Unrest in Iran and the right to protest

Published: 4 January 2018 Author: Stefan Talmon

On 28 December 2017, protests over food price rises and corruption began in the north-eastern Iranian city of Mashhad. Protests quickly spread across the whole country and took on a wider anti-government sentiment. On 30 December 2017, protesters at Tehran University called for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down and there were violent clashes with police in multiple cities. On 1 January 2018, it was reported that protesters were attacking police stations and that at least 12 people, including a policeman, had been killed and hundreds had been arrested. In the evening on that day, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel commented as follows on the protests:

“I am very concerned by the latest developments in Iran and by the reports of further deaths among the demonstrators and the large number of arrests. We call on the Iranian Government to respect the demonstrators’ freedom of assembly and their right to voice their opinions freely and peacefully.

Following the confrontations over the past few days, it is all the more important for all sides to refrain from taking any violent action.”

On 3 January 2018, the deputy government spokesperson said in the regular government press conference:

“[T]he Federal Government is following developments in Iran with concern, in particular the reports of deaths and numerous arrests. We call on the government in Tehran to respect the freedom of assembly and expression.

From the point of view of the Federal Government, it is legitimate and deserves our respect when people have the courage to take to the streets with their economic and political woes, as is currently happening in Iran. In our view, the Iranian Government should respond to the current protests with a willingness to engage in dialogue.

Should individuals take advantage of the protests for acts of violence, the State should react proportionately and with means within the rule of law.”

A spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office added that Foreign Minister Gabriel had telephoned his Iranian counterpart once again expressing his concern about the violence and calling for respect for the freedom of assembly and expression. The Minister also called for the Iranian security forces not to use violence against the protesters.

Unlike the United States and Israel, Germany did not openly side with the protesters but called on “all sides” to refrain from taking any violent action. Without expressly naming U.S. President Trump who had earlier described the Iranian Government as “brutal and corrupt” and had vowed “great support [for the protesters] from the United States at the appropriate time”, Foreign Minister Gabriel said during a press conference on 3 January 2018: “What we urgently advise against is the attempt to abuse this internal Iranian conflict […] internationally. That is not going to ease the situation any way.”

Instead, Germany reminded the Iranian Government of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees to everyone the rights of freedom of expression and assembly. However, these rights may be restricted by law if this is necessary, inter alia, for the protection of national security or of public order.

Category: Human rights, political independence

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Author

  • Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, and Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and practices as a Barrister from Twenty Essex, London. He is the editor of GPIL.

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