Religion Presumed Muslim
Civil status —
Occupation unspecified occupation
Affiliation Private business
Date of execution July 12, 1979
Location Qasr Prison, Tehran, Iran
Mode of execution shooting
Charges Prostitution and/or procuring
About this case
The execution of Ms. Zahra Mafiha, was reported in the Kayhan and the Jomhuri Eslami newspapers on July 12, 1979. Ms. Mafiha is also one of 438 victims listed in a March 13, 1980 Amnesty International report. The report lists defendants who were convicted by Revolutionary Tribunals in the period from their inception until 12 August 1979. The list of victims and charges is drawn from sources including translations of indictments, reports of trials carried out by local and foreign media and the bulletins of the official Pars News Agency reports.
Arrest and detention
No information is available regarding her arrest and detention.
According to Kayhan, Branch One of the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal of Tehran held “several sessions” in proceedings of Mr. Mafiha’s case and three other persons.
According to Kayhan, the court verdict stated that Ms. Mafiha and two other women were charged with “a lifetime of prostitution and corruption, trafficking of young girls and deceived and eluded women, establishment of brothels, and causing perversion of the young generation of this nation”.
The validity of the criminal charges brought against this defendant cannot be ascertained in the absence of the basic guarantees of a fair trial.
Evidence of guilt
The report of Jomhuri Eslami referred to “the defendants’ confessions” and “20-year record” of prostitution.
International human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for its systematic use of severe torture and solitary confinement to obtain confessions from detainees and have questioned the authenticity of confessions obtained under duress. In the case of political detainees, these confessions are, at times, televised. The National Television broadcasts confessions during which prisoners plead guilty to vague and false charges, repent and renounce their political beliefs, and/or implicate others. Human rights organizations have also pointed to the pattern of retracted confessions by those prisoners who are freed.
No information is available regarding the defense.
The Revolutionary Tribunal of Tehran called Ms. Mafiha a “corruptor on earth” and condemned her to death. She and three other persons were executed by firing squad in Qasr prison on July 12, 1980.
Human rights violations in this case
The legal context
Read about the courts, the judges, and the procedure.
Special courts, known as the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunals, were set up after the February 1979 revolution. Their jurisdiction encompasses a wide array of offences ranging from association with or support of the former regime, promotion of foreign influence, and enmity with the revolution to possession, use or sales of narcotic drugs, murder, and profiteering. In the 1980s, a penal court, presided over by one judge, was created to handle some of the offenses punishable by death, such as theft or adultery. These tribunals’ decisions must be confirmed by a chamber of the Supreme Judicial Council.
Prosecutors and judges are not necessarily jurists. By 1981, the judiciary was purged of judges trained in law schools. They were replaced by seminary graduates and students, as well as by political appointees (an estimated 2000 by 1989). Since by law judges are only required to have a high school diploma and must be faithful to the Islamic Republic’s tenets, new recruits often have little formal training in the law and are chosen because of their political affiliation.
The procedures of these ecclesiastical tribunals fail to meet the minimum guarantees for fair trial as established by international human rights instruments and by sha’ria (the Islamic system of law). In addition to executions ordered by revolutionary tribunals, extra-judicial executions are carried out, targeting dissidents and opposition leaders. In some cases, both inside and outside of Iran, these executions have been traced back to Iranian officials. It is, however, not known if in these particular cases trials are held in absentia.
Sources (Among others): Amnesty International, Law and Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, February 1980; Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, The Justice System of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1992; E/CN.4/1989/26 p.14; UNCHR, Resolution 1984/54 , Abolition of Torture - Iran - 1; 28 November 1984; Report on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran by the Special Representative of the Commission, Mr. Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, 28 January 1987. Amnesty International, A SHOCKED WORLD WATCHES IN DISBELIEF, VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS, 1987-1990. Memoirs of Ayatollah Khalkhali, religious judge and former head of revolutionary tribunals (2001), and Ayatollah Montazeri, dismissed successor to Ayatollah Khomeini (2001). UNCH, E/CN.4/1994/50, Final report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran prepared by the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, pursuant to Commission resolution 1993/62 of 10 March 1993 and Economic and Social Council decision 1993/273. E/CN.4/1994/50, 2 February 1994.
Detentions, interrogations, and trials: 1979-1980
Read about the conditions in which individuals were detained, tried and sentenced.
The charges upon which the accused were arraigned were often extremely broad. Defendants generally had no access to legal counsel nor to their file and the evidence against them prior to the trial.
Witnesses might be called, or the statement of persons with relevant information read into the court’s record. Accusation witnesses could come forward the day of the trial to give evidence against the accused, but in most cases, defense witnesses were not allowed in court. There was no automatic right of a defendant to cross-examine witnesses or to know the source of the evidence against him. The defendant had an opportunity to state his side of the matter and attempt to refute what was said against him, but the final decision was solely up to the discretion of the religious judge.
The judgments of the Revolutionary Courts were not subject to appeal. The convicts were generally executed within a few hours of the judgment.
Based on the available information, some or all of the following human rights may have been violated in this case:
The right to liberty and security of the person. The right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 9.1.
The right not to be punished for any crime on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time it was committed.
UDHR, Article 11.2; ICCPR, Article 15, Article 6.2.
The right not to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation.
UDHR, Article 12, ICCPR, Article 17.1.
The right to due process
Pre-trial detention rights
The right to know promptly and in detail the nature and cause of the charges against one.
UDHR, Article 9(2); ICCPR, Article 9.2 and Article 14.3.a
The right to counsel of one’s own choosing or legal aid and the right to meet with one’s attorney in confidence
ICCPR, Article 14.3.d;
Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 1 , Article 2, Article 5, Article 6, and Article 8.
The right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense case.
ICCPR, Article 14.3.b; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 8
The right not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess to guilt.
ICCPR, Article 14.3.g.
The right not to be subjected to torture and to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
UDHR, Article 5; ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1, and Article 2.
The right to a fair and public trial without undue delay.
ICCPR, Article 9.3, Article 14.1, Article 14.3.c.
The right to examine, or have examined the witnesses against one and to obtain the attendance and examination of defense witnesses under the same conditions as witnesses for the prosecution.
ICCPR, Article 14.3.e.
The inherent right to life, of which no one shall be arbitrarily deprived.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6.1; Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, Article 1.1, Article 1.2.
The right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.