[Update] Iran: Adoption of Restrictive NGO LAW postponed
Amnesty International: A draft law which would limit the existence and activities of independent NGOs and civil society organizations has been sent back to a committee for a further three months' study. If it is passed, many more civil society activists in Iran could face prosecution for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of association and assembly.
The Bill on the Establishment and Supervision of Non-Governmental Organisations was undergoing a final reading in Iran’s parliament and the first 26 articles were passed. Following intense domestic and international criticism of the bill, a motion was passed which sent the bill back to the Committee on Social Affairs for three months for further study and amendment of the remaining articles.
The articles passed will create an unaccountable body, the Supreme Committee Supervising NGO Activities. All currently-operating NGOs will have to re-register with the Committee, which will issue and revoke registration permits for all NGOs, and have ultimate authority over their boards of directors. Currently, the closure of registered organizations requires a court decision. If the bill becomes law, activists taking part in organized activities with NGOs which fail to secure a registration permit, or who have their permit revoked, would be at much greater risk of prosecution under vaguely worded provisions of Iran's Penal Code. Other measures passed include the requirement for all “non-political demonstrations” and for all contacts with international organizations to have prior permission from the Supreme Committee.
PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in Persian, Arabic, English or your own language:
- Welcoming the fact that the Bill on the Establishment and Supervision of NGOs has been referred to a parliamentary committee for scrutiny, but calling on the authorities not to pass this bill, as it would severely limit the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of association and assembly in Iran;
- Reminding the Iranian authorities that freedom of association and assembly are guaranteed by Articles 26 and 27 of the Iranian Constitution and by Article 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a state party;
- Urging the authorities to cease harassing and arresting civil society activists, including students’ and women’s rights activists, environmentalists, journalists, human rights defenders and members of professional associations, such as the Teachers' Trade Associations.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 27 MAY 2011 TO:
Speaker of Parliament
Majles-e Shoura-ye Eslami
Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 21 3355 6408
Salutation: Your Excellency
Chair of the Council of Guardians
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati
Council of Guardians
Imam Khomeini Avenue
West of junction with Vali-Asr Ave/Falestin Jonubi St.
Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 21 6640 1012 (press 2 when automated voice comes on in Persian to begin transmitting fax)
Salutation: Your Excellency
And copies to:
Secretary General, High Council for Human Rights
Mohammad Javad Larijani
High Council for Human Rights
[Care of] Office of the Head of the Judiciary, Pasteur St., Vali Asr Ave. south of Serah-e Jomhouri, Tehran 1316814737,Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: (subject line: FAO Mohammad Javad Larijani)
Salutation: Dear Sir
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.
This is the first update of UA 106/11. Further information:www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE13/043/2011/en
Many civil society organizations were established during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami between 1997 and 2005. Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, the authorities have regarded them with suspicion, and have accused them of being part of a "soft revolution" intended to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Tehran MP Zohreh Elahian, who had participated in drafting the bill, opposed the postponement, pointing to the international outcry in recent days, saying, "Foreign media have been very angry about the passage of this bill in parliament and in the system. This is because the seditionists [a term often used to describe opposition leaders and their followers] planned to use the NGOs to confront the regime and circumvent it but they failed."
Iran’s implementation of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, as provided for by Articles 21 and 22 of the ICCPR, will be considered by the UN's Human Rights Committee later in 2011. The Committee monitors states' compliance with the ICCPR.
The new body envisaged by the bill, the Supreme Committee Supervising NGO Activities, would be chaired by the Interior Ministry, and include members from bodies including the Intelligence Ministry, the Police, the Basij (a volunteer paramilitary force), the Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the Foreign Ministry, with only one elected member representing NGO interests.
If this bill is passed, members of NGOs which fail to secure a registration permit, or who have their permit revoked, risk prosecution under Iran's Penal Code which contains numerous vaguely worded articles relating for example to "national security" which restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly, by prohibiting activities such as demonstrations, public discourse and formation of groups and associations. These vaguely-worded criminal offences are in breach of the principle of legality and legal certainty by being too wide and vague, thus failing to meet requirements for clarity and precision needed in criminal law and may not amount to a "recognizably criminal offence" under international human rights law.
Specifically, Articles 183 to 186 of the Penal Code, which concern the "offence" of moharebeh va ifsad fil-arz (“enmity against God and corruption on earth") restrict the right to freedom of association. Among those designated as mohareb are "those convicted of membership of or support for an organization that seeks to overthrow the Islamic Republic; and plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic by procuring arms for this." Other references in law specify other circumstances where someone may be considered a mohareb, which include espionage and forming a group to harm state security. The "crime" of moharebeh can carry the death penalty and judges have a wide degree of discretion in interpreting this provision.
Articles 498 and 499 of the Penal Code state that whoever forms or joins a group or association, either inside or outside the country, which seeks to "harm the security of the country" will be sentenced to between two and 10 years' imprisonment, yet there is no definition of "harm" or "security of the country" in the Code. Articles 501 and 508 relate to forms of "espionage."
People who join unauthorized demonstrations or gatherings can face prosecution under Article 610 which criminalises "gathering and colluding with intent to harm state security" and Article 607, which relates to disobeying the orders of officials.
For more information, please see the public statements Iran: Independent civil society organizations facing obliteration, Index MDE 13/037/2011, 4 April 2011 and Iran: Parliament ignores concerns of independent civil society organizations over draft bill, Index MDE 13/044,2011, 11 April 2011.
Further information on UA: 106/11 Issue Date: 15 April 2011