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UN envoy details ongoing human rights abuses in Iran

A new UN report has highlighted ongoing human rights abuses in Iran even since the election of reform-minded President Hassan Rouhani. The report also said there were signs that the situation may be improving.

The report released by the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran on Wednesday details widespread abuses, including the executions of 724 people over the past 18 months and a rise in number of journalists placed behind bars.

In a speech to unveil the report, UN special rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed also expressed concern about other restrictions on freedom of expression in Iran, saying the authorities had taken steps to block access to as many as five million websites. He said a monthly average of 1,500 websites were being shut down in Iran, particularly those that focused on things like women's rights, or the minority Wahhabi and Bahai religions.

Positive signals

At the same time, though, Shaheed pointed to what he described as "a number of positive signals" from President Hassan Rouhani, since he was elected last June, including the release of a number of political prisoners.

"These signals I refer to raise the expectation of tangible and sustainable reforms," Shaheed said in his address to the UN General Assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human rights issues.

Shaheed also said though, that it was important for the international community to maintain pressure on Tehran to implement further reforms, despite a far less confrontational diplomatic tone struck by Rouhani, compared with his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

"Any renewed or revitalized dialogue between Iran and the international community must include and not seek to sideline the issue of human rights," Shaheed, who was not allowed to visit Iran to conduct research, said.

Specifically, he called on Iran to declare a moratorium on all executions, saying he was particularly concerned by the fact that almost 800 people had been put to death for trafficking offenses in Iran, since he took up his post a special rapporteur in 2011.

Iran responded to the report with a written statement in which it rejected the findings of Shaheed's report, describing it as "a biased approach" that relied at least in part on unconfirmed figures, which "does not merit public trust or confidence." The statement also defended the country's legal system, saying that any punishment imposed by the country's judiciary followed due process and was based on Islamic law.

pfd/kms (AP, Reuters)