform? And I think the view of a lot of people inside the country is that they took an incremental approach for a very long time and unfortunately it hasn’t yielded a lot of net gain. We are a year out from seeing the tragic killing of Mahsa Jina Amini, and one would think that there would have been some kind of tangible impact or effect as a result of that, the global outcry that followed and all the internal pressure that was created. But now we see that there will be, and, you know, the introduction of a bill that is going to be just enforcing mandatory hijab more, and so one really wonders how far things are coming now.
What are the things that can be done? I think it’s incredibly important to understand, which many in this room already do, that the judiciary in Iran is not independent and that there really are no pathways for the sort of legal process that one would try to push through those systems. I would say that even a decade ago, there was still some possibilities for that. The human rights lawyers that I worked with in the country, the ones that weren’t yet arrested or exiled, certainly worked on trying to advance arguments within the system and to try to protect individuals in different cases. Now, we see that that route is completely shut off, and it’s definitely shut off when it comes to exploring how to change the situation of women and girls living under the Islamic Republic today.
So, what does that mean? What it means is that we really need to… there really needs to be a reliance on international institutions and also creative ways to find that justice elsewhere. A big part of the work that I do is looking at how to advance universal jurisdiction prosecutions in different countries that have that framework around the world. That can be a very challenging process. Although that’s not the mandate of folks here in Geneva, one thing that’s worth emphasizing is that the fact-finding mission on Iran, with the sort of documentation function it has and with the reporting function it has, could lay a sort of groundwork for some of these war crimes units in different European countries, in Canada, even in Argentina, and elsewhere where there are UJ frameworks to really rely on some of those findings and for them to have an impetus to open structural investigations into alleged perpetrators. And that’s where you don’t need a named perpetrator; you don’t need the presence of a perpetrator to really look at the structures that, for example, are committing sexual and gender-based violence.
Another campaign that I think – an effort that I think is worth noting in this room, and I recognize that the prior speaker also touched on this, is the effort to recognize gender apartheid under international law.
I was part of the effort of more than 100 key signatories, Iranian and Afghan women, former judges, lawyers, some allied international criminal lawyers, that issued an open letter on March 8th, International Women’s Day, calling on states to codify gender apartheid because of course right now the crime of apartheid only applies to racial apartheid and was born out of the experience of South Africa.
I’m happy to report that there have been significant gains in that respect. There will be, we hope, that there will be the inclusion of gender apartheid into the Crimes Against Humanity draft convention that’s currently being negotiated globally. A brief will go to legal advisors at your counterpart UN missions in New York, advising on why there is a protection gap, on why the crime of gender apartheid is distinct from gender persecution, and why it more accurately captures the situation of women and girls living under the Islamic Republic in Iran and living under the Taliban in Afghanistan. So that will go, I think that will be finalized by October 2nd, and then sent out to these LA’s. I know that you are all sitting here in Geneva, but your counterparts in New York will be receiving that, and I hope that some of you will be looking at that document as well and be seriously considering it, and the gender audit of the Crimes Against Humanity convention. And certainly, we need country capitals to be on board with this and to understand why this is something that frontline defenders in Iran and Afghanistan are requesting, that it has really originated out of their desires to see that in international law.
Just to wrap up, I would say that we need to continue to look at creative means to deliver justice for women and girls who really have no domestic remedies at this stage. I’ll note with concern that the allegations around mass poisonings of thousands of school girls in Iran have received relatively little global attention, both from media and also from institutions. Part of the reason may have been that early on, some experts were quoted in media reports dismissing this as mass hysteria. We obviously know that’s no longer the case because there have been deaths that have resulted from these poisonings and because the Islamic Republic authorities themselves have acknowledged that this has happened, though there has been some ambiguity around who the alleged perpetrators are.
So, I really encourage everyone in this room who’s involved in these documentation processes or also on behalf of states to sort of push the political will to look into these files, to very much keep that attention there, to keep the documentation going, and to keep trying to creatively pursue justice solutions. Because there is really no pathway for that domestically, and Iranians in Iran, both the frontline defenders who have been engaged in this work for a long time, but also those who are newer to activism, the young women of a newer generation who just want to dress the way they please, socialize the way they please, and basically have bodily autonomy and do very, very standard normal things where they have control over their bodies and their life, they’re really putting their trust in these international institutions to try to deliver some sort of change for them. Some of the change will come from within and comes from within the stand that they’re taking, but a lot of that is also looking outward to how they can be helped when they are dealing with a very repressive regime that has shown that it will enact violence to silence women and girls. Thank you.
Human Rights Activists in Iran
“There is no pathway for justice domestically in Iran […] There needs to be a reliance on international institutions and also creative ways to find that justice elsewhere. […] the Fact-Finding Mission […] could lay the groundwork for some of these war crimes units in different European countries, in Canada, even in Argentina, and elsewhere where there are universal jurisdiction frameworks to rely on the FFMI’s findings and for them to have an impetus to open investigations […] another campaign is the effort to recognize gender apartheid under international law.””The bill places the authority of intelligence organizations, police and the Basij to involve themselves in the lives of women, girls, and the men that support them in public, private, physical, and digital spaces. […] Despite the widespread calls against this enforcement, not only dating back to the protests but for decades, the bill further symbolizes a broader pattern of gender inequality within a legal framework that […] reinforces discriminatory practices against women that are deeply embedded into the domestic judicial system.”
Thank you to IHRDC for inviting me to be on this panel today. It’s always really an honor to be here, but this week, especially, it’s really, really an honor to speak on this topic. I think I would be, you know, remiss to mention that the topic I’m going to talk about really is closely linked to the death and detention of Mahsa Jina Amini, and that is the introduction of the new hijab bill in Iran.
Effectively, what this bill does is it really reinforces the mandate of the morality police that were responsible for the arrest and detention of Mahsa. I should be clear that the bill, it doesn’t actually, you know, deal with the morality police, but what it does is places the authority of intelligence organizations, police, and the Basij to involve themselves in the lives of women, girls, and the men that support them in public, private, physical, and digital spaces.
The bill compels women to adhere to strict dress codes and infringing upon their personal choices and freedom of expression. Despite the widespread calls against this enforcement, not only dating back to that protest that broke out after Mahsa’s death but for decades, the bill further symbolizes a broader pattern of gender inequality within a legal framework that my colleague, Gissou, who touched on quite well, so I won’t go into that, but it also reinforces discriminatory practices against women that are deeply embedded into the domestic judicial system.
The bill imposes harsh punishments for those who fail to comply, and I’ll get into those in a bit. Additionally, it has a strong focus on gender segregation in society. It touches on segregating gender in parks, in schools, and even in treatment centers of hospitals. Throughout the bill, 70 articles that have been expanded from the original 15 detail a variety of ways that the IRGC, intelligence organizations, the Ministry of Intelligence, the Intelligence Organization of the Police, the Basij, the police command, and the command of enjoining good and forbidding wrong, shall proceed with confronting women in what are deemed (and I quote this from the bill) “field confrontations.”
According to the bill, and depending on the agency of those listed above, these field confrontations should occur in a woman’s vehicle, on her way to work, in cyberspace, in stores, in her place of work. The list goes on. The expanded power of the Basij, in particular, under the bill is incredibly concerning, as historically this group has played a volunteer role under the IRGC’s command.
The bill has granted them a significantly enhanced law enforcement role, essentially allowing the group to act as a moral police, not dissimilar to the morality police that detained and arrested Mahsa. But it’s giving them sweeping powers, touching facets of daily life. Every facet of daily life, excuse me. They would now, after the implementation of the bill, be authorized to surveil and control diverse environments like those listed above, but in addition, administrative areas, educational institutions, commercial spaces, and again, even online platforms.
It really creates a very unprecedented time in Iran that grants this group a lot of control over society. In Article 32 of the bill, the Basij have been instructed to “confront people without hijab in both real and again virtual places.”
I think just going back to some of the things that you said, one thing that we can learn and draw on from this expanded role of the Basij is that it does simultaneously expand opportunities for accountability for these individuals as well. It’s important to monitor their behavior as the bill is implemented. The field confrontations that I discussed above, as and as are outlined in the bill, essentially, they refer to the ability to confront a woman wherever she may be regarding the state of her appearance, not only in the physical space but again, and I keep coming back to this because it’s incredibly important, in the virtual space. It’s also about how the person vested with this authority interprets how she’s behaving in the virtual space.
The language of the bill is incredibly vague, and that’s on purpose. A woman can like something on social media, and if that is interpreted to not be in compliance, she is susceptible to punishment. This is concerning, especially in a state where, like we’ve heard previously, there are incredible due process concerns.
There are a range of articles that deal with mechanisms of monitoring this behavior. I’ll just go through two as an example, but of course, as I mentioned, it’s incredibly long, so I won’t bore you with the sort of heinous details.
At Article 36, the bill states anyone who has been trained by the Islamic Republic’s law enforcement command and has received a certificate, as well as “all officers,” can again record individuals not adhering to the Islamic hijab or Islamic dress. They can send these recordings to a dedicated system set up by the law enforcement command of the Islamic Republic.
In Article 26, intelligence organizations are tasked with monitoring activities in virtual and non-virtual spaces related to the sending of photos and videos in opposition of the hijab. The penalties for failure to comply under the bill are disproportionate, to say the least. They range from fines. Many of the penalties within the bill are monetary penalties, and they compound upon one another, so they begin small and they get worse and worse. They’re also different for public-facing figures. For a celebrity, so to say, we start to talk about the percentage of assets. We also have travel bans, bans on online activity, bans on professional activity. Again, in the cases of athletes and celebrities, there are also prison sentences, and the list goes on.
I mentioned before that the bill has very vague language, and that’s a concern because it’s seemingly purposeful to allow for maximum interpretation. And when we’re dealing with a state like Iran, this is something that I think should be monitored quite heavily.
The due process concerns have been, I think, quite adequately covered by Dr. Rehman, but I just think it’s important to point out that when we’re speaking about this type of legislation, the due process concerns are something that really need to be highlighted because when you have a woman that is coming into contact with this type of legislation, a woman or perhaps a man that has supported her or anything like this, it’s likely that they’re not going to be granted a fair trial, so you have violations compounding upon one another even before the bill has been implemented. We’ve seen judges already sentencing women, particularly in the last couple of months, to some of the harshest sentences we’ve seen for improper hijab. They’re sentenced to psychiatric care, judges calling women that fail to comply to proper hijab women who have diseases and things of that nature.
I think just as an end note, speaking about this topic, we can talk about where it sits now, and that’s that it’s been expedited through the parliament, sort of similar to if you were calling this room the Cyber bill that we talked about some months ago, and I’m sure my colleague Mahsa will talk about as well, but she might not reference it since, you know, it’s past. But that’s her specialty.
But it’s now sitting with a council of 12 appointed men waiting for approval. So I’ll stop there.
“The issue of [digital] surveillance goes hand in hand with the chastity and hijab bill, which is in the efforts to instill fear in women […] we have seen concerning trends of technology being used for surveillance to Iran […] so there is this need for your delegations to be working with your different allies and partners, or with different countries, to ensure that this transnational flow of digital repression technology is not going to Iran. And, of course, there is a need to support especially the plight of women and what they have been trying to achieve […] bodily autonomy and equality in Iran.”
Hi everyone, thank you so much for including me. To IHRDC for organizing this, and to Impact Iran, of course. It is a hard act to follow after all of these distinguished panelists. I work for Article 19, and of course, you all know what Article 19 stands for. It is the right to freedom of expression and access to information. We have been following the horrific abuses against the right to freedom of expression and freedom of information, both offline and online, for the past year. It really has been an unprecedented milestone this year for freedom of expression in Iran. But one of the things that is quite notable is the fact that many Iranians withdrew the barriers of self-censorship that they typically maintained as this uprising formed mass appeal across the nation. So, being this unprecedented level of bravery, you know, yes, you mentioned that women in Iran were calling for certain things, and they were vocally doing this on social media. So this has been really a milestone for freedom of expression, and of course, this unprecedented bravery has been met with one of the most horrific periods in Iran’s history for freedom of expression.
To be met with brutal repression, and so the different ways that this has been met, especially online, which I have been following, has been extremely concerning. And this starts from the different means of silencing dissent online. I don’t need to tell you if the numerous journalists who have been arrested, including Niloofar Hamedi, one of the more notable individuals who was arrested after a photo she posted right after Jina Amini’s death in hospital was announced. The photo she took of Amini’s parents went viral, and she was arrested shortly after. Our colleagues at CPJ have, of course, documented the numerous journalists that are behind bars currently or have been within the past year. The number of persecutions for online expression has been in the hundreds, and most prominently have been the innumerable numbers of women who have gone to social media to post their allegiance to Women Life Freedom and post pictures of themselves without hijab. Only a few weeks ago, Dr. Laila ?? was one notable individual who did this on her Twitter account, and the regime’s authorities took her into custody and made a horrific show of making a video to use for their propaganda to instill fear on other women to not follow suit.
And of course, these efforts, especially online, to ensure that women remain fearful of allying themselves with Women Life Freedom and taking off their hijab have been numerous. From these propaganda efforts to, of course, the hijab and chastity bill that Skylar went through in quite a lot of detail. Skylar did allude to the user protection bill or the internet bill that has been very concerning, but I would have to say most of the focus and the same regulation to give bills to the special committees that will finalize the final draft of a bill behind closed doors and not in open parliamentary sessions also went into force for the chastity and head job bill. And for good or for bad, the internet bill hasn’t had that much time or focus by Parliament, as they have been dealing more reactively to concerns related to the uprising.
Of course, the elements of the draconian user protection bill have been enforced unofficially in various ways, and I can go through some of those things as well. But just to summarize, the issue of silencing descent online is a major concern about the ARTICLE 19 and I’m sure to everyone else following the arrests of protesters and anyone involved in descent online. Of course, this period of this past year has been marked by unprecedented levels of censorship, especially concerning has been the ways that the regime has been censoring virtual private networks or VPNs in very sophisticated ways. And of course, this is part of the policy of the user protection bill.
The sophisticated efforts that have gone into place with this have meant that accessing the internet has become a major hurdle for Iranians, especially as we saw the censorship of Google’s Play Store. Ninety percent of Iranians use Android phones, and censoring the Google Play Store means that the hurdle of accessing VPNs that work is even that much harder. Users have to go develop the skills to download jailbroken apps or pay someone to do that for them. These hurdles have increased a lot, especially with more and more platforms being censored, such as WhatsApp and Instagram. We’ve also seen unprecedented levels of disruptions and shutdowns, with new tactics being introduced like mobile curfews.
And of course, I realize I’m running out of time, so I won’t go through everything, but as Shahin also alluded, the issue of [digital] surveillance is a very big deal, and this kind of goes hand in hand with the chastity and hijab bill, which is in the efforts to instill fear in women, which have been the grand announcements of the use of facial recognition to monitor women. It is hard to say at this point how advanced or sophisticated this technology is. In the past, the regime has announced other projects for digital repression with a lot of grand pro directions. One of these projects was the intelligent filtering program a few years ago that, in the end, ended up taking up a lot of funds, millions and millions of dollars of budget that were mismanaged. So it is yet unclear to see the sophistication here, but there have been reports that indicate traffic surveillance technology has been used to penalize women without proper hijab identified through their cars.
And of course, we have seen concerning trends and sort of the transnational movement of technology being used for surveillance to Iran, and two notable companies have been China’s Tiandy and, of course, Germany’s Bosch. So there is this need for your delegations to be working with your different allies and partners, or with different countries, to ensure that this transnational flow of digital repression technology is not going to Iran. And of course, there is a need to support especially the plight of women and what they have been trying to achieve because as I went through all these different elements of freedoms online, this has seeped into almost every facet, from silencing descent online to the new technologies that are being developed to surveil and monitor women from achieving these desires for bodily autonomy and equality in Iran. Thank you.