Justice must correspond to the necessities of our time. The penal system of the Islamic Republic of Iran is not in compliance with our society’s expectations. Our Iranian norms of morality and Islamic jurisprudence can never be in harmony. To describe how this penal system was mechanically grafted on our society, we must go back to the first years after the revolution of 1979 in Iran to see how the IRI steadily developed ever greater repression, with an increase both in the number of executions and in violence in general throughout the country.
Immediately after the February 1979 revolution, Revolutionary Courts were set up to prosecute agents of the Pahlavi regime. People were tried retroactively for acts which did not constitute penal offences at the time they were committed. Since 1979, according to the statements of opposition groups, 3,350 persons have been executed, more than 2,000 of them since the dismissal of President Bani Sadr, i.e. from June to October 1981.
Accused persons have been put on trial with no previous warning of the charges and no opportunity to prepare a defence, to engage a lawyer or to bring witnesses in their defence. They were condemned to death without any rights of appeal, whether within the law or under clemency and summarily executed. Those not condemned to death were in peril of double jeopardy. An example was General Nazemi who was condemned to 15 years imprisonment, but a few months later was retried on the same charges, condemned to death and executed; this was in violation of all international norms, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Iran is a party (1). Death sentences have been accompanied by flogging or carried out by stoning.
Having dealt with the former officials of the Shah’s regime, the courts began to concentrate on people accused of moral transgressions and of being “counter-revolutionaries” (i.e. anyone opposed to the Khomeini regime). The charges included “corruption on earth” and “waging war against God, his Prophet, his Imam and representatives of the Imam”. This policy followed the line of action which Ayatollah Khomeini emphasised in a speech in the Feyzieh Islamic Institute of Learning: “It is a day to day programme of identifying the opponents of Islam, our struggle against them shall become more intense” (2). And so it did.
The repression discarded rule of any law. Examples of this arbitrary rule were as follows:
--many prisoners under the Shah’s regime were released in February 1979, only to be re-imprisoned, if not executed. Such was the case of Reza Saadati, an MOK member (MOK or the People’s Mojahdin Organisation of Iran is an Islamic opposition group). Mr. Saadati was first sentenced to ten years imprisonment, and then shot after a second, secret trial;
--ethnic minorities (Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Turkamens, and Baluchis) have seen their demand for a greater degree of self-government met with repression. Cases of massacres, imprisonment and executions have been widely reported; religious groups banned by Islam have been increasingly harassed under the IRI. The Baha’is, who numbered about one half million in Iran before the revolution, faced charges such as promotion of prostitution, cooperation with Zionism, spying for imperialist powers, corruption on earth and warring against God. Thousands have lost their homes and possessions, thousands have been dismissed from their jobs and many of them have been executed by revolutionary firing squads;
-- the main opposition groups after the overthrow of the Shah (democratic groups, moderate Islamic groups, the MOK and left-wing opposition) were not only been denied the right to share power in post-revolutionary Iran, but were severely repressed. Not a week has passed without arrests and executions of many of their members;
-- writers, poets and artists are particularly harassed. The first Islamic Revolutionary Judge, Sheik Sadegh Khalkhali, an infamous psychopath, did not hesitate to demand the execution of intellectuals such as Chamlou, a famous Iranian author who was well-known for his non-adherence to any political party and his non-involvement in any political activities. Khalkhali was responsible for many arbitrary executions. According to Judge Abdolkarim Ardibili, President of the Supreme Court, many defence lawyers were arrested, imprisoned and in at least one case, executed;
--those who faced firing squads included women and youths. It was reported Time Magazine on September 20, 1981 that 150 youngsters were shot in a mass execution on September 4(3). In a statement, Tehran’s revolutionary prosecutor, Assadollah Lajevardi declared on June 1981: “Of course, even a 9-year old can be executed if it has been proved to the court that he or she is grown enough”(4). It was reported that 13-year-old children had been shot. Lajevardi continued, “Counter-revolutionary activities, included the distribution of leaflets, incitement of innocent youths to subversion, and participation in demonstrations (charges often leading to death sentences)”. Following this declaration, in a campaign to muzzle dissent in the schools, the IRI arrested teenagers. The number of students barred from school was estimated at over 70,000 in the first two years after the revolution; (5)
--cases of torture and ill-treatment have been regularly reported. The IRI sought to justify these measures as necessary to repress attacks made by terrorists. Undoubtedly, the attack against the Islamic Republic Party (IRP) on June 28, 1981 (killing 74 of the party’s officials and leading Ayatollah Beheshti) and the bombing on August 30, 1981 (killing President Mohammad Ali Radjai and Prime Minister Mohammad Bahonar) were turning points in the escalation of violence and the IRI’s increasing repression. The regime demanded that people help the Judicial Body in arresting counter- revolutionaries, even if they were their own relatives;
-- on August 12, 1981, IRI’s Foreign Ministry ordered Iranian embassies and missions to draw up a list of Baha’is, counter-revolutionaries and “so-called students” living in their jurisdiction. It also prohibited the renewal of their passports and ordered instead issuance of a “transit-paper”, valid only for a return journey to Iran (6);
--lawyers’ defending political prisoners was difficult, and after the two above-mentioned terror attacks on the IRI President and Prime Minister became impossible. Indeed, according to statements by higher judicial officials, the defence of offenders would be contrary to Islamic laws, in that the defender is an accessory to the accused person’s crimes. This was borne out by a report that a qualified lawyer, Mr. Mohsen Jahandar, had been accused of defending prisoners before Revolutionary Committees, condemned to death and shot before a firing squad at about the end of August, 1981;
--the Revolutionary Tribunals turned to trying cases which were not within their jurisdiction as defined in their penal system, including charges of homosexuality, prostitution, adultery, simple theft and drinking alcohol. Sentences of death by firing squad or by stoning were imposed for homosexuality, prostitution and adultery; the cutting off of a hand for simple theft.
The IRI not only misused its own jurisdiction, but justified violence in the streets on the highest authority. On September 19, 1981, in an address broadcast on radio and television, Ayatollah Moussavi, Revolutionary Procurator General, stated that “to kill the people who stand against this regime and its just Imam (Khomeini) is a prescribed duty according to Islamic laws. If they are captured, our men will not let them eat and sleep for a few months. The trial of these people is in the streets. I also order the city prosecutors to do the same; otherwise they themselves will be punished” (8).
On the same day, Ayatollah Mohammadi Gillani, the Ghazi Shara’ of Tehran (Tehran’s Islamic Judge), stated at a press conference in Evin Prison, “Islam permits people engaged in armed demonstrations in the streets to be captured, stood against the wall of the street and shot”.
The highlight of repression begins with the Bill of Retribution, a series of articles degrading the worth of a man's life to100 camels or 200 cows and that of a woman to half of the man's, 50 camels or 100 cows. It was the beginning of judicial violation of all standards of Human Rights.
In January, 1981, the Bill of Retribution was submitted to Parliament, mandating stoning, amputation of limbs and gouging out of eyes as punishments. This bill was developed by the Supreme Leader’s Judicial Council. In some cities, the clergy did not wait for legal sanction but had already begun to practice Islamic Justice on their own.
Public response was initially muted by disbelief, which gave way to a horrified outcry. Progressive analyses of the Bill were circulated. Organisations of religious minorities, women and other democratic people demonstrated at the Department of Justice and at Parliament but were met with silence. Then, in September 1981, the Bill was passed.
The Bill assumes that the human body and its parts are convertible into money. The idea of receiving blood money is based on this kind of assumption. Here the class nature of this bill is revealed; it serves only the rich. Only they can afford to pay fines for their crimes in lieu of physical punishment. The following descriptions show how this barbaric bill can return our society to the Dark Ages:
--the Bill ignores that the goal of punishment is the rehabilitation of the individual and society. It defines punishment as individual retaliation. The social aspect of crimes is completely neglected so that punishment becomes a right of the next of kin, or the private plaintiff. This symbolises a return to a tribal age when feuds were the custom (ARTICLE 7);
--in this bill, the value of a woman is assumed to be half that of a man. In a case of voluntary manslaughter, her testimony has no value. In the case of the murder of a woman by a man, the family of the woman must pay the murderer half of his blood money before retaliating. Otherwise there will be no punishment; he merely has to pay the blood money of the woman, which is half that of a man; (ARTICLE 5)
--murder committed in the line of duty still demands retaliation, thus, if a commander orders his soldier or police officer to kill someone, the one who was compelled to follow the orders of the commander can be sentenced to death, while the commander will be only sentenced to imprisonment; (ARTICLE 4)
--according to the Bill, it is permissible to kill one’s child. In other words, if the father or paternal grandfather murders his child, even if the child is fifty years old, he will be exempt from retaliation; (ARTICLE 6)
--according to the Bill, people can be killed for insulting the prophet or the saints and the murderer will be exempt from the punishment. (ARTICLE23)
--this Article is a tool for the suppression of all those who politically or ideologically oppose the IRI;
--according to the Bill, if a person is sentenced to several penalties, all the penalties will be carried out. For example, if the penalty includes whipping and stoning to death, the assailant will be whipped first and then stoned to death; (ARTICLE 110)
--the Bill, in many of its articles, discriminates against the non-Muslim citizens of Iran, relegating their rights to half or even less than those of Muslim citizens. (ARTICLES 100, 151)
--according to the Bill, a man can murder his wife and her companion in the case of adultery. He will not be punished;
--the code does not provide any punishment in case of murder of an individual who is mentally ill;
--the sentence for consuming alcohol for the first time is whipping. However, the third time that a person is accused of drinking alcohol; he will be sentenced to death;
The Bill of Retribution states that all the penalties should be implemented in public. The Islamic Judge should notify the public of the time of the event. It is necessary that at least three Muslims be present during the ceremonies;
--in all cases, guilt is proven through confession or the testimony of witnesses. It is enough for two Islamic Committee members or Revolutionary Guards to falsely testify against a person to endanger his life;
--by emphasising confession as a means of proving guilt, the Bill paves the way for torturing individuals in order to force them to confess;
--according to the Bill, married men and women will be stoned to death for adultery. The sentence will be implemented with full medieval ceremony. (ARTICLE 100)
The Bill describes the penalty as follows: “The man up to his waist and the woman up to her chest will be placed in a ditch and then stoned. The stones should neither be too big nor too small. ”Big stones kill too quickly.
It is important to note that the Bill, in many cases, is in conflict with the Constitution that was ratified by the same ruling organs! The Bill explicitly violates: Article 14 of the Constitution, which obliges the government and its Muslim citizens to deal fairly with non-Muslim citizens and to observe their Constitutional rights; Article 19, which states that Iranian people of any tribe or sect have equal rights, and that colour, race, language, gender, will not be reasons for withholding privileges; and Article 20 which guarantees all Iranian citizens, both men and women, equality under the Constitution.
1) Human Rights Violations in the Republic of Iran, Chicago, 11, May 1980.
2) Imam Khomeini, „The revolutionary line”, Great Islamic Library.
3) Time Magazine, 20, September 1981.
4) International Herald Tribune, 30, September 1981
5) Giam Iran newspaper, Tehran, 28, June 1981.
6) ICJ Review No.26, p.23.
7) See ICJ Review No.25, at p.21.
8) Kayhan newspaper, Tehran, 20, September 1981.
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