Free Narges : An Islamic Defense of Universal Human Rights
Honorable Attorney General Montazeri,
Greetings to you. As you’re aware, Mrs. Narges Mohammadi, the mother of two young children, has been sentenced to a harsh and unjust punishment of ten years’ prison on charges of advocating for the Campaign for the Step-by-Step Abolition of the Death Penalty (among other condemnations.) Following the verdict, several respected Majles members addressed a letter to the head of the judiciary demanding a review of the case in defense of the wronged party.
After praising the dignity of the martyrs in your address to the Congress of the Two-Thousand Martyrs in North Khorasan, you made the following remark: “Recently, a number of representatives have penned a letter to head of the judiciary demanding support of individuals who represent the ominous side of a triangle… The individuals for whom the representatives demand support have case files lacking appropriate conditions [and are facing grave charges.] Before writing letters in support of rogue elements, representatives ought to look into the state of these cases.”
You know well that all the people, and the dear martyrs as well, have sought and still seek an Islamic Republic and form of governance. They believe in a Republic in which representatives of the Majles are at least able to speak their minds and the nation’s concerns freely and defend the individual rights of their constituents.
As General Prosecutor, in accordance with the law, you are to bear the characteristics of justice. How can you address a Muslim woman - whose concern for humanity and human rights is clear to all, who is now captive in your hands, and has not had the chance to defend herself - with titles like “ominous side of a triangle,” “rogue element,” and “having a case lacking appropriate conditions?” Is such defamation compatible with justice?
As General Prosecutor and a just Mojtahed [doctor in theology] (per Article 162 of the constitution) the Attorney General has two duties: protecting the rights of the people and overseeing the implementation of law.
We find ourselves in Muharram, the month of Hossein - Hossein who, for the sake of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” left even his hajj unfinished. Hossein did not seek war: he sought freedom for “enjoining good and forbidding evil.” He wanted both himself and others to be able to freely call out the tyranny and abuse of the Umayyads. Imam Khomeini said that “Muharram and Saffar are what have kept Islam alive.” Which practices related to Muharram keep Islam alive? Surely not chest-beating with chains and sword in memory of Imam Hossein. It is rather [the emulation of the Imam] through practices cognizant of [religious] obligations including “enjoining good and forbidding evil.”
How is it, then, that in an Islamic country such well-meaning critical opinions [i.e. advocating against the death penalty] are stifled, and those working toward them imprisoned? When they don’t have the opportunity to defend themselves and all sorts of defamation against them is permitted?
The judiciary, of which you are also a part, deems Mrs. Mohammadi a criminal and has sentenced her to bear years of incarceration because she disagrees with capital punishment. Is the justice system of the Islamic Republic aware of what a 10-to-16-year sentence means for a mother?
The sole sentence death sentence which the merciful Qoran sanctions is qesas, and even here it declares that forgiveness and mercy are better than an eye for an eye (Boqra 178.)
The Qoran commands: “We ordain that if anyone slays a human being-unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth-it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind” (Ma’idah 32.)
In light of this verse, and in light of the mistakes which may occur in the judicial process, is reducing executions not closer to virtue? The risk of executing innocents is one of the main reasons for suspending or abolishing capital punishment worldwide: in an Islamic country, we ought to be even more preoccupied with it.
Is execution really a fitting and defensible punishment for a human being with dignity? So much so that a person who disagrees with it deserves to be locked up for 10 to 16 years?
You are of course aware that 140 of 193 UN Member states have either abolished the death penalty outright (97 countries) or have suspended it in practice (35 countries,) including Islamic nations like Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.
Unfortunately, some countries have yet to believe that capital punishment not only fails to make societies safer, but in fact only meets violence with violence.
The experience of abolitionist states demonstrates that crime rates have no relation to capital punishment.
Our own officials admit that even in Iran, with so many executions, rates of crime have not only failed to decrease but have in fact jumped. According to Asghar Jahangir, head of Irans’ Prisons Organization, 46% of those who enter our prisons have criminal backgrounds. Official statistics suggest that our inmate population has swelled from 91,242 in 1991 to 228,265 in the spring of 2016. At present, 290 of every 100,000 Iranians are incarcerated, a number which grew 1.75% between 2014 and 2015 (Tasnim News Agency, October 2, 2016.)
Parviz Afshar, spokesman for Iran’s ِDrug Control Headquarters, reports that “In the Iranian year ending in the spring of 2015, the amount of morphine discovered by law enforcement was 2,700 kilograms - a decrease from the year prior. We’ve nonetheless witnessed a 30% jump in the cases of hashish and opium. Some 1,200 kilograms of synthetic stimulants were discovered the same year. Altogether, the volume of drugs discovered by law enforcement in the first half of the present Iranian year (March - August 2015) has totaled 366,000 kilograms. Of this, 69 kilograms were discovered and recorded in prison facilities alone” (Mehr News Service, December 12, 2015.)
Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of the Judiciary’s Human Rights Center, recently commented that efforts are underway to change the anti-drug law which, if confirmed by the Majles, would do away with 80% of executions.
You’re certainly informed of the fact that 70 Majles representatives have endorsed legislation which, if passed, would do away with capital punishment in drug trafficking cases.
Even within the judiciary, there are many of you who take exception to all these executions. For example: Judge Aziz Mohammadi, who has more than 40 years’ experience in Tehran Province’s Branch 71 Criminal Court (including investigations of more than four thousand homicide cases) said in an interview with Mehr News Agency: “Have all these years of slaughter and killing we’ve doled out solved the matter? We should only be applying the death penalty for cases of qesas, since we have clear divine sanction for it. For drug crimes, though, there’s no necessity. In my belief, we ought to be heading off importation and transit into the country. You see it yourself: after all these years of execution drugs have not decreased” (Mehr News Service, December 12, 2015.)
Imam Ali commands in Letter 53: “Give a portion of your time to those who depend on you, personally seeing to their affairs. Sit with them in a public meeting, humble before the God that made you. Take your soldiers, guards, and away from their places so that they may converse with you free of trouble.” If you arrange for such meetings, you will most assuredly see how many people think just the way Narges Mohammadi does and oppose the emblematic violence that is execution.
I hope that you will turn back from this crooked path as soon as possible and make amends for these violations of Mrs. Mohammadi’s rights.
Zahra Rabbani Amlashi
October 26, 2016