A critique of the Dutch governments Position on Iran
- Posted by Maryam Namazie
- On November 19, 1997
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The Islamic regime continues to unabatedly violate human rights for maintenance of state power. Countless reports from a wide range of sources indicate that no significant changes towards greater human rights have occurred since the Islamic regime took power.
In 1997 alone, news of several atrocities reverberated in the media outside Iran, despite an environment of repression and censorship. Early this year in Tehran, oil workers struggling for the rights to organize and reach collective agreements were attacked, arrested and tortured, and several of their leaders were killed. In April 1997, a German court’s verdict regarding the Mykonos assassination of three political opponents formally exposed the Islamic regime’s coordinated policy to kill Iranian dissidents. In May 1997, hundreds of political prisoners went on hunger-strike to protest intolerable prison conditions; a number of them died as a result of the hunger-strike or were executed. In August 1997, the latest victim of the regime’s state-sponsored system of gender-apartheid was stoned after being accused of engaging in voluntary sexual relations.
This briefing strongly opposes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs� (MFA) June 5, 1997 report on the general situation in Iran; confirms that the atrocities committed by the Islamic regime continue unabated; and rejects the decision that Iranian asylum seekers can be “safely” deported to Iran.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs� (MFA) report on Iran is inconsistent with its own sources including all official general reports (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the U.S. State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices), and previous reports by the United Nations Special Representative for Human Rights in Iran. Furthermore, it contradicts first-hand information gathered by the International Federation of Iranian Refugees and Immigrants Councils (IFIRIC) [now known as the International Federation of Iranian Refugees IFIR] from thousands of Iranian refugees and asylum seekers, which corroborates reports of persecution, arrest, imprisonment and torture.
The reports which most support the Ministry’s position are those by Maurice Copithorne, the UN Special Representative for Iran, and sources within Iran. Reports obtained from the Islamic regime itself are obviously biased and unreliable. Copithorne’s reports contrast sharply with those written by his predecessor, Reynaldo Galindo Pohl. During his tenure, Galindo Pohl stated that the Iranian authorities prevented him from meeting with specific prisoners he had requested to see and that prisoner he had met during an earlier visit had been singled out for particularly severe punishment because he complained to the special representative about torture. On the other hand, Copithorne states that he felt that the Iranian government wanted to cooperate with his inquiries into the human rights situation and that he had no sense that Iranian officials had prevented people from seeing him. Galindo Pohl resigned
as the Commission’s Special Representative on Iran after being denied permission to visit Iran for several years due to his candid reporting of the human rights situation in Iran (Reuters, April 1, 1996).
Given that the special representative’s access to Iran is by the invitation of the regime, Copithorne has ignored the ample evidence of systematic and gross human rights violations in order to facilitate access to Iran. By relying primarily on Copithorne’s reports, the Dutch government acts similarly to the special representative. It appears that the MFA’s report on Iran contradicts or ignores the overwhelming evidence available on eighteen years of cruelty and terror in Iran in order to secure better political and economic ties with the Iranian government.
Iran is a theocratic republic based on Islamic legislation… Islamic principles take precedence over all laws and regulations, even over constitutional provisions… Although there has since ceased to be any active internal opposition or any real threat to the regime’s authority, those in power remain apprehensive of any seemingly serious threat…There are no political parties in the western sense. It is, however, possible to discern three main schools of thought.
Matter-of-factly stating that Iran is a theocracy disregards the reality that Islamic principles are antithetical to universal human rights standards.
The MFA report gives the illusion that people in Iran no longer oppose the Islamic Republic of Iran rather than exposing the regime’s efforts to violently suppress any oppositional political activism.
By referring to three main schools of thought within the government, the report gives the impression that pluralism exists in Iran, obscuring the fact that all the permitted schools are reactionary, religious and committed to the maintenance of the Islamic regime.
The MFA report states that the secular opposition in particular has been silenced as a result of severe repression in the early years. “Recent years have seen a limited dose of democracy slowly brought into the system, with parliament playing an increasingly prominent role.” “Prominent members of the present government and of the majlis are university-educated in the USA.” Mention is made of the increase in women in parliament.
Elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran is contrary to an exercise in the will of the people. In the May 1997 elections in which Khatami became president, all but four of the two hundred and thirty eight candidates were banned from participating in the elections. The Council of Guardians, a twelve-member body chosen by Khamenei, the supreme spiritual leader, and parliament, hand-picked the four who were most suitable to represent the Islamic Republic’s interests. According to Human Rights Watch World Report 1997, the Council of Guardians tightly controlled access to the parliamentary electoral process as well by assessing a candidate’s “practical adherence to Islam” and support for the principle of “rule by the pre-eminent religious jurist, velayat-e-faghih.” U.S. educated officials or a president who is skilled in table tennis (as Khatami is) do not translate into real changes in the political situation in Iran. Furthermore, the women in parliament only personify and perpetuate the Islamic regime and its system of gender apartheid.
“Political activities, including distribution of leaflets, and participation in unauthorized gatherings, by illegal opposition groups … do not seem to give rise to repression, where they do take place.” Only people suspected of having links with the Mujahedin-e-Khalq can “expect heavy prison sentences.” “When the authorities have reason to believe prohibited material to be present, premises may be searched. The mere possession and distribution of prohibited materials… in practice incurs a fine at most.”
Innumerable examples contradict the above. In Iran, where the Islamic regime controls and suppresses every aspect of people’s lives from clothing, to music, to personal relationships, it is absurd to assert that involvement in illegal political activities are not met with repression.
Human Rights Watch World Report 1996 states: “The government closed newspapers, imprisoned critics, forcibly suppressed protests and condoned vigilante attacks against domestic opposition. Religious zealots from competing authorities interfered in people’s everyday lives enforcing ever-changing rules of conduct. The attack on freedom of expression, as reported in Human Rights Watch World Report 1995: Iran, gathered pace.”
According to Human Rights Watch “all forms of political expression and dissent are strictly curtailed” and “underground publications and leaflets circulate clandestinely, but at a high risk to their authors and distributors” (HRW, Guardians of Thought: Limits on Freedom of Expression in Iran, August 1993).
“Demonstrations still take place from time to time in various parts of the country, mainly as a result of
adverse social and economic situation.” It mentions the 1996 clashes in the northwest of the country
against which the authorities took “tough action.” “Two people were killed in the process.”
In 1994, Hussein Kamali, the Minister of Labor, acknowledged that two thousand labor protests occurred in one year alone, signifying both the magnitude of labor protests in Iran and the regime’s extensive suppression of the labor movement.
In 1995, large numbers of people protested in Tehran against the economic policies of the Islamic regime. The regime responded with helicopters which fired at the protesters. Some were killed and a large number were injured. Many were also imprisoned.
The adverse social and economic situation leading to protests are directly linked to the political situation. Many turn to political activities in order to improve their lives. The Islamic regime fears its overthrow in any such opposition and responds with its usual force and brutality.
Section 1.7.1. states that Islamic Revolutionary Committees are a law-and-order force responsible for “security, maintaining public order and protecting the achievements of the revolution” as well as combating drug trafficking. It goes on to say that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards “is not an intelligence service, but does in part have responsibility for security tasks.” Its primary tasks consist of “protecting the revolution against internal and external enemies by means of a small elite corps with strong ideological convictions.” Since the Baseej volunteer corps joined it in 1983, the Guard has “expanded to become a major military organization.”
In the February 2, 1994 UN Commission on Human Rights report, special representative Reynaldo Galindo Pohl states: “It was reported that detentions and arrests were made by the State Security Police; the Police Force; the Gendarmerie; the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (Pasdaran); the Revolutionary committees; the Basijis, irregular paramilitary forces of volunteers who seek to uphold revolutionary ideals; the numerous patrols, such as the patrol to remove street vendors and that to combat improper veiling. It was reported that tens of thousands of Basijis had been ordered to prowl about every factory, office and school to ensure that everyone adhered to the Islamic code. The Basij organization was originally created during the Iran-Iraq war to provide volunteers for the front. After the summer 1992 riots, Basij units were revived, rearmed and sent out into the streets to help enforce Islamic law. The Basijis are reportedly under the control of local mosques. It was further said that the Basijis set up checkpoints around the cities and stopped cars to sniff their occupant’s breath for alcohol and check for women wearing make-up or traveling with a man not their close relative or husband. It was reported that the Law of Judicial Support for the Basijis, published in the Official Gazette No. 13946 of 8.10.1371 (December A.D. 1992), provided no redress against arbitrary detention by the Basijis.”
“Under Article 57 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, legislative, judicial and executive powers are formally separate… The head of the judiciary is responsible for the appointment of prosecutors and the chief justice of the supreme court.” “The present legal system distinguishes between two kinds of courts, ordinary and special ones. The ordinary courts are subdivided into criminal and civil courts. The main special courts are the special civil courts and the revolutionary courts… The revolutionary courts are subdivided into three sections: one for economic offenses, one for political offenses, and one for special crimes, including drug offenses and smuggling.” “Iran has a bar association… Although the association is in law an independent institution, the authorities in practice exert some control over it… Reports that lawyers acting before revolutionary courts face intimidation cannot be confirmed.” “Constitutionally, no arrest can be made without a valid warrant for the purpose. Lawyers even those involved in the proceedings before revolutionary courts, have access to their clients in detention. The law does not proscribe any time following arrest within which the case has to be brought to court. In minor criminal cases, charges have to be brought within two months; in more serious cases, the time limit is four months. The time limit is not always observed either on account of the court’s heavy workload or because preliminary inquiries by the revolutionary and public prosecutors could not be completed in time.”
The MFA report fails to distinguish between civil principles and practices. Furthermore, Iran is a theocracy which is antithetical to universal human rights. In Iran there is no rule of law other than any rule that maintains the Islamic Republic. Law is carried out by different groups with their own paramilitary forces — all interpreting the law as they choose to preserve the regime. There rule of god and the supreme spiritual leader reign supreme. Even the regime’s supporters are not safe in Iran. Moreover, there is no guarantee that one will not be arrested at any time. Mohammad Assadi was recently executed for his alleged involvement in a coup d’etat eighteen years ago.
“..The judicial process has improved in recent years… greater legal safeguards for the accused can now in general be said to be in place, even before the revolutionary courts. Defendants have a constitutional right to be represented by a lawyer at all court hearings and facilities are provided for this.” The report quotes Copithorne’s report stating that “the Iranian authorities have applied to the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights/Center for Human Rights and the Criminal Justice Branch at the UN for technical assistance in training magistrates and in improving the prison system.” “In a very large number of cases heard by the revolutionary courts, appeals are in fact lodged. However, only a small percentage result in the initial judgment being overturned.” The Amnesty International Report 1997: Iran, states: As in previous years, political trials fell far short of international fair trial standards (see previous Amnesty International Reports). Trial hearings were often held in camera and, despite official assurances to the contrary, detainees were still reportedly often denied access to legal counsel. “Extortion of confessions is not permitted by law; confessions are legally valid only if made in court.”
The MFA report clearly contradicts itself by stating, in contrast to one of its sources, Amnesty International, that the judicial process has improved. Amnesty International Report 1997: Iran also states: “Thousands of political prisoners were held during the year, including prisoners of conscience. Some were held without charge or trial; others were serving long prison sentences after unfair trials. There were continuing reports of torture and ill treatment.”
In its May 1995 publication, Iran: Official Secrecy Hides Continuing Repression, AI reported: There were continuing reports of political arrests, torture, unfair trials and summary executions. Among the thousands of political prisoners held during the year were prisoners of conscience: some were detained without charge or trial, others were serving long prison sentences imposed after unfair trials. There were continuing reports that prisoners were tortured or ill-treated to extract confessions or statements to be used as evidence at trials.
The February 1995 U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 1994 states: “Defendants tried in revolutionary courts are not granted fair trials. These defendants are often held in prolonged pretrial detention without access to attorneys… Defendants are often indicted for such vague offenses as ‘moral corruption,’ ‘anti-revolutionary behavior,’ and ‘siding with global arrogance.’ Summary trials of five minutes are common and some trials are conducted in secret. Others are show trials intended to highlight a coerced public confession.
“The imposition of the death penalty for endangering the security of the Islamic Republic is possible in a limited number of cases in which the culprit is regarded as a mohareb (an enemy of God).
The 1997 U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996: Iran, states: Exiles and human rights monitors report that many of those executed for alleged criminal offenses, primarily narcotics charges, were actually political dissidents. In addition a November 1995 law criminalized dissent and applied the death penalty to offenses such as attempts against the security of the State, outrage against high-ranking Iranian officials, and insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini, and against the Leader of the Islamic Republic.
“As almost everywhere in the third world, facilities in Iranian prisons do not come up to western standards. Hygiene conditions can on the whole nevertheless be described as reasonable.” The footnote to this section adds that “the UN Special Representative for human rights sums up his talks with a number of prisoners from Evin prison as follows: ‘The prisoners stated that the situation in Evin and the treatment of prisoners had improved somewhat over the past two years. Food was in general terms good, although insufficient in proteins and calories. The prisoners could buy additional food. Medical care was, in general terms, also adequate. The prison had a central library and the relatives could provide the prisoners with books, although they must be approved by prison authorities and were restricted in the range of subjects. They also stated they could have family visits once a week.’ A footnote adds that “see, however, the belief of, among others, Amnesty International (Iran: official secrecy hides continuing repression) that political opponents are too often prosecuted on charges of ordinary criminal offenses e.g. drug smuggling. The UN Special Representative for human rights ‘has reason to believe that too often critics of the status quo are denounced and in some cases imprisoned under charges of common criminal conduct or of disloyalty to Islam or the State… Inquiries cannot come up with any definite answer as to the truth of this belief.’ ” The report adds that “Moreover, it is impossible to rule out the possibility that, for instance, MKO [Mujahedin-e-Khalq] members also in fact engage in drug smuggling.” “How many political prisoners are (still) being held is unclear.” The footnote adds that the “UN Special Representative for human rights notes that ‘There are widespread allegations that there remain at least some prisoners of conscience in Iranian jails.’ ”
The report portrays the conditions of the regime’s prisons, which have elicited global notoriety, as part of “third world” realities. The Mujahedin-e-Khalq is portrayed as the sole opposition group in Iran. The report reduces political opponents to criminals, erases widely documented political trials, and turns prisoners of conscience into mere allegations.
According to Amnesty International’s Violations of Human Rights 1987-1990, ” beatings, floggings and prolonged suspension by the wrists with one arm forced behind the back and the other over the shoulder so that the wrists meet behind the back are frequently reported types of torture. The suspension torture causes intense pain.” Tens of thousands of political opponents have been executed by the Islamic regime. Almost all political executions take place covertly so precise figures are unknown. Amnesty International has received reports of scores of secret political executions at Evin Prison in Tehran. For political prisoners in Iran, arbitrary sentences and uncertainty are constant pressures as they have no way of knowing when and if they will be released or executed.
“The human rights situation in Iran continues to give cause for concern…As the regime has consolidated its position, such human rights violations have gradually decreased. As far as is known, there have not in recent times been any political trials.”
Human rights violations in Iran have not decreased. It is obvious that almost two decades of systematic suppression have changed the nature of political activity. Yet human desires for a better life can never be stifled and people in Iran continue to protest and oppose the regime in different ways. Continued opposition to the regime is visible despite extensive government censorship.
The U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996 states: “The Government’s human rights record remains very poor. There was no evidence of human rights improvement during the year. Systematic abuses include extrajudicial killings and summary executions; disappearances; widespread use of torture and other degrading treatment; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of fair trials; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; and restriction of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement. The government represses political dissidents and the ruling clerics effectively control the electoral process, thereby denying citizens the right to change their government.”
The 1997 U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Profile of Asylum Claims and Country Conditions states: “The Islamic regime’s human rights record continues to be abysmal… Religious minorities are especially vulnerable to the regime’s intolerance and to instances of harassment and attacks from Shi’a extremist elements. The Islamic regime, in addition to infringing on citizens’ right to privacy, denies the universality of human rights, conceals its abuses of human rights, and obstructs the activities of human rights monitors. Women are victims of domestic violence as well as legal and social discrimination, and important worker rights are restricted.”
“In 1996 at least 50 death sentences were carried out, 15 of them in public. At least one person was stoned to death. The first eight months of 1996 saw 66 executions. The death penalty was also carried out by means of public hangings in 1996… In addition to the cases mentioned in 1.7.4. above, the death penalty may also be imposed for various other offenses, including the spreading of corruption on earth (mofsed), murder, armed robbery, abduction, rape, adultery or incest, sexual intercourse obtained by a non-Muslim man and a Muslim woman, sodomy, drug smuggling and the use of arms to spread fear or alarm among the people or deprive them of their freedom or security.”
The death penalty is inhumane under any circumstances. However, by mentioning the death penalty as the penalty for criminal activities or criminalizing human behaviors (e.g. voluntary sexual relations or homosexuality), the Dutch government excuses executions in Iran as a “war on crime” rather than violent repression of opponents.
The Amnesty International Annual Report 1997 states: “There was a significant rise in the number of executions reported during the year. At least 110 people were executed, some in public, more than twice as many as reported in 1995. As in previous years, the real number of executions was believed to be considerably higher than was publicly reported.”
The August 13, 1996 Iran: Amnesty International Appeals Against Further Executions and Amputations states: “The worldwide human rights organization has recorded up to 70 executions so far in 1996; there were about 50 recorded throughout 1995. The true figure may be much higher, as the organization believes many executions which are carried out are never reported. Of these, about 20 per cent have been of political prisoners, convicted on charges such as membership of, and activities on behalf of, opposition groups and espionage. Amnesty International is concerned that many, if not most, of these trials were unfair.”
“As at least four witnesses are required in order to prosecute for adultery, there are not in practice any actual prosecutions brought. We are not aware of any cases of stoning to death for adultery.”
Article 76 of the Islamic penal code states that the testimony of women alone shall not prove adultery but it shall constitute false accusation which is a punishable act. Under Article 82, death by stoning is the punishment for a married person accused of adultery. Under Article 88, the punishment for an unmarried person is one hundred lashes. According to Amnesty International, Article 119 of the penal code states that: “In the punishment of stoning to death, the stones should not be too large so that the person dies on being hit by one or two of them; they should not be so small either that they could not be defined as stones.” This makes clear that the purpose of stoning is the infliction of grievous pain leading to death.
Statistics on death by stoning are obviously difficult to obtain. During the first five years of the Khomeini regime, the government proclaimed that 500-600 women were put to death by stoning. According to Amnesty International, as recently as August 11, 1997, a woman in the town of Bukan survived a stoning when she reportedly began to breathe again at the morgue after doctors had confirmed her as dead. On July 14 1995, Amnesty International reported of two women sentenced to death by stoning in Ilam Gharb. Human Rights Watch World Report 1995 reports two cases of women stoned to death. In Iran: Women Prisoners of Conscience, Amnesty International reports that at least 24 of the more than 40 people reportedly stoned to death in Iran were women.
“The Islamic penal code also makes provisions for corporal punishment. This mainly involves flogging and amputation. Under Sharia law, there are 27 conditions to be fulfilled before such punishment can be imposed. In particular crimes are required to have been committed by repeat offenders and to be directed against the poor.”
The MFA report repeatedly refers to laws and principles rather than the regime’s actual practices and actions.
“There are reliable reports that torture is still practiced by the security forces. Detainees and prisoners risk being subjected to torture, despite the fact this is prohibited by Article 38 of the constitution.”
Amnesty International Report 1997: Iran states: Reports of torture or ill-treatment of prisoners and detainees continued to be received. Methods were said to include beatings; burning; prolonged enforced standing; detention in confined spaces; suspension, sometimes from a rotating ceiling fan; exposure to severe cold; shackling the arms in painful positions; and prolonged sleep deprivation.
“..Intellectuals suspected by the regime of disloyalty, including independent writers and journalists, have found themselves under increasing pressure… the press can nevertheless be said to be reasonably pluralist… Criticism is accepted to some extent provided it does not give rise to any doubt as to loyalty to the principles of the Islamic revolution.”
According to Human Rights Watch, Guardians of Thought: Limits on Freedom of Expression in Iran, “expression that poses a serious threat to the supremacy of the prevailing system — by reaching large or crucial segments of society or by propagating alternate systems of thought and governance — is not tolerated. On such matters, the government speaks with a single voice and decisively.”
“[Strict compliance with Islamic values] … involves discrimination against religious minorities. The position of Baha’is is cause for concern… Iran allows freedom of witness for the three officially recognized religious minorities: Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. For some while, though, pressure has been mounting on Christian communities and individuals suspected of proselytizing. There are reports of prosecution, threatening and intimidation of people actively converting Muslims. Apostasy from Islam is punishable by death under Sharia law. However, the penal code does not include any penal provision on this point. Nor are there any known cases of the death penalty actually being imposed on that count. In practice, though, Muslims who have converted to Christianity and who openly display their religious beliefs can expect to face serious repression. Reports have been received of members of the Baha’i faith being detained for and convicted of apostasy, sometimes together with other charges. There is said to be twelve Baha’is currently in prison for this.”
The U.S. Committee for Refugees, World Refugee Survey 1996 states: “Since the Islamic revolution in 1979 the Iranian government has dealt harshly with real or potential political opposition. Torture and imprisonment are commonly used; thousands have been executed. Targeted groups include.. religious minorities.
According to Human Rights Watch September 1997 Report Iran Religious and Ethnic Minorities, at least three persons have been executed for proselytizing.
“As the Special Representative for human rights states: “While the legal and practical disabilities faced by women in Iran have been well documented, it is now clear that some change has been effected in recent years and that there are a number of signs that further and substantive improvements may be on the way.”
The U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 1996 states, “Discrimination against women has increased since the revolution. It is difficult for many women, particularly outside large cities to obtain any legal redress.” In Iran: The Subjection of Women, the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group documents the status of women as “third class” citizens and establishes state accountability through discriminatory laws and direct action.
“Women have played an important role in the revolution and can derive considerable self-confidence from this.”
The subjection of women has been paraded as the public endorsement and evidence of the continuing supremacy of Islamic law. Though women’s participation was great in the anti-Shah movement, women came out in mass demonstrations against imposition of the veil and Islamic law in 1979- 1980. (Human Rights Briefs: Women in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board)
“The presence of women is more visible on the streets and at places of entertainment than in surrounding Islamic countries. ”
Whether there are more or less women in public spaces in other countries is irrelevant in determining the status of women in Iran. Women are segregated in public transportation, government building entrances, hospitals, classrooms, public sports activities (including bicycle riding), beaches, etc. Human Rights Watch World Report 1995 reports that women riding motorcycles with men were condemned by the Minister of Interior as being un-Islamic. The same report states that in Tabriz, hundreds of demonstrators were arrested and some were killed in protests after the militia attacked young women who had mixed with men at the end of a soccer match. Additionally, police issued a statement condemning women’s smiles as arousing corruption in men.
“While the dress code is mandatory, there are hardly any women voluntarily covering their face with a veil or wearing the traditional burqah to be seen on the streets in Iran, unlike Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia. In cities such as Tehran and Isfahan, visibly displaying part of the hair is in practice tolerated.”
That women do not voluntarily cover their faces indicates their choice. By visibly displaying a part of their hair, women in Iran bravely demonstrate their opposition to the imposed dress code, despite harsh penalties for doing so.
“For instance, the number of women in education has increased considerably since the early years of the revolution.”
The UN Commission on Human Rights reported on Feb. 5 1993 (14 years after the revolution) that “strict segregation of teachers and students has resulted in the closure of many schools for girls, especially in rural areas…more than 40,000 women elementary and high school teachers were fired by the government between 1980-1985.” The Commission also voiced concern over reports indicating that 89% of rural Iranian women are illiterate. Certain fields of study are closed to women on grounds that they are emotionally and physically weak. Single women faculty members, students and researchers are not allowed to travel abroad.
“According to information from the Iranian authorities, 342 women hold senior executive positions in the government sector and an estimated 300 women positions within the judiciary, including as examining magistrates and judges in family-law matters.”
According to the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 1996, “The government permitted women to attain the rank of judges, but does not permit female judges to preside over legal hearings.”
“There are also at present, 13 women members of parliament and one woman minister. The first lady mayor was recently appointed too, and 185 of the 2,661 lawyers practicing in Iran and 18% of journalists are women. There is at present a political debate going on, sparked off by President Rafsanjani’s daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, regarding women’s eligibility for the Presidency. Iran has a number of organizations for women, most of them governmental, including the Cultural and Social Council of Women.”
The presence of women representatives per se cannot be judged as evidence of changes in the regime’s attitudes towards women. It is misrepresenting to conclude that the mere existence of these women indicates progress, without reference to their effect on the situation of women, their political position or their relationships to top male officials. For example, Malaikeh Yazdy, daughter of the head of the judicial system and representative of the Justice Department in the Office of Female Affairs said in an interview in 1992, “If women look at life from the emotional point of view rather than from a legal point of view, none of the legal weaknesses will apply to their cases…it is to the advantage of women that law has given men the exclusive right to divorce. If women had such a right, since they are highly emotional, they would have demanded a divorce with a slight disagreement.” (Zan-e Rouz, No.1415, July 3, 1993) Regarding women presidents, under the constitution, ultimate power rests with the spiritual leader rather than the president. The presence of governmental women’s organizations such as the “Women’s Affairs Commission” or the “Women’s Affairs Bureau” or a handful of token women in the parliament clearly do not indicate improvements in the status of women in Iran.
“In family-law matters, particularly in contracting marriages, the practice is not so much to apply the Civil
Code provisions as rather to follow those of the (officially repealed) Family Protection Act and agree on terms of marriage by means of notarial deeds. With the authorities’ support, volunteer schemes are currently being run in the countryside to inform women of their rights, particularly as regards matrimonial legislation, the right to work and the right to travel freely. ”
The Family Protection Act, introduced in 1967 and repealed by the Islamic regime, gave women limited protection against unilateral divorce, polygyny and temporary marriage. Men, who can have up to four “permanent” wives, in practice may now divorce any of them at will. Temporary marriage, illegal for more than fifty years, was legalized by the Islamic regime. Men can now have an unlimited number of temporary wives, in marriages which may last several hours to 99 years. According to Article 1105 of the Civil Code, the husband is the head and manager of the household. Extensions of this law are that married women must have the written permission of their husbands to get a job or leave the country.
“As Sharia law places women at a disadvantage to men in matters of marriage and divorce, before getting married, women often have a number of points placed on record by a notary in order to strengthen their hand. While such stipulations are not allowed to conflict with applicable Islamic law, this
does mean that women are able to improve their position substantially in a number of respects.”
To be granted a divorce, women must prove the marriage violates one of twelve grounds. Women can only benefit from any conditions included in the marriage contract if they prove that they did not neglect any wifely duties, such as leaving the husband’s home without his permission or other disobedience. Furthermore, if they leave the husband’s home, they are no longer entitled to economic support from the husbands. In practice, families are hesitant to set preconditions prior to marriage since they fear that they may endanger a daughter’s marriageability. Furthermore, formal marriage negotiations are often carried out by the father of the bride, leaving little opportunity for intervention. In practice, it is nearly impossible for a woman to get a divorce without her husband’s permission.
“Divorces are also common in Iran. The ex-husband is required to continue to make provision for the maintenance of his ex-wife.”
Arbitrary divorce as the exclusive right of men has caused the divorce rate to increase dramatically. Should a wife leave her husband’s home due to physical abuse, she is likely to be denied economic rights if they are divorced. Physical abuse must result in permanent injury for it to be grounds for divorce. Courts frequently order abused women to return to their husband’s home (Shifting Boundaries in Marriage and Divorce in Muslim Communities, Women Living Under Muslim Law (WLUML), Vol. 1, Fall 1996).
“This system [of child custody] stems from Sharia law and is applicable in most Islamic countries.”
Although the regime emphasizes women’s role as mother, fathers and paternal grandfathers have exclusive right to child custody. The mother loses minimal right to custody (boys under the age of two and girls under seven) as soon as she remarries. Many women remain in abusive marriages because they fear losing their children.
“They (marriages to young girls) are regarded by the Islamic authorities as un-Islamic. In particular, the imposed nature of such marriages for girls is fundamentally rejected.”
The legal age for girls to marry was reduced by the Islamic regime from 18 to 15 and later further reduced to 9 under Article 1210 of the Civil Code, passed by parliament in 1982. A father or grandfather may decide to marry the child at any age. Girls, much more than boys, are subject to forced marriages. The state’s encouragement of early marriage led to a rapid increase in population and more recent campaigns promoting smaller families and delayed childbearing (WLUML, 1996).
“Under Article 638 of the Islamic Penal Code, a woman who appears in public failing to observe the dress code is punishable by imprisonment from 10 days to 2 months or a fine…Other penalties such as flogging are not referred to in that Article.”
According to the UN Commission on Human Rights (Feb. 2 1994), on June 24, 1993, over 800 “inadequately covered” women were arrested and sentenced to flogging. According to Human Rights Watch World Report 1997, “Restrictions on personal liberty have had a harsh impact on women. In November 1995, the security forces announced that they has detained 86,000 suspects in the previous 12 months. Most of them were thought to have been women detained for violating the dress code….”
“Homosexual behavior is prohibited in Iran. It carried the death penalty. As the burden of proof is considerable, at least four witnesses being required in order to prosecute, hardly any convictions for committing homosexual acts are in practice obtained. There is no active policy of prosecution.”
According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Asylum Project’s Iran Country Packet (with reference to the Penal Codes of the Islamic Republic of Iran Articles 114, 117 and 120), “there are three ways of proving sodomy under Islamic law – the accused can confess; four eye witnesses can declare they saw the accused engaged in homosexual acts, or; a judge can decide on his own knowledge of homosexual matters.”
Obtaining confessions through torture and finding the necessary witnesses when expedient are methods used by the Islamic regime to obtain a conviction.
“It is virtually impossible for people wanted by the Iranian authorities to leave the country by that route under their own identity on a lawfully obtained passport, with or without the use of bribery.”
Political activists in Iran do not use their actual names. When an activist is arrested, s/he may not have biographical information on a co-activist that can lead to the latter’s immediate arrest. A political prisoner will often try to buy time in order to provide her/his co-activist with an opportunity to escape the country legally.
“The Iranian authorities have stated on various occasions that all Iranians having left the country who have been involved in terrorist activities are free to return. Many Iranians living abroad who do not (or no longer) hold a valid national passport travel to Iran voluntarily, without any difficulty, on a laissez-passer issued by the Iranian representation abroad. Applying for asylum in another country is not regarded by the Iranian authorities as a political act and is not in itself a punishable offense. The authorities take the view that the vast majority of Iranian asylum seekers are trying to get away from the difficult economic and social situation. Since the last official report was issued, on 1 May 1996, a few dozen Iranian have been expelled to Iran, with their arrival at the airport in all cases being monitored by the Netherlands embassy. In most cases they were also subsequently visited at their home address (about three days after their arrival). None of the expelled Iranians experienced any difficulties with the authorities after repatriation on account of their stay in the Netherlands and having applied for asylum. Shortly after being admitted at the airport, one expelled Iranian was detained by the Iranian police for a few days. According to the person concerned, he was arrested in connection with an investigation into organized illegal migration, with the false visa in his passport prompting inquiries to be made. There were no problems during the identity check and, on his own admission, he was well-treated. He did, however, report having been maltreated at his first interrogation during the subsequent detention, said to have lasted for about ten days. After that he had no difficulties with the Iranian authorities. “Iranians entering on a laissez-passer may be detained for a few hours to one or two days in order to establish their identity…. Inquiries were made of a number of western countries regarding the policy on expulsion of finally rejected Iranian asylum seekers…None of these countries follows an en bloc approach barring expulsion of particular groups as a matter of policy or on account of judicial impediments. There is no reason to believe that the many Iranians who have returned to their country of origin from abroad have experienced any serious difficulties with the Iranian authorities.”
It is well known that the Islamic Republic of Iran has arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and killed Iranians who were forcibly returned to Iran if they had unlawfully departed from the Islamic Republic of Iran, had stayed abroad without authorization, and/or had applied for asylum in another country.
Applying for asylum is considered a political act by the Iranian regime. There have been reports that persons deported have been imprisoned and executed. The repressive conditions in the Islamic Republic of Iran make it extremely difficult to verify the fate of those forcibly returned. Many times, only those able to return to a first country of asylum after deportation can verify the persecution faced by those deported back to Iran. IFIRIC knows of several such cases who have faced imprisonment and torture upon being forcibly returned to Iran.
The fact that the Embassy of the Netherlands inquired after those deported three days after their forcible return is irrelevant. The Islamic regime has controlled individuals for years. Political prisoners who are released must often sign-in weekly with security forces for several years. According to Amnesty International, released political prisoners are subject to physical restrictions and those who fail to present themselves when summoned risk their own or their relatives’ detention (Iran: Imprisonment, torture and executions of political opponents, 1992). Even after they are released, former political prisoners are discriminated against, denied the most basic social and political rights and fear being re-arrested. At any time that the regime deems necessary, released political prisoners or deported asylum seekers can be used as scapegoats to maintain an environment of fear.
“The situation in Iran has stabilized since the early years of the Islamic revolution. The regime has consolidated its position; repression has in general declined… There remain, however, identifiable classes of cases and particular circumstances in which Iranians are personally in danger of persecution… There is no let-up in the policy of repression directed against those considered to be counter-revolutionary, there is increasing pressure on independent writers and journalists suspected of disloyalty to the regime, and repression of religious minorities, in particular those engaging in proselytization, seems to be on the increase rather than declining. In spite of improvements, judicial process still falls short of international standards; despite the letter of the law, confessions are extracted under duress and court hearings held without the required presence of a lawyer. In view of the general situation in Iran, repatriation of Iranian asylum seekers not eligible for admission either as a refugee on such grounds or for humanitarian reasons cannot on the face of it be regarded as unreasonable. In this connection, I would expressly refer again to the position of draft evaders and deserters, even from the Iran-Iraq war. While punishable by law, they are also covered by an amnesty. In practice too, there is a buying out option, which is apparently being taken up.”
Though the Dutch government has not invoked the safe country of origin principle regarding Iran, in effect, the MFA’s report concludes that the Islamic regime has met the criteria for this designation. The criteria adopted by the Council of Ministers responsible for immigration on countries in which there is generally no serious risk of persecution (SN 4821/92 WGI 1281 AS 145) include: observance of human rights (considering formal obligations a country has undertaken in adhering to international human rights instruments and in its domestic law and also how in practice it meets these obligations); democratic institutions (including democratic processes, elections, political pluralism and freedom of expression and thought); and, stability. Iran clearly does not meet these criteria. The political implications of this report are clear – it validates and legitimizes the Islamic Republic of Iran at the expense of those fleeing persecution.
IFIRIC declares its opposition to the Dutch government’s violations of Iranian refugee rights and demands that the Dutch government cease the deportation of Iranian asylum seekers; re-instate the ban of deportations to Iran; cancel the report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that effectively deems Iran a safe country to return asylum seekers; re-investigate the casefiles of all asylum seekers who have received deportation writs; and, recognize the right to asylum.
Undoubtedly, a similar situation in the Netherlands would be intolerable. The report is a clear example of how cultural relativism can be used to misrepresent a system of violent human rights abuses. By focusing on the public image “improvements” made by the regime, the Dutch government judges human rights by Islamic standards. Such rampant racism denies those living in Iran their humanity and ignores international standards. The regime uses the same approach stating that “western countries and human rights organizations cannot use their own…norms to evaluate all nations without considering their cultures, values, and intellectual foundations” (January 9, 1997 Reuters). Rather than portray the situation in Iran, the MFA report reveals the extent to which the Dutch government is willing to cooperate with the Islamic regime to promote their mutual interests.
To lend credence to the notion that real advances are possible under the rule of the Islamic regime is antithetical to human rights or to be ignorant of Islamic law. Anything short of the condemnation of the Islamic Republic of Iran amounts to condoning a state-sponsored system in which persecution and discrimination is legalized, institutionalized and brutally enforced.