Author: Yara WHRD Center
Civil society activists in Iran and other countries where the state securitizes social activism, often face the risk of arrest and detention. This is happening despite the fact that civic activism and defense of human rights is not illegal in these countries and in fact is protected by international law. Because security forces are targeting and arresting rights activists who hold governments accountable on human rights abuses, it is necessary for activists to be prepared for potential interrogation sessions and for detention. It is true, people depending on their backgrounds, may have differing experiences in detention which is based on their physical, mental, family, social and economic conditions. People may face different types of charges and interrogators may treat them differently. Nevertheless, many commonalities exist and as such, awareness and understanding about what you may encounter at the time of arrest and then during detention, can help you through this difficult experience and reduce the mental, emotional and physical harm inflicted on you as a result.
- Keep in mind that you can get arrested anywhere, including at home, in your car, at work, at a party, at a friend or relative’s house, on the street, at the airport, etc. If you’re getting arrested on the street or anywhere in public, it’s best not to let your arrest happen in silence. From the first moments of your arrest, you should try to ensure that bystanders become aware of your situation. For example, you may want to yell your name out loud and tell people that the security forces are arresting you for your human rights work: “I…. I am a journalist or a woman’s rights defender. They are taking me away.“ This will ensure that people who witness the incident know your name, and understand that you are a social activist and hopefully they will inform others about your arrest.
- If you live in an apartment or a residential complex, and you realize that security forces have come to arrest you, try to keep calm, and immediately reset your phone to factory settings and call one of your friends or members of your initiative or send them a message to let them know that you are about to get arrested.
- In an article titled “Strategies for WHRDs to Mitigate Risks and Threats”, we recommended that you save all the information related to your meetings, group activities, plans, agendas, and … on a hard disk and keep it in a safe and secret place. If for any reason this hard drive is on your desk or somewhere easy to find, try to hide it in a safe place immediately before security forces can enter your home. Due to existing security conditions, we recommend that you practice these steps several times so that you can perform properly in real-life situations and in case you are facing arrest at your home.
- Before letting security forces into your home, ask them to show you the arrest warrant and read it carefully. Your name must be clearly stated in the warrant, and the warrant must clearly state that security forces are authorized to search your house or workplace.
- The arrest warrant must be enforced during the day, from sunrise to sunset. Searching your home and workplace is only legal if a judge has determined the search is urgent and necessary. The reasons for this urgent action must be stated by the judge.
- If the authorization for house/workplace search is not stated in the arrest warrant, and security officials begin searching your premises, protest their actions immediately.
- Security forces must record a list of all your confiscated devices and items. Read this list carefully and make sure nothing is left out either intentionally or randomly and before signing the record sheet, state that you were not shown the search warrant (for instances when the search is not clearly indicated in the arrest warrant).
- According to the law, security agents have the right to confiscate only items related to your charges or considered as objects associated with the “crime,” when searching your home or workplace, Including mobile phone, laptop, notes, etc. Protest and resist their efforts to confiscate other family members’ belongings, including their money, US dollars or other foreign currency, computers, phones, etc. which are in the home.
- Security agents will ask you to give them your passwords while searching your house. Our advice is to resist providing them with passwords as much as possible. It is true that in most cases, the agents will recover your passwords and get access to the contents of your mobile phones and laptops anyway, but your refusal will buy you more time so that your friends can remove you from chat groups, and if possible, disable your social media accounts so that security forces cannot gain access to your content, groups, chat messages, email, etc.
- Be aware that the whole process of house search and arrest is being recorded on camera. As such, you should try to keep your composure and avoid being rude or insulting to the security agents there to arrest you or who are searching your home/office.
- The security agents may start harassing and pressurizing you from the very moment of arrest. They might use explicit language, insult you, accuse you falsely and unjustly, talk about your private life and personal affairs, … . and all of this may happen in front of your family. In response, you can firmly state that they have no right to insult you or to interfere and comment on your personal life.
- The agents may exaggerate the charges against you in order to create a sense of fear and push you to cooperate or confess to things you have not done. Likewise, they may downplay the reasons for your arrest and tell you that they only want to ask you some questions, which should take no longer than a few hours. They may also promise your family that you will be released quickly if they keep quiet about your arrest. We strongly recommend that you do not believe their promises. The security agents arresting you have been able to convince a judge to issue an arrest warrant for you. So rest assured that you will not be released on the day of your arrest and you will be kept for more extensive interrogations.
- In recent years, it has become common for interrogators from the intelligence service to suggest that interrogation sessions be held in hotel rooms as opposed to official locations. Activists are told that attending these types of less formal interrogations will help them avoid detention. Remember this is a tactic intent on gaining more information from you or aimed at encouraging you to cooperate, and it often works because you are in the initial stages of shock and confusion after having your home searched and after being presented with an arrest warrant. You may want to accept this offer in order to buy yourself more time, but experience suggests that when you refuse to cooperate (and act as their informant) and they manage to recover information from your phone and laptop, they will immediately arrest and detain you.
- If the security agents arrest you late at night or early in the morning or search your home/office without showing you a search warrant, or if they insult you, or otherwise commit any sort of violation, make sure to list all the violations in the records sheet you will have to sign later at the prosecutor’s office. As an accused person, you do have the right to object to the violation of your rights and your dignity and any ill treatment .