Last week, Amnesty issued a report which blasted Iran’s legal structures. The 87 page report can be summarized in one word, “INADEQUATE”, but anyone interested in Iran’s human rights should read the whole report to get an idea of just how inadequate Iran’s legal system really is.
The bottom line is that although the constitution in Iran clearly states that all Iranians are equal under the law and that they all have the right to a fair trial, the reality is that the judicial system Iran is filled with by laws which effectively cancel these constitutional rights and that Iranians who are suspected of crimes which are anti-Islamic or anti-regime are legally deprived of their constitutional rights.
Following are the summaries of the basic flaws ingrained within the judicial system as outlined in the report:
- Legally Undefendable Crimes: One of the biggest problems within Iran’s judicial system is the ability to define crimes that, although purposefully vague, are the basis to extinguish the rights of the accused. Crimes defined as “insulting Islamic sanctities”, “insulting the Prophet of Islam”, “enmity against God”, “corruption on earth”, “apostasy”, national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system” are definite “go to jail” crimes that are punishable by death and that “legally” allow the system to deprive the defendants of their constitutional rights. These “crimes” are slapped on to anyone who criticizes Islam or the regime, including journalists, artists, bloggers, lawyers, activists, religious minority leaders, politicians etc…Once such a crime has been defined, the chances of acquittal dropt to a near zero percent.
- Legalized Illegal Arrests: Although the constitution and criminal codes of law offer many rights to people who are arrested, in reality, these rights can easily be circumvented. Suspects don’t have the right to an explanation of their arrest or of their rights. They don’t enjoy the right to be brought before a judge but can file a complaint to the investigator and they can be held in jail before trial for up to two years. They can be denied of their rights to access a lawyer indefinitely and can be forced to choose a lawyer from a restricted list supplied by the investigator. Furthermore, lawyers are forbidden to “intervene in court until “the end of the investigations” and can be forbidden to speak during interrogations of the suspect. Detentions prior to formal charges can be extended legally up to one month but the detention can be extended by a judge without further explanation. Meetings with lawyers can also be monitored and the defendant has little room to demand for more time to present an adequate defense. And if you happen to be a foreign national, the rights to communicate with representatives of your government are non-existent.
- Limited Ability to Fight Back: The law in Iran allows for defendants to file suits demanding reparations only in regards to the conviction itself. This means that defendants can’t sue for the treatment they received during their arrest, detention or incarceration, however horrible it may have been. To make things worse, the law precludes the option for reparation in cases where defendants refused to provide evidence to prove their innocence or if they were arrested for another legal reason or if they “facilitated the conditions of their own arrest” for illegitimate reasons. These broad definitions in fact minimize the chance of defendants who were wrongly accused, wrongly arrested, wrongly imprisoned and, of course, wrongly mistreated to ever obtain financial or other forms of compensation.
- Torture is not a Crime: Although various forms of torture such as flogging, amputation, blinding, gouging eyes etc…are legal forms of punishment, torturing a suspect or a prisoner is not a crime. Detainees of “special crimes” often undergo torture, ill-treatment, humiliation and degradation before and after their trials and have no legal way to prosecute their torturers. Torture is actually legalized by the constitution “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information” which has led to the use of torture to elicit forced and public confessions. Sexual harassment of the defendants by state officials also falls in legal grey areas: If a defendant was raped by a state official while under detention or incarceration, he or she may file a lawsuit as in any other case of rape but cases of “minor” sexual harassment such as forced nakedness, kissing, groping etc…have no chance of being brought to trial.
- Partial Impartiality Under the Law: The constitution itself allows the courts to be partial to selected groups of people: women are legally discriminated in courts (their rights are legally half of their male counterparts) as are non-Muslims. But the partiality of the court begins with the judges themselves: women and minorities cannot become judges and judges can be dismissed based on anti-Islamic or anti-regime behavior. Once the trial is underway, it can be arbitrarily held behind closed doors and confessions, forced or real, hold more weight than evidence which is obtained legally or illegally. Even appeals are treated with partiality since the decision of the higher court may be reversed by the original court which issued the conviction. Furthermore, a defendant doesn’t have the rights de facto to be present during his/her own trial.
- Sex is Punishable by Death: While Iranian leaders continue to deny this fact, it is not only illegal to be gay in Iran, it is punishable by death. Strangely enough, in the case of male homosexuals, the law differentiates between active and passive partners when it comes to the punishment: Passive homosexuals are to be punished by death while active homosexuals are punished by flogging unless the intercourse is by force or the active homosexual is no-Muslim. Female homosexuality is punished by flogging but in cases of both men and women, gays who are repeat offenders (convicted 4 times) face the death penalty. Illicit relations between men and women, including “kissing and sleeping under one cover” is punishable by flogging or the death penalty.
The report goes into many details regarding each of the inadequacies but the point becomes clearer with each sentence: the judicial system in Iran is intrinsically flawed and the freedoms outlined in the constitution are repeatedly and easily trampled on through sub laws or laws that allow the investigative and judicial authorities leeway to do so.
What makes this report harder to swallow is that all of these trampled freedoms continue to occur under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, a self-proclaimed and internationally branded “moderate” who promised to increase the freedoms of Iranians. And if you think that after Supreme Leader and hardliner Ali Khamenei passes on things might get better, it might be worthwhile to remember that the leading candidate to replace him is none other than Iran’s judicial chief Sadeq Larijani who also happens to be the brother of Iran’s chief of human rights, Javad Larijani. In other words, change can not be expected to happen in the near future,