Iran: conviction and potential enforcement of the prison sentence of WHRD Sepideh Rashnu (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Iran on 21 March 2024. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. The Government replied on 20 May 2024.

At the time of publication, there has been no further development regarding the application for a retrial filed by the WHRD’s lawyer after it was granted by the Supreme Court. The WHRD has not begun serving her prison sentence.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication Read the Government's response


Topic: the conviction and potential enforcement of the prison sentence of Ms. Sepideh Rashnu.

Ms. Sepideh Rashnu is a women’s rights defender, writer and poet, primarily focusing on women’s rights in Iran. Her activism against mandatory veiling rules gained momentum in July 2022, sparked by an encounter on a bus that vent viral on social media, that highlighted her commitment to gender equality. Between 2022 and 2024, she has been arrested twice for her human rights advocacy. During her detention, Ms. Rashnu reportedly faced severe mistreatment, resulting in a forced televised confession and subsequent prison sentence for her activism. Additionally, she has been prevented from pursuing her education at university.


On 16 July 2022, Ms. Rashnu gained public attention after a video capturing her encounter with a woman on a bus went viral, highlighting her advocacy against mandatory veiling laws in Iran. She was arrested within a few hours of the incident.

On 30 July 2022, the Islamic Republic’s state TV (IRIB) aired a purportedly coerced confession from Ms. Rashnu, where she was portrayed as having received instructions from abroad regarding her activism against mandatory veiling laws. Ms. Rashnu appeared visibly distressed in the video, with evident signs of physical abuse.

On 15 August 2022, Ms. Rashnu’s case was referred to branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court on the charges of “gathering and colluding against national security,” and “propaganda against the State,” as well as “promoting immorality and prostitution”. On 22 November 2023, the court sentenced her to a suspended prison term of three years and seven months for the charge of “gathering and colluding against national security,” in addition to another four months for the charge of “propaganda against the State.” She was acquitted of “promoting immorality and prostitution.”

On 13 May 2023, Ms. Rashnu announced that she had been suspended for two academic semesters from her studies in painting at Alzahra University for commuting to the university while not complying with the mandatory veiling rules.

On 20 June 2023, Ms. Rashnu was arrested following the opening of a new case against her in the security prosecution office at Evin Prison. This followed the referral of her case by university security to the court for her not wearing a hijab on the university campus. Initially charged with undertaking “propaganda against the State” and “promoting immorality and prostitution,” she was detained for a few hours before being released on a 10 billion IRR bail. Subsequently, she was acquitted of the charge of “propaganda activities against the state,” and her case was referred to Branch 1099 of the Ershad Court, which oversees veiling-related issues. The court sentenced her to six months in prison and a 100 M IRR fine; however, the prison sentence was reduced to four months before the Court of Appeal.

On 2 October 2023, Ms. Rashnu faced a third court case for the charge of “unveiling in public” at Branch 1099. This charge stemmed from her presence without a hijab before the Ershad Court, resulting in a fine of 15 million IRR.

On 17 February 2024, Ms. Rashnu was summoned to prison to serve a three-year and eleven-month imprisonment sentence. The lifting of the initial suspended sentence was sought by the court in light of the new four-month prison sentence in the June 2023 case against the woman human rights defender, leading to the execution of the initial three-year and seven-month prison term. However, her lawyer’s request for a retrial before the Supreme Court was accepted by the court. As a result, Ms. Rashnu has been granted an extension until 10 March 2024 before serving her prison sentence.


In the communication, we express profound concern regarding Ms. Rashnu’s conviction, seemingly attributed solely to her peaceful human rights activism. Additionally, we are deeply troubled by her televised confession, which appears to conflict with due process and seems to have been obtained under duress, as indicated by signs of physical mistreatment.

Furthermore, we are alarmed by reports of Ms. Rashnu’s expulsion from academic institutions, effectively denying her right to education. These actions reflect a broader pattern indicative of a crackdown on human rights defenders, especially women’s rights defenders, across Iran. This pattern includes arbitrary arrests, baseless charges, and prison sentences lacking due process, as observed since the September 2022 protests in Iran.

The potential validation of these allegations could provoke significant concern, given their apparent implications that intersect with foundational principles established in international legal frameworks. Notably, there exists a discernible likelihood of contravening the provisions enshrined in Articles 9 and 19 of ICCPR, which serve as pivotal safeguards for the rights to personal liberty and security, as well as the right to freedom of expression. Additionally, the alleged incidents prompt inquiries into Iran’s adherence to its obligations under the ICESCR regarding education rights. The reported expulsion from or deprivation of educational opportunities, as reported, appears to be in violation of Articles 2 and 13 of the Covenant, which underscore the universal entitlement to equitable education. Both covenants oblige states parties to guarantee that the rights be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to political or other opinion. Given Iran’s status as a signatory to these international conventions, actions that impede these rights could potentially constitute a serious breach of human rights standards.


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