The Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979 after a populist
revolution toppled the Pahlavi monarchy. The Constitution ratified
after the revolution by popular referendum established a theocratic
republic and declared as its purpose the establishment of institutions
and a society based on Islamic principles and norms. The Government is
dominated by Shi'a Muslim clergy. The Head of State, Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei, is the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution and has direct
control of the armed forces, internal security forces, and the
judiciary. Mohammad Khatami was elected to a 4-year term as President
in a popular vote in February 1997. A popularly elected 270-seat (to be
increased by 20 seats in 2000) unicameral Islamic Consultative Assembly,
or Majles, develops and passes legislation. All legislation passed by
the Majles is reviewed for adherence to Islamic and constitutional
principles by a Council of Guardians, which consists of six clerical
members, who are appointed by the Supreme Leader, and six lay jurists,
who are appointed by the head of the judiciary and approved by the
Majles. The Constitution provides the Council of Guardians with the
power to screen and disqualify candidates for elective offices based on
an ill-defined set of requirements, including the candidates'
ideological beliefs. The judiciary is subject to government and
Several agencies share responsibility for internal security, including
the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the Ministry of Interior, and
the Revolutionary Guards, a military force that was established after
the revolution. Paramilitary volunteer forces known as Basijis, and
gangs of thugs, known as the Ansar-e Hezbollah (Helpers of the Party of
God), who often are aligned with specific members of the leadership, act
as vigilantes, and are released into the streets to intimidate and
threaten physically demonstrators, journalists, and individuals
suspected of counter-revolutionary activities. Both regular and
paramilitary security forces committed numerous, serious human rights
Iran has a mixed economy that is heavily dependent on export earnings
from the country's extensive petroleum reserves. The Constitution
mandates that all large-scale industry, including petroleum, minerals,
banking, foreign exchange, insurance, power generation, communications,
aviation, and road and rail transport, are to be owned publicly and
administered by the state. Large charitable foundations called bonyads,
most with strong connections to the Government, control the extensive
properties and businesses expropriated from the former Shah and figures
associated with his regime. The bonyads exercise considerable influence
in the economy, but do not account publicly for revenue and pay no
taxes. Basic foodstuffs and energy costs are subsidized heavily by the
Government. Oil exports account for nearly 80 percent of foreign
exchange earnings. Private property is respected; however, economic
performance is affected adversely by government mismanagement and
corruption, although performance improved somewhat during the year due
to the worldwide increase in oil prices. Unemployment was estimated to
be at least 25 percent, and inflation was an estimated 25 percent.
The Government's human rights record remained poor; although efforts
within society to make the Government accountable for its human rights
policies intensified, serious problems remain. The Government restricts
citizens' right to change their government. Systematic abuses include
extrajudicial killings and summary executions; disappearances;
widespread use of torture and other degrading treatment, reportedly
including rape; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention,
and prolonged and incommunicado detention. Perpetrators often committed
such abuses with impunity. The Government in May prosecuted a senior
police official for torture, reportedly for the first time since the
revolution; however, he was cleared of most charges and resumed his
duties. The judiciary suffers from government and religious influence,
and does not ensure that citizens receive due process or fair trials.
The Government uses the judiciary to stifle dissent and obstruct
progress on human rights. The Government infringes on citizens' privacy
rights, and restricts freedom of speech, press, assembly, and
association. The Government closed numerous reform-oriented
publications during the year and brought charges against prominent
political figures and members of the clergy for expressing ideas viewed
as contrary to the ruling orthodoxy. However, the Ministry of Culture
and Islamic Guidance blunted these efforts by continuing to issue
licenses for the establishment of newspapers and magazines, many of
which challenged openly government policies and individual members of
the leadership. The Government restricts freedom of religion.
Religious minorities, particularly Baha'is, continued to suffer
repression by conservative elements of the judiciary and security
establishment. Thirteen Jews in the cities of Shiraz and Isfahan were
arrested in February and March on suspicion of espionage on behalf of
Israel, an offense punishable by death. The Government failed to abide
by internationally recognized standards of due process in the case. The
Government restricts freedom of movement. There were reports early in
the year that mobs attacked and killed numerous Afghan refugees. The
selection of candidates for elections effectively is controlled by the
Government. Intense political struggle continued during the year
between a broad popular movement that favored greater liberalization in
government policies, particularly in the area of human rights, and
certain hard-line elements in the government and society, which view
such reforms as a threat to the survival of the Islamic republic. In
many cases, this struggle is played out within the Government itself,
with reformists and hardliners squaring off in divisive internal
debates. Government agents were implicated in the murders in late 1998
of several prominent political dissidents.
The Government restricts the work of human rights groups and continues
to deny entry to the country to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights
Special Representative for Human Rights in Iran. Violence against women
occurs, and women face legal and societal discrimination. The
Government discriminates against religious and ethnic minorities and
restricts important workers' rights. Child labor persists. Vigilante
groups, with strong ties to certain members of the Government, enforce
their interpretation of appropriate social behavior through intimidation
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
The Government was responsible for numerous extrajudicial killings.
Human rights groups reported that security forces killed at least 20
persons while violently suppressing demonstrations by Kurds that
occurred in the wake of the February arrest of Kurdish Workers Party
(PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan in Turkey (see Sections 1.c., 2.b., and 5).
Human Rights Watch reported at least four student deaths on July 8, when
government-sanctioned agitators attacked a student dormitory during
protests in Tehran (see Sections 1.c. and 2.b.).
Citizens continued to be tried and sentenced to death in the absence of
sufficient procedural safeguards. In 1992 the domestic press stopped
reporting most executions; however, executions continue in substantial
numbers, according to U.N. and other reporting. The U.N. Special
Representative cited an estimated 138 executions from January through
mid-August, most of which were reported in the media. The Government
has not cooperated in providing the Special Representative with a
precise number of executions carried out in Iran. Exiles and human
rights monitors allege that many of those executed for criminal
offenses, such as narcotics trafficking, are actually political
dissidents. Supporters of outlawed political organizations, such as the
Mujahedin-e Khalq organization, are believed to make up a large number
of those executed each year. A November 1995 law criminalized dissent
and applied the death penalty to offenses such as "attempts against
the security of the State, outrage against high-ranking Iranian
officials, and insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini and against
the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic." U.N. representatives,
including the U.N. Special Representative on Human Rights in Iran, and
independent human rights organizations, continue to note the absence of
procedural safeguards in criminal trials. Harsh punishments are carried
out, including stoning and flogging (see Section 1.c.). Article 102 of
the Islamic Penal Code details the methods authorities should follow
when conducting a stoning: "the stoning of an adulterer or
adulteress shall be carried out while each is placed in a hole and
covered with soil, he up to his waist and she up to a line above her
breasts." According to press accounts, a man was stoned to death
in April in the town of Babol, which borders the Caspian Sea. He was
alleged to have killed three of his own sons. Prior to the stoning, he
received 60 lashes. The first stone was cast by the judge who sentenced
him to death. The law also allows for the relatives of murder victims
to take part in the execution of the killer.
The Government's investigation into the murder of several prominent
Iranian dissidents and intellectuals in late 1998 continued throughout
the year. The case involved the murders, over a 2-month period from
October to December 1998, of prominent political activists Darioush and
Parvaneh Forouhar and writers Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Pouandeh.
Political activist Pirouz Davani disappeared in the same time period and
has never been found (see Section 1.b.). In February after several
senior figures of the leadership blamed the disappearances and murders
on "foreign hands," it was revealed that active-duty agents of
the Ministry of Intelligence had carried out the killings. Minister of
Intelligence Qorban Ali Dori-Najafabadi and several of his senior
deputies resigned their posts following these revelations.
Supervision for the case was placed in the hands of the Military
Prosecutor's office. In June the Prosecutor's Office released an
initial report on the investigation, identifying a cell from within the
Ministry of Intelligence led by four "main agents" as
responsible for the murders. The leader among the agents reportedly was
a former Deputy Minister of Intelligence, Saeed Emami, who, the
government stated, had committed suicide in prison by drinking a toxic
hair removal solution several days prior to release of the government's
June report. The report also indicated that 23 persons had been
arrested in association with the murders and that a further 33 were
summoned for interrogation. The Government released no names beyond the
four main suspects and none of the suspects that it claimed to have
arrested had faced trial for their alleged involvement by year's end.
Frustration over the slow pace of the murder investigation and doubt
about the government's willingness to follow the case to its conclusion
were frequent topics of criticism of the Government throughout the year,
particularly by those advocating greater adherence to the rule of law by
the Government. Reform-oriented journalists and prominent cultural
figures declared publicly their demands for a full accounting in the
case and speculated that responsibility for ordering the murders lay
much higher within the Government than with the four agents. Such
speculation in the newspaper Salaam led, in part, to its closure in July
by the Government, which set off student demonstrations that became
widespread street riots (see section 2.b.). The U.N. Special
Representative, in his September report, urged the Government to hasten
the investigation, noting that the rule of law, declared to be an
objective of President Khatami's administration, required no less.
One organization reported eight deaths of evangelical Christians at the
hands of the authorities in the past 10 years (see Section 2.c.). Late
in the year, an investigative reporter alleged that officials within the
Intelligence Ministry were responsible for the murders of three
prominent evangelical ministers in 1994, a crime for which three female
members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq organization had been convicted (see
Numerous Sunni clerics have been murdered in recent years, some
allegedly by government agents (see Section 2.c.).
The Government announced in September 1998 that it would take no action
to threaten the life of British author Salman Rushdie, or anyone
associated with his work, "The Satanic Verses." The
announcement came during discussions with the United Kingdom regarding
the restoration of full diplomatic relations. Several revolutionary
foundations and a number of Majles deputies within Iran repudiated the
Government's pledge and emphasized the "irrevocability" of the
fatwa, or religious ruling, by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, calling for
Rushdie's murder. The 15 Khordad Foundation raised the bounty it
earlier had established for the murder of Rushdie.
The Istanbul Court of Appeal upheld in 1998 the conviction of an Iranian
national for complicity in the 1996 murder of Zahra Rajabi and Ali
Moradi, who were both associated with the National Council of Resistance
(NCR), an exile group that has claimed responsibility for several
terrorist attacks within Iran. The U.N. Special Representative reported
in 1998 that Italian security authorities continued their investigation
into the 1993 killing in Rome of Mohammad Hossein Naghdi, the NCR's
representative in Italy.
No reliable information is available on the number of disappearances.
In the period immediately following arrest, many detainees are held
incommunicado and denied access to lawyers and family members.
Pirouz Davani, a political activist who disappeared in late 1998 along
with several other prominent intellectuals and dissidents who later were
found murdered, remains unaccounted for and is believed to have been
killed for his political beliefs and activism.
A Christian group reported that between 15 and 23 Iranian Christians
disappeared between November 1997 and November 1998 (see Section 2.c.).
Those who disappeared reportedly were Muslim converts to Christianity
whose baptisms had been discovered by the authorities. The group that
reported the figure believes that most or all of those who disappeared
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
The Constitution forbids the use of torture; however, there are
numerous, credible reports that security forces and prison personnel
continue to torture detainees and prisoners. Some prison facilities,
including Tehran's Evin prison, are notorious for the cruel and
prolonged acts of torture inflicted upon political opponents of the
Government. Common methods include suspension for long periods in
contorted positions, burning with cigarettes, sleep deprivation, and,
most frequently, severe and repeated beatings with cables or other
instruments on the back and on the soles of the feet. Prisoners also
have reported beatings about the ears, inducing partial or complete
deafness, and punching in the eyes, leading to partial or complete
Stoning and flogging are prescribed expressly by the Islamic Penal Code
as appropriate punishment for adultery (see Section 1.a.).
Security forces forcefully suppressed demonstrations by Kurds in the
wake of the February arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in Turkey (see
Sections 1.a., 2.b., and 5).
On July 8, the Government and other individuals acting with the consent
of the authorities, used excessive force in attacking a dormitory during
student protests in Tehran, including reportedly throwing students from
windows. Approximately 300 students were injured in the incident (see
Sections 1.a., 1.d., and 2.b.).
A trial was opened in May against Brigadier General Gholam-reza Naqdi, a
senior Tehran police official, and several associates, who were accused
of using torture to coerce confessions during the 1998 trial of former
mayor of Tehran Gholam Hossein Kharbaschi. It reportedly was the first
prosecution of a government official for torture since the 1979
revolution. The charges were based on the accusations of numerous
Tehran municipality officials and district mayors that authorities had
used torture to coerce admissions of guilt and statements that
implicated the former mayor. The trial of Naqdi was conducted in closed
session before a military court. Naqdi was cleared of most charges and
resumed his duties with the Tehran police force.
In June the official government news agency reported a meeting of the
Islamic Human Rights Committee to discuss measures for the prevention of
torture. There was no known public report on the results of that
meeting. In August President Khatami was quoted in public remarks as
criticizing the use of torture. He defended the rights of prisoners as
a legitimate concern based on "Islam and human conscience."
Prison conditions are harsh. Some prisoners are held in solitary
confinement or denied adequate food or medical care in order to force
confessions. Female prisoners reportedly have been raped or otherwise
tortured while in detention. Prison guards reportedly intimidate family
members of detainees and torture detainees in the presence of family
members. The U.N. Special Representative reported receiving numerous
reports of prisoner overcrowding and unrest. He cited a reported figure
of only 8.2 square feet (2.5 square) of space available for each
The Government does not permit visits to imprisoned dissidents by human
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however,
these practices remain common. There is reportedly no legal time limit
on incommunicado detention, nor any judicial means to determine the
legality of detention. Suspects may be held for questioning in jails or
in local Revolutionary Guard offices. Although reliable statistics are
not available, international observers believe that between scores and
hundreds of citizens are imprisoned for their political beliefs.
The security forces often do not inform family members of a prisoner's
welfare and location. Prisoners also may be denied visits by family
members and legal counsel. In addition, families of executed prisoners
do not always receive notification of the prisoner's death. Those who
do receive such information reportedly have been forced on occasion to
pay the Government to retrieve the body of their relative.
In February and March, 13 Jews were arrested by security forces in the
cities of Isfahan and Shiraz. Among the group were several prominent
rabbis, teachers of Hebrew, and their students, one a 16-year-old boy.
By year's end, judicial authorities had not clarified the charges
against the detainees or allowed them access to defense counsel. The
delay in clarification of charges appeared to violate Article 32 of the
Constitution, which states in part that in cases of arrest "charges
with the reasons for accusation must, without delay, be communicated and
explained to the accused in writing, and a provisional dossier must be
forwarded to the competent judicial authorities within a maximum of 24
hours so that the preliminaries to the trial can be completed as swiftly
as possible." The investigation reportedly has centered around
charges of espionage on behalf of Israel, an offense punishable by
death. Governments around the world criticized the arrests and called
for the safe treatment of the detainees, who have been allowed only
sporadic family visits and deliveries of kosher food (see Section 2.c.).
As many as 1,500 students were detained in the wake of student protests
on July 8, and subsequent riots (see Sections 1.a., 1.c., and 2.b.).
Numerous publishers, editors and journalists either were detained,
jailed, fined, or prohibited from publishing their writings during the
year (see Section 2.a.). The Government appeared to follow a policy of
intimidation, based on such tactics, toward members of the media that it
considers to pose a threat to the current system of Islamic government.
Adherents of the Baha'i Faith continue to face arbitrary arrest and
detention. The Government appears to adhere to a practice of keeping a
small number of Baha'is in detention at any given time. According to
the U.N. Special Representative and Baha'i groups, at least 12 Baha'is
are in prisons, including 5 who were convicted of either apostasy or
"actions against God" and sentenced to death. In March the
four remaining detainees from the 1998 raid on the Baha'i Institute of
Higher Learning were convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging
from 3 to 10 years (see Section 2.c.).
The Government enforced house arrest and other measures to restrict the
movements and ability to communicate of several senior religious leaders
whose views on political and governance issues are at variance with the
ruling orthodoxy. Several of these figures dispute the legitimacy and
position of the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The
clerics include Ayatollah Seyyed Hassan Tabataei-Qomi, who has been
under house arrest in Mashad for more than 14 years; Ayatollah Mohammad
Shirazi, who remains under house arrest in Qom; and Ayatollah Ya'asub
al-Din Rastgari, who has been under house arrest in Qom since late 1996.
Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the former designated successor of the
late Spiritual Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, and an outspoken critic of
the current Supreme Leader, remains under house arrest and heightened
police surveillance (see Section 2.a.). The followers of these and
other dissident clerics, many of them junior clerics and students,
reportedly have been detained in recent years and tortured by government
Throughout the year, Iran and Iraq exchanged prisoners of war (POW's)
and the remains of deceased fighters from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war,
adding to the large number of Iraqi POW's returned by Iran in 1998.
However, a final settlement of this issue between the two governments
was not achieved, despite predictions by Iranian government officials in
late 1998. A June 1998 press report described joint Iran-Iraq search
operations to identify the remains of those missing in action.
The Government does not use forced exile, but many dissidents and ethnic
and religious minorities leave the country due to a perception of threat
from the Government.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The court system is not independent and is subject to government and
religious influence. It serves as the principal vehicle of the State to
restrict freedom and reform in the society.
There are several different court systems. The two most active are the
traditional courts, which adjudicate civil and criminal offenses, and
the Islamic Revolutionary Courts, which were established in 1979 to try
offenses viewed as potentially threatening to the Islamic Republic,
including threats to internal or external security, narcotics crimes,
economic crimes (including hoarding and overpricing), and official
corruption. A special clerical court examines alleged transgressions
within the clerical establishment, and a military court investigates
crimes committed in connection with military or security duties by
members of the army, police, and the Revolutionary Guards. A press
court hears complaints against publishers, editors, and writers in the
media. The Supreme Court has limited authority to review cases.
The judicial system has been designed to conform, where possible, to an
Islamic canon based on the Koran, Sunna, and other Islamic sources.
Article 157 provides that the head of the judiciary shall be a cleric
chosen by the Supreme Leader. Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi resigned as the
head of the judiciary in August and was replaced by Ayatollah Mahmoud
Hashemi Shahrudi. The head of the Supreme Court and Prosecutor General
also must be clerics.
Many aspects of the prerevolutionary judicial system survive in the
civil and criminal courts. For example, defendants have the right to a
public trial, may choose their own lawyer, and have the right of appeal.
Trials are adjudicated by panels of judges. There is no jury system in
the civil and criminal courts. If a situation is not addressed by
statutes enacted after the 1979 revolution, the Government advises
judges to give precedence to their own knowledge and interpretation of
Islamic law, rather than rely on statutes enacted during the Shah's
Trials in the Revolutionary Courts, where crimes against national
security and other principal offenses are heard, are notorious for their
disregard of international standards of fairness. Revolutionary Court
judges act as prosecutor and judge in the same case, and judges are
chosen for their ideological commitment to the system. Pretrial
detention often is prolonged and defendants lack access to attorneys.
Indictments often lack clarity and include undefined offenses such as
"antirevolutionary behavior," "moral corruption,"
and "siding with global arrogance." Defendants do not have
the right to confront their accusers. Secret or summary trials of 5
minutes are not unknown. Others are show trials that are intended
merely to emphasize a coerced public confession. In 1992 the Lawyers
Committee for Human Rights concluded that "the chronic abuses
associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Courts are so numerous and so
entrenched as to be beyond reform." The Government has undertaken
no major reform of the Revolutionary Court system since that report.
The legitimacy of the Special Clerical Court (SCC) system was a subject
of wide debate throughout the year. The clerical courts, which were
established in 1987 to investigate offenses and crimes that are
committed by clerics, are overseen directly by the Supreme Leader, are
not provided for in the Constitution, and operate outside the domain of
the judiciary. In particular critics alleged that the clerical courts
were used to prosecute certain clerics for expressing controversial
ideas and for participating in activities outside the area of religion,
including journalism. In November former Interior Minister and Vice
President Abdollah Nouri was sentenced by a branch of the SCC to a
5-year prison term for allegedly publishing "anti-Islamic articles,
insulting government officials, promoting friendly relations with the
United States," and providing illegal publicity to dissident cleric
Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri in the pages of Khordad, a newspaper
that was established by Nouri in late 1998 and closed at the time of his
arrest. Nouri used the public trial to attack the legitimacy of the SCC
(see Section 2.a.).
In April a branch of the SCC convicted Hojjatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar, a
Shi'a cleric and popular seminary lecturer, to 18 months in prison for
"dissemination of lies and confusing public opinion" in a
series of broadcast interviews and newspaper articles. Kadivar
advocated political reform and greater intellectual freedom and
criticized the misuse of religion to maintain power. In an interview
published in a newspaper, Kadivar criticized certain government
officials for turning criticism against them into alleged crimes against
the State. He also observed that such leaders "mistake themselves
with Islam, with national interests, or with the interests of the
system, and in this way believe that they should be immune from
criticism." He also allegedly criticized former Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Khomeini and demonstrated support for dissident cleric
Ayatollah Montazeri. Kadivar's trial was not open to the public.
In July the SCC banned the daily newspaper Salaam and indicted its
publisher, Mohammad Mousavi Khoeniha, on charges of "violating
Islamic principles," "endangering national security," and
"disturbing public opinion." Khoeniha, a cleric, later was
sentenced to a 5-year jail term. The charges involved the publication
by Salaam of documents related to the unsolved murders of dissident
intellectuals in late 1998, which indicated a possible connection to
senior officials in the plotting of the murders. The closure of the
newspaper led to peaceful protests by students at Tehran University that
later grew into widespread rioting after aggressive countermeasures were
taken by security forces (see Section 2.b.).
It is difficult for many women to obtain legal redress. A woman's
testimony is worth only half that of a man's, making it difficult for a
woman to prove a case against a male defendant.
The Government frequently charges members of religious minorities with
crimes such as "confronting the regime" and apostasy, and
conducts trials in these cases in the same manner as is reserved for
threats to national security. Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, who resigned as
head of the judiciary in August, stated in 1996 that Baha'i Faith was an
espionage organization. Trials against Baha'is have reflected this view
(see Section 2.c.).
Independent legal scholar and member of the Islamic clergy Hojatoleslam
Sayyid Mohsen Saidzadeh, who was convicted by the SCC in 1998 for his
outspoken criticism of the treatment of women under the law, was
released from prison in early in the year; however, the Government
banned him from performing any clerical duties for 5 years. Human
Rights groups outside Iran noted reports that Saidzadeh's 1998 sentence
also included a prohibition on publishing. He has ceased authoring a
monthly column on legal issues, many focusing on the rights of women,
since the time of his detention.
In December authorities rearrested former Deputy Prime Minister and
longtime political dissident Abbas Amir-Entezam after an interview with
him was published in an Iranian newspaper. Amir-Entezam has spent much
of the past 20 years in and out of prison since being arrested on
charges of collaboration with the United States following the seizure of
the U.S. embassy in Tehran by revolutionary militants in 1979. In his
original trial, Amir-Entezam was denied defense counsel and access to
the allegedly incriminating evidence that was used against him gathered
from the overtaken U.S. Embassy. Since then he has appealed for a fair
and public trial, which has been denied him. He has been a frequent
victim of torture in prison; he suffered a ruptured eardrum due to
repeated beatings, and kidney failure resulting from denial of access to
toilet facilities, and an untreated prostate condition. He reports
having been taken on numerous occasions before a firing squad, told to
prepare for death, only to be allowed to live.
No estimates are available on the number of political prisoners.
However, the Government often arrests, convicts, and sentences persons
on questionable criminal charges, including drug trafficking, when their
actual "offenses" are political.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Constitution states that "reputation, life, property, (and)
dwelling(s)" are protected from trespass except as "provided
by law;" however, the Government infringes on these rights.
Security forces monitor the social activities of citizens, enter homes
and offices, monitor telephone conversations, and open mail without
Organizations such as the Ansar-e Hezbollah, a movement of hard-line
vigilantes who seek to enforce their vision of appropriate revolutionary
comportment upon the society, harass, beat, and intimidate those who
demonstrate publicly for reform or who do not observe dress codes or
other modes of correct revolutionary conduct. This includes women whose
clothing does not cover the hair and all of the body except the hands
and face, or those who wear makeup or nail polish. Ansar-e Hezbollah
gangs also have been used to destroy newspaper offices and printing
presses, intimidate dissident clerics, and disrupt peaceful gatherings
(see Sections 2.a. and 2.b.). Ansar-e Hezbollah cells are organized
throughout the country and linked to individual members of the country's
Vigilante violence includes attacking young persons believed too
"un-Islamic" in their dress or activities, invading private
homes, abusing unmarried couples, and disrupting concerts or other forms
of popular entertainment. Authorities occasionally enter homes to
remove television satellite dishes, or to disrupt private gatherings
where unmarried men and women socialize, or where alcohol, mixed
dancing, or other forbidden activities are offered or take place.
Enforcement appears to be arbitrary, varying widely with the political
climate and the individuals involved. Authorities reportedly are
vulnerable to bribes in some of these circumstances.
In 1998 security forces conducted a nationwide raid of more than 500
homes and offices owned or occupied by Baha'is suspected of having
connections to the Baha'i Institute of Higher Learning (see Section
2.c.). During the raids, instructional materials, office equipment, and
other items of personal property were confiscated. The effort
apparently was designed to disrupt the operation of the Institute, which
serves as the only alternative source of higher education for most
Baha'is, who are denied entry to the state-controlled university system.
Prison guards intimidated family members of detainees (see Section
1.c.). Iranian opposition figures living abroad reported harassment of
their relatives in Iran.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of the press, except when
published ideas are "contrary to Islamic principles, or are
detrimental to public rights;" however, the Government restricts
freedom of speech and of the press in practice. Since the election of
President Khatami, the independent press, especially newspapers and
magazines, has played an increasingly important role in providing a
forum for an intense debate regarding reform in the society. However,
basic legal safeguards for freedom of expression are lacking, and the
independent press has been subjected to arbitrary enforcement measures
by elements of the Government, notably the judiciary, which see in such
debates a threat to their own hold on power.
Newspapers and magazines represent a wide variety of political and
social perspectives, some allied with particular figures within the
Government. Many subjects of discussion are tolerated, including
criticism of certain government policies. However, the 1995 Press Law
prohibits the publishing of a broad and ill-defined category of
subjects, including material "insulting Islam and its
sanctities" or "promoting subjects that might damage the
foundation of the Islamic Republic." Generally prohibited topics
include fault-finding comment on the personality and achievements of the
late Leader of the Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini; direct criticism of
the current Supreme Leader; assailing the principle of velayat-e faqih,
or rule by a supreme religious leader; questioning the tenets of certain
Islamic legal principles; sensitive or classified material affecting
national security; promotion of the views of certain dissident clerics,
including Grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri; and promotion of rights or
autonomy of ethnic minorities.
Oversight of the press is carried out in accordance with a press law
that was enacted in 1995. The law established the Press Supervisory
Board, which is composed of the Minister of Islamic Culture and
Guidance, a Supreme Court judge, a Member of Parliament, and a
university professor who is appointed by the Minister of Islamic Culture
and Guidance. The Board is responsible for issuing press licenses and
for examining complaints filed against publications or individual
journalists, editors, and publishers. In certain cases, the Press
Supervisory Board may refer complaints to the courts for further action,
including closure. The Press Court hears such complaints. Its hearings
are conducted in public and feature the presence of a jury that is
composed of clerics, government officials, and editors of
government-controlled newspapers. The jury is empowered to recommend to
the presiding judge the guilt or innocence of defendants and the
severity of any penalty to be imposed, although these recommendations
are not binding legally. In at least two cases during the year (against
the newspapers Jame-eh Salem and Adineh), recommendations made by Press
Court juries for relatively lenient penalties were disregarded by the
presiding judge in favor of harsher measures, including closure.
Perhaps because the judgments of the Press Courts have not been viewed
as sufficiently strict by some government officials, alleged violations
of the Press Law increasingly were referred to the Revolutionary and
Special Clerical Courts, in which defendants enjoy fewer legal
safeguards (see Section 1.e.).
Two notable amendments to the 1995 Press Law were circulated in the
Parliament during the year. The first would curtail severely the
current freedoms held by the independent press, including by making
individual journalists--and not their publishers--personally liable for
violations of the Press Law, and by requiring the directors of
publications to reveal to the Government their sources for the articles
they publish. The amendment was opposed by Minister of Culture and
Islamic Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani during parliamentary debate. It
requires further parliamentary examination before implementation. In
August another amendment apparently directed at the independent press
was proposed, which would define a new class of "political
offenses," including the "exchange of information with foreign
embassies, diplomatic representatives, media, and political parties,
that may be determined to put national interests in jeopardy."
This amendment was submitted to the Cabinet for further discussion, and
reportedly remains pending there. The U.N. Special Representative noted
in his October report that "passage of these two pieces of new
legislation, both apparently opposed by those most concerned, would
constitute a major defeat for the right of free expression."
Public officials frequently levy complaints against journalists,
editors, and publishers, and even rival publications. The practice of
complaining about the writings of journalists crosses ideological lines.
Offending writers are subject to trial, with fines, suspension from
journalistic activities, and imprisonment all common punishments on
findings of guilt for offenses ranging from "fabrication" to
"propaganda against the State" to "insulting the
leadership of the Islamic Republic."
Police raid newspaper offices, and Ansar-e Hezbollah mobs attack the
offices of liberal publications and bookstores without interference from
the police or prosecution by the courts.
The country's record on freedom of expression was mixed during the year.
It remained the central issue of the struggle between hard liners and
political reformers in society. The Government continued its policy of
issuing licenses for new publications, many of which engaged in open
criticism of certain government policies. However, opponents of such
openness continued their assault, begun in 1998, on the relative freedom
enjoyed by the independent press since the election of President
Khatami. In March then-head of the judiciary Mohammad Yazdi addressed
reform-oriented journalists and the issue of press freedom in a Friday
prayer sermon broadcast throughout the country, stating that there
"is no freedom for you to write and say anything you like. Our
people do not want such freedom if it is against the tenets of Islam.
Do not come out tomorrow and ask why you were not warned in advance. Do
not cry out when we arrest someone."
As an example of the division within the various branches of the
Government on this issue, the Majles conducted impeachment hearings in
April against Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ataollah
Mohajerani. Mohajerani is viewed as a major force within the Government
for greater press and academic freedom. Among the charges brought
against Mohajerani were that his Ministry had failed to prevent the
publishing of material that "insulted Islamic sanctities," and
that "propagated corruption and obscenity." However, the
hearing was viewed as a more general attack on the policy of press
liberalization at the Ministry during Mohajerani's tenure. The motion
failed by a vote of 135-121 and Mohajerani continued in his position.
Numerous publications were banned or suspended during the year. The
U.N. Special Representative reported 40 complaints against publications
in the period from January to August. Many of the leading publications
that represented the views of the reform movement were ordered closed
during the year, including Salaam, Rah-e No, Jame'eh Salem, Iran-e
Farda, Adineh, Neshat, and Khordad. In March the magazine Zan (Woman)
was ordered closed by a Revolutionary Court for publishing part of a New
Year's greeting to the citizenry from the former Empress, Fara Pahlavi,
who is living in exile, and for printing a cartoon satirizing an aspect
of Shari'a (Islamic law) that is currently in effect, under which the
"blood money" that is paid to the family of a murdered woman
equals half that paid to the family of a murdered man.
Several individual editors and publishers were arrested and fined for
alleged violations of the Press Law. At the same time, the Government
continued to issue licenses for the creation of such publications. In
one such case, a leading reformist daily, Neshat, was ordered closed in
September, and its editor, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, was arrested on
charges concerning the publication in Neshat of an article that called
for the abolition of the death penalty. However, his arrest was not
carried out by the authorities until November, and in the intervening
period, Shamsolvaezin obtained a new license and oversaw the creation
and publication of a new daily newspaper, Asr-e Azadegan, which assumed
the same reform orientation that had characterized Neshat.
The Government monitors carefully the statements and views of Iran's
senior religious leaders to prevent disruptive dissent within the
clerical ranks. In November 1997, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a
cleric formerly designated as the successor to Iran's late Spiritual
Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, called into question the authority of the
current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, criticizing his increasing
intervention in government policy. The comments sparked attacks by
Ansar-e Hezbollah mobs on Montazeri's residence and a Koranic school in
Qom run by Montazeri. The promotion of Montazeri's views were among the
charges brought against clerics Mohsen Kadivar and Abdollah Nouri at
hearings of the Special Clerical Court during the year.
The press reported throughout the year that several persons were jailed
for expressing support for Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. In October it was
reported that Akbar Tajik-Saeeki, identified as the prayer leader at a
Tehran mosque, was jailed by the Special Court for the Clergy for
signing a petition that protested the continued detention of Grand
Ayatollah Montazeri. Support for Montazeri was also one of the charges
included in the wide-ranging indictment of former Interior Minister
Abdollah Nouri (see Section 1.e.).
The 134 signatories of the 1994 Declaration of Iranian Writers, which
declared a collective intent to work for the removal of barriers to
freedom of thought and expression, remain at risk. In July the
Association of International Writers, known by its acronym PEN, released
a statement noting that authorities had never solved the murders of
signatories Ahmad Mirallai, Ghafar Hosseini, Ahmad Modhtari, Mohammad
Jafar Pouyandeh, Ebrahim Zalzadeh, and Darioush and Parvaneh Forouhar,
nor the disappearance in late 1998 of Pirouz Davani. PEN had reported
in October 1998 that Declaration signatories Mohammad Pouyandeh,
Mohammad Mokhtari, Houshang Golshiri, Kazem Kardevani, and Mansour
Koushan were questioned by a Revolutionary Court in connection with
their attempts to convene a meeting of the Iran Writer's Association.
Mokhtari and Pouyandeh subsequently were murdered, while signatory
Mansour Koushan reportedly fled to Norway.
The Government directly controls and maintains a monopoly over all
television and radio broadcasting facilities; programming reflects the
Government's political and socio-religious ideology. Because newspapers
and other print media have a limited circulation outside large cities,
radio and television serve as the principal news source for many
citizens. Satellite dishes that receive foreign television broadcasts
are forbidden; however, many citizens, particularly the wealthy, own
them. In May the Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance stated in
public remarks that the Government might support an easing of the
satellite ban. However, Supreme Leader Khamenei, who makes the ultimate
determination on issues that involve radio and television broadcasting,
quickly criticized any potential change as amounting to
"surrender" to Western culture, effectively ending any further
debate of the idea.
The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance is charged with screening
books prior to publication to ensure that they do not contain offensive
material. However, some books and pamphlets critical of the Government
are published without reprisal. The Ministry inspects foreign printed
materials prior to their release on the market.
Legal scholar Hojatoleslam Sayyid Mohsen Saidzadeh, who was convicted by
the SCC in 1998 for his outspoken criticism of the treatment women under
the law, was released from prison early in year; however, the Government
banned him from performing any clerical duties for 5 years and
prohibited him from publishing (see Section 1.e.).
The Government effectively censors Iranian-made films, since it is the
main source of funding for Iranian film producers, who must submit
scripts and film proposals to government officials in advance of funding
approval. However, such government restrictions appear to have eased
since the election of President Khatami.
President Khatami announced in September 1998 that the Government would
take no action to threaten the life of British author Salman Rushdie, or
anyone associated with his work "The Satanic Verses."
However, his remarks were repudiated by other parties, including the 15
Khordad Foundation, which claims to have financed a bounty for the
murder of Rushdie (see Section 1.a.).
Academic censorship persists. In his 1996 interim report, the U.N.
Special Representative noted the existence of a campaign to bring about
the "Islamization of the universities," which appeared to be a
movement to purge persons alleged to "fight against the sanctities
of the Islamic system." Government informers who monitor classroom
material reportedly are common on university campuses. Admission to
universities is politicized; all applicants must pass "character
tests" in which officials screen out applicants critical of the
Government's ideology. To obtain tenure, professors must cooperate with
government authorities over a period of years. Ansar-e Hezbollah thugs
disrupt lectures and appearances by academics whose views do not conform
with their own. In October a newspaper announced that a post-graduate
philosophy course taught by Professor Abdolkarim Soroush at Tehran
University was canceled due to threats to set fire to the classroom by
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution permits assemblies and marches "provided they do
not violate the principles of Islam;" however, in practice the
Government restricts freedom of assembly and closely monitors gatherings
to ensure that they do not constitute uncontrolled antigovernment
protest. Such gatherings include public entertainment and lectures,
student gatherings, labor protests, funeral processions, and Friday
prayer gatherings. A significant factor for groups in deciding whether
to hold a public gathering is whether it would be opposed by the
quasi-official Ansar-e Hezbollah, which uses violence and intimidation
to disperse such assemblies.
The Government forcefully suppressed demonstrations by Kurds in the wake
of the February arrest of PKK leader Abudullah Ocalan in Turkey.
Security forces reportedly killed 20 persons and made several hundred
arrests (see Sections 1.a., 1.c., and 5).
On July 8, students at Tehran University who were protesting proposed
legislation by the Majles that would limit press freedoms and the
Government's closure of a prominent reform-oriented newspaper, were
attacked by elements of the security forces and Ansar-e Hezbollah thugs.
Police forces reportedly looked on and allowed repeated attacks against
the students and their dormitory. Human Rights Watch reported that,
according to witnesses, at least 4 students were killed in the assault
on the dormitory, 300 were wounded, and 400 were taken into detention.
The demonstrations continued to grow in subsequent days to include many
nonstudents. Looting, vandalism, and large-scale rioting began and
spread to cities outside Tehran. Student groups attempted to distance
their organizations from these later acts, which they blamed on
government-sanctioned agitators. The Government intervened to stop the
rioting and announced a July 14 counter-demonstration of regime
loyalists and off-duty government workers, many of whom were bussed in
from other cities for the demonstration.
In the aftermath of these events, the Government took action against
members of the security forces for their violent assault on the student
dormitory, and against student leaders, demonstrators, and political
activists, whom it blamed for inciting illegal behavior. In August the
commander of the security forces, General Hedayat Lotfian, was summoned
before the Parliament to explain the role of his officers in the
dormitory raid. He reportedly announced that 98 officers were arrested
for their actions. In September the head of the Tehran Revolutionary
Court, Hojatoleslam Gholamhossein Rahbarpour, was quoted as saying that
1,500 students were arrested during the riots, 500 were released
immediately after questioning, 800 were released later, and formal
investigations were undertaken against the remaining 200. He also
announced that four student leaders were sentenced to death by a
Revolutionary Court for their role in the demonstrations. He gave no
details of the court proceedings against the four, which apparently were
conducted in secret.
The Government arrested the leaders of the Iran Nations Party in the
aftermath of the July demonstrations. The party is a secular
nationalist movement that predates the revolution and is viewed as a
threat by certain elements of the Government. The party was accused of
inciting rioters and of encouraging disparaging slogans against
"sacred values." The former head of the Iran Nations Party,
Darioush Forouhar, was murdered along with his wife in late 1998 by
agents of the Iranian intelligence service (see Section 1.a.).
The Government limits freedom of association. The Constitution provides
for the establishment of political parties, professional associations,
Islamic religious groups, and recognized religious minorities, provided
that such groups do not violate the principles of "freedom,
sovereignty, and national unity," or question Islam as the basis of
the Islamic Republic. President Khatami has repeatedly declared as a
major goal the development of civil society. A newspaper reported in
June that the Article Ten Commission, a government body responsible for
reviewing applications for the establishment of political parties,
guilds, societies, and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), released
figures indicating that as of April, "85 political, 115
specialized, and 26 religious minority organizations and
associations" were active in the country.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Government restricts freedom of religion. The Constitution declares
that the "official religion of Iran is Islam and the sect followed
is that of Ja'fari (Twelver) Shi'ism," and that this principle is
"eternally immutable." It also states that "other
Islamic denominations are to be accorded full respect," and
recognizes Zoroastrians, Christians, and Jews (Iran's pre-Islamic
religions) as the only "protected religious minorities."
Religions not specifically protected under the Constitution do not enjoy
freedom of religion. This situation most directly affects the nearly
350,000 followers of the Baha'i Faith, who effectively enjoy no legal
The central feature of the country's Islamic republican system is rule
by a "religious jurisconsult." Its senior leadership,
including the Supreme Leader of the Revolution, the President, the head
of the Judiciary, and the Speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly
(Parliament), is composed principally of Shi'a clergymen.
Religious activity is monitored closely by the Ministry of Intelligence
and Security (MOIS). Adherents of recognized religious minorities are
not required to register individually with the Government, although
their community, religious, and cultural organizations, as well as
schools and public events are monitored closely. Baha'is are not
recognized by the Government as a legitimate religious group; rather,
they are considered an outlawed political organization. Registration of
Baha'i adherents is a police function. Evangelical Christian groups are
pressured by government authorities to compile and hand over membership
lists for their congregations. Evangelicals have resisted this demand.
Non-Muslim owners of grocery shops are required to indicate their
religious affiliation on the front of their shops.
The population is approximately 99 percent Muslim, of which 89 percent
are Shi'a and 10 percent are Sunni (mostly Turkmen, Arab, Baluch, and
Kurd living in the southwest, southeast, and northwest). Baha'i,
Christian, Zoroastrian, and Jewish communities compose less than 1
percent of the population. Sufi Brotherhoods are popular, but there are
no reliable figures available to judge their true size.
The U.N. Special Representative for Human Rights in Iran noted in his
September 1998 report frequent assertions that religious minorities are,
by law and practice, barred from being elected to a representative body
(except to the seats in the Majles reserved for minorities, as provided
for in Article 64 of the Constitution) and from holding senior
government or military positions. Members of religious minorities are
allowed to vote, but they may not run for President. All religious
minorities suffer varying degrees of officially sanctioned
discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and
housing (see Section 5).
The Government allows recognized religious minorities to conduct
religious education of their adherents. This includes separate, and
privately funded Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian schools. These
schools are supervised by the Ministry of Education, which imposes
certain curriculum requirements. With few exceptions, the directors of
these private schools must be Muslim. Attendance at these schools is
not mandatory for recognized religious minorities. All textbooks used
in course work must be approved for use by the Ministry of Education,
including religious texts. Religious texts in non-Persian languages
require approval by the authorities for use. This requirement imposes
sometimes significant translation expenses on minority communities.
Recognized religious minorities may provide religious instruction in
non-Persian languages but often come under pressure from the authorities
when conducting such instruction in Persian. In particular, evangelical
Christian and Jewish communities have suffered harassment and arrest by
authorities for the printing of materials or delivery of sermons in
Recognized religious minorities are allowed by the Government to
establish community centers and certain cultural, social, sports or
charitable associations which they finance themselves. This does not
apply to the Baha'i community which, since 1983, has been denied the
right to assemble officially or to maintain administrative institutions.
Because the Baha'i Faith has no clergy, the denial of the right to form
such institutions and elect officers has threatened its existence in
University applicants are required to pass an examination in Islamic
theology. Although public-school students receive instruction in Islam,
this requirement limits the access of most religious minorities to
higher education. Applicants for public sector employment similarly are
screened for their knowledge of Islam.
Religious minorities suffer discrimination in the legal system,
receiving lower awards in injury and death lawsuits, and incurring
heavier punishments than Muslims. Muslim men are free to marry
non-Muslim women, but the opposite does not apply. Marriages between
Muslim women and non-Muslim men are not recognized.
The Government is highly suspicious of any proselytizing of Muslims by
non-Muslims and can be harsh in its response, in particular against
Baha'is and evangelical Christians. The Government regards the Baha'i
community, whose faith originally derives from a strand of Islam, as a
"misguided" or "wayward" sect. The Government has
fueled anti-Baha'i and anti-Jewish sentiment in the country for
The Government does not ensure the right of citizens to change or
replace their religious faith. Apostasy, specifically conversion from
Islam, can be punishable by death.
Although Sunni Muslims are accorded full respect under the terms of the
Constitution, some Sunni groups claim discrimination on the part of the
Government. In particular, Sunnis cite the lack of a Sunni mosque in
Tehran and claim that authorities refuse to authorize construction of a
Sunni place of worship in the capital. Numerous Sunni clerics have been
murdered in recent years, some allegedly by agents of the regime. For
example, Human Rights Watch reported in 1998 the killing of Sunni prayer
leader Molavi Imam Bakhsh Narouie in the province of Sistan
va-Baluchistan in the southeast. This led to protests from the local
community, which believed that government authorities were involved in
There were no reports of heightened repression by the authorities of
Sufi religious practices during the year, as had been reported by Sufi
organizations outside the country in previous years.
The largest non-Muslim minority is the Baha'i Faith, estimated at nearly
350,000 adherents throughout the country. The Baha'i Faith originated
in Iran during the 1840's as a reformist movement within Shi'a Islam.
Initially it attracted a wide following among Shi'a clergy. The
political and religious authorities of that time joined to suppress the
movement, and since then the hostility of the Shi'a clergy to the Baha'i
Faith has remained intense. Baha'is are considered apostates because of
their claim to a valid religious revelation subsequent to that of the
Prophet Mohammed. The Baha'i Faith is defined by the Government as a
political sect historically linked to the Shah's regime and, therefore,
as counterrevolutionary, and characterized by its espionage activities
for the benefit of foreign entities, particularly Israel. Historically
at risk in Iran, Bahai's often have suffered increased levels of
persecution during times of political ferment. Baha'is also faced
discrimination under the Shah.
Baha'is may not teach or practice their faith or maintain links with
coreligionists abroad. The fact that the Baha'i world headquarters is
situated in what is now the state of Israel (established by the founder
of the Baha'i Faith in the 19th century in what was then
Ottoman-controlled Palestine) exposes Baha'is to government charges of
"espionage on behalf of Zionism," in particular when Bahai's
are caught communicating with or addressing monetary contributions to
the Baha'i Faith headquarters.
Broad restrictions on Baha'is appear to be geared to destroying them as
a community. They repeatedly have been offered relief from persecution
in exchange for recanting their faith. Baha'i marriages are not
recognized by the Government, leaving Baha'i women open to charges of
prostitution. Children of Baha'i marriages are not recognized as
legitimate and, therefore, are denied inheritance rights. Baha'i sacred
and historical properties have been confiscated systematically. Baha'is
are not allowed to bury and honor their dead in keeping with their
religious tradition, while many historic Baha'i gravesites have been
confiscated, and in some cases, desecrated or destroyed. In October
1998, three Baha'is were arrested in Damavand, a city north of Tehran,
on the grounds that they had buried their dead without government
Ruhollah Rowhani, a Baha'i, was executed in July 1998 after having
served 9 months in solitary confinement on a charge of apostasy, which
arose from his allegedly having converted a Muslim woman to the Baha'i
Faith. The woman concerned held that her mother was a Baha'i and she
herself had been raised a Baha'i. Mr. Rowhani was not accorded a public
trial, and no sentence was announced prior to his execution.
Two other Baha'is, Sirus Zabihi-Moghaddam and Hadayat
Kashefi-Najafabadi, were tried alongside Rowhani and later sentenced to
death by a revolutionary court in Mashad for the exercise of their
faith. Unofficial reports received by Baha'i groups outside the country
in March indicated that the death sentences against Zabihi-Moghaddam and
Kashefi-Najafabadi had been lifted. The two remain in prison and there
is no confirmation of a new sentence.
Baha'i group meetings and religious education, which often take place in
private homes and offices, are curtailed severely. Public and private
universities continue to deny admittance to Baha'i students, a
particularly demoralizing blow to a community that traditionally has
placed a high value on education. Denial of access to higher education
appears aimed at the eventual impoverishment of the Baha'i community.
In September 1998, authorities began a nationwide operation to disrupt
the activities of the Baha'i Institute of Higher Learning, also known as
the "Open University," which was established by the Baha'i
community shortly after the revolution to offer opportunities in higher
education to Baha'i students who had been denied access to the country's
high schools and universities. The Institute employed Baha'i faculty
and professors, many of whom had been dismissed from teaching positions
by the Government as a result of their faith, and conducted classes in
homes or offices owned or rented by Baha'is. In the assault, which took
place in at least 14 different cities, 36 faculty members were arrested,
and a variety of personal property, including books, papers, and
furniture, either were destroyed or confiscated. Government
interrogators sought to force the detained faculty members to sign
statements acknowledging that the Open University now was defunct and
pledging not to collaborate with it in the future. Baha'is outside the
country report that none of the 36 detainees would sign the document.
All but four of the 36 subsequently were released.
In March Dr. Sina Hakiman, Farzad Khajeh Sharifabadi, Habibullah
Ferdosian Najafabadi, and Ziaullah Mirzapanah, the four remaining
detainees from the September 1998 raid, were convicted under Article 498
of the Penal Code and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 3 to 10
years. In the court verdict, the four were accused of having
establishing a "secret organization" engaged in
"attracting youth, teaching against Islam, and teaching against the
regime of the Islamic Republic." According to Baha'i groups
outside Iran, the four were science instructors. In October Baha'i
groups outside the country reported that all four were released from
prison. There was no explanation for the release.
The Government appears to adhere to a practice of keeping a small number
of Baha'is in arbitrary detention, some at risk of execution, at any
given time. There were at least 12 Baha'is reported to be under arrest
for practicing their faith at year's end, 5 under sentence of death.
Baha'is regularly are denied compensation for injury or criminal
victimization. Government authorities claim that only Muslim plaintiffs
are eligible for compensation in these circumstances. Baha'is are
prohibited from government employment (see Section 5).
In 1993 the U.N. Special Representative reported the existence of a
government policy directive on the Baha'is. According to the directive,
the Supreme Revolutionary Council instructed government agencies to
block the progress and development of the Baha'i community, expel Baha'i
students from universities, cut the Baha'is' links with groups outside
Iran, restrict the employment of Baha'is, and deny Baha'is
"positions of influence," including those in education. The
Government claims that the directive is a forgery. However, it appears
to be an accurate reflection of current government practice.
In his 1996 report to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the U.N.
Special Rapporteur on the Question of Religious Intolerance recommended
"that the ban on the Baha'i organization should be lifted to enable
it to organize itself freely through its administrative institutions,
which are vital in the absence of a clergy, so that it can engage fully
in its religious activities." In response to the Special
Rapporteur's concerns with regard to the lack of official recognition of
the Baha'i Faith, government officials stated that Baha'is "are not
a religious minority, but a political organization that was associated
with the Shah's regime, is against the Iranian Revolution, and engages
in espionage activities." The Government asserted to the Special
Representative that, as individuals, all Baha'is were entitled to their
beliefs and protected under other articles of the Constitution as
The Christian community is estimated at approximately 117,000 according
to government figures. Of these the majority are ethnic Armenians and
Assyro-Chaldeans. Protestant denominations and evangelical churches
also are active, although nonethnically based groups report a greater
degree of restrictions on their activities.
Authorities have become particularly vigilant in recent years in curbing
what is perceived as increasing proselytizing activities by evangelical
Christians, whose services are conducted in Persian. Conversion of a
Muslim to a non-Muslim religion can be considered apostasy. Government
officials have reacted to this perceived activity by closing evangelical
churches and arresting converts. Members of evangelical congregations
are required to carry membership cards, photocopies of which must be
provided to the authorities. Worshipers are subject to identity checks
by authorities posted outside congregation centers. Meetings for
evangelical services have been restricted by the authorities to Sundays,
and church officials have been ordered to inform the Ministry of
Information and Islamic Guidance before admitting new members to their
Evangelical church leaders are subject to pressure from authorities to
sign pledges committing them not to evangelize Muslims or to allow
Muslims to attend church services. Evangelical communities in Iran
report a heightened sense of fear from authorities in the period since
the murders of three prominent Iranian evangelical ministers in 1994,
Reverends Tatavous Michaelian, Mehdi Dibaj, and Haik Hovsepian Mehr.
Three female members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq organization were
convicted for the murders of the three ministers; however, many
observers believe that authorities played a role in the killings. Late
in the year, a prominent investigative journalist raised new questions
about the guilt of the three women convicted of the 1994 murders,
alleging that the real murderers may have been officials within the
Intelligence Ministry linked to the deaths of several prominent
dissidents in late 1998 (see Section 1.a.).
One organization reported 8 deaths of evangelical Christians at the
hands of authorities in the past 10 years, and between 15 and 23
disappearances in the year between November 1997 and November 1998.
Oppression of evangelical Christians continued during the year.
Christian groups reported instances of government harassment of
churchgoers in Tehran, in particular against worshipers at the Assembly
of God congregation in the capital. Instances of harassment cited
included conspicuous monitoring outside Christian premises by
Revolutionary Guards to discourage Muslims or converts from entering
church premises and demands for presentation of identity papers of
worshipers inside. Iranian Christians International (ICI) detailed the
cases of Alireza and Mahboobeh Mahmoudian, converts to Christianity and
lay leaders of the Saint Simon the Zealot Osgofi Church in Shiraz, who
were forced to leave the country permanently in June 1998 after
continued harassment by the authorities. The ICI reported that Alireza
Mahmoudian had lost his job because of his conversion and had been
beaten repeatedly by Basiji and Ansar-e Hezbollah thugs on the orders of
government officials from the Ministry of Islamic Guidance. His wife,
Mahboobeh, also had been the subject of intimidation, principally
through frequent and aggressive interrogation by government officials.
Estimates of the size of the Iranian Jewish community vary from 25,000
to 40,000. These figures represent a substantial reduction from the
estimated 75,000 to 80,000 Jews who resided in the country prior to the
While Jews are a recognized religious minority, allegations of official
discrimination are frequent. The Government's anti-Israel policies,
coupled with a perception among radicalized Muslim elements in Iran that
Jewish citizens support Zionism and the State of Israel, create a
threatening atmosphere for the small Jewish community. Jewish leaders
reportedly are reluctant to draw attention to official mistreatment of
their community due to fear of government reprisal.
Some outside Jewish groups cite an increase in anti-Semitic propaganda
in the official and semi-official media as adding to the pressure felt
by the Jewish community. One example cited is the periodic publication
of the anti-Semitic and fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, both
by the Government and by periodicals associated with hard-line elements
of the regime. In 1986 the Iranian Embassy in London was reported to
have published and distributed the Protocols in English. The Protocols
also were published in serial form in the country in 1994 and again in
January. On the latter occasion they were published in Sobh, a
conservative monthly publication reportedly aligned with the security
There appears to be little restriction or interference with religious
practice or education, but Jews were eased out of government positions
after 1979. Jews are permitted to obtain passports and to travel
outside the country; however, with the exception of certain business
travelers, they are required by the authorities to obtain government
clearance (and pay additional fees) before each trip abroad. The
Government appears concerned about the emigration of Jews and permission
generally is not granted for all members of a Jewish family to travel
outside the country at the same time.
In February and March, 13 Jews were arrested in the cities of Shiraz and
Isfahan. Among the group were several prominent rabbis, teachers of
Hebrew, and their students. The charges centered on alleged acts of
espionage on behalf of Israel, an offense punishable by death. The
Government claimed that several non-Jews also were arrested as part of
the same operation. The judicial authorities did not reveal any
evidence to support the continued detention of the 13 Jews, and no
indictments were made. Governments around the world criticized the
arrests and called for the safe treatment of the detainees, who were
allowed only sporadic family visits and deliveries of kosher food.
Credible bases for the charges appeared weak, but may relate to the
reported occasional business travel of several of the detainees between
Iran and Israel. Attempts by relatives and Jewish community leaders to
gain clarification of the charges and assurances of due process were not
successful. Jews in Iran reportedly are reluctant to protest or speak
out publicly on the matter due to fear of government reprisal. None of
the detainees were granted access to counsel, after nearly a year in
Human Rights Watch reported the death in May 1998 of Jewish businessman
Ruhollah Kakhodah-Zadeh, who was hanged in prison without a public
charge or legal proceeding. Reports indicate that Kakhodah-Zadeh may
have been killed for assisting Jews to emigrate. As an accountant,
Kakhoda-Zadeh had provided power-of-attorney services for Jews departing
The Government restricts the movement of several senior religious
leaders, some of whom have been under house arrest for years (see
Sections 1.d. and 2.d.), and often charges members of religious
minorities with crimes such as drug offenses, "confronting the
regime," and apostasy (see Section 1.e.).
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel,
Emigration, and Repatriation
The Government places some restrictions on these rights. Citizens may
travel to any part of the country, although there have been restrictions
on travel to Kurdish areas during times of occasional heavy fighting.
Road blocks and security checks are common on routes between major
cities. Citizens may change their place of residence without obtaining
official permission. The Government requires exit permits (a validation
stamp placed in the traveler's passport) for draft-age males and
citizens who are politically suspect. Some citizens, particularly those
whose skills are in short supply and who were educated at government
expense, must post bonds to obtain exit permits. The Government
restricts the movement of certain religious minorities and of several
religious leaders (see Sections 1.d. and 2.c.).
Citizens returning from abroad sometimes are subject to search and
extensive questioning by government authorities for evidence of
antiregime activities abroad. Cassette tapes, printed material, and
personal correspondence and photographs are subject to confiscation.
The Government permits Jews to travel abroad, but often denies them the
multiple-exit permits normally issued to other citizens. The Government
normally does not permit all members of a Jewish family to travel abroad
at the same time. Baha'is often experience difficulty getting
passports. Women must obtain the permission of their husband, father,
or other living male relative in order to obtain a passport. Married
women must receive written permission from their husbands before
embarking on a trip outside the country.
The law contains provisions for granting refugee status in accordance
with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its
1967 Protocol. The Government generally cooperates with the U.N. High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations
in assisting refugees. Although the Government generally provides first
asylum, the Government increased pressure on some refugees to return to
their home countries, particularly as the economy has worsened.
The country hosts a large refugee population. The Government and the
UNHCR estimate that there are approximately 1.4 million Afghan refugees
in the country. Of this total, about 21,200 are accommodated in refugee
camps administered by the Government. The rest subsist on itinerant
labor, often moving from place to place within the country. The UNHCR
reported that from 1992 through August 1998, 568,671 Afghans were
repatriated voluntarily to Afghanistan with the assistance of the UNHCR.
The same report also estimated that within the same period, an estimated
1 million Afghans in Iran returned independently to their country.
There were reports in late 1998 and early in the year of a surge in the
numbers of Afghans forcibly repatriated to their country by government
officials and military personnel. Reasons cited were a worsening
economic situation and anger over the murders in August 1998 of nine
Iranian diplomats and journalists stationed at the Iranian Consulate in
the Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif. There also were reports during this
period of civilian mob attacks against groups of Afghan refugees, which
resulted in numerous deaths. Afghan refugees who do not reside in
official refugee camps increasingly are denied basic services from the
State, including health services, education for their children, and
housing. Refugee groups report that Afghans live in extreme poverty in
groups of makeshift communities on the outskirts of villages.
The UNHCR estimates that there are about 580,000 Iraqi Kurdish and Arab
refugees in the country. Many of these Iraqi refugees originally were
expelled by Iraq at the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war because of their
suspected Iranian origin. In many of these cases, both the Iraqi and
Iranian Governments dispute their citizenship, rendering many of them,
in effect, stateless. Other Iraqi refugees arrived following Iraq's
invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Although the Government claims to host more than 30,000 refugees of
other nationalities, including Tajiks, Bosnians, Azeris, Eritreans,
Somalis, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, it has provided no information
about them or allowed the UNHCR or other organizations access to them.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to
Change Their Government
The right of citizens to change their government is restricted. The
Supreme Leader, the recognized Head of State, is selected for a life
term by the Assembly of Experts. The Supreme Leader may also be removed
by the Assembly of Experts. The Assembly itself is restricted to
clerics, who serve an 8-year term and are chosen by popular vote from a
list approved by the Government. There is no separation of state and
religion, and clerics dominate the Government. The Government represses
any attempts to separate state and religion, or to alter the State's
existing theocratic foundation. The selection of candidates for
elections effectively is controlled by the Government.
The Constitution provides for a Council of Guardians composed of six
Islamic clergymen and six lay members who review all laws for
consistency with Islamic law and the Constitution. The Council also
screens political candidates for ideological, political, and religious
suitability. It accepts only candidates who support a theocratic state;
clerics who disagree with government policies also have been
Regularly scheduled elections are held for the President, members of the
Majles, and the Assembly of Experts. Mohammad Khatami, a former
Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance who was impeached in 1992 by
the Majles for "liberalism" and "negligence," was
elected President in May 1997. The Interior Ministry estimated that
over 90 percent of the eligible population voted in that election.
During the campaign, there was considerable government intervention and
censorship. For example, the Council of Guardians reviewed 238
candidates, including a woman, but allowed only 4 individuals to run.
Three were clerics; all were men. Khatami won nearly 70 percent of the
vote, with his greatest support coming from the middle class, youth,
minorities, and women. The election results were not disputed, and the
Government did not appear to have engaged in fraud.
The Government in 1997 nullified results from the 1996 Majles elections
in several districts, including Malayer, Astara, and Isfahan.
Elections were held in the fall of 1998 for the 86-member Assembly of
Experts. The Council of Guardians disqualified numerous candidates,
which led to criticism from many observers that the Government
improperly predetermined the election results.
In February elections for nationwide local councils were held for the
first time since the 1979 revolution. Government figures indicated that
roughly 280,000 candidates competed for 130,000 council seats across the
nation. Women were elected to seats in numerous districts. The
Councils do not appear to have been granted the autonomy or authority
that would make them effective or meaningful local institutions; doing
so could be viewed as a threat to the control of the central Government.
Vigorous parliamentary debates take place on various issues. Most
deputies are associated with powerful political and religious officials,
but often vote independently and shift from one faction to another.
Women are underrepresented in government. They hold 13 of 270 Majles
seats. There are no female cabinet members. In 1997 President Khatami
appointed the first female vice president (for environmental protection)
since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Masoumeh Ebtekar, following his
inauguration. Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ataollah
Mohajerani appointed a second woman to a senior post, Azam Nouri, when
he chose her in 1997 as his Deputy Minister for Legal and Parliamentary
Affairs. President Khatami appointed a woman to serve as Presidential
Adviser for Women's Affairs.
Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians elect deputies to specially reserved
Majles seats. However, the UN Special Representative noted in his
September report frequent assertions that religious minorities are, by
law and practice, barred from being elected to a representative body
(except to the seats in the Majles reserved for minorities), and from
holding senior government or military positions. Religious minorities
are allowed to vote, but they may not run for president.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government continued to restrict the work of local human rights
groups. The Government denies the universality of human rights and has
stated that human rights issues should be viewed in the context of a
country's "culture and beliefs."
Various professional groups representing writers, journalists,
photographers, and others attempt to monitor government restrictions in
their field and harassment and intimidation against individual members
of their professions. However, their ability to meet, organize, and
effect change is curtailed severely by the Government.
International human rights NGO's such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and
Amnesty International, are not permitted to establish offices or conduct
regular investigative visits to Iran. Human Rights Watch reported that
it was able to send its researcher, an Iranian national, to Iran during
the year, but that other HRW staff members and representatives of other
human rights NGO's were denied visas.
The ICRC and the UNHCR both operate in the country. However, the
Government did not allow the U.N. Special Representative for Human
Rights in Iran to visit the country during the year. He was last
allowed entry into Iran to gather information for his yearly report in
1996. However, the Special Representative corresponded with government
officials during the year, and received several replies to his
The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) was established in 1995 under
the authority of the head of the judiciary, who sits on its board as an
observer. In 1996 the Government established a human rights committee
in the Majles. Most observers believe that these bodies lack
independence. The U.N. Special Representative published statistics
provided by the IHRC indicating that in the period from March 1998 to
March 1999, 1,051 files were opened on the basis of complaints received
by the organization. Of those the highest number of complaints were
related to the judiciary. Of a total of some 3,000 currently active
files, approximately 1,000 were related to women and women's issues.
The Special Representative urged that the statistics in the reports of
the IHRC be broken down further and that positive trends and best
practices be publicized, and that a national action plan for human
rights be developed.
In January a newspaper quoted Mohammad Zia'i Far, secretary of the IHRC,
as calling for greater information from government authorities regarding
the government's investigation into the murders of prominent dissidents
and intellectuals in late 1998 (see section 1.a.). The press also
reported that the IHRC sought permission from the Special Court for the
Clergy to visit imprisoned cleric Mohsen Kadivar in Evin Prison in March
(see Section 1.e.). The request reportedly was never answered. In 1998
Ziaei-Far reportedly complained about the use by police of "special
detention centers" to conduct coercive interrogations of detainees
(see Section 1.c.) and acknowledged widespread human rights violations.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability,
Language, or Social Status
In general the Government does not discriminate on the basis of race,
disability, language, or social status. The Government does
discriminate on the basis of religion and sex.
Although reported cases of spousal abuse and violence against women
occur, the statistics on such reports are not available publicly. Abuse
in the family is considered a private matter and seldom is discussed
publicly. In May the President's Advisor on Women's Affairs was quoted
in the press as stating that "one cannot claim that violence
against women does not take place in Iran." The Special
Representative noted in his September report the ongoing development by
the Government of a "National Action Plan" to address violence
against women, which reportedly is to include "legal and judicial
measures, a public information campaign, establishment of a women's
police college, and an organization for defending women in peril as well
as victims of violence." There was no indication when this plan
would be complete.
Women have access to primary and advanced education; however, social and
legal constraints tend to limit their professional opportunities. Women
are represented in many fields of the work force, and the Government has
not prevented women from entering many traditionally male-dominated
fields, including medicine, dentistry, journalism and agriculture.
Women's entry into these and other fields was necessitated by the by
loss of male lives in the 1980-88 war between Iran and Iraq. However,
many women choose not to work outside the home. A 1985 law enacted by
the Government instituted 3 months of paid maternity leave, and 2
half-hour periods per day for nursing mothers to feed their babies.
Pension benefits for women were established under the same law, which
also decreed that companies hiring women should provide day-care
facilities for young children of female employees.
The State enforces gender segregation in most public spaces, and
prohibits women mixing openly with unmarried men or men not related to
them. Women must ride in a reserved section on public buses and enter
public buildings, universities, and airports through separate entrances.
Women are prohibited from attending male sporting events, although this
restriction does not appear to be enforced universally. While the
enforcement of a conservative Islamic dress codes has varied with the
political climate since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, what
women wear in public is not entirely a matter of personal choice. Women
are subject to harassment by the authorities if their dress or behavior
is considered inappropriate, and may be sentenced to flogging or
imprisonment for such violations. The law prohibits the publication of
pictures of uncovered women in the print media, including pictures of
foreign women. There are penalties for failure to observe Islamic dress
codes at work (see Section 6.a.).
Discrimination against women is reinforced by law through provisions of
the Islamic Civil and Penal Codes, in particular those sections dealing
with family and property law. Shortly after the 1979 revolution, the
Government repealed the Family Protection Law, a hallmark bill that was
adopted in 1967, which gave women increased rights in the home and
workplace, and replaced it with a legal system based largely on Shari'a
practices. In 1998 the Majles approved a bill that mandated
segregation of the sexes in the provision of medical care. The bill
provided for women to be treated only by female physicians and men by
male physicians and raised questions about the quality of care that
women could receive under such a regime, considering the current
imbalance between the number of trained and licensed male and female
physicians and specialists.
The minimum legal age of marriage for women is 9, although marriage at
that age is rare. All women, no matter the age, must have the
permission of their father or a living male relative in order to get
married. The law allows for the practice of Siqeh, or temporary
marriage, a Shi'a custom in which a woman or a girl can become the wife
of a married or single Muslim male after a simple and brief religious
ceremony. The Siqeh marriage can last for a night or as little as 30
minutes. The bond is not recorded on identification documents, and,
according to Islamic law, men may have as many Siqeh wives as they wish.
Such wives are not granted rights associated with traditional marriage.
The Penal Code includes provisions that mandate the stoning of women
and men convicted of adultery (see Sections 1.a and 1.c.). Under
legislation passed in 1983, women have the right to divorce, and
regulations promulgated in 1984 substantially broadened the grounds on
which a woman may seek a divorce. However, a husband is not required to
cite a reason for divorcing his wife. In 1986 the Government issued a
12-point "contract" to serve as a model for marriage and
divorce, which limits the privileges accorded to men by custom and
traditional interpretations of Islamic law. The model contract also
recognized a divorced woman's right to a share in the property that
couples acquire during their marriage and to increased alimony rights.
Women who remarry are forced to give up to the child's father custody of
children from earlier marriages. In 1998 the Majles passed a law that
granted custody of minor children to the mother in certain divorce cases
in which the father is proven unfit to care for the child (the measure
was enacted because of the complaints of mothers who had lost custody
of their children to former husbands with drug addictions and criminal
records.) Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men. The testimony of
a woman is worth only half that of a man in court (see Section 1.e.). A
married woman must obtain the written consent of her husband before
traveling outside the country (see Section 2.d.).
Most children have access to education through the 12th grade (it is
compulsory to age 11), and to some form of health care. There is no
known pattern of child abuse.
People With Disabilities
There is no available information regarding whether the Government has
legislated or otherwise mandated accessibility for the disabled.
However, the Cable News Network reported in 1996 on the harsh conditions
in an institution for retarded children who had been abandoned by their
parents. Film clips showed children tied or chained to their beds, in
filthy conditions, and without appropriate care. It is not known to
what extent this represents the typical treatment of the disabled.
Members of all religious minorities suffer varying degrees of officially
sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment,
education, and housing. Applicants for public-sector employment are
screened for their adherence to Islam. The law stipulates penalties for
government workers who do not observe "Islam's principles and
rules." Religious minorities cannot serve in the army, the
judiciary, and the security services. Article 144 of the Constitution
states that "the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran must be an
Islamic army," which is "committed to an Islamic
ideology," and must "recruit into its service individuals who
have faith in the objectives of the Islamic Revolution and are devoted
to the cause of achieving its goals." Muslims who convert to
Christianity also suffer discrimination. Apostasy, or conversion from
Islam to another religion, is punishable by death.
The Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Baha'i minorities suffer varying
degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the
areas of employment, education, and public accommodations (see Section
2.d.). For example, members of religious minorities are generally
barred from becoming school principals. Muslims who convert to
Christianity also suffer discrimination. Apostasy, or conversion from
Islam to another religion, may be punishable by death.
University applicants are required to pass an examination in Islamic
theology. Although public-school students receive instruction in Islam,
this requirement limits the access of most religious minorities to
higher education. Applicants for public sector employment similarly are
screened for their adherence to Islam.
Religious minorities suffer discrimination in the legal system,
receiving lower awards in injury and death lawsuits, and incurring
heavier punishments than Muslims.
Sunni Muslims encounter religious discrimination at the local level, as
do practitioners of the Sufi tradition. Muslims who convert to
Christianity also suffer discrimination.
Jewish groups outside Iran noted that the arrest of 13 Jewish
individuals in February and March coincided with an increase in
anti-Semitic propaganda in newspapers and journals associated with
hard-line elements of the Government (see Section 2.c.). They also note
that the Shirazi Jewish community, one of the oldest remaining Jewish
communities outside Israel, had been under close observation by
government authorities prior to the arrests and had been warned by the
authorities against certain activities, such as the publication in
Persian of scriptures and guidelines for the treatment of kosher foods.
In 1993 the U.N. Special Representative Reported the existence of a
government policy directive to block the progress of Baha'is (see
Properties belonging to the Baha'i community as a whole, such as places
of worship and graveyards, were confiscated by the Government in the
years after the 1979 revolution and, in some cases, defiled. Baha'is
are prevented from enrolling in universities. Other Government
restrictions have eased; Baha'is currently may obtain ration booklets
and send their children to public elementary and secondary schools.
Thousands of Baha'is who were dismissed from government jobs in the
early 1980's receive no unemployment benefits and have been required to
repay the Government for salaries or pensions received from the first
day of employment. Those unable to do so face prison sentences (see
Sections 1.d. and 2.c.).
The Kurds seek greater autonomy from the central Government and continue
to suffer from government discrimination. The Kurds' status as Sunni
Muslims serves as an aggravating factor in their relations with the
Shi'a-dominated government. These tensions predate the Islamic
revolution. Kurds often are suspected of harboring separatist or
foreign sympathies by government authorities. These suspicions have led
to sporadic outbreaks of fighting between the government and Kurdish
groups. Human Rights Watch reported in September 1997 that in the wake
of the Gulf War and the creation of an autonomous Kurdish zone in
northern Iraq, Iranian authorities increased their military presence in
Kurdish areas of Iran, which often led to human rights abuses against
Kurds. Abuses included destruction of villages, forced migrations, and
widespread mining of Kurdish property. In 1994 Iranian government
agents killed Dr. Abdul Rahman Gassemlou, a representative of the
Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran in Vienna.
In the wake of the February arrest of Kurdish Workers Party leader
Abdullah Ocalan in Turkey, Iranian Kurds demonstrated in numerous cities
in Iranian Kurdistan. In several instances, security forces suppressed
the demonstrations by force. Human rights groups reported at least 20
deaths in the violence and several hundred arrests (see Sections
Azeris are well integrated into the Government and society, but complain
of ethnic and linguistic discrimination. The Government traditionally
has viewed Azeri nationalism as threatening, particularly since the
dissolution of the Soviet Union and the creation of an independent
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Labor Code grants workers the right to establish unions; however,
the Government does not allow independent unions to exist. A national
organization known as the Worker's House, founded in 1982, is the sole
authorized national labor organization. It serves primarily as a
conduit for the Government to exert control over workers. The
leadership of the Worker's House coordinates activities with Islamic
labor councils, which are made up of representatives of the workers and
one representative of management in industrial, agricultural, and
service organizations of more than 35 employees. These councils also
function as instruments of government control, although they frequently
have been able to block layoffs and dismissals.
In 1991 the Government published a new Labor Code that allowed
employers and employees to establish guilds. The guilds issue
vocational licenses and help members find jobs.
The Government does not tolerate any strike deemed to be at odds with
its economic and labor policies. In 1993 the Parliament passed a law
that prohibits strikes by government workers. It also prohibits
government workers from having contacts with foreigners and stipulates
penalties for failure to observe Islamic dress codes and principles at
work. Nevertheless, strikes occur, and apparently in increasing numbers
as the economy has worsened. A European-based labor organization that
follows Iranian labor issues reported 181 protests and strikes by
workers in the period from March 1998 to March 1999. These reportedly
included strikes and protests by oil, textile, electrical manufacturing,
and metal workers, and by the unemployed.
Newspapers reported in May an "unathorized rally" by thousands
of workers over the Government's labor policies and the poor economy.
Instances of late or partial pay for government workers are reportedly
There are no known affiliations with international labor organizations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers do not have the right to organize independently and negotiate
collective bargaining agreements. No information is available on
mechanisms used to set wages. It is not known whether labor legislation
and practice in the export processing zones differ from the law and
practice in the rest of the country.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Penal Code provides that the Government may require any person who
does not have work to take suitable employment; however, this does not
appear to be enforced regularly. This provision has been criticized
frequently by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as contravening
ILO Convention 29 on forced labor. There is no information available on
the Government's policy on forced and bonded labor by children.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The Labor Law prohibits employment of minors under 15 years of age and
places special restrictions on the employment of minors under age 18.
Education is compulsory until age 11. The law permits children to work
in agriculture, domestic service, and some small businesses. By law
women and minors may not be employed in hard labor or, in general, night
work. Information on the extent to which these regulations are enforced
is not available. There is no information available on the Government's
policy on forced and bonded labor by children (see Section 6.c.). A
1985 law provides for 3 months of paid maternity leave, and 2 half-hour
periods per day for nursing mothers to feed their babies.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Code empowers the Supreme Labor Council to establish annual
minimum wage levels for each industrial sector and region. It is not
known if the minimum wages are adjusted annually or enforced. The Labor
Code stipulates that the minimum wage should be sufficient to meet the
living expenses of a family and should take inflation into account.
Under current poor economic conditions, many middle-class citizens must
work two or even three jobs to support their families. The daily
minimum wage was raised in March 1997 to $2.80 (8,500 rials). This wage
apparently is not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for
a worker and family. Information on the share of the working population
covered by minimum wage legislation is not available.
The Labor Code establishes a 6-day workweek of 48 hours maximum, with 1
weekly rest day, normally Fridays, and at least 12 days of paid annual
leave and several paid public holidays.
According to the Labor Code, a Supreme Safety Council, chaired by the
Labor Minister or his representative, is responsible for promoting
workplace safety and health. The Council reportedly has issued 28
safety directives, and oversees the activities of 3,000 safety
committees established in enterprises employing more than 10 persons.
Labor organizations outside Iran allege that hazardous work environments
are common in Iran, and result in thousands of worker deaths per year.
It is not known how well the Ministry's inspectors enforce regulations.
It is not known whether workers may remove themselves from hazardous
situations without risking the loss of employment.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The law does not prohibit specifically trafficking in persons; however,
there were no reports that persons were trafficked in, to, or from the
*The United States does not have an embassy in Iran. This report draws
heavily on non-U.S. Government sources.
[end of document]
©Copyright 2000, U.S. Department of State
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