ANKARA, 8 Jun 2004 (IRIN) - Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the European Union (EU) to put pressure on the Iranian authorities to make further improvements in human rights by abandoning the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, and to restore freedom of expression in the country.
"The EU has been having a human rights dialogue in Iran for the past three years but there has been no tangible improvement in the human rights situation from this dialogue. Among the agreements they have [with the Iranian government] it should be clearly specified that human rights must be met," Burmi Shah, HRW press officer, told IRIN from London.
"We would like the EU to press the Iranian government, firstly, to release political prisoners. If they must be detained then they should be put in front of a competent judicial authority and informed of their charges, as the Iranian constitution requires," Shah continued.
Her comments came after the publication on Monday of a report on the treatment of political prisoners in Iran which documents systematic abuse against political detainees, including arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, torture to extract confessions, and prolonged solitary confinement.
"They should stop using solitary confinement as a means of punishment and they should allow peaceful freedom of expression by Iranians. The authorities should meet their obligations under their own constitution, as well as their obligations under international human rights law," Shah said.
The watchdog organisation welcomed a statement in May by Iran's highest-ranking jurist, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, banning any kind of torture of detainees and stressing that all those imprisoned have the right to a fair and transparent prejudicial process and trial. "Blindfolding, restraining, pestering and insulting detainees must be avoided during arrest, interrogation and investigation", he said.
However, the HRW official asserted that this initiative has yet to be implemented. "The EU should push the Iranian government to implement this legislation and make it effective."
According to Shah, the human rights position has worsened in the last four years in the Islamic republic, noting an increase in the lack of freedom of expression and in press freedom.
"After 1997 there appeared to be a tiny window opening up for people to be able to express their opinion even if they were critical of the government. However, that space has been closed. The Iranian government responded to massive student demonstrations in 2002 and 2003 by arresting several people and detaining them for a long time," the HRW official stated.
She explained that most of the independent newspapers were shut down, and journalists, writers and intellectuals were harassed and forced to leave the country.
International press freedom organisations such as Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have protested at the harassment and imprisonment of several journalists, noting the increase in the number of media workers jailed in the past six months.
"Iran has the highest number of journalists in prison in the Middle East, making it one of the most repressive in the world in terms of press freedom and freedom of expression. During the last six months I get the sense that the situation has again taken a turn for the worse," Kajsa Tornroth, director of the World Association of Newspapers' (WAN) press freedom programme, told IRIN from Paris.
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