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Will law rule?
No principle is higher than the presumed innocence of the accused

January 7, 1999
The Iranian

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.

The author

Guive Mirfendereski is an international lawyer and adjunct professor of law at Brandeis University.

Copyright © 1997 Abadan Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved. May not be duplicated or distributed in any form