“Rights of the People” : The Suppression of Freedom of Speech in Iran

By: Anonymous

The 1906 Constitution of Iran would only age seventy three years before the theocracy resulting from the Islamic revolution would replace it in December of 1979. The new collection of laws took influence from Islamic principles and concepts. At first glance, with the exception of the inclusion of religious ideas within a number of articles, the Constitution reads as any other. However, it is not what’s written down that matters, rather whether it is put into practice; whether reality is congruent with legislation.

Chapter 3 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran concerns itself with the “Rights of the People.(Constitute Project, 2021)” Article 27, specifically, states that, “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam. (Constitute Project, 2021)” In short, peaceful demonstrations are permitted.

Despite this law having been in the constitution, untouched, since 1979, the Iranian regime is notorious for shutting down any form of protest, no matter how peaceful. The demonstrations of November of 2019 are a recent and tragic example.

Years of government mismanagement and corruption led to an almost 300% increase in the price of fuel; a natural resource that was supposed to have been nationalised, but never was (United States of Peace, 2021). Despite people being aware of the government’s brutally intolerant reactions to any form of opposition, the people of Iran courageously took to the streets in peaceful protest on the 15th of November (United States of Peace, 2021).. Unarmed civilians were met with riot police, tear gas, and live bullets (United States of Peace, 2021). Personal acquaintances of deceased protesters asserted that their companions died of gunshots to the head and/or to the chest (Human Rights Watch, 2020). Later, the testimony of a former security officer would assert that orders from the office of the Supreme Leader authorised the firing of bullets directly at people (Iran International, 2022). On the 16th of November, the government enacted an internet blackout, effectively cutting off the country from the international community (Human Rights Watch, 2020). This was detrimental given the fact that local news outlets are heavily censored. Social media was the primary form of communication between the average Iranian and the outside world and, for those who were unable to protest physically, it was a means of using their voice to accumulate attention from international media and other groups.

By the end of the protests, hundreds were killed, thousands were injured, and at least seven thousand people were arrested (many of whom had sustained severe wounds) (Ministry of Immigration and Integration, 2020). The specific numbers are a subject of controversy as the regime, unsurprisingly, threatened many of the victims’ families to silence. Furthermore, they were forbidden from holding funerals or hosting memorial services This attempt to supress the truth becomes increasingly abhorrent when we consider the fact that many of the victims’ families were already underprivileged, scilicet, low-income and working-class (Fassihi and Gladstone, 2019). Such systematic repression in response to a  public gathering where arms were not carried (by anyone other than the IRGC and other such security forces) and the subject matter was not in any way “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam,” is emblematic of the regime’s efforts to subjugate the Iranian people and prevent them from seeking justice, reform, or even just closure for their loss. The “Rights of the People,” as outlined in the regime’s very own constitution have never and still do not translate into reality.

There are myriad other examples of protests that ended in public devastation including (but not limited to): the Student Protests of 1999, the 2009 Green Movement, and the 2017 Economic Protests (United States of Peace, 2021). All started peacefully, all ended in spilt blood and thousands of arbitrary arrests. Detainees have since been subject to torture, and in some cases, execution.  Furthermore, their families have been routinely threatened and gaslighted. Violence from the theocracy is not unprecedented, but that is not an excuse to overlook these atrocities. 

Every human should have the right to speak freely, especially with regards to their fundamental needs. The people of Iran have been deprived of this right for decades. They have, and continue to suffer under a regime that cannot even uphold the laws that they, themselves, wrote. It is the responsibility of the international community and human rights organisations to hold the Iranian government accountable for their infringement of human rights. Formal investigations into these crimes should not simply be ideas that are forgotten as soon as they are suggested, rather they should be seriously followed through. The regime has been a source of trauma and agony, not only for the people living on Iranian soil but also the millions of Iranians scattered across the globe. Their continuing presence in a position of authority is detrimental to both the victims of their obscenity and those who must witness it.

References:

  1. Constitute Project. “Iran (Islamic Republic of)’s Constitution of 1979 with Amendments through 1989.” Constitute Project, 26 Aug. 2021.
  2. Fassihi, Farnaz, and Rick Gladstone. “With Brutal Crackdown, Iran Is Convulsed by Worst Unrest in 40 Years.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Dec. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/01/world/middleeast/iran-protests-deaths.html.
  3. Human Righs Watch. “Iran: No Justice for Bloody 2019 Crackdown.” Iran: No Justice for Bloody 2019 Crackdown, 17 Nov. 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/11/17/iran-no-justice-bloody-2019-crackdown.
  4. Iran International. “IRGC Officer Says 850 Killed in Two Iranian Provinces Alone in 2019 Protests.” Iran International, Iran International, 6 Feb. 2022, https://www.iranintl.com/en/202202065630.
  5. Ministry of Immigration and Integration. “Iran November 2019 Protests.” The Danish Immigration Service, 2020.
  6. United States Institute of Peace. “Fact Sheet: Protests in Iran (1979-2020).” The Iran Primer, 21 Jan. 2021, https://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2019/dec/05/fact-sheet-protests-iran-1999-2019-0.

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