Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and subject to strict penalties, including death, but it remained a problem. The law considers sex within marriage consensual by definition and, therefore, does not address spousal rape, including in cases of forced marriage. Most rape victims likely did not report the crime because they feared official retaliation or punishment for having been raped, including charges of indecency, immoral behavior, or adultery, which carries the death penalty. Rape victims also feared societal reprisal or ostracism. There were reports that approximately 80 percent of rape cases went unreported.
For a conviction of rape, the law requires four Muslim men or a combination of three men and two women or two men and four women, to have witnessed a rape. A woman or man found making a false accusation of rape is subject to 80 lashes.
The law does not prohibit domestic violence. Authorities considered spousal and intrafamilial abuse a private matter and seldom discussed it publicly.
An April 2020 IRNA article noted a “dramatic increase” in domestic violence-related telephone calls to public social welfare hotlines. The State Welfare Organization sent a public text message the same day highlighting the existence of the hotlines. Calls to the hotlines reportedly doubled after the text message was sent, according to a government official. In a call with an expatriate media outlet, women’s rights activist Shahla Entesari also reported higher rates of domestic violence during pandemic-related lockdowns in the country.
In previous years assailants conducted “acid attacks” in which they threw acid capable of severe disfiguration at women perceived to have violated various “morality” laws or practices. Although the Guardian Council reportedly approved a law increasing sentences for the perpetrators of these attacks, the government instead continued to prosecute individual activists seeking stronger government accountability for the attacks. In October 2020 a court sentenced Aliyeh Motalebzadeh to two years in prison for “conspiracy against state security” for advocating for women who were victims of acid attacks. Motalebzadeh was a member of the “One Million Signatures” campaign to change discriminatory laws against women. Also in October 2020 authorities arrested Negar Masoudi for holding a photograph exhibition featuring victims of acid attacks and for advocating to restrict the sale of acid.
According to Iran International, on August 8, a man in the city of Orumiyeh allegedly used his motor vehicle to run over two women, seriously injuring one of the women, after accusing them of “bad hijab,” interpreted by some as not appropriately following the Islamic dress code.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law criminalizes FGM/C and states, “The cutting or removing of the two sides of female genitalia leads to diya equal to half the full amount of diya for the woman’s life.”
Little recent data were available on the practice inside the country, although older data and media reports suggested it was most prevalent in Hormozgan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and West Azerbaijan Provinces and was inflicted on girls ages five through eight, primarily in Shafi’i Sunni communities.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were reports of killings motivated by “honor” or other harmful traditional practices during the year. There are no official statistics kept in the country concerning honor killings, but according to academic articles and university thesis estimates cited by the daily newspaper Ebtekar, every year between 375 and 450 such killings occur, in which mostly women are killed by their male relatives – including their husbands, fathers, and brothers – in the name of preserving the family’s “honor.”
The law reduces punitive measures for fathers and other family members who are convicted of murder or physically harming children in domestic violence or “honor killings.” If a man is found guilty of murdering his daughter, the punishment is between three and 10 years in prison rather than the normal death sentence or payment of diyeh for homicide cases, because fathers (but not mothers) are considered legal guardians and are exempt from capital punishment for murdering their children.
In June 2020 Reza Ashrafi reportedly beheaded his 14-year-old daughter, Romina Ashrafi, with a farming sickle because she had “run off” with her 29-year-old Sunni Muslim boyfriend. In June 2020, in response to a national outcry over Ashrafi’s killing, the Guardian Council approved a law making it a crime to abuse emotionally or physically or abandon a child, but it left unchanged the maximum sentence of 10 years for a father convicted of murdering his daughter. Observers noted the Guardian Council had rejected three previous iterations of the bill. In August 2020 a court reportedly convicted and sentenced Ashrafi’s father to nine years in prison, sparking further outrage at the leniency of the sentence. Ashrafi’s mother said she planned to appeal the sentence to seek a stricter penalty, but there were no reported updates to the case.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits physical contact between unrelated men and women. There were no reliable data on the extent of sexual harassment, but women’s and human rights observers reported that sexual harassment was the norm in many workplaces. In April multiple women, including model and actress Boshra Dastournezhad, came forward on social media sites such as Clubhouse and Instagram to accuse singer and songwriter Mohsen Namjoo of sexual harassment and sexual assault. They circulated a petition calling on media outlets to ban his presence until the allegations were investigated. According to IranWire, on April 18, Namjoo apparently apologized for the sexual harassment accusations but denied other sexual assault allegations via his YouTube channel. The incident fueled online debate regarding victims’ accounts of sexual harassment and assault.
According to IranWire, on October 12, Tehran police chief Hossein Rahimi announced that bookstore owner Keyvan Emamverdi confessed to raping 300 women after 30 women filed legal complaints against him. Police stated he would be charged with “corruption on earth,” a capital offense. On November 15, Emamverdi’s trial began before a revolutionary court in Tehran, where he reportedly denied all charges.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
It is illegal for a single woman to access contraception, although most single women had access to contraception, particularly in urban areas. Government health care previously included full free access to contraception and family planning for married couples. In 2012 on the supreme leader’s orders, the government ended the Family and Population Planning Program. On November 16, President Raisi signed into law the “rejuvenation of the population and support of the family” bill, which directs authorities to prioritize population growth. These policies include measures such as outlawing voluntary sterilization and banning the free distribution of contraceptives by the public health-care system. The law also stipulates that content on family planning in university textbooks should be replaced with materials on an “Islamic-Iranian lifestyle,” with a framework drawn up in cooperation with religious seminaries and the Islamic Propaganda Organization. In January according to a report by Iran International, the Ministry of Health banned health centers in nomadic tribal areas from providing contraceptives to women. On November 16, UN human rights experts “urge[d] the Government to immediately repeal [the law] and to take measures to end the criminalization of abortion and to ensure that all women can access all necessary health services, including sexual and reproductive care, in a manner that is safe, affordable, and consistent with their human rights.”
The government did not provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not available as part of clinical management of rape.
According to human rights organizations, an increase in child marriage – due in part to a government “marriage loan” program providing financial relief to poor families who want to marry off their girls – was likely adversely affecting the quality of health care for such girls and increasing maternal mortality rates. The practice of female genital mutilation, which primarily occurs on girls ages five through eight in Shafi’i Sunni communities, was associated reportedly with increased obstetric problems and may increase maternal mortality rates.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal protection for women under the law in conformity with its interpretation of Islam. The government did not enforce the law, and provisions in the law, particularly sections dealing with family and property law, discriminate against women. Judicial harassment, intimidation, detention, and smear campaigns significantly hindered the ability of civil society organizations to fight for and protect women’s rights.
In June 2020 the president issued a decree enacting into law an amendment to the country’s civil code that allows Iranian women married to foreign men to transmit citizenship to their children (see section 2.g, Stateless Persons and section 6, Children). The government does not recognize marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, irrespective of their citizenship. The law states that a virgin woman or girl wishing to wed needs the consent of her father or grandfather or the court’s permission.
The law permits a man to have as many as four wives and an unlimited number of temporary wives (sigheh), based on a Shia custom under which couples may enter a limited-time civil and religious contract that outlines the union’s conditions. The law does not grant women equal rights to multiple husbands.
A woman has the right to divorce if her husband signs a contract granting that right; cannot provide for his family; has violated the terms of their marriage contract; or is a drug addict, insane, or impotent. A husband is not required to cite a reason for divorcing his wife. The law recognizes a divorced woman’s right to part of shared property and to alimony. These laws were not always enforced.
The law provides divorced women preference in custody for children up to age seven, but fathers maintain legal guardianship rights over the child and must agree on many legal aspects of the child’s life (such as issuing travel documents, enrolling in school, or filing a police report). After the child reaches age seven, the father is granted custody unless he is proven unfit to care for the child.
Women sometimes received disproportionate punishment for crimes such as adultery, including death sentences. Islamic law retains provisions that equate a woman’s testimony in a court of law to one-half that of a man’s and value a woman’s life as one-half that of a man’s life. By law the diyeh paid in the death of a woman is one-half the amount paid in the death of a man, except for car accident insurance payments. According to a CHRI report, in 2019 the government declared equality between men and women in the payment of blood money. Per the Supreme Court ruling, the amount paid for the intentional or unintentional physical harm to a woman remains one-half the blood money paid for harm to a man, but the remaining difference would be paid from a publicly funded trust.
Women have access to primary and advanced education. Quotas and other restrictions nonetheless limited women’s admissions to certain fields and degree programs.
The Statistical Center of Iran reported that the overall unemployment rate in the second quarter of the year was 8.8 percent. Unemployment of women in the country was twice as high as it was of men. Overall female participation in the job market was 18.9 percent, according to the Global Gender Gap 2021 report. Women reportedly earned significantly less than men for the same work.
Women continued to face discrimination in home and property ownership, as well as in access to financing. In cases of inheritance, male heirs receive twice the inheritance of their female counterparts. The government enforced gender segregation in many public spaces. Women must ride in a reserved section on public buses and enter some public buildings, universities, and airports through separate entrances.
The law provides that a woman who appears in public without appropriate attire, such as a cloth scarf over the head (hijab) and a long jacket (manteau), or a large full-length cloth covering (chador), may be sentenced to flogging and fined. Absent a clear legal definition of “appropriate attire” or of the related punishment, women (and men) were subjected to the opinions of various disciplinary and security force members, police, and judges.
Authorities continued to arrest women for violating dress requirements, and courts applied harsh sentences. In February an appeals court upheld sentences of 16 to 23 years for Yasaman Aryani, her mother Monireh Arabshahi, and Mojgan Keshavarz for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “inciting corruption and prostitution.” They were arrested after posting a video for International Women’s Day in 2019 during which they walked without headscarves through a Tehran metro train, handing flowers to female passengers. As of September 19, all three women remained in prison.
In May 2020 the lawyer for imprisoned activist Saba Kord Afshari said on Twitter that judicial authorities had reinstated a seven and one-half-year prison sentence for “corruption and prostitution” against his client without explanation. An appeals court had previously dropped that charge against Kord Afshari, who was also found guilty of “gathering and conspiring” and “spreading propaganda” related to videos she posted to social media in which she walked without a hijab and stated her opposition to compulsory dress requirements. Kord Afshari’s cumulative sentence reverted to 15 years with the reinstated portion of the sentence. In February 2020 Kord Afshari’s mother, Raheleh Ahmadi, began serving a two-year sentence for “national security” crimes related to advocacy on behalf of her daughter. Human rights groups reported both mother and daughter were denied requested medical treatment and furlough during the year. Kord Afshari was “exiled” to Ward 6 of Qarchak Prison in Varamin in late January, where reportedly authorities beat her and held her alongside violent criminals. She ended her hunger strike in May. Ahmadi reportedly suffered spinal cord damage in Evin Prison upon hearing of her daughter’s transfer. As of September 19, both women remained in prison.
In a February 2020 letter to Iranian authorities, the world soccer governing body International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) insisted women be allowed to attend all soccer matches in larger numbers than the government previously permitted. In October authorities reversed their earlier announcement that 10,000 vaccinated spectators – including women – could watch Iran play in a FIFA qualifying match and allowed no spectators into the stadium.
As noted by the former UNSR and other organizations, female athletes were traditionally barred from participating in international tournaments, either by the country’s sport agencies or by their husbands. There were, however, cases throughout the year of female athletes being permitted to travel internationally to compete.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The constitution grants equal rights to all ethnic minorities, allowing minority languages to be used in media. The law grants the right of citizens to learn, use, and teach their own languages and dialects. Nonetheless, the government discriminated against minorities.
Human rights organizations observed that the government’s application of the death penalty disproportionately affected ethnic minorities (see section 1.a.). Authorities reportedly subjected members of minority ethnicities and religious groups in pretrial detention repeatedly to more severe physical punishment, including torture, than other prisoners, regardless of the type of crime of which they were accused. These ethnic minority groups reported political and socioeconomic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, job opportunities, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights. In a July report, UNSR Rehman again expressed concern regarding the reported high number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience from the Azeri, Kurdish, and Ahwazi Arab communities.
Another widespread complaint among ethnic minority groups, particularly among Ahwazis, Azeris, and Lors, was that the government diverted and mismanaged natural resources, primarily water, often for the benefit of IRGC-affiliated contractors. According to reports from international media and human rights groups, these practices devastated the local environment on which farmers and others depended for their livelihoods and well-being, resulting in forced migration and further marginalization of these communities.
The law, which requires religious screening and allegiance to the concept of “governance by the jurist,” not found in Sunni Islam, impaired the ability of Sunni Muslims (many of whom are also Baluch, Ahwazi, or Kurdish) to integrate into civic life and to work in certain fields.
The estimated eight million ethnic Kurds in the country frequently campaigned for greater regional autonomy. The government continued to use the law to arrest and prosecute Kurds for exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and association. The government reportedly banned Kurdish-language newspapers, journals, and books and punished publishers, journalists, and writers for opposing and criticizing government policies. The UNSR noted in his July report that in the early part of the year many Kurdish individuals were arrested and detained in unknown locations.
According to the same UNSR report, authorities continued to target Kurdish-language teacher Zara Mohammadi, who supported learning in mother tongue languages, when an appeals court confirmed a five-year prison sentence on February 13 related to national security charges. Authorities detained without furlough Kurdish political prisoner Zeinab Jalalian, who was arrested in 2008 for allegedly being a part of a banned armed Kurdish political group, and reportedly denied her access to adequate health care.
Authorities suppressed legitimate activities of Kurdish NGOs by denying them registration permits or bringing security charges against persons working with such organizations. Authorities did not prohibit the use of the Kurdish language in general.
International human rights observers, including the IHRDC, stated that the country’s estimated two million Ahwazi Arabs, representing 110 tribes, faced continued oppression and discrimination. Ahwazi rights activists reported the government continued to confiscate Ahwazi property to use for government development projects, refusing to recognize property titles issued during the prerevolutionary era.
Ethnic Azeris, who number more than 18 million, or approximately 24 percent of the population, were more integrated into government and society than other ethnic minority groups, to include Supreme Leader Khamenei. Azeris reported the government discriminated against them by harassing Azeri activists or organizers and changing Azeri geographic names.
In July the UNSR reported that authorities continued to target Azeri civil society actors, including Abbas Lisani and Alireza Farshi, for their advocacy of minority rights. According to a February report by CHRI, Farshi, who was convicted and imprisoned on national security charges for peaceful activities on International Mother Language Day in 2014, was transferred from Evin Prison to Greater Tehran Penitentiary after being subjected to physical violence by authorities that resulted in injuries. He was also reportedly facing new charges related to his advocacy. Between January and June 14, Lisani and seven other Azeri political prisoners refused liquids in protest over Farshi’s mistreatment. Authorities reportedly agreed to address their concerns, which included access to medical leave and a cessation of the transfer of prisoners convicted of violent crimes into their ward, but authorities did not fulfill these promises.
Local and international human rights groups alleged discrimination during the year against the Baluchi ethnic minority, estimated at between 1.5 and two million persons. Areas with large Baluchi populations were severely underdeveloped and had limited access to education, employment, health care, and housing. Baluchi activists reported that more than 70 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.
According to activist reports, the law limited Sunni Baluchis’ employment opportunities and political participation. Activists reported that throughout the year, the government sent hundreds of Shia missionaries to areas with large Sunni Baluch populations to try to convert the local population. According to Baluchi rights activists, Baluchi journalists and human rights activists faced arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and unfair trials.
According to widespread media reports and the UNSR’s July report, on February 22, IRGC officials killed 10 fuel couriers in Sistan va Balochistan Province, leading to protests. Authorities used excessive force including live ammunition to suppress these protests, causing two additional deaths (see section 1.a., Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings). UNSR Rehman previously noted in July 2020 that “in the border areas of Kurdistan, Ilam, West Azerbaijan and Kermanshah Provinces, Kurdish couriers (kolbars) continue to face excessive and lethal force by border officials. In 2019 there were 84 reported deaths and 192 injuries of kolbars, continuing a trend that has seen more than 1,000 kolbars killed or injured due to the actions of border officials since 2014. It is with concern that cases of violence against kolbars are often either dismissed by the courts or closed without conviction or compensation for the victims and their families.”
The UNSR’s report noted that excessive force was routinely used in antinarcotic operations in Sistan va Balochistan Province. In May for example, antinarcotic police in Iranshahr reportedly fatally shot a five-year-old child in the head.