Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

  "Is there media inside the country that will listen to our voice? … If in our country, we had some Rapporteur of our own, some media, some newspaper, they would ask us what our problem is.” 

-Hossein Daemi, father of political prisoner Atena Daemi
On November 14, 2021, Hossein Daemi, father of political prisoner Atena Daemi, published a video to his Instagram and Twitter accounts in response to recent claims by Iran’s High Council for Human Rights (“The Council”) about the conditions of his daughter's incarceration [1]. Imprisoned since the fall of 2015, Atena is currently serving in exile hundreds of kilometers away from her family. The Council, which is mandated by Iran’s High Council for National Security and housed in the judiciary, rarely shows interest in human rights violations inside Iran. However, it has refuted a claim by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders that Atena had been deprived of telephone access. In what he terms a “response to the Islamic Republic’s so-called human rights institution” (see full translation below), Hossein Daemi describes a common experience among families of political prisoners whose basic rights are violated: no one cares. 

“Mr. Daemi’s frustration is distressingly common among Iranians seeking accountability. Domestic media, bound by red lines, avoid such matters, and the only national human rights institution engages in propaganda battles against universal rights and those critical of Iran’s human rights record, rather than monitoring abuses inside the country. Given such realities, victims are left with no option but to take their grievances to an international audience, even at the risk of retaliation” said Roya Boroumand, executive director of Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC).

Sentenced in October of 2014 to seven years’ incarceration for protesting against the death penalty and possessing music from a dissident Iranian rap artist, Atena Daemi’s continued activism behind bars – through open letters, statements, and sit-ins (including against the death penalty) – has led to abuse and beatings by prison officers, denial of timely medical care, and multiple new prosecutions. On March 16, 2021, Daemi was transferred from Tehran’s Evin Prison to Lakan Prison in Rasht.
The Council (called “headquarters'' in Persian) was created within the judiciary’s international affairs division twenty years ago. As of a mandate revision in 2005 by the Supreme National Security Council, it brings together officials from various branches of government with a view to coordinate Iran’s policy and ideological responses, and fend off attacks in the field of human rights. It is headed by the country’s Chief Justice, and its members include the Chief Prosecutor, Head of Supreme Court, Head of Iran’s Prisons Organization, members of the Supreme National Security Council, Iran’s Ministers of Information, Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Islamic Culture and Guidance, and the Police Chief.
The Council’s website was accessible from IP addresses in the United States until 2018. Since then, access to all of the judiciary’s pages seems to be restricted to Iran-based IPs. 

The Council’s duties, described in a mission statement unavailable in English, include:
  • Supervising and maintaining the Islamic Republic’s human rights positions on the international scene and countering attacks levelled [against Iran]
  • Developing bilateral and multilateral collaborations with other countries in the area of human rights
  • Monitoring the human rights situation at home and abroad, with a particular emphasis on Islamophobia present in the West and widespread human rights violations which take place in the region and world in the name of counter-terrorism
  • Theoretical development of human rights on the basis of Islamic thought, a cause of flourishing within the scientific and intellectual communities of the Islamic World
  • Pursuing and working toward the creation by Islamic Conference member states, of an organization and documentation center for Islamic human rights
Meeting of the Secretary of the High Council for Human Rights with ambassadors in Tehran. IRNA, December 17, 2019
The Council’s output reflects these priorities. In the one-week window from August 6-12, 2020 (the most recent for which archives are available), of the 46 Persian articles the Council published on its site, 14 pertained to Iran’s domestic affairs, 25 pertained to other countries or the international scene, and seven were theoretical or ideological.

In its Iran-focused coverage, there is no mention of political prisoners or human rights abuses. As of November 19, 2021, stories presented on the site’s Persian-language homepage highlighted aid efforts by the Red Crescent society, official statements regarding prisons, and pardons and paroles granted for prisoners. Theoretical or ideological content included pieces entitled “Many Religious Lessons have a Greater Cultivating and Preventative Effect than Some Punishments” and “Supreme Leader Insists on َImmunizing Popular Culture Against Foreigners’ Cultural and Media Assault.”  

Articles pertaining to the international community, meanwhile, tend toward polemic. One article describes the UN Third Committee’s resolution on the human rights situation in Iran as “a repetition of baseless claims, based on false information.” Another piece quoted Supreme Leader Khamenei as saying that “colonizers'' sought to conceal the Iranian people’s own skills from them by way of “soft war.” In one striking example of the diversity of news, Council Secretary Dr. Kazem Gharibabadi declared that American singer Sophia Urista had “disgraced human dignity” by urinating on a fan at a concert. 
“Most Important News” on the Council’s English website. Accessed November 22, 2021
Back in August 2020, when Covid-19 was raging in Iran and had spread to its prisons, a search for “coronavirus” on the Council’s website retrieved multiple results and statistics on the number of infections in US- and UK-based prisons, but none on the number of people infected in prisons across Iran [2].

No wonder prisoners’ families consider the Council irrelevant when it comes to solving their problems. In his response to the Council’s statement, Atena Daemi’s father wondered “what human rights work [this human rights body] has done for the people of Iran?” He added: “It’s now been about 85 days since they took my daughter’s phone card away from her. Prison Organization regulations say a free telephone is the right of all prisoners. Why did they take away her phone card [the only means of using prison phones]? And then lie so easily about it.”
It should also come as no surprise that chief among the Council's accomplishments are its refutations of allegations of human rights abuses. Achievements listed on the Council’s “About Us” page include “preparing extensive reports for the United Nations in order to refute accusations against Iran,” “sending delegations to Geneva to participate in the Universal Periodic Review to respond to claims raised and defend the Islamic Republic's position,” “sending delegations to New York to defend [the Islamic Republic’s] positions concerning draft resolutions by Western countries.” Iranian authorities have mobilized to obfuscate and misinform the international community, which they know full well is the only recourse for citizens demanding accountability.

“So long as the Islamic Republic’s top human rights institution is dominated by security and judicial officials who are responsible for human rights abuses, Iranians seeking truth, justice, and accountability have no choice but to call on the international community. Domestic remedies have failed these people; the world must not as well,” said Boroumand. 

Hossein Daemi’s statement, translated in full by ABC:
In recent days, news has unfortunately been published in domestic media – I’m not interested in domestic media, so some friends sent it to me – about how the UN Special Rapporteur had written a Tweet about Iran that Atena Dae’mi had, for two months, been prohibited from using a telephone, and demanded that the government of Iran make a phone available to her so that she could communicate with her family.

Responding to the UN Rapporteur, Iran’s Human Rights Headquarters stated, unfortunately, that Atena Da’emi had been imprisoned in Gilan Province for seven months; that during these seven months, she had 34 visitations with her family; and that she had no sort of phone restriction and could readily communicate with her family.

Here, I thought it necessary to answer this human rights organization of Iran’s – and I don’t know what part of it has to do with human rights, or what human rights work it’s done for the people of Iran. To answer the Human Rights Headquarters of Iran, as well as the news service that published this text, I ask: where were they these past seven years? This Human Rights Council, these domestic news agencies. It’s been seven years we’ve experienced all this psychological torture, and they didn’t even come to us once, or ask a question of us. They never followed up to see what’s going on or what our problem is.

Masoumeh Nemati and Hossein Daemi, mother and father of political prisoner Atena Daemi. From personal Instagram of Hossein Daemi
So what happened now, that they have to show such a reaction in responding to a foreign Rapporteur? Is it not the case that my innocent daughter will be in prison for seven years? Have they not transferred my daughter to Gilan Province, illegally per the Prison Organization regulations, which say a person should serve their sentence where they reside? Why do I have to go 800 kilometers to Gilan and back? Why do I have to go to Rasht every week to see my daughter? Should my daughter not be serving her sentence in Tehran? This is illegal. Why is it that my daughter has had to be in Gilan for seven months? Why did they take away my daughter’s phone – her phone card? And then say so comfortably that she has a phone, and has no restriction on her communications?

It’s now been about 85 days since they took my daughter’s phone card away from her. The Prison Organization regulations say a free telephone is the right of all prisoners. Why did they take away her phone, her phone card? And then lie so easily about it, saying that Atena Da’emi’s phone is in working order and she has no problems with communication.

And if I’m recording this video today, and in the past have done interviews, and have worked on getting news out – these very same investigative judges in the country, the ones in charge of my daughter’s case, and the assistant judge overseeing the prison have asked me repeatedly: ‘Who do you do interviews with foreign media?’ Is there media inside the country that will listen to our voice? Why must I answer the Human Rights Headquarters and the Rapporteur with this very video? If in our country, we had some Rapporteur of our own, some media, some newspaper, they would ask us a question: what’s our problem? I’ll say this here: whichever media or reporter are willing to talk with us, I’m here for them.  

[1] Daemi does not specifically name the domestic news service; a November 12, 2021 article from the Iranian Student News Agency fits his description. The article features the Headquarters’ Twitter response to a November 3 tweet by Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

[2] Official site of the Iranian judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights, accessed August 9, 2020, humanrights-iran.ir/search.aspx?keys=%DA%A9%D8%B1%D9%88%D9%86%D8%A7&s=&e=&srv=&t=True&l=False&index=2&size=25