The State Department said Thursday that Iran practices “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” of its citizens, part of a a harsh critique of the country’s human rights abuses that was released on the eve of a final round of negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The annual human rights report was issued four months beyond the legal requirement for its publication, a deadline that is often breached but never before by so long. Critics had questioned whether the State Department was delaying the release to avoid embarrassing Iran until after the June 30 deadline for a potential deal to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the easing of sanctions. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) had proposed docking the State Department’s budget as a fine for every month of delay.
The State Department has said the delay was the result of Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s heavy travel schedule.
This year’s report also noted a sharp increase in abuses by non-state actors, such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and Boko Haram in Africa. It also described the role played by technology in both combating and committing human rights abuses, such as the imprisonment of bloggers who were tried in Saudi Arabian courts created for terrorists.
A senior State Department official, speaking anonymously under rules set by the department, said it underscores the fact that government partners in the fight against non-state actors such as the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, will also be condemned for their abuses.
“Going after ISIL in particular, we have to partner with a number of countries that have problematic human rights records,” the official said. “We want to be clear that this is not intended as Global War on Terror 2.0. We have learned the lessons of the past, and we want to do this in a balanced way.”
Kerry said the United States was not being sanctimonious in its criticism of other countries.
“We couldn’t help but have humility when we have seen what we have seen in the last year in terms of racial discord and unrest,” he said. “So we approach this with great self-awareness.”
He noted that some of the countries cited in the report were allies and advised their leaders to read the report.
“No country can fulfill its potential if its people are held back, or more so, if they are beaten down by repression,” he said.
Every year, the report offers a hard judgment of Iran’s human rights record, and this one was no exception.
Because Washington does not have an embassy in Tehran, it drew on reports by the United Nations that at least 895 political prisoners are incarcerated in Iran. Among them were at least 30 journalists, the report said.
It did not specifically mention Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post reporter who has been detained in Iran for more than 11 months and who is being tried for espionage and other related charges. But it did say one of the journalists arrested in 2014 was his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who was later released on bail.
The report singled out Iran’s Evin Prison, “notorious for cruel and prolonged torture for political opponents of the government,” where it said the government used “white torture,” including extreme sensory deprivation and isolation.
It said Iran executed 721 people last year, many without due process. That was far more than the 268 executions Iran announced. The State Department also cited reports that the government was responsible for arbitrary and unlawful killings.
Globally, the report said 2014 will be remembered for atrocities committed by a number of extremist groups.
“For far too many people, 2014 was defined by suffering and abuse perpetrated by terrorist groups exploiting religious discourse and divisions to advance their totalitarian ideology, or by governments, such as Syria, sometimes acting in the name of combating terrorism,” Kerry said in the introduction.