Iran is back on the international black spot radar. President Trump is issuing threatening tweets (“Iran is playing with fire”) which hard-liners in Tehran – most notably it’s Supreme Leader – are responding to an aggressive anti-Americanism not heard for several years, whilst the nuclear deal was being stitched up. That deal was ignoble because it ignored any consideration of human rights – Iran was relieved of sanctions as a reward for postponing its nuclear ambitions without being asked to improve with its human rights record. This new edition of the Iran Human Rights Review shows just how bad that record is.
It has, of course, been worse, and the present problems stem from the failure to acknowledge and punish past atrocities. Due process and judicial independence were swept away by the 1979 revolution, after which special revolutionary corps with religious lickspittles as judges were installed to punish all those considered to be ‘mohareb’ – enemies of God - and death sentences became the order of the day. In 1988 came the worst crime against humanity committed against prisoners of war since the Nazis – the execution without trial of many thousands of Mujahedeen and atheists.
Thereafter, at the order of the present Supreme Leader, there were over 160 assassinations of the Regime’s enemies in Europe, and more recently, again on his orders, were the killings by revolutionary guards and by Basij militiamen during the 2009 election demonstrations. None of these killers have been punished. These are some of the international crimes committed by the Regime which has learnt how to control a judicial system in which judges have no independence from the theocratic state: the capital crime of ‘enmity to God’ covers all forms of political and social dissent because the state is God under the Velayat-e-faqih (Rule of the Islamic jurist) doctrine introduced by the revolution. Like a medieval despot, the Supreme Leader is the supreme judge.
It is a pleasure to welcome Dr Ahmed Shaheed to these pages. As the most recent UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, he brings a particular authority and objectivity to his analysis of the disrespect for due process in Iran’s revolutionary courts and the increasing incidents of arbitrary arrest and of denial of counsel to defendants. Other articles give further detailed accounts of the harassment and imprisonment of lawyers and of the breaches of Article 14 of the Constitution, which is supposed to guarantee due process and impartial trials. Abuse of human rights is, of course, built into the law itself: men have more rights than women, whose testimony is valued at half that of a male; Muslims have more rights than non-Muslims; and Shia Muslims have more rights than Sunni Muslims. Judges (who cannot be female) are directly appointed by, and answerable to, the Supreme Leader and are patsies of the intelligence services. Torture is widespread, and lawyers who dare to act for dissidents are targeted for reprisals and often sentenced to terms of imprisonment.
The vague dragnet charge of ‘spreading corruption on earth’ has been extended to hang drug dealers despite a lack of theological precedent (other than the Prophet’s suggestion in the sixth century about the treatment of thieves). Iran now delivers comparatively more death sentences than China. 2,500 prisoners have been executed in the last five years, 70% of them convicted for drug offences. The review shows just how many of these public executions are likely to have resulted from miscarriages of justice perpetrated by judges who come from seminaries rather than law schools, and who impose death sentences on individuals who are likely to be innocent or whose appeals are pending. Her examples of arbitrary executions are recent and terrifying.
There can be no doubt that Islamic laws, as introduced and applied in Iran after 1979 are incompatible with minimal human rights standards. For a recent example, take the case of Nazanin Ratcliffe, an Iranian charity worker married to a Briton, who returned to Tehran to show their baby to her grandparents. She was arrested and, at a secret court before a savage judge, was jailed for five years as a spy without the slightest evidence other than that she had once worked for the BBC. The baby’s British passport was confiscated and the father was not allowed into the country to see wife or child. What is notable about this case is not so much its brutality, as the fact that the UK Government has done nothing about it. The British Consul has not been allowed to visit her (contrary to the Vienna Convention) and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, normally so loquacious, has been cowed and unconcerned.
This Review contains evidence that proves the case of human rights abuse against Iran, but who will care? The Obama administration and the European negotiators on the Iran nuclear deal certainly did not: perhaps some payback for these atrocities will occur to the dyspeptic mind of President Trump, but who knows what will happen then.