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BRIEFING NOTES: (1) Iran; (2) Saudi Arabia

Spokespeople for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Jeremy Laurence and Liz Throssell 

Location: Geneva 

Date: 22 November 2022 

Subject:        (1) Iran - Jeremy Laurence

(2) Saudi Arabia – Liz Throssell 

1)        Iran 

UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk says the rising number of deaths from protests in Iran, including those of two children at the weekend, and the hardening of the response by security forces, underline the critical situation in the country. 

We urge the authorities to address people’s demands for equality, dignity and rights – instead of using unnecessary or disproportionate force to suppress the protests. The lack of accountability for gross human rights violations in Iran remains persistent and is contributing to the growing grievances. 

Since the nationwide protests began on 16 September over 300 people have been killed, including more than 40 children. Two 16-year-old boys were among six killed over the weekend. Protesters have been killed in 25 of Iran’s 31 provinces, including more than 100 in Sistan and Baluchistan. Iranian official sources have also reported that a number of security forces have been killed since the start of the protests. 

Sources say over 40 people have been killed in mainly Kurdish cities in the past week. Significant numbers of security forces have also been deployed in recent days. Overnight, we received reports of security forces responding forcefully to protests in several mainly Kurdish cities, including Javanrud and Saqqez. 

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Of particular concern is the authorities’ apparent refusal to release the bodies of those killed to their families, or making the release of their bodies conditional on the families not speaking to the media or agreeing to give a false narrative on the cause of death. 

Thousands have been detained throughout the country for joining peaceful protests. At least six people connected to the protests have been sentenced to death on charges of moharebeh or “waging war against God”, or efsad-e fel-arz or “corruption on earth”. 

At the same time, a growing number of people, including Iranian celebrities and sportswomen and men who have expressed support for the protests, have been summoned or arrested. 

We remind the Iranian authorities that under international human rights law, they have the obligation to respect and ensure the rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression. 

We call on the authorities to release all those detained in relation to the exercise of their rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, and to drop the charges against them. Our Office also calls on the Iranian authorities to immediately impose a moratorium on the death penalty and to revoke death sentences issued for crimes not qualifying as the most serious crimes under international law. 

2)        Saudi Arabia 

Over the last two weeks executions have been taking place almost daily in Saudi Arabia after the authorities ended a 21-month unofficial moratorium on the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences. 

Since 10 November, 17 men have been executed for what are termed drug and contraband offences – the latest three executions on Monday. Those executed to date are four Syrians, three Pakistanis, three Jordanians, and seven Saudis. 

As executions are only confirmed after they take place in Saudi Arabia, we do not have any information as to how many people may be on death row. However, according to some reports we have received, a Jordanian man, Hussein abo al-Kheir, may be at risk of imminent execution. His case has previously been taken up by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which found that his detention was arbitrary because it lacked a legal basis and there were grave concerns relating to his right to a fair trial. 

We urge the Saudi Government to halt al-Kheir’s reported imminent execution and to comply with the Working Group’s opinion by quashing his death sentence, releasing him immediately and unconditionally, and by ensuring that he receives medical care, compensation and other reparations. 

The resumption of executions for drug-related offences in Saudi Arabia is a deeply regrettable step, all the more so coming just days after a wide majority of States in the UN General Assembly called for a moratorium on the death penalty worldwide. 

Imposing the death penalty for drug offences is incompatible with international norms and standards. We call on the Saudi authorities to adopt a formal moratorium on executions for drug-related offences, to commute death sentences for drug-related offences, and to ensure the right to a fair trial for all defendants, including those charged with such offences, in line with its international obligations.

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