Bahai News - Human Rights Watch World Report 1995 [Iran-Human Rights Developments]
Human Rights Watch World Report 1995 [Iran-Human Rights
The human rights situation in Iran showed no improvement in 1994.
A picture emerged of new obstacles to the rule of law, a marked
in the situation of religious minorities, heightened enforcement of
intrusive restrictions on every day life, limitations on basic freedoms
of expression, thought, opinion and the press, and discrimination
against women. The government generally excluded independent human
The cumulative effect of the erosion of human rights in Iran was
in March in a resolution of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights
Iran's violations of human rights. Its wording was strong, particularly
with reference to Iran's failure, for the third consecutive year,
to grant access to the U.N. Special Representative on the Human Rights
Situation in Iran. The resolution expressed "deep concern at the
high number of executions, cases of torture and cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment and punishment."
In August 1994 the U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of
and Protection of Minorities denounced widespread violations of human
rights by the Iranian government including "arbitrary and summary
executions, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, unexplained
the absence of guarantees essential for the protection of the right
to a fair trial." The Sub-Commission regretted the refusal of the
Iranian government to implement existing agreements for delegates
of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit Iranian
In a population of sixty-two million, Iran's religious minorities
include 3.5 million Sunni Muslims, 350,000 followers of the Bahai
faith, 80,000 Christians and 30,000 Jews. Tens of thousands of
Jews and Bahais have fled Iran in the past fifteen years. During
1994 the government mounted a fierce campaign against the small
minority. Churches have been shut down, scores of young Christians
-- many of them converts from Islam -- have been imprisoned and
especially in the cities of Gorgan and Kermanshah. Three leading
Evangelical Christians were killed in suspicious circumstances. In
January, Bishop Haik Hovasepian Mehr, who had come to international
prominence leading a campaign for the release of Pastor Mehdi Dibaj,
was murdered. Mehdi Dibaj, who converted from Islam to Christianity
about forty-five years ago, had been imprisoned in Sari, northeastern
Iran, from 1983 to 1994. In late June, another evangelical minister,
Tateos Michaelian was shot and killed. He was acting chair of the
Council of Protestant Ministers in Iran, a post he assumed following
the murder of Bishop Hovasepian mehr. Pastor Mehdi Dibaj was killed
a week later in early July.
There was no evidence of a thorough official investigation into the
killings, and Christian sources held the government responsible for
the deaths. Iranian officials claim that evangelical churches have
political agendas besides worship.
There was also no let up in the persecution of the Bahai minority,
which is not recognized as a religion under the Constitution of the
Islamic Republic and is referred to as a heretical sect.
In February a judge released two Muslims who had killed a Bahai
a religious authority to the effect that Bahai blood may be shed with
impunity. The judge based his ruling on the late Ayatollah Khomeini'
s fatwa (edict) that a Muslim will not be killed for killing an
According to Amnesty International, Haji Mohammad Ziaie, a Sunni
leader from Bandar-Abbas, known to be critical of government policies,
was found dead in suspicious circumstances in July. He had been
summoned for interrogation by security forces in Laar, Fars province
on July 15, and he was never been seen alive again.
These incidents appear to illustrate the growing strength of militant
forces within the Islamic leadership. The persecution of religious
minorities, which received widespread media attention in the West,
worked directly against the interests of others in the government
who had hoped to normalize relations with the West.
One of the few remaining public voices of dissent in Iran appeared
to have been silenced with the detention in Tehran in March of Ali
Akbar Saidi-Sirjani. His associate, Mohammad Sadeq Said, a poet,
whose pen-name is Niazi-Kermani, was also arrested. The arrest of
Saidi-Sirjani, a prolific writer, further narrowed the scope of
in the Islamic Republic.
Since 1989, the authorities have imposed a complete ban on all of
Saidi-Sirjani's seventeen volumes of essays and social commentary.
The writer responded to this muzzling by circulating open letters
to the authorities, courageously denouncing censorship and the lack
of freedom in Iran.
A month after his arrest the authorities produced an alleged
they attributed to Saidi-Sirjani, of a wide range of crimes
to defame the Islamic regime and its founders." He also purported
to have confessed to being a homosexual (a criminal offense in Iran
punishable by death), as well as to gambling, drinking, and smoking
opium. At the end of the year Mr. Saidi-Sirjani's status was unclear.
Iran's news media, too, suffered strict controls and editors and
faced arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. For example, in April, Abbas
Abdi, edito- in-chief of the newspaper Salam, and a frequent critic
of President Rafsanjani's policies, was released after serving ten
months of a one year sentence on payment of a bond.
In June, the Press Council, a government appointed body, announced
the withdrawal of the right of publication of a magazine, Havades,
which it deemed "obscene and empty."
In an episode that has chilled freedom of expression worldwide,
Rushdie and all associated with the publication and translation of
his novel, the Satanic Verses, remained under the express threat of
assassination on the authority of the Iranian state. In June, Ayatollah
Meshkini -- head of the eighty-two member Assembly of Experts, which
appoints the leader -- endorsed the principle that one fatwa (edict)
can be challenged by another, thus opening the door for Ayatollah
Khamenei to revoke the death sentence on Rushdie. In a public sermon,
Ayatollah Meshkini said "if even a religious leader issues a
and [the current leader] issues a ruling, the latter takes
Yet Kohamenei, despite hi title as Iran's supreme spiritual leader,
remains a junior religious figure relative to Khomeini. For
Muslims, any countervailing fatwa he may issue on the Rushdie case
would be unlikely to gain mass support. In addition President
in his interview with Le Figaro, in September, said "there is no
of pardon in Rushdie's case, because the fatwa was pronounced against
him. One cannot reverse this. It is not in the interests of the
West to protect someone who has insulted a billion Muslims."
A bill on banning the use of television satellite reception equipment
passed through the parliament in September, but is not yet law. Before
the bill passed, the Head of the Judiciary announced that judges may
order the removal of satellite dishes in order to halt the spread
of "corruption." Ayatollah Yazdi justified the immediate
of the offending dishes by saying that "in the view of Islamic
satellite programs come under the category of spreading
Yazdi's opinion appeared to short-circuit the parliamentary process,
and opened the door for the security forces to enter houses by force
to remove dishes with no basis in law for these actions.
There were conflicting signals for women in Iran, and increasing
harassment. In December 1993, the government lifted all restrictions
on what women can study in the nation's universities. On the other
hand, single women were still banned from traveling abroad to study.
In April parliament ratified a bill concerning the selection of
enabling qualified women to work as assessors in administrative
and in other low-level judicial positions. This was the first time
since 1979 that women were permitted by law to work as judges of any
Such small advances for women had to be weighed against a constant
barrage of arbitrary restrictions. For example, in June the police
issued a statement condemning women's smiles as something which could
arouse corruption in men. In September, the daily newspaper Jomhuri-
e-Islami reported on a meeting of officials in which the Minister
of the Interior had called for not toleration of non-compliance with
the Islamic dress ode (Bad Hejabe). He also condemned women who ride
motorcycles with men as disrespectful of Islamic principles.
Public discontent over economic and other conditions led to riots
in Iranian cities. Serious public demonstrations, leading to violent
confrontations between demonstrators and the security forces, took
place in Tehran, Zahedan, Qom, Qazvin, Tabriz, Najafabad and many
In March, people in Tehran clashed with security forces who had been
ordered to suppress all public manifestations of the traditional "
fire=day" observances which mark the Iranian new year. Leader of
the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khamenei, codemned such maniestations
as "atheist celebrations." According to journalist Safa
secret official report recorded eleven dead and more than five hundred
wounded in the clashes.
In August, in Tabriz, the capital of Iranian Azerbaijan, hundreds
of angry demonstrators were arrested and some were reported killed
in protests after the Basij (militia) attacked young women who had
mixed with young men at the end of a soccer match. The government'
s interpretation of Islamic rules forbid social mixing of men and
According to Middle East International, Qazvin, an industrial town
150 kilometers west of the capital, was the scene of social unrest
and virtual insurrection in August. After the rejection by parliament
of a bill to promote the status of the surrounding district to a
thousands of Qazvinis poured into the streets of the city to show
their frustration. The peaceful demonstration deteriorated into violent
confrontations as soon as non-native security forces were rushed to
the scene with orders to open fire to disperse demonstrators. At
least thirty people were killed, 400 wounded and over 1,000 arrested.
Putting down the riot in Qazvin, turned out to be one act of repression
too many for some members of Iran's army. Four generals who claimed
to be speaking on behalf of the whole of the armed forces including
the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards), which are generally considered
more loyal to the Islamic leadership, warned the political leadership
that the army could "no longer remain silent" while the
threatened by "aggression from outside and disintegration from
Nevertheless, in November Associated Press reported that the
passed a bill authorizing law enforcement officers to shoot and kill
demonstrators "to restore law and order at times of unrest."
In June a bomb explosion killed twenty-six and injured scores of
pilgrims at Iran's holiest shrine in Mashhad. This was the most
incident in a year of widespread social unrest, and came as yet another
sign of spreading discontent. No group claimed responsibility, but
in the politically charged atmosphere conspiracy theories were rampant.
Closer cooperation between the governments of Iran and Turkey, in
security measures targeting opposition groups from both countries,
threatened the security of thousands of Iranian refugees and asylum-
seekers in Turkey. Iranians who were recognized as refugees by the
office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR),
and some whose cases were pending, were forcibly returned by the
Turkish authorities to Iran, even though many of them risked serious
human rights violations in Iran. For its part, in March the Iranian
government handed over four alleged members of the separatist Kurdistan
Working Party (PKK) to stand trial in Turkey, where torture of political
prisoners is endemic. Other PKK supporters were attacked or harassed
by the Iranian authorities.
Another group of Iranians at risk in Turkey were refugees who had
been registered by UNHCR in Iraq, but who had moved to Turkey looking
for better living conditions. Some of these refugees feared persecution
in Iraq as Kurds or as former members of the Iranian opposition group,
the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), based in Iraq.
UNHCR refers to such cases as "irregular movements" and
them to return to Iraq despite the risk of persecution there as well
as in their native Iran.
Iran's Kurdish minority continued to suffer persecution inside and
outside the country. In April, two villages in Iraq sheltering
Iranian Kurds were virtually destroyed by Iranian shelling. According
to the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), in October the
Iranian government activated plans, dating from 1975, to depopulate
the border region with Iraq. Inhabitants of six villages in Piranshahr
region, part of Western Azerbaijan province in Iran, were ordered
to evacuate. Members of Kurdish opposition groups were assassinated
in attacks attributed to the Iranian government by Kurdish sources.
In January Taha Kerminch, a refugee, was killed in Turkey. A leader
of the PDKI was assassinated on August 4, in Baghdad.
Opponents of the Iranian government living abroad continued to fear
attack by Iranian government agents active in Turkey and throughout
Europe. In November, the trial began in Paris of the accused killers
of former Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar. The three defendants,
all with links to the Iranian government, went on trial for the August
1991 murder. Despite the more than sixty murders of Iranian dissidents
abroad, this is only one of the few times an assassination case has
been tried. In most of the other cases the suspected assassins either
escaped arrest or were permitted to return to Iran by western
fearing reprisals against their interests or their nationals by the
In any country, the law, upheld by a strong impartial court system
is the basis of human rights protection. After six years of discussion,
a law reorganizing the court system passed the parliament in August.
It is envisaged that this system will be implemented gradually within
a five-year period. In places where the new General Courts (Dadgahayeh
Aam) are established, existing structures of revolutionary courts,
penal courts, and other courts will be dissolved. However, in places
where the new system is not implemented, the old systems still pertain.
This means that different parts of the country will have widely varying
court structures; defendants accused of the same crimes will not
be tried before the same type of court or enjoy the same procedural
For example, the new law provides for the abrogation of the function
of the prosecutor. In the new General Courts, the judge acts as both
investigator and judge. Among the major objectives of this new law
is to expedite the legal process. This means that the two-phase study
of a case, first by an investigating magistrate and then by a trial
judge, will be reduced to a single phase. This will shorten the time
needed for cases to pass through the system at the expense of the
rights of the defendant. A right of appeal to a higher court is not
clearly established in the law, and in some cases it is explicitly
ruled out, further contravening international fair trial standards
to which Iran is a party. In support of the new law Ayatollah Yazdi,
the Head of the Judiciary, asserted that giving powers of investigation
to the judge is more consistent with Islamic Law.
Another special characteristic of the new law is that power over the
judiciary, and the appointment of judges in particular, is concentrated
in the hands of the Head of the Judiciary. No reference is made in
the law to regulations governing the qualifications required by those
serving as judges, thus opening the door for unqualified but compliant
judges to be appointed at the discretion of the Head of the Judiciary.
The concentration of such wide powers in the hands of one man works
against the independence of the judiciary, and to the detriment of
the rule of law.
Despite continuing efforts by the Head of the Judiciary to promote
judicial reform, the workings of the judicial system continued to
be capricious. Basic fair in trial safeguards have long been absent,
particularly in political trials, which take place before revolutionary
courts. Defendants in such trials have no access to legal counsel
and are held in indefinite incommunicado pre-trial detention.
In an incident that highlighted the contradictions at the heart of
the task of judicial reform in a theocracy, Ayatollah Yazdi traveled
to the province of Khuzestan, in May, to negotiate with local tribal
leaders and government officials "to put an end to practices
to religious and civil law." Ayatollah Yazdi in particular drew
to the practice of fathers who murder their own daughters but go
because, under Islamic Law, they "own the blood." Ayatollah
condemned "honor crimes" -- crimes committed on the pretext of
family honor -- saying, "although the Lord of the Universe has
the right to the owner of blood, he has also given the right to the
Incidents of corporal punishments which violate international human
rights standards were also reported. According to the daily newspaper
Abrar, in Gilan province seven thieves were punished in one day by
amputation of the four fingers of their right hands in accordance
with the penal code. Human Rights Watch/Middle East received reports
of two cases of women stoned to death for adultery, one in Evin Prison,
Tehran in February, the other in Qom in March. In May an American
woman was given eighty lashes in public for alleged
If the Head of the Judiciary was able to reassess traditional
of Islamic Law in Khuzestan, he could have acted to prevent such abusive
punishments. President Rafsanjani has been quoted on a number of
occasions in the international press expressing his disapproval of
such practices, and in September, he told Le Figaro, evidently in
error, that the punishment of stoning no longer took place in the
Islamic Republic. If the government asserts that it has a right to
legislate against practices which some defend as condoned by Islamic
law, such as honor crimes, then its arguments that Islam is an immutable
system preventing compliance with international norms lose consistency.
©Copyright 1995, Contemporary Women's Issues Database
Page last updated/revised 060101
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