November 19, 2015 / 9:34 PM / 5 years ago

U.N. panel accuses Iran of cracking down on freedom of expression

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee on Thursday criticized Iran for cracking down on activists, journalists and dissidents and its increased use of the death penalty, a rebuke Tehran dismissed as “Iranophobia.”

The non-binding resolution, which was drafted by Canada, was adopted by the 193-nation assembly’s Third Committee with 76 votes in favor, 35 against and 68 abstentions.

The resolution was not entirely critical. It also welcomed pledges by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on “important human rights issues, particularly on eliminating discrimination against women and members of ethnic minorities, and on greater space for freedom of expression and opinion.”

However, it noted the “alarming high frequency” of the death penalty in the Islamic Republic. The resolution said Iran continued to execute minors in violation of international conventions it has signed.

It also said some juvenile executions were for offenses not considered “most serious crimes.”

Iran’s deputy U.N. representative, Ambassador Gholamhossein Dehghani, slammed the resolution as a “selective and politicized distortion of facts” reflective of “nothing but baseless and pure speculation and hearsay and ... Iranophobia.”

He had sharp words for Canada, saying it “stubbornly continued a deliberate policy of incitement” toward Iran.

The United States and European countries were among the resolution’s co-sponsors. Among the countries that voted against it were Tehran’s allies Russia, China and Syria.

The resolution urged Tehran to improve conditions in Iranian prisons and ensure there was no torture.

It demanded that Iran end what it said were “widespread and serious restrictions, in law and in practice, on the right to freedom of expression, opinion, association and peaceful assembly” of dissidents and human rights defenders.

It said they were subjected to “ongoing harassment, intimidation, arbitrary detention and prosecution.”

The victims of such treatment include political opponents, human rights defenders, women’s and minority rights activists, labor leaders, students’ rights activists and others, it said.

Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has rounded up artists, journalists and U.S. citizens as part of a crackdown on what it has called Western infiltration.

Their campaign coincides with Iran beginning the implementation of a nuclear deal signed with world powers in July that hardliners fear will open Iran up more to the West.

Most journalists arrested in recent weeks work for media that support President Rouhani.

The resolution, along with similar ones on North Korea, Myanmar and Syria, will go to a new vote at a General Assembly plenary session next month.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Alistair Bell

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