United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 3, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
Iran faced harsh criticism of its rights record Friday, with UN diplomats highlighting soaring numbers of executions and lamenting the recent hanging of a woman who murdered her attempted rapist.
But Iran hit back at the criticism, instead slamming countries trying to impose "specific lifestyles on others".
Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights, told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that his country had made great strides in the field of human rights since its last Universal Periodic Review, which all 193 UN countries must undergo every four years.
But many of the more than 100 diplomats who took the floor voiced outrage at the situation of political prisoners, women and religious minorities, also decrying arrests and harassment of journalists, forced confessions and lack of access to fair trials.
Many raised the issue of the rising numbers of executions, highlighted by the UN's special rapporteur on Iran, Ahmed Shahhed, who maintains the country has executed at least 850 people in the past 15 months.
Britain's representative said his country was "deeply concerned at the sharp increase in executions in Iran over the past year", while France demanded a "moratorium on the death penalty", Germany asked for a halt to public executions.
A number of countries, including Switzerland, pointed to the case of 26-year-old Reyhaneh Jabbari as a distressing example of Iran's execution policy.
In a move that drew international condemnation, Jabbari was hanged last Saturday for murdering a former intelligence officer to ward off what she claimed was an attempted rape.
"She certainly didn't get a fair trial," her former lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei, who fled to Norway in 2010, told AFP.
He said his client would never have received the death penalty for the 2007 stabbing of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, which he insisted was in self-defence and with no intention to kill, if the victim had not been a former intelligence officer from an influential family.
Larijani said he had asked Sarbandi's family to pardon Jabbari, in a move that would have saved her life, and that the family had planned to do so.
The massive media attention and rape allegations had changed their minds, he said, quoting Sarbandi's son saying the family could not take the "humiliation".
Larijani adamantly defended the country's judicial system, insisting: "All nationals of Iran are equal before the law."
Such claims were brushed aside by a range of NGOs, who blasted a lack of progress since Iran's last review in 2010 and condemned discriminatory laws and practices infringing on the rights of women, and religious and ethnic minorities among others.
US representative Keith Harper decried "violations of freedom of religion and freedoms of expression in Iran."
Tehran must "end the harassment and prosecution of journalists and release detained Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian to demonstrate its commitment to freedom of expression," he said, referring to the US-Iranian journalist arrested in July.
He also called for the release of those in prison for their religious beliefs, such as pastor Saeed Abedini, also an American citizen.