The number of Iranian civil society activists has shrunk in the past three years due to Tehran’s escalating crackdown, with many being forced to flee the country and seek refuge in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday.
The crackdown began during the disputed presidential election of 2009 that saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad take another term in office. The government mobilized security forces to crack down on mainly peaceful protests.
Human rights activists, bloggers, lawyers, journalists, and others have not been spared from the crackdown because they spoke out against the regime, according to the New York-Based rights group.
“The post-2009 crackdown has profoundly affected civil society in Iran,” stated Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director with the rights group. “The images of police beating protesters mercilessly may have faded from television and computer screens, but many Iranian activists continue to make the painful choice to abandon homes and families.”
The activists have been subjected to torture, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, and other human rights infringements, HRW said. There are no independent human rights organizations operating in Iran.
HRW cited United Nations figures that said that 18,128 Iranians filed asylum applications in 2011, which is around 3,000 up from 2010.
The majority of those who fled went to Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region located between Iraq and Turkey, but when they arrived there, they faced difficult conditions, according to the rights group.
HRW described their futures in those countries as “an uncertain future,” as they had their their freedom of movement restricted, faced high residency fees, had difficulty in getting work permits, and had little access health care services.
HRW also called on the Turkish government to allow a U.N. inspector to enter the country and meet with Iranian refugees and asylum seekers.
“The countries in the region need to protect the refugees from Iran and treat them with compassion and dignity,” Stork said. “Countries outside the region should offer generous resettlement opportunities for Iranian refugees who urgently need to leave the region and have no other options for durable asylum, and speedily process their claims.”
Faraz Sanei, who monitors the situation in Iran for HRW, told CNN that the 2009 presidential elections were used as a reason to crackdown on dissent.
“That meant going after independent NGOs, independent journalists who were critical of the government and human rights activists,” he said. “Many of them were imprisoned --arbitrary arrests and detentions. Many of them were detained in secret detention facilities, tortured often and put in solitary confinement. They did not have access to lawyers.”
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