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This report is the beginning of an effort by Human Rights Watch to address this lack of clarity and specificity by compiling a roster of political prisoners in Iran and recounting some of their stories. The report focuses on several prisons in the city of Karaj which lies about 47 kilometers northwest of the capital Tehran. The prisoners include members of the political opposition, bloggers and journalists, a lawyer, and labor, and minority rights activists.
None of the information collected by Human Rights Watch suggests that any of them had any known connection to violence. During the course of its investigations of prisoners held in prisons in Karaj, Human Rights Watch also documented additional cases in which individuals may have been convicted for allegedly violent offenses, but which nonetheless raise serious questions whether the government may have targeted these individuals for their peaceful activities.
Of the 63 cases of political prisoners documented by Human Rights Watch, 59 were being held in Rajai Shahr prison. Rajai Shahr is thought to be the main prison in Karaj that holds political prisoners, and one of several prisons in the country known to hold prisoners charged with national security-related crimes.
Since the revolution, Iranian authorities have prosecuted thousands of critics, including political opposition members, civil society activists, and members of religious and ethnic minorities. Iranian revolutionary courts have subsequently convicted many of them, handing down often harsh sentences. Officials have invoked broadly or vaguely worded national security laws, many of which criminalize the exercise of fundamental rights protected under international law.
The punishments for such crimes are severe and include death. Human Rights Watch has documented cases where prosecutors have charged critics of the government for allegedly committing crimes of violence such as terrorism, without providing sufficient, or in some cases any, evidence to establish the guilt of the accused. Revolutionary courts have subsequently convicted many of these individuals, often handing down harsh sentences.