Will law rule?
No principle is higher than the presumed innocence of the
January 7, 1999
The reported apprehension of persons implicated in the slaying of various
political activists and literary figures in Iran in the past few months
will test the truth and strength of the Khatami administration's repeated
sloganeering about the "rule of law."
While many may rejoice as a matter of justice the arrest of the alleged
perpetrators of the slayings, the requirements of the rule of law. however.
will be satisfied only by the strictest observance of due process -- that
is, to allow the most rudimentary human rights principles of fair and speedy
trial to prevail over politically expedient course of action.
The indicting authority must be held to meeting its burden of establishing
probable cause to bind over the accused for trial. The burden of proof
rests on the state to produce the probative and admissible evidence necessary
to produce an indictment.
Beating confessions out of people or sending some to the gallows for
the sake of political expediency, public opinion, or foreign observers
is not due process. Otherwise, it will be a circus, a kangaroo proceeding,
which ultimately will undermine the credibility of the criminal law process
in Iran altogether.
There is no principle higher, even if it involves national security,
than the presumed innocence of the accused.
It is easy to say these acts were against the state or the accused were
members of the armed forces or the security or law enforcement agencies
and, therefore, they should be tried in a military tribunal -- all designed
perhaps to circumvent the accused's constitutional right to due process.
Closed trials, monkey business, inadequate defense, summary judgment and
execution or life imprisonment is no way to show case a government's dedication
to the rule of law.
If there is a trial, it must be open and public, regardless of the venue
in which it unfolds. The accused must be provided the opportunity to defend
themselves with adequate and unrestricted defense attorneys; they must
be allowed to face their accusers and question and impeach the state's
evidence before a jury.
The notion that a judge can be an arbiter and at the same time an arm
of the prosecution and finder of facts is abhorrent to the cause of blind
and impartial justice.
The complete and unadulterated legal safeguards under the country's
constitution and international conventions to which Iran is a party must
be accorded to the accused no matter how undesirable the thought of protecting
the perceived murders or even the likelihood of their acquittal.
The process which is about to unfold in Iran will tell a lot about the
rule of law and the Iranian character. More so, it will tell every person
affected by the recent slayings whether they fancy blind vengeance over
an informed course of due process no matter what its result. For, in the
long run, one's measure is not in how one feels for or treats one's own
but how much is one capable emotionally to give to a greater cause.
If the alleged perpetrators are tried fairly and found not guilty, where
would one's thoughts turn then? To be able to accept, may be not necessarily
agree with, the results will mark the greatest triumph for the rule of
law in Iran.
Guive Mirfendereski is an international lawyer and adjunct professor
of law at Brandeis University.