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Iran Among Countries ‘Bullying’ NGOs, Says New Report

File photo:Iranian students and members of Amnesty International NGO demonstrate in front of the Iranian Embassy in Rome on June 11, 2010 to protest against the arrest of political leaders during post-election demonstrations in Tehran on June 2009, where a young woman, Neda Agha,

Amnesty International (AI) has listed Iran among the fifty countries using "bullying techniques and repressive regulations" to prevent non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from doing their work.

The February 21 report, titled Laws Designed to Silence: The Global Crackdown on Civil Society Organizations , accuses Tehran of suppressing NGOs by designing laws and regulations to criminalize and otherwise hinder their activity.

"Governments across the world are increasingly attacking non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by creating laws that subject them and their staff to surveillance, nightmarish bureaucratic hurdles, and the ever-present threat of imprisonment,” the report read.

In the case of Iran, the report says authorities exploit provisions in the Islamic Penal Code to criminalize the activities of NGOs.

"This has resulted not only in stopping independent human rights organizations from being able to register and operate, but also in the criminalization of even informal networks or campaigns, such as Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty (also known by its Persian acronym, LEGAM). Consequently, individuals like prominent lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and human rights defender Narges Mohammadi have been convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms in connection with their involvement with LEGAM and other similar loose networks and campaigns,” the report read.

According to AI, the Islamic Republic often cites laws like those against "assembly and colluding to commit crimes against national security” (Article 610), "forming a group composed of more than two people with the purpose of disrupting national security” (Article 498), and "membership of a group with the purpose of disrupting national security” (Article 499), to criminalize the activities of human rights defenders and civil society organizations.

AI says these laws "contravene the principle of legality as they are overly broad and vague, allowing the authorities to apply them arbitrarily."

Furthermore, the rights watchdog insists that the number of verdicts issued against human rights activists has significantly increased since widespread protests rocked the country in response to the controversial re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

This report comes on the heels of an equally damning announcement from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that no fewer than 860 journalists were prosecuted, arrested, imprisoned and in some cases executed in Iran between 1979, when the Islamic Republic was established, and 2009.

RSF says the figure comes from a file leaked by whistleblowers within the Islamic Republic’s ruling establishment.

"Confidential until now, the file is a register of all the arrests, imprisonments and executions carried out by the Iranian authorities in the Tehran area over four decades" RSF announced at its February 7 conference, in Paris.

In addition to persecuted journalists, the file contains 1.7 million records of judicial procedures concerning people from all categories of Iranian society – men, women and minors, members of religious and ethnic minorities, persons accused of non-political crimes and prisoners of conscience, including regime opponents.