Report: Iran unrest 'full-blown rights crisis'

Iranian officials have acknowledged that at least 30 protesters died as a result of attacks by the riot police and the hard-line militia group, the Basij. Human Rights Watch believes the death toll is much higher.

Iran protests 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iran protests 248.88
(photo credit: AP)

Iran'spost-election unrest is a "full-blown human rights crisis,"a watchdog group said Sunday, calling on Tehran to free governmentcritics detained during the crackdown.

Thousands of peaceful protesters, including students,lawyers and prominent human rights activists have been detainedfollowing the June presidential election. That has made Iran'sreaction to political dissent "a human rights disaster,"New York-based Human Rights Watch said in its annual report onviolations and abuses worldwide.

Human Rights deputy Middle East director Joe Storkdescribed the "systematic and brutal targeting" ofprotesters and government critics by security forces. He said itmarked "the worst crackdown" in the Islamic Republic indecades, and called on Teheran to release whose who were captured inpeaceful protests or otherwise demonstrating their right to freeexpression.

"Iran'spost-election unrest is now a full-blown human rights crisis,"Stork said.

He called it "nothing but an attempt to silencevoices of dissent."

Iranian officials have acknowledged that at least 30protesters died as a result of attacks by the riot police and thehard-line militia group, the Basij. Human Rights Watch believes thedeath toll is much higher.

The chapter on Iran —one of 15 Middle East countries reviewed in the report — wasreleased in Dubai on Sunday along with findings in Iraq, the UnitedArab Emirates and Bahrain.

In Iraq, human rights conditions remain "particularlypoor for the displaced people, religious and ethnic minorities, womenand girls and men suspected of homosexual conduct," SamerMuscati, Iraq researcher for Human Rights Watch, told reporters inDubai.

Civilians remained targets of attacks as the UnitedStates began to withdraw combat forces from Iraq, Muscati said. Hementioned reports of "widespread torture practices" inIraqi jails as officials struggle to assume responsibility of about30,000 detainees who currently are in US custody.

Human Rights Watch urged Iraq's government to makesure national elections in March are "free and fair, with fullparticipation of all parties, regardless of their political orsectarian affiliation."

The call comes amid international concern over PrimeMinister Nouri al-Maliki's government to ban hundreds of candidatesfrom the ballot because of suspected links to Saddam Hussein'sregime.

In the UAE, the human rights situation worsened in2009, the group said. Migrant workers particularly suffered as theeconomy — especially in the boomtown of Dubai — dove deep intothe red. The report cited tens of thousands of migrant workers whowere forced to go home after construction was either halted orcanceled.

Some companies have sent home migrant workers onunpaid "leave" as a way to avoid compensation required intheir contracts.

Additionally, the report described female domesticworkers who remain deprived of wages and food, endure forcedconfinement and physical or sexual abuse. And it said foreignresidents and UAE citizens have been jailed on debt and corruptionallegations.

The report also accused UAE and Bahrain authoritiesof continued harassment of human rights defenders and governmentcritics. It also cited attempts to stifle media that are critical ofthe official policies in the two Gulf countries.