Iran Focus: Paris, Jan. 14 - In its annual report on human rights practices around the globe Human Rights Watch said that "basic human rights in Iran, especially freedom of expression and opinion, deteriorated in 2004". "Torture and ill-treatment in detention, including indefinite solitary confinement, are used routinely to punish dissidents… Abuses are carried out by what Iranians call 'parallel institutions': ... Iran Focus

Paris, Jan. 14 - In its annual report on human rights practices around the globe Human Rights Watch said that "basic human rights in Iran, especially freedom of expression and opinion, deteriorated in 2004".

"Torture and ill-treatment in detention, including indefinite solitary confinement, are used routinely to punish dissidents… Abuses are carried out by what Iranians call 'parallel institutions': plainclothes intelligence agents, paramilitary groups that violently attack peaceful protests, and illegal and secret prisons and interrogation centers run by intelligence services", the report said.

The report continued, "The Iranian authorities systematically suppress freedom of expression and opinion… Today, very few independent dailies remain, and those that do self-censor heavily. Many writers and intellectuals have left the country, are in prison, or have ceased to be critical. Days after the visit of the Special Rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, in late 2003, one of the student activists with whom he spoke was re-arrested. In 2004 the authorities also moved to block Internet websites that provide independent news and analysis, and to arrest writers using this medium to disseminate information and analysis critical of the government."

In a section titled "Torture and Ill-treatment in Detention" the report read, "With the closure of independent newspapers and journals, treatment of detainees has worsened in Evin prison as well as in detention centers operated clandestinely by the judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Torture and ill-treatment in detention has been used particularly against those imprisoned for peaceful expression of their political views. In violation of international law and Iran’s constitution, judges often accept coerced confessions. The use of prolonged solitary confinement, often in small basement cells, has been designed to break the will of those detained in order to coerce confessions and provide information regarding associates. This systematic use of solitary confinement rises to the level of cruel and inhuman treatment. Combined with denial of access to counsel and videotaped confessions, prolonged solitary confinement creates an environment in which prisoners have nowhere to turn in order to seek redress for their treatment in detention. Severe physical torture is also used, especially against student activists and others who do not enjoy the high public profile of older dissident intellectuals and writers."

"The judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi, issued an internal directive in April 2004 banning torture and inhumane treatment of detainees, but as of yet no enforcement mechanisms have been established," it said.

"Illegal prisons, which are outside of the oversight of the National Prisons Office, are sites where political prisoners are abused, intimidated, and tortured with impunity," the report added.

Referring to the position of the European Union vis-à-vis Iran's systematic violations of human rights the report said, "The European Union has increased both economic and diplomatic ties with Iran. The E.U. has pledged to tie human rights standards to this process, but so far with little impact."