The Iranian authorities have forced the closure of the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) in Tehran. The Centre was co-founded by 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi and other leading Iranian human rights activists.
The forcible closure is an extremely ominous development that threatens the country’s entire human rights movement. Amnesty International has called for the decision to be reversed without delay.
The office was closed by security officials on Sunday afternoon, shortly before the centre was to hold a commemoration marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Dozens of police and plain clothed officials tried to enter the premises.
According to Narges Mohammadi, spokesperson for the CHRD, security officials failed to show any official order justifying their action and one told her that, if she were not a woman, he would drag her by the legs and throw her into the street.
The CHRD was co-founded in 2002 by Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s best known human rights defender. She was present at the time of the centre’s forcible closure on Sunday. The centre has sought legal registration since its formation six years ago but this has been continuously denied by the Iranian authorities, leaving Dr Ebadi and her colleagues to operate in a form of legal limbo, and under constant threat. She has previously received death threats.
It is unclear why the Iranian security authorities decided to act against the centre now. They appear to have wished to prevent a celebration of the UDHR, the founding document of modern human rights law. It seems that also want to send a powerful – and chilling – warning to Iran’s growing movement of human rights activists and defenders by targeting the organisation headed by the most internationally renowned leader of the movement.
The CHRD has three stated roles, reporting violations of human rights in Iran; providing pro-bono legal representation to political prisoners; and supporting the families of political prisoners. Its members have pursued high profile cases of impunity, and defended high profile victims of human rights violations. Some – such as lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani – have been detained in the past for no more than carrying out his duty as a lawyer.
Amnesty International has called for the CHRD to be allowed to resume its activities without delay and to be allowed legal registration. The Iranian government should abide by its obligations under international law to promote and protect human rights and should support, not attack and undermine, the work of human rights defenders.