HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION IN IRAN
AI Index: MDE 13/09/82
Since the revolution of February 1979 amnesty International’s concerns in Iran have been executions, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, lack of fair trials and the detention of prisoners of conscience (persons imprisoned because of their political or religious beliefs or by reason of their ethnic origin, sex, colour or language, who have not used or advocated violence). Amnesty International has maintained a record of the number of executions which have been announced by the Iranian authorities and reported outside Iran. It has also published a report, Law and Human Rights in the Islamic republic of Iran (May 1980), which criticizes the procedures of the Islamic Revolutionary Courts. Although Amnesty International has from time to time published information about the ill-treatment of prisoners and about prisoners of conscience, it has been extremely difficult to document these concerns because of the fears of prisoners and their families that publicity or any other form of drawing attention to the treatment of individual prisoners might be harmful to them or bring about the arrest of relatives. These fears are shared by Iranians who have been able to leave the country illegally, but have relatives still in Iran. For this reason amnesty International has been able to refer to individual cases only when relatives have decided to accept the risks involved in publicity, or when the prisoner was dead.
Identifying prisoners of conscience amongst the thousands of people arrested for political reasons in Iran since the revolution has been very difficult because of the impediments which prevent investigation of individual cases, because of the imprecision of the charges, even when these are known, and because of the lack of fair trials which in most cases prevent Amnesty International from assessing with any accuracy the validity of the charges.
In spite of these handicaps Amnesty International has built up what it regards as a reliable body of information about all its concerns in Iran, based largely on lengthy interviews with Iranians outside Iran, many of whom have been imprisoned themselves, have avoided imprisonment by living clandestinely and then leaving Iran illegally, or who have had close relatives imprisoned and in some instances executed. The people who agreed to be interviewed by amnesty International include lawyers, academics, teachers, writers, poets, medical professionals, architects, engineers and businessmen. They come from different political groups and in some cases have been known to Amnesty International for many years, usually as a result of their opposition and imprisonment at the time of the Shah’s government. Although, for the reasons stated, it is not possible for Amnesty International to use their names or give the names of people still in Iran, the organization believes that its assessment of the situation in Iran is accurate, not least because many of the accounts of imprisonment from the time of arrest, throughout the period in prison up to release or trial and possible execution, display strong consistency.
Background to current Amnesty International concerns in Iran
The Iranian authorities have sometimes stated that the laws of Islam and of God must prevail in Iran over human rights standards arrived at by Western dominated human agencies. Most recently when addressing a meeting of the Human rights committee in Geneva on 19 July 1982, Hojatoleslam Seyyed Hadi Khosroshahi, the Iranian representative, said: “Our people have decided to remain free, independent and Islamic and not be fooled by the imperialist myth of human rights…”. However, Iran has not since the revolution formally repudiated its obligations as a State Party to the International Covenant on civil and Political Rights and indeed had sent a delegation to this meeting to present Iran’s report on its conformity to the Covenant and to answer the questions of the Human Rights Committee. Although Hojatoleslam Khosroshahi said that Iran had not suspended the basic rights and fundamental liberties envisaged in the Covenant, in the view of Amnesty International the government of Iran has violated many articles of the Covenant including:
Article 6, which states that: No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life;
Article 7, which states that: …No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
Article 14, which states that: … everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing…;
and Article 15, which states that: No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed.
Other articles of the Covenant which have not been respected by the government of Iran are those which state the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.
Equally, many of the human rights which have been violated since the revolution are recognized by the post-revolutionary Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the General Principles of the Constitution, Article 3 (n) refers to the goal of “securing the comprehensive rights of all citizens, both women and men, and the establishment of judicial security for all, as well as the equality of all before the law”. The following articles included in the Rights of the People section have particular relevance to Amnesty International’s concerns.
Article 23 states: “The interrogation of persons concerning their opinions is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain opinion.”
Article 26 states:" The formation of political and professional parties, associations, and societies, as well as religious societies, whether they be Islamic or pertain to one of the recognized religious minorities is freely permitted on condition that they do not violate the principle of independence, freedom, national unity, the criteria of Islam, or the basis of the Islamic Republic. No one may be prevented from participation in the aforementioned groups, or be compelled to participate in them.”
Articles 27 states:“Public gatherings and marches may freely be held, on condition that arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.
Article 32 states: “No one can be arrested except in accordance with judgment and the procedure established by law. In the case of arrest, charges and supporting evidence must be communicated immediately in writing to the prisoner and be elucidated to him, and a provisional dossier must be forwarded to competent judicial authorities within a maximum of twenty-four hours so that the preliminaries to the trial can be completed as swiftly as possible. Punishments for the infringement of these principles will be determined by law.”
Article 34 states: “It is the indisputable right to every citizen to seek justice, and everyone may have access to the competent courts in order to present his case. All members of the nation have the right of access to such courts, and no one can be barred from courts to which they have a legal right to recourse.”
Article 35 states: “Both parties to a dispute have the right in all courts of law to select a lawyer, and if they are unable to do so, arrangements must be made to provide them with legal counsel.”
Article 36 states: “The passing and execution of sentence must be performed only by the appropriate court and in accordance with law.”
Article 37 states: “Innocence is to be presumed, and no one is to be regarded as guilty unless his guilt has been established by the competent court.”
Article 38 states: “Any form of torture for the purpose of extracting confessions or gaining information is forbidden. It is not permissible to compel individuals to give testimony, make confessions, or swear oaths, and any testimony, confessions or oath obtained in this fashion is worthless and invalid. Punishments for the infringement of these principles will be determined by law.”
The section of the Constitution entitled “The judiciary” contains the following articles:
Article 160: “The Minister of Justice has the responsibility for all matters concerning the relationship between the judiciary, on the one hand, and the executive and legislative, on the other hand. He will be chosen from among the individuals proposed to the Prime Minister by the Supreme Judicial Council.”
Article 165: “Trials are to be held openly and members of the public may freely attend, unless the court determines that an open trial would be contrary to public morality or order, or in the case of private disputes, both parties request that the hearings should not be open”.
Article 166: “The verdicts of courts must be accompanied by proofs and include mention of the articles, laws, and principles in accordance with which they are delivered.”
Article 168: “Political and press offenses will be tried openly and in the presence of a jury, in courts attached to the Ministry of Justice. The manner of selection, qualifications, and powers of the jury, as well as the definition of political offenses, will be established by law in accordance with Islamic criteria.”
Amnesty International is informed of may instances in which these articles of the Constitution have not been adhered to.
In a report Law and Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, published in May 1980, Amnesty International concluded that “the guarantees necessary for a fair trial are effectively lacking in cases heard by the Revolutionary Tribunals.” The report, which covered the period up to 14 September 197o, analyzed in detail the role of the Revolutionary Tribunals, special courts set up after the Revolution. It was based on an Amnesty International mission which visited Iran from 12 April to 1 May 1979; on a study of legal procedures followed in some 900 cases about which Amnesty International had obtained information and on a study of statements attributed to government or religious spokesmen in the local and foreign press, official PARS News Agency reports and Iran Radio.
Amnesty International found that defendants were often not told the exact charges against them; that they were not always allowed to call defence witnesses; that they were often not permitted to question witnesses against them; that they were not allowed counsel of their choice; that many trials were closed to the public; that in practice there was no right of appeal and no effective presumption that defendants were innocent until proved guilty. Amnesty International’s recent information leads it to believe that the criticism made in its report are still valid and that Iranian citizens enjoy even less protection under the law now than they did in the period immediately after the revolution. Furthermore, as already mentioned above, in many cases no trial appear to have been take place at all prior to execution.
For some time after the revolution both Islamic law, as interpreted by the Revolutionary Tribunals, and the existing codified law were applied. Although in all the cases which came to the attention of Amnesty International, including those concerning political, religious, sexual, drug and alcohol offences, trials took place before Revolutionary Tribunals, Amnesty International is informed that the ordinary civil courts continued to deal with some civil cases and some criminal offences.
In August 1980 a meeting of Revolutionary Judges and prosecutors took place in Tehran to discuss how, in their view a complete conversion of the legal system to Islamic law could be effected. A merger of the revolutionary courts with those civil courts which still existed was expected to follow. Early in 1981 Amnesty International learned that a new Law of Retaliation or Talion had been drawn up by the Supreme Judicial Council, approved by the Council of Ministers and was to be submitted to the Iranian parliament for final approval. This bill was conceived of as an attempt to codify Islamic law and to introduce the principle of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. It was criticized by the Association of Iranian Jurists who urged that the bill “would foster hate and the spirit of vengeance” and would result in a return to tribal law, Amnesty International reported instances of its principles being applied.
On 8 July 1981 an Agence France Presse report said that the Iranian parliament had legitimized the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunals, giving them officially the powers which they had been exercising de facto since their establishment. Their competence was stated to range from offences consisting of provoking trouble for political purposes” to “forming or dealing with networks of corruption.”
On 23 August 1982 Agence France Presse reported an announcement made on Iranian National Radio that the Supreme Court had abolished all laws predating the Revolution which did not conform to Islam. The decision was said to follow a statement by Ayatollah Khomeini in which he decreed that laws that ran contrary to Islam should be annulled “once and for all”. The Supreme Court was reported as having ordered all judges and magistrates to halt rulings based on the former laws and to refer instead to “religious texts or authentic sermons” when pronouncing their verdicts.
Current Amnesty International Concerns in Iran
Lack of Fair Trial
In spite of the Constitutional guarantees, in none of those case reported to Amnesty International were “charges and supporting evidence… communicated immediately in writing to the prisoner”, nor apparently was “a provisional dossier … forwarded to the competent judicial authorities within a maximum of twenty-four hours”. On the contrary, arrests appeared to take place quite arbitrarily and people remained in prison for very long periods of time without knowing the offence with which they were charged. One released prisoner interviewed by Amnesty International had spent a year in prison and was only informed of the charges against him 11 months after his arrest and one month before his w trial and release. He spoke of another prisoner who was asked by the prison authorities why he was in prison and was unable to enlighten them. This man was still in prison when Amnesty International’s informant was released. Amnesty International has been told of may instances of relatives being arrested as hostages when the person sought by the authorities could not be found. In one account given to Amnesty International four relatives and four friends were arrested, including an elderly mother-in-law, who was first held for 20 days then released only to be arrested again several months later, at which time she was held for three weeks before being released because of a heart attack. Of these eight people who were arrested as hostages, four have been released and four were still in prison over one year later.
Iranian lawyers have informed Amnesty International of their attempts to defend clients tried in the Islamic Revolutionary Courts, but in no case were they allowed to do so. In none of the cases coming to Amnesty International’s attention were the defendants given the opportunity to appeal to a higher court, although the right of appeal exists in theory.
In most cases known to Amnesty International people sentenced to death have been executed almost immediately after the passing of sentence, thus allowing no time for an appeal.
In many cases executions appear to have taken place without any trial at all, but even in those cases where trials have occurred they appear to have been summary. Amnesty International was told of an instance of this which occurred in Iranian Kurdistan very shortly after the revolution in March 1979. The informant was one of 180 defendants in a trial which took place in a barn. The presiding judge was Ayatollah Khalkhali and at the end of the trial which lasted 2 1/2 hours he sentenced 27 of the 180 defendants to death. They were executed shortly afterwards.
Among those executed in June 1981, after the departure form power of President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, was Said Soltanpour, a left-wing poet and playwright who was adopted by amnesty International when he was imprisoned for opposition to the Shah. His is one of many cases in which Amnesty International has been unable to ascertain if any form of trial took place before execution. In December 1981 the execution took place of Shokrolah Pakenjad, Secretary General of the Association of Former Political Prisoners and one of the founders of the National democratic Front which was established after the revolution with the avowed aim of protecting democratic freedoms and rights in Iran. His execution was not announced by the authorities until January 1982, following a request by amnesty International for information about him. Again it is not known whether he had a trial.
Repeatedly Amnesty International has been told of relatives only learning of executions some time after they have taken place and of having been unable to find out whether or not the execution was preceded by a trial.
On informant spoke about the execution of his wife, whom he described as a sympathizer with the Mujahideen. He learned of her execution when it was announced on television and reported in the press, two days after it had taken place. When the family tried to reclaim her body, they were informed that she had already been buried. In other cases prisoners have been executed after having been sentenced initially to a term of imprisonment, without any indication of additional legal proceedings having been brought against them.
On 26 July 1981 the execution was announced of Mohammed Reza Sa’adati, leader of the Mujahideen who had previously been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. On 10 February 1982 the parents of Omid Gharib a former student in France, were informed that he had been executed two days earlier. He had been arrested on 9 June 1980, after the interception of a letter he wrote to a friend in France in which he described the situation in Iran, and sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment on charges which reportedly included “being Westernized” and “smoking Winston cigarettes”.
Immediately after the Revolution those executed were for the most part supporters of the Shah, although executions for sexual and drug offence and common crimes also took place. During 1980 and the first half of 1981 executions were reported for alleged plots against the government, drug-smuggling and selling, espionage, collaboration with the Iraqi forces sexual offences, support of the Kurdish Democratic Party, murder and robbery. Baha’is and Jews were executed, usually on charges of espionage apparently based on the connections members of these religions have with Israel (Baha’i world headquarters are in Israel). Since the revolution more than 100 Baha’is have been executed. Amnesty International knows of no evidence to support the charges of espionage. Executions for all these offences have continued, but during the second half of 1981 and 1982 most of those executed were members of organizations actively opposed to the authorities, most of whom had also been in opposition at the time of the Shah and had been among the most fervent early supporters of the revolution.
Following the political disturbances which occurred after the departure of President Bani-Sadr, hundred of executions took place within a very short time. Of the 2,616 executions known to Amnesty International which took place in 1981, 2,444 happened after 20 June. From the reports Amnesty International received at the time and subsequently it seems very likely that many of these executions took place without trial or at best after a summary trial. The sharp increase in executions from June 1981 was accompanied by growing conflict between supporters of the ruling Islamic Republican Party and its opponents, including organizations such as the Mujahideen-e-Khalq. Many government ministers and officials have been assassinated. The opposition has claimed that their deaths were in retaliation for executions.
In many cases reported to Amnesty International those executed had not been involved in violence. Apart from the example already given of people who were in prison before the events of June 1981, one former prisoner told Amnesty International that Qasem Golsham, whose execution for making trouble in the streets” was reported in the Tehran Times, 24 June 1981, had in fact been a fellow prisoner for the six months prior to his execution and could not, therefore, have been involved in the demonstrations or clashes of June 1982.
There have been many reports of the execution of children and pregnant women. The People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI), in their book At War With Humanity…, published in May 1982, give the names of 12 pregnant women they say have been executed. In the same publication they give the names of 42 people of under 18 years of age who have been executed since 20 June 1981 and for some of these they show copies of birth certificates. Other examples of people under 18 who have been executed have been provided by Iranians from other political groups interviewed by amnesty International. Amir Molki, 16 years old, was reportedly arrested for three months before being executed without trial on 16 September 10981. in another account Amnesty International was told of the execution of a boy born in 1970 who had been taken to Evin Prison in June 1981 as a hostage for his father, who was in hiding. According to the account given to Amnesty International the boy had been rude to Ayatoolah Gilani, the religious judge at Evin Prison. On 24 June 1981 Ayatollah Gilani was quoted in the Guardian newspaper as denying that children aged 13 and 14 were among those executed and saying: “None was less than 17. But anyhow, on the basis of Islam, a nine-year-old girl is considered mature. So there is no difference for us between nine-year-old girl and 40-year-old man, and it does not prohibit us from issuing any kind of sentence”. On 20 September Assadollah Lajevardi, the Tehran Prosecutor General, reportedly said: Even if a 12-year-old is found participating in an armed demonstration, he will be shot. The age doesn’t matter.” (Times, 21 September 1981). On 7 December the Head of Iran’s Supreme Court, Ayatollah Mossavi Ardibili, told a press conference that death sentences were not passed on people under 18, although Islamic law said that people could be sentenced to death from the age of 16 (Reuter, 7 December 1981).
Amnesty International’s cumulative total, based on published reports, for people executed since the revolution was 4,568 on 31 August 1982, but this must be regarded as a minimum figure, because increasingly executions have not been announced. In July 1982 Amnesty International was told by an Iranian civil engineer who had left Iran illegally only a short time before, that when visiting Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery in Tehran three or four weeks earlier he had encountered a man looking for the grave of his daughter, after having been informed of her execution. He could not find the grave so asked the cemetery officials for his lists for Wednesday there were 57 names, for Thursday 84 or 86, but no executions had been reported in the newspapers or on television for these days.
In other cases tortured prisoners were shown to families so that the families would persuade the prisoners to confess to avoid further torture. In many cases Amnesty International is told that people have died under torture and their deaths have subsequently been announced as executions. One man interviewed by Amnesty International had seen the body of his cousin, said to have been executed, and stated that both shoulders and neck were broken and his legs were black for the knees to the toes. There was only one bullet wound and the cousin thought it probable that the death had been caused by torture. Many other similar accounts have been given to Amnesty International, but it is impossible in any case known to amnesty International to be certain about the cause of death. In another account Amnesty International to be certain about the cause of death. In another account Amnesty International was told of a man who was in an extremely bad physical condition when he was executed. His shoulder was said to be broken and his feet to have been whipped so badly that he could no longer walk. In January 1982 Amnesty International published a photograph of the foot of a 17-year-old girl, Afsaneh Fajzbi, which showed clearly injuries consistent with the alleged torture. Amnesty International is informed that the photographs were taken on 12 October 1981, 17 days after she was said to have been tortured and following her release from prison. The injuries were reportedly cause by 200 lashes applied to the feet with steel cables, truncheons whips. Other photographs seen by Amnesty International showed marks said to have been made by cigarette burns. In some cases Amnesty International has been given medical reports which support the allegations of torture.
In April 1982 doctors from an Amnesty International Medical Group in Vienna examined a former Iranian prisoner who alleged that he had been tortured three and a half months previously by Revolutionary Guards. In a summary of their medical examination the doctors stated: “Six round scars on the skin of left cubita, left shoulder, right upper arm and right gluteal region; these lesions are considered as compatible with cigarette buns several months ago.” The testimonies accumulated by Amnesty International leave no doubt that torture is being practiced on a large scale in Iranian Prisons. There does not always s appear to be a clear distinction between whipping in order to extract information or a confession and whipping as a form of punishment.
Prisoners of Conscience
The number of prisoners of conscience is not known to Amnesty International. In most cases it is impossible for Amnesty International to establish whether a given prisoner is a prisoner of conscience: either the person has not been charged; or the charges are phrase in such general terms that Amnesty International is unable to ascertain whether they include a specific offence; or the lack of fair trial makes it difficult to assess the validity of a conviction. However, information reaching Amnesty International form many different sources leaves no doubt that amount the thousands of people imprisoned and executed since the revolution have been many who have not used or advocated violence.
They include people who have expressed their opposition to the present authorities in their writing and speech or by participating in demonstration and people who may not themselves have been active in opposition, but have been arrested because of their relationship or association with active opponents. One prisoner of conscience is Abolfazl Ghassemi, one of the leaders of the Iranian National Front and Secretary General of the Iran Party, who was elected to the Iranian parliament in the first elections after the revolution. He was arrested in July 1980, after his parliamentary mandate had been contested by the Minister of the Interior, and was eventually charged inter alia with publicizing the view of a Kurdish theologian, having collaborated with SAVAK (the former National intelligence and Security Organization). According to Amnesty International’s information there is no evidence to support these charges. Abolfazl Gahssemi’s trial in November 1981 was held in camera an d resulted in a death sentence, subsequently commuted to life imprisonment because of his age and ill health
Other prisoners of conscience include members of the Baha’i religion, the only substantial religious minority not recognized in the Iranian Constitution, who appear to have been imprisoned and executed for no other reason than their religious belief. As mentioned above, they are usually charged with espionage on behalf of Israel, but Amnesty International knows of no evidence to support this charge.
Nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Iran and two other Baha’is arrested in August 1980 have not been heard of since. Other Baha’is have been arrested, held without chares for some time and then released. A young Baha’i woman interviewed by Dutch television told of the arrest of her parents in November 1981. she heard that they had been taken from their house when they were hosting a meeting of Baha’is. Her father was released after one and a half months, but in January 1982 she heard that her mother had been executed, after refusing to denounce her faith under torture.
A large part of the population of Iran consist of ethnic and tribal minorities and from very soon after revolution Amnesty International received reports of conflict between ethnic and tribal groups and the authorities, sometimes resulting in imprisonments, executions and killings. Because of the remoteness of the areas in which most of these groups live it has been even more difficult for Amnesty International to obtain specific and reliable information about its concerns in relation to these people.
Reports have been received from the Kurds of arrests, torture and extra-judicial executions, but in most cases without details. One report described the killing of 18 workers on 14 September 1981 at a brick-laying factory near the village of Saroughmish. According to the report Revolutionary Guards arrested the workers put them against a wall and machine-gunned them. Following this they arrested 70 inhabitants of Saroughmish and took them to Miandouab.
Another report concerns the Turkoman tribes. Amnesty International is informed that some months after the revolution fighting broke out between government forces and the Turkomans. A commission of inquiry comprising members of the human Rights Committee of the Iranian Bar Association and the Iranian association of Jurists found that the fight had been started by government forces. Four Turkoman leaders whose surnames were Toumaj, Makhtoum, Vahedi and Georjani were arrested and imprisoned in Evin Prison, form where they were kidnapped, taken away and killed. The then President of Iran, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, sent tow missions to discover how the Turkoman leaders had died and the finding of both missions were that they had been kidnapped and killed by Revolutionary Guards. From that time on Amnesty International is informed that the Turkoman area has been under occupation by the Revolutionary guards; that social and political life continues to be repressed and that many Turkomans have been arrested an imprisoned in Georgean.
The Qahqa’i tribe have also been engaged in conflict with the authorities and on 22 June 1982 the leader of the tribe, Khosrow Qashaqa’i, and nine other leading members of the tribe were arrested. Khosrow Qashqa’i was elected to the Iranian Parliament after the revolution as the member for Fars, but his credentials were not approved by Parliament. Amnesty International does not know what charges have been brought against Khosrow Qashqa'i and his fellow Qashqa’is.
In October 1981 Amnesty International asked Ayatollah Madavi-Kani, then Prime Minister, to agree to visit of an Amnesty International delegation to discuss the organization’s concerns with him and other relevant authorities. In a reply received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 22 October the Iranian authorities insisted that Amnesty International meet certain conditions before they would receive the organization’s delegation. Amnesty International stated publicly that it was not its policy to undertake missions subject to conditions laid down by governments and on 3 November 1981 wrote to the new Prime Minister, Mr. Hosein Mousavi, explaining the rules of procedure under which amnesty International missions operated and reiterating Amnesty International’s wish to discuss its concerns regarding human rights violations in Iran with him and other government ministers. No response was received to this letter.