The notion that someone is innocent until proven guilty is a guiding light for any country which places the right to a fair trial at the top of its priorities. Even in Western states which do value the ideal of a fair trial, people are sometimes arrested, or worse, based on the fact that they were presumed guilty. But usually, somewhere down the line, during the trial or even in the aftermath, the ideal of the fair trial comes back to center stage.
In Tehran, the notion of a fair trial is more akin to a fairy tale. “Criminals” are arrested, interrogated and tried based on the supposition that they are guilty and have to prove their innocence. In many cases, these “criminals” are summoned to court, without knowing why, are accused of crimes without being shown the evidence, are forbidden to meet their lawyers or have incompetent lawyers chosen for them. Why? Because for these “criminals”, their “crimes” are distinctly political in nature and “political criminals” in Iran can forget about a fair trial.
Of course, Iranian law and the Iranian constitution distinctly outline that anyone suspected of a crime has the right to a fair trial. But in Iran, the law is second to the needs of the regime and if someone criticizes the regime in any way, the regime can abuse the law under vague charges such as “spreading propaganda”, “national security” or “insulting the regime/the Supreme Leader/Islam/the Prophet” and the ominous Moharabeh (enmity against God)…all charges which can place an Iranian behind bars or strung from the gallows without a fair trial.
Here are a few examples which highlight the problem of striving for a fair trial in Iran:
- Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer, is summoned to court but isn’t informed on what charges.
- Najibeh Salehzadeh, an Iranian woman charged with posting anti-Khamenei content on facebook, claims she never had an account and the prosecution isn’t sharing any of the “evidence” against her.
- The American-Iranian Robin Shahini has been formally charged but his lawyer “has not been granted access to the evidence being used against” him.
- Nazanin Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian mum imprisoned with her baby daughter while visiting her family in Iran and charged with trying to overthrow the regime, goes to a closed-door trial after meeting her lawyer only three days before the trial begains.
- Not only did Tehran execute 25 Kurdish political prisoners, it seems that they tortured them as well before executing them.
- Hassan Amini, a Sunni cleric who published a statement protesting the trials and executions of 20 Sunnis in one day, claiming that they “had been denied the most basic religious and legal rights to have a lawyer and defend themselves in an open trial” is himself charged with “acting against the state.
- Tehran arrests 11 Iranian Christians congregating in a house church and there still is no information as to their legal status.
- The mother of the Iranian nuclear scientist executed for spying for the US was not even made aware of the name of her son’s lawyer.
- The family of the executed Iranian political prisoner is denied the right to his body.
- Tehran executes a gay juvenile accused of “forced male-to-male intercourse” which he claims was consensual: “He had no access to a lawyer and the judiciary rushed through the investigation and prosecution, convicting and sentencing him to death within two months of his arrest”.
- Alireza Madadpour was arrested and executed for drug dealing after never meeting his lawyer and a trial which lasted 20 minutes.
Of course, these cases represent only a small fraction of the victims of unfair trials in Iran. The list seems endless but in the end the similarities are very clear: political prisoners, ie: people who criticize or oppose the regime in any way, can be arrested without being told of the charges they are under, can be interrogated and tortured for an unlimited time, can be denied access to lawyers, can be held incommunicado from their families and loved ones and will be forced to prove their innocence or profess their “regret” in order to gain their freedom.