Human rights in the Imperial State of Iran

This article is about human rights in Iran specifically prior to 1979. For human rights specifically after the 1979 revolution, see Human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. For a longer-perspective overview, see Human rights in Iran.

The Imperial State of Iran, the totalitarian government of Iran during the Pahlavi dynasty, lasted from 1925 to 1979. During that time, two monarchs — Reza Shah Pahlavi and his son Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi — employed secret police, torture, and executions to stifle political dissent. The Pahlavi dynasty has sometimes been described as a "royal dictatorship", or "one-man rule". According to one history of the use of torture by the Iranian government, the abuse of prisoners varied at times during the Pahlavi dynasty.

While the shahs' violation of the constitution, "trampling on the fundamental laws" and rights of Iranians, was one of the complaints of revolutionaries, some have suggested the shahs' human rights record fares better than that of the revolutionaries who overthrew them. According to political historian Ervand Abrahamian,

"Whereas less than 100 political prisoners had been executed between 1971 and 1979, more than 7900 were executed between 1981 and 1985. ... the prison system was centralized and drastically expanded ... Prison life was drastically worse under the Islamic Republic than under the Pahlavis. One who survived both writes that four months under warden Asadollah Lajevardi took the toll of four years under SAVAK. In the prison literature of the Pahlavi era, the recurring words had been "boredom" and "monotony." In that of the Islamic Republic, they were "fear," "death," "terror," "horror," and most frequent of all "nightmare" (kabos)."


Reza Shah

Reza Shah, founder of the Pahlavi dynasty

The reign of Reza Shah was totalitarian and dictatorial at a time when totalitarian governments and dictatorships were common in the Middle East and the world and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was some years in the future.

Freedom of the press, workers' rights, and political freedoms were heavily restricted under Reza Shah. Independent newspapers were closed down, and political parties—even the loyal Revival Party-w... more

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