Threats against prominent Iranian NGO alarms UN human rights chief

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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday has expressed alarm over the Iranian Government’s “unlawful interference with the critical work of civil society” after the closing of a prominent NGO working on poverty and social protection and the arrest of its founder.

Iranian security forces from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested Imam Ali Popular Students’ Relief Society (IAPSRS) founder Sharmin Meymandinejad, along with colleagues Morteza Keymanesh and Katayoun Afrazeh on June 21, in what appears to be an attempt to close down the organisation.

Mr. Meymandinejad remains in detention in Evin prison, but his two colleagues have been released on bail.

Iranian authorities have pressured IAPSRS to change its structure and raided and sealed its main office in Tehran and confiscated all its documents and devices.

IAPSRS was founded in 1999 and is one of the most prominent civil society organizations operating within Iran, with a network of more than 10,000 volunteers.

The organization works on social issues including poverty, child offenders on death row, child labour and drug addiction among children. It has over 40 facilities in marginalized neighbourhoods across 20 provinces in Iran and provides vital support in education, healthcare, employment and livelihoods for more than 6,000 children and women.

“For over 20 years this NGO has provided crucial support to marginalized sections of Iran’s society, in particular vulnerable children,” said Bachelet.

“Children’s lives will be at stake if the authorities proceed to force their hand over how it is managed, and lock up their staff. Closing by force or altering the structure of an NGO is a severe type of restriction on the right to freedom of association and represents unlawful interference with the critical work of civil society,” she added.

IAPSRS has recently been increasingly vocal about the impact of the Government’s socio-economic policies and criticised the authorities for calling poverty-stricken protesters “rioters” in the context of the November 2019 protests in Iran.

“Civic space is already restricted in Iran, and continues to shrink,” said Bachelet. “IAPSRS had managed to operate within this restricted space in recent years, albeit under continued threats and harassment,” she said, adding vague national security provisions were often used by the authorities to stifle dissenting voices.

“The arrests and interference in IAPSRS’s work is a clear example of the government’s tightening of measures targeting civil society actors, including those working in the field of social protection.”

Mr. Meymandinejad has been subjected to a number of accusations, but no official charges have been laid and he has not been brought before a judge since his detention on June 21. He has been denied access to a lawyer of his choice and to visits from his family.

Ms.Afrazeh and Mr.Keymanesh, who were accused of crimes against national security, were released on bail on July 21 and 22, respectively.

All three were initially kept in incommunicado detention for 48 hours. Their homes were searched for hours, and security forces confiscated laptops, servers, electronic devices and hand-written documents, reportedly without a search warrant.

Bachelet urged the authorities to allow IAPSRS to operate with its existing structure and to cease interfering in its decision-making and its programmes. She called for the immediate release of Mr. Meymandinejad on the grounds his detention is incompatible with international human rights law. (Source: OHCHR)

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