The UN Human Rights Council took the rare step yesterday of appointing a special investigator to examine human rights abuses in Iran.
The move came as unconfirmed reports circulated that the Iranian Supreme Court has upheld the judgment against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the woman sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery.
Ms Ashtiani is said to have attempted suicide when she heard the news, slashing her wrists with a shard of glass in her prison cell in Tabriz. She has been placed under observation.
Legal sources inside Iran said that Ms Ashtiani’s jailed lawyer, Javid Houtan Kian, could also face the death penalty. In a letter smuggled out of Tabriz prison and passed to the International Committee Against Stoning, Mr Kian alleged that he had been tortured. Sources inside Iran believe the letter to be genuine.
Mr Kian claimed that he had been burnt with cigarettes on his legs, feet and testicles and denied medical treatment. “Twelve of my teeth have been almost completely broken by blows with boots,” he said.
He also claimed that during cold weather he was dragged into the prison yard at night, bound by his hands and feet and soaked with a fire hose. “The charges against me are simply that I bravely defended my client,” he said.
Mr Kian requested that the letter be passed to the US government, international human rights groups and Western news organisations.
Mr Kian has been in prison since October, when he was arrested with Ms Ashtiani’s son, Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, and two German journalists. Mr Ghaderzadeh has since been released but has severed contact with Western news organisations.
“Sajjad Ghaderzadeh [has] unfortunately been officially co-opted into collaborating with the Intelligence Ministry, to which he revealed all information at his disposal,” Mr Kian said in his letter.
Ms Ashtiani’s case led to international outcry, with The Timesspearheading a campaign for her release.
The UN Human Rights Council voted 22-7 in favour of a US-sponsored motion to appoint a special rapporteur to investigate allegations of human rights violations in Iran. It is the first time that the body has approved such an investigation for a UN member state since it replaced the Human Rights Commission five years ago.
Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the US representative, called it a seminal moment, and added: “Today we have seen the council able to respond to a chronic, serial human rights violator.” William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, said: “Over the past 18 months the international community has witnessed an unacceptable deterioration in the human rights situation in Iran . . . Today’s resolution further demonstrates how appalled the whole of the international community is by these abuses.”
Seyed Mohammad Reza Sajjadi, Iran’s UN ambassador, said that his country had an “inherent, genuine and deeply-rooted” respect for human rights. Iran was supported by Pakistan, Russia and Cuba.