Expedition and Desedimentation of Judicial Cases: A Concerning Precedent
Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC) is concerned by comments made in early 2022 by high-ranking officials, which it is feared indicate an effort to step up executions as part of a drive to reduce prisoner population. Iran’s broad and punitive criminal law and systemic failures of due process has contributed to a crisis of overcrowding in the country’s prisons. Similar official directives, which highlighted a need to “desedimentize” a backlog of cases and unimplemented sentences in 2007/2008, preceded an enormous spike in executions. This pronounced increase in the use of the death penalty exacerbated the anxiety and anguish of prisoners, under sentence of death and otherwise.
At a January 8, 2022 meeting of personnel from all over the country, Prisons Organization head Gholam Ali Mohammadi cited an “extraordinary upward rate of growth in prison population” in recent years which has produced a situation which “is not compatible with the nominal capacity of prisons.” Mohammadi stated that “Reducing the criminal population is an objective of the Supreme Leader of the Revolution and a concern of the head of the Judiciary, a portion of which rests with the judiciary, the Prisons Organization, and other powers, because a reduction in the criminal population has been approved by the the Expediency Discernment Council.” Troublingly, Mohammadi valorized the judiciary’s performance in the 1980s in particular, a time of marked, grave, widespread violations of the rights to life and fair trial: “In the years following the Islamic Revolution, on every issue which we had the will and resolve for, we saw great actions carried out in the country. In the new period of management of the Prisons Organization, too, with attention to the many emphases of government advisors, we shall focus on reducing the prison population and take certain more serious measures.”
Judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, at a session of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary held at the beginning of the Persian year (March 28, 2022), laid out 15 priorities for the new year. These included “shortening the time it takes to investigate cases,” “reducing the criminal population and the number of prisoners,” and “timely implementation of judicial verdicts,” along with “providing grounds which will result in judicial staff rendering more desirable legal services to people,” “the total implementation of the Judicial Evolution Document and its improvement,” “reducing the entry of cases into the judicial system with legislation and legal reform, and carrying out preventative actions and education around certain issues,” “consolidating judicial branch affairs in all areas, including in the issuance of verdicts and organizational and administrative processes,” and “strengthening collaboration between various people-lead groups in mutual reform and engendering peace and reconciliation in judicial cases,” among others.
Such comments have a concerning precedent. In the Persian year 1386 (2007/2008), then-Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Shahroudi issued a circular asking judicial officials to “desedimentize” plan concerning cases which had been open at least six months, for the purpose of resolving a backlog of cases. It prescribed “special supervision of [and attention to] the judicial process by judges as well as expedited adjudication, within the confines of the Rules of Criminal Procedure.”
Though the exact content of this directive remains unclear, multiple judicial officials at several levels referred to it in the years that followed. In January 2009, the Head of the East Azerbaijan Province Judiciary announced that, in the prior months of that Persian year (beginning in March of 2008), 34,889 pending and inactive cases had been adjudicated and closed (of 297,977 total cases). 13,817 of these had been sent in line with the desedimentation plan to family, civil, criminal and revolutionary courts (the latter two of which handle capital cases).
Despite these efforts, by 2013, a considerable backlog remained. Dr. Gholamali Seqi, Deputy Chief of the Judiciary for Organization and Methods Improvement, said in November of that year that “Nearly one million [criminal] cases across the country had just been sitting there at the Sentence Implementation [Section]” – the authority to which finalized sentences are referred to be carried out. To speed implementation, the Judiciary Chief issued Guidelines Regulating Implementation of Criminal Sentences.
The desedimentation process continued in the fall of 2014. The Head of the East Azerbaijan Judiciary said in August that in the first six months of that Persian year (March - August 2014), 17,793 cases pending from past years were adjudicated.
In the years following Shahroudi’s order and the subsequent Guidelines, executions in Iran spiked dramatically, according to reports collected by Abdorrahman Boroumand Center. In 2008, at least 409 people were put to death; by 2010 this number had risen to 798, before reaching a 2015 peak of 1,054.
Comments from judicial officials illuminate the connection between the drive to expedite cases and the use of the death penalty. On October 23, 2012 the Head of Qazvin Revolutionary Courts, Hojatoleslam Ali Zamani, stated that in the first six months of the year (March-October 2012) 3,202 drug cases were reviewed and closed in the Province. The average duration of prosecution for these was two months. On the same day, the Deputy Revolutionary Prosecutor of Qazvin noted that in just a year and a half, (2011-2012) the number of drug related executions in Qazvin has been higher than the 1990s and 2000s combined. Reports collected by ABC confirm that executions for drug-related offenses were behind the overall spike: they rose from a low of 144 in 2008 to 678 in 2015, averaging 426 a year in this period.
Prisoners interviewed by ABC have spoken of acute anguish and despair among all prisoners in the face of this rise in executions. On August 17, 2014, prisoners at Qezelhesar Prison - the majority on death row themselves - rioted after 14 people were transferred to their unit for capital sentence implementation, demanding the commutation of their sentences. At least ten were killed or wounded in the ensuing crackdown after prison security forces used firearms.
 Dadiran, Website of the Iranian Judiciary, April 27, 2008
 Iranian Students News Agency, Tabriz Bureau, January 13, 2009
 Conflict Resolution Council of Esfahan Province, November 23, 2013
 Dadiran, Website of the Iranian Judiciary, August 10, 2014
Conflict Resolution Council of Esfahan Province, November 23, 2013 (http://www.shoraes.ir/Default.aspx?tabid=115&articleType=ArticleView&articleId=206579)
According to a report published by Esfahan Province’s Conflict Resolution Councils’ [Office of] Public Relations, quoted in Ma’va Newspaper, the Deputy Chief of the Judiciary for Organization and Methods Improvement talked of the codification of the Management Personnel Buildup Plan in the Judiciary, and of the Guidelines for Specializing Adjudication of Cases.
In a meeting of local provincial judiciaries’ Deputy Chiefs for Planning, Dr. Gholamali Sedqi stated that the Judiciary Branch is generally organized into three sectors: First, there are the deputyships, the centers, the Chief of the Judiciary’s Office, the Judiciary Spokesman’s Office, and the advisers; second, there is the country’s judicial system; and third, there are organizations affiliated with [and connected to] the Judiciary Branch.
Emphasizing that the judicial system is the most important sector of the Judiciary pursuant to the Constitution, this Justice on the Supreme Court added: “The judicial system includes the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the High Court for Judges’ Competence, Judges’ Disciplinary High Court and Prosecutor’s Office, Court of Administrative Justice, the Judicial Organization of the Armed Forces, and the province judiciaries.
He described the State Organization for Documents and Properties Registration, the State General Inspection Organization, the Organization for Prisons and Security and Rehabilitative Actions, the Medical Examiner Organization, the Official Newspaper, and the Judicial Sciences University, as the affiliated organizations constituting the third sector of the Judiciary.
Explaining that the Judiciary’s deputyships make up the first sector and the core of the Branch, the Deputy Chief of the Judiciary for Organization and Methods Improvement emphasized: “The First Deputyship performs different functions such as judicial personnel [management], province follow-ups, and the selection of judges.
Describing the organization and the duties of the Judiciary’s deputyships, Sedqi said: “The Judiciary’s Deputyship for Strategy is comprised of one center and three deputyships, responsible for planning, budget, organization, and methods improvement. The Deputyship for Organization and Methods Improvement includes the General Administration for Organization and Employment Classification, and the General Organization for the Improvement of Methods and Procedures.
The Deputy Chief of the Judiciary for Organization and Methods Improvement noted: The Bureau of Statistics and Information Technology, the Judicial Education and Research Institute in Qom, the Information and Protection Center, the Human Rights High Council Secretariat, and the Center for Conflict Resolution Councils, constitute the organizational nerve center of the Judiciary Branch.
Alluding to the Guidelines for Specializing the [different] Branches [of general courts], Sedqi stated: “Making courts specialized is [in line with] and stressed by the Supreme Leader’s general policies and the Judiciary Branch’s 5-year Judicial Development Plan. Courts must, therefore, become specialized. Pursuant to the Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts, Article 4, upon a proposal by the head of the judiciary for a particular province, and based on case statistics, the Deputyship for Strategy approves the establishment of specialized branches. A Guideline has been prepared for that purpose and is awaiting final approval.
He described the other program as dealing with reforming administrative organization by utilizing information technology, with the objective of doing away with unnecessary complications and bringing it up to date with current needs, and added: “Revising and reforming the organization of central judicial units such as the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Court of Administrative Justice, Judges’ Disciplinary High Court and Prosecutor’s Office, is on the agenda here.”
Sedqi said: “Codification of the plan to standardize and apportion the [number and quality of] administrative and judicial employees with various indexes such as population, crime rates, geographical regions, etc., is one of our other programs.”
He further talked about judicial positions and admitted: “One of the existing problems is that, Majless (Iranian parliament) representatives continually correspond with [Provincial] heads of judiciary to ask them to establish courts in various districts; in our opinion, this is not a correct path to take, since it has not been subjected to [expert] study. This has created major problems for the judicial system because the longest adjudication times lie within the district courts and people’s largest number of grievances is in that sector.
Sedqi further stated: “An index had to be put in place in order to improve efficiency of methods and procedures in various jurisdictions experiencing a high volume of cases. Last year, therefore, the Efficiency Guidelines were ratified, resulting in a decrease in case load. Of course the Guidelines will eventually need to be revised as well. Also, the efficiency guidelines for central judicial units are being finalized.”
Alluding to the implementation of criminal sentences, he stated: “Nearly one million cases across the country had just been sitting there at the Sentence Implementation [Section]. The Guidelines Regulating Implementation of Criminal Sentences was drafted and approved by the Head of the Judiciary Branch. Follow-up of the implementation of these guidelines is one of the provincial Planning Deputyships’ most important tasks.”
Noting the Guidelines for Non-Incarceration and Decrease of the [Prisons’] Criminal Population, the Deputy Chief of the Judiciary for Organization and Methods Improvement said: “Reduction of the criminal population was one of the Supreme Leader’s stated policies. [Therefore], a set of guidelines entitled Guidelines for Non-Incarceration and Decrease of the [Prisons’] Criminal Population was drafted and approved by the Head of the Judiciary Branch and is currently being implemented, resulting in major changes.
Dadiran, Website of the Iranian Judiciary, April 27, 2008. (http://dadiran.ir/Default.aspx?tabid=2351&articleType=ArticleView&articleId=26246)
Hojjatol-Islam-val-Moslemin Hassan Shariati said: “Determining a specific time for adjudicating new cases prevents prolonged adjudications and case inactivity in courts.”
According to the Judiciary Branch’s General Administration for Public Relations and News Transmission correspondent, Shariati, the head of Khorasan Razavi Province Judiciary, said: “In the year 1386 (2007-2008), Ayatollah Hashemi Shahrudi [then-Head of the Judiciary Branch] issued a directive concerning adjudication of cases more than six month old (cases where six months had lapsed since the initial opening of a file in a judicial unit), prescribing special supervision of [and attention to] the judicial process by judges as well as expedited adjudication, within the confines of the Rules of Criminal Procedure.”
He added: “The Head of the Judiciary asked that judges being moved or promoted, adjudicate and close cases before such changes occur (to the extent possible), in order to prevent protracted adjudications.”
Shariati continued: “The Head of the Judiciary’s viewpoints are indicative of his special vision of shortening the adjudication process. The [Province of] Khorasan Razavi Judiciary has, therefore, taken the necessary steps for special adjudication of cases more than 6 months old, and has asked judges to adjudicate existing cases prior to any moves [and/or promotions] to the extent possible.”
Iranian Students News Agency, Tabriz Bureau, January 13, 2009 (http://tabriz.isna.ir/Default.aspx?NSID=5&SSLID=46&NID=11444)
The Head of the East Azarbaijan Province Judiciary announced: “297,997 cases, varying in type and subject matter, have been adjudicated and closed in this Province’s courts since the beginning of the year.”
According to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reporter for the East Azarbaijan region, Hojjatol-Islam Malek Ajdar Sharifi added: “During that same period, a total of 263,108 cases had been opened in the Province’s courts, which our dutiful employees were able to adjudicate and close through their tireless efforts, in addition to a number of cases [pending] from previous years.”
He continued: “Among cases closed this year, 34,889 were pending and inactive cases from previous years which were adjudicated and closed by the Province’s courts.”
He added: “This year 93,118 new cases were opened at the Province’s Prosecutor’s Offices, with a total of 94,945 closed cases, 1,827 of which were from previous years.”
He announced the total number of cases sent to the Province’s courts, comprising family, criminal, civil, and revolutionary courts, to be 96,456, and said: “The number of cases closed in these courts was 110,273; 13,817 of which were closed based on the De-sedimentation Plan.”
Alluding to the activities of 11 district court branches in East Azarbaijan, Sharifi stated: “8,803 cases were referred to these courts, which, in addition to 685 [pending] cases of De-sedimentation, a total of 9,488 cases were adjudicated and closed.”
The Head of the East Azarbaijan Province Judiciary announced the number of cases referred to the 16 branches of the Province’s Court of Appeals to be 16,202, and added: “16,922 cases were adjudicated and closed in these courts.”
Sharifi continued: “In that same period, 412 and 2,315 cases were respectively referred to the two branches of the Province Criminal Court and the Revolutionary Court Sentence Implementation [Section], 393 and 1,553 of which were closed, respectively.”
Golestan Province Ministry of Justice Office of Public Relations, November 12, 2011 (http://dadgostari-gs.ir/Default.aspx?tabid=2236&articleType=ArticleView&articleId=24620)
Regulating the Scheduling of Cases Referred to Golestan Province Courts
The Head of Golestan Province Judiciary spoke of regulating the scheduling of new cases referred to the Province’s courts.
Ahmad Fazelian asked the heads of [local] judiciary offices across the Province to regulate the scheduling of cases in accordance with the number of cases opened in each district.
He added: “Expeditious adjudication of new cases and prevention of cases becoming inactive and pending in courts, are among the objectives of implementing this plan in the Province.”
He added: “One of our problems is shortage of administrative and judicial personnel, which will be gradually resolved given the actions taken.”
Stating that the Supreme Leader has strictly emphasized [and insisted on] the expeditious implementation of court decisions and that the Head of the Judiciary has issued directives in that regard, Ahmad Fazelian said: “Through regulation, supervision, and control of serving judicial notices and training process servers, more decisions will be carried out in a shorter period.”
Noting the Head of the Judiciary’s emphasis on “non-incarceration” and reduction of prison population, the Head of Golestan Province Judiciary asked the heads of local judiciary offices of the Province to organize meetings for judges in order to explain and clarify the Judiciary Branch’s policies in this regard.
Dadiran, Website of the Iranian Judiciary, no date available (http://dadiran.ir/Default.aspx?tabid=4630&articleType=ArticleView&articleId=26677)
The Head of the East Azarbaijan Province Judiciary: Implementation of the De-sedimentation of [Pending] Cases in the Province, Starting Early This Year
According to the Judiciary Branch’s General Administration for Public Relations and News Transmission, quoting East Azarbaijan Province Judiciary’s Office of Public Relations, Sharifi said: “Through the implementation of the De-sedimentation Plan, 4,000 civil court decisions and 5,000 criminal court decisions have been implemented and [the cases] closed within just the last few months. Regarding existing cases in all tribunals, whether Prosecutor’s Offices or courts, it has been decided that employees schedule cases even after regular hours of operation, and adjudicate and issue decisions; the objective is to reduce the number of cases in each [judicial] branch - currently 600 to 700, on average - to 300 cases, as soon as possible.
He then pointed to the launching of the administrative automation system and the implementation of electronic archives in the Province’s judiciary and said: “In order to launch the administrative automation system, six information kiosks were installed and brought into operation in Tabriz’ judiciary and prosecutor’s offices headquarters, where people can obtain information concerning their cases without going to the judicial authority in charge of their case. We intend to make this system operational in all of the judicial units in the Province by year’s end.”
Concerning the electronic archives program, the head of the Province’s Judiciary noted: “There are more than 13 million cases in the [city of] Tabriz Judiciary’s records office alone. By implementing this program, these cases are scanned, and important cases (from a national archives standpoint) will be turned over to the National Archives Organization.”
Sharifi said that 360,657 cases were opened in the Province’s Judiciary in the past year and added: “There were about 184,200 cases pending from past years. Last year, 364,925 cases and 173,000 cases were adjudicated by the Province’s Judiciary and the 931 Conflict resolution Councils of [East Azarbaijan] Province, respectively.”
Dadiran, Website of the Iranian Judiciary, August 10, 2014 (http://dadiran.ir/Default.aspx?tabid=4630&articleType=ArticleView&articleId=27668)
Equipping Tabriz Judiciary and Revolutionary and General Prosecutor’s Offices with an Internet Follow-Up System
He added: “In the first six months of the current year, about 170,000 cases have been referred to the Province judiciary, 81,000 of which concern the city of Tabriz.”
The Head of the Province Judiciary explained: “With a view to implementing the Case De-sedimentation Plan, 17,793 cases pending from past years were [adjudicated] and the Province’s case load was thus reduces; this is in addition to cases opened this year.”
The Head of the Province Judiciary also spoke of the purging [and adjudication of] 250,000 cases that were closed in the current year and added: “These cases were divided into two categories: important and necessary cases, and unimportant and unnecessary cases…”
Iranian Student News Agency, October 23, 2012 (http://isna.ir/fa/news/91080201260/)
ABC Summary: Qazvin Province. Head of Qazvin Revolutionary Courts, Hojatoleslam Ali Zamani, stated that in the first 6 month of the year (March-October 2012) 3,202 drug cases were reviewed and closed in the Province. The average duration of the prosecution: 2 months.
Same day, the Deputy Revolutionary Prosecutor of Qazvin announces 3 executions of drug offenders and notes that in one and a half year (2011-2012) the number of drug related executions in Qazvin has been higher than the 1990s and 2000s combined. In the last year, he said, 100 people were sentenced to death. Among them, some sentences were not approved.