Iran: Security forces’ violent suppression of protests identical to 2019, says IBAHRI

Tuesday 18 October 2022

As protestors in the Islamic Republic of Iran continue to be shot at by the country’s security forces and women outside of Iran cut off locks of their hair in solidarity with the Iranian women protesting for equal rights, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) notes parallels between the violent suppression of the protests of today and those of November 2019. In each case, the security forces enjoy impunity. Against this backdrop, the IBAHRI welcomes the 30 September 2022 verdict of the International People’s Tribunal on Iran’s Atrocities of November 2019 – also known as the Aban Tribunal – which has found, beyond reasonable doubt, the leaders of Iran guilty of crimes against humanity.

Iran’s security forces were found by the Aban Tribunal to have murdered, tortured, sexually assaulted, falsely imprisoned and disappeared protestors and bystanders during the 2019 nationwide crackdown.  At least 304 protestors are known to have died. The Aban Tribunal’s verdict stressed that the 13 individuals found guilty of planning and implementing these crimes against humanity remain engaged with government in senior roles and are leading the repression of the current protests.

The Aban Tribunal held that the evidence proved that arbitrary killings were planned, coordinated and directed by the highest echelons of the state. The judgment reads that ‘the criminalisation of the right to protest was total. The authorities sought to quash the protests by any means and to punish the protesters by excessive, unnecessary and unjustified non-lethal and lethal force without consideration of necessity and proportionality.’ The Tribunal found no evidence to suggest that authorities, from the local to the central, undertook any action to stop the killings, or after the fact to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible.

In a video intervention given during the judgment, Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, IBAHRI Director, stated: ‘When one analyses the evidence, it becomes very clear that a pattern of force was used to disperse those peaceful protests. The repressive and violent response of Iranian authorities towards peaceful protesters that took place in the 2019 crackdown – they’re happening again today. After the death of Mahsa Amini as result of her treatment in custody, people have taken to the street to protest the behaviour of security forces, and they, now in turn, are being ill-treated.’

IBAHRI Co-Chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, stated: ‘Concrete steps by the international community, including prompt, independent and transparent investigations must follow the global outrage over Mahsa Amini’s death to tackle the crisis of systematic impunity that has enabled widespread torture, extrajudicial executions, and other unlawful killings by Iranian authorities to persist during police detention and protests. The Aban Tribunal’s judgment sets up an excellent departure point to organise behind the growing pursuit of accountability against Iranian authorities by establishing a vetted and factual narrative which preserves the truth and historical memory of atrocities committed in Iran.’

Ramberg added: ‘The IBAHRI calls for a United Nations Human Rights Council mechanism to be established to further investigate the alleged commission of atrocity crimes by Iranian authorities during and following the November 2019 crackdown in Iran, similar to that of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria. Such an initiative will give greater credence to the Aban Tribunal’s endeavours in gathering and documenting evidence for future trials to hold alleged perpetrators accountable.’

Iran’s authorities did not initiate a judicial or criminal inquiry into how the 2019 protests were handled, the orders of the Supreme Leader or the widely reported crimes that took place during peaceful anti-government demonstrations in November 2019. As a result, civil society, international lawyers, experts, and civilians established the Aban Tribunal to investigate independently. The Tribunal was created as a direct response to the authorities’ inertia.

The timely verdict of the Aban Tribunal highlights the continuing culture of impunity in respect of the Iranian security forces’ response to a fresh wave of protests over the death of Mahsa Amini and, more recently, Nika Shakarami. The former died while in police custody after being arrested for not wearing a headscarf in a way deemed ‘appropriate’ by Iran’s ‘morality’ police. Many women demonstrators have removed and burned their headscarves in dissent. The latter, Shakarami, a 16-year-old protestor, disappeared in Tehran in September 2022 during protests following the death of Mahsa Amini. It was reported that the security forces informed Shakarami’s family of her death ten days after her disappearance, that the circumstances are suspicious and it is suspected that violence by the security forces was involved.

Amini’s death sparked nationwide protests across Iran because her case resonated with many amid growing anger over increasing violence and discrimination against women, police brutality, deteriorating civil and political rights and economic hardships linked to sanctions. The protests have grown in scope to calls for secularisation and separation between religion and the state.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, Mark Stephens CBE, commented: ‘Iranian security forces have again responded by violently quashing the largely peaceful protests by using live ammunition, carrying out mass detention of protestors and imposing an ongoing internet blackout. There are reports that at least 185 people have died since the unrest began, and hundreds of demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested. This is completely unacceptable. The use of excessive force against demonstrators stands in violation of the State’s obligations to protect the right to peaceful protest guaranteed under Article 27 of the Iranian Constitution, and Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as the right to liberty and security of persons under Article 9 of the ICCPR. The IBAHRI further calls on the Special Rapporteurs on Torture and Ill-treatment, on Violence against Women and Girls, and on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, to conduct an open and transparent investigation into the causes leading to the death of Ms Amini and Ms Shakarami and other protestors.’

ENDS​​​​​​​

For further information/interview requests, please send an email to: IBAHRI@int-bar.org

Notes to the Editor

  1. Click here to read the judgment of the International People’s Tribunal on Iran’s Atrocities of November 2019 – also known as the Aban Tribunal.
  2. Related links:
  3. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  4. Find the IBAHRI (@IBAHRI) on social media here:
  5. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.
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