Iran: Sharia Law is punishment


Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

This is my fourth installment of writings on Iran. Since we have stated publishing this series reports, numerous pro-democracy people in Iran, including several bloggers have started providing more and more information on the latest situation in that country which is under the tight grips of Mullah Regime.

Everyone would think how is Iran today, where Shariah Law is imposed by force by the religious fanatics under the direct dictatorial command of Mahmoud Ahmadenijad. Shariah though was not the governing law of Iran before 1979; it was still the basis of family, marriage and women’s right in Iran. As an example, the law permitted men to have four permanent and as many temporary wives as they wished. Custody of children was in the hands of the father and after his death, in the hands of the male relatives of the father’s side. All these laws and many more were in place in Iran. Due to the rise of women’s rights movements around the world, including Iran, certain advancements were being implemented gradually such as the right to vote, which was established in Iran in 1963. One law [the “family protection law”] that was passed in late 1970’s required married men to get permission from their permanent wife, or wives, to acquire another permanent wife. This did not apply to temporary wives under the contract of Segheh or temporary marriage.

After Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in 1979 from Shah Dynasty through his so-called Islamic revolution, he took initiatives in expanding the Sharia law as the basic governing law of the country. The outcome of the fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia in Iran, though not as harsh as in Saudi Arabia or that of the Taliban, did include the exclusion of women from judgeship, the imposition of Islamic code of dress on women, and inclusion of strict Sharia rules in the judiciary. These meant that harsh punishments for crimes were to comply with the Islamic tradition as interpreted by the ruling hard liners.

Murdering the children:

According to Iran’s Sharia law, if a father kills his child, he will receive a maximum sentence between 3-10 years in prison. The deteriorating economic situation in Iran and promotion of violence by the Iranian Islamist Regime, encouraging killing women and children, police beating up random people, executions in public, has created a very unhealthy society. Unfortunately those affected most are those with least of defense; children.

According to Iska News, a 4-year old boy [Ali-Akbar], an 8-month old girl [Paria] and a 24-day old baby were killed by their fathers. An 8-year old was suffocated by her dad and a 16-year old was shot to death.A baby girl was suffocated by her mother following the order given by her husband. These are few examples of hundreds. And these incidents took place in 2009.

In November 2008, an addict father took 11-year old Sara from her aunt’s house to his home. He poured gasoline in the apartment and on Sara’s body. He lit a gasoline heater and pushed Sara against it, while she was pleading for her life. When her body was inflamed, he ran away. All the while Sara’s mother was outside the house trying to get in. Because of the traffic, the firefighters had to rush to the house with fire extinguishers. All they found was a charred body, a burnt doll and Sara’s burnt trophies from school.

Sara’s father, a drug addict, explained the murder in cold blood. He said after separation from Sara’s mother, he started hating Sara. He wanted to shoot her a few times but was not able to. This time he decided to burn her before her mother could rescue her. He explained how Sara pleaded for her life, telling she will do whatever her father says. This man has received a sentence of 5 years in prison. Cruel Iranian Mullahs have no value for the lives of its citizens.

Sharia Law:

Under Sharia law, the clothes you wear, music you listen to, and television you watch would all be censored. Behavior in public is legally restricted and controlled. And Sharia is the ideal social system for those that preach Radical Islam. Sharia is an Arabic term referring to a legal framework to regulate public and private aspects of life based upon specific Islamic teachings. Sharia is an intolerant system that threatens the western ideals of “liberty and justice for all”. Sharia views non-Muslims as second class citizens, sanctions inequality between men and women, prescribes cruel and unusual punishments for crimes, and promotes a restrictive business environment that strangles the freedoms of capitalism.

A nationwide judicial system in Iran was first implemented and established by Ali Akbar Davar and some of his contemporaries such as Abdolhossein Teymourtash under Reza Shah, with further changes during the second Pahlavi era.

After the 1979 overthrow of the Pahlavi Dynasty by the so-called Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini, the system was changed drastically. The legal code is now based on Shi’a Islamic law or Sharia.

The state of human rights in Iran has been criticized both by Iranians and international human right activists, writers, and NGOs. The United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Commission have condemned prior and ongoing abuses in Iran in published critiques and several resolutions.

The government of Iran is criticized both for restrictions and punishments that follow the Islamic Republic’s constitution and law, and for actions that do not, such as the torture, rape, and killing of political prisoners, and the beatings and killings of dissidents and other civilians.

Restrictions and punishments lawful in the Islamic Republic which violate international human rights norms include: harsh penalties for crimes; amputation of offenders’ hands and feet; punishment of “victimless crimes” such as fornication, beatings of Iranian citizens for expressing speech in public places, homosexuality, apostasy, poor hijab [covering of the head for women]; execution of offenders under 18 years of age; restrictions on freedom of speech, and the press, including the imprisonment of journalists; unequal treatment according to religion and gender in the Islamic Republic’s constitution – especially attacks on members of the Baha’i religion.

Reported abuses falling outside of the laws of the Islamic Republic that have been condemned include the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, and the widespread use of torture to extract repudiations by prisoners of their cause and comrades on video for propaganda purposes. Also condemned has been fire-bombings of newspaper offices and attacks on political protesters by quasi-official organs of repression, particularly ‘Hezbollah’, and the murder of dozens of regime opponents in the 1990’s, by rogue elements of the government.

Under the administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Iran’s human rights record “has deteriorated markedly” according to the group Human Rights Watch, and following the 2009 election protests there were reports of torture, rape and killing of detained protesters, and the arrest and publicized mass trials of dozens of prominent opposition figures in which defendants read confessions that bore every sign of being coerced.

Since the founding of the Islamic Republic, human rights violations of religious minorities have been the subject of resolutions and decisions by the United Nations and its human rights bodies, the Council of Europe, European Parliament and United States Congress. According to the Minority Rights Group, in 1985 Iran became “the fourth country ever in the history of the United Nations” to be placed on the agenda of the General Assembly because of “the severity and the extent of this human rights record”. From 1984 to 2001, United Nations Commission on Human Rights [UNCHR] passed resolutions about human rights violations against Iran’s religious minorities especially the Bahá’ís. The UNCHR did not pass such a resolution in 2002, when the government of Iran extended an invitation to the UN “Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression” to visit the country and investigate complaints. However, according to the organization Human Rights Watch, when these officials did visit the country, found human rights conditions wanting and issued reports critical the Islamic government, not only did the government not implement their recommendations”, it retaliated “against witnesses who testified to the experts.”

In 2003 the resolutions began again with Canada sponsoring a resolution criticizing Iran’s “confirmed instances of torture, stoning as a method of execution and punishment such as flogging and amputations,” following the death of an Iranian-born Canadian citizen, Zahra Kazemi, in an Iranian prison. The resolution has passed in the UN General Assembly every year since.

The European Union has also criticized the Islamic Republic’s human rights record, expressing concern in 2005, 2007 and on October 6, 2008 presenting a message to Iran’s ambassador in Paris expressing concern over the worsening human rights situation in Iran. On 13 October 2005, the European Parliament voted to adopt a resolution condemning the Islamic government’s disregard of the human rights of its citizens. Later that year, Iran’s government announced it would suspend dialogue with the European Union concerning human rights in Iran. On February 9, 2010, the European Union and United States issued a joint statement condemning “continuing human rights violations” in Iran.

Women oppressed:

The Iranian legislation does not accord the same rights to women as to men in all areas of the law.

In the section of the penal code devoted to blood money, or Divva, the value of woman’s life is half that of a man [“for instance, if a car hit both on the street, the cash compensation due to the woman’s family was half that due the man’s”] the testimony of a male witness is equivalent to that of two female witnesses.

A woman needs her husband’s permission to work outside the home or leave the country.

Evidence given by a woman in court is considered only worth half that given by a man.

In the inheritance law of the Islamic Republic there are several instances where the woman is entitled to half the inheritance of the man. For example:

If a man dies without offspring, his estate is inherited by his parents. If both the parents are alive, the mother receives 1/3 and the father 2/3 of the inheritance, unless the mother has a hojab (relative who reduces her part, such as brothers and sisters of the deceased [article 886], in which case she shall receive 1/6, and the father 5/6. [Article 906].

If the dead man’s closest heirs are aunts and uncles, the part of the inheritance belonging to the uncle is twice that belonging to the aunt. [Article 920].

When the heirs are children, the inheritance of the sons is twice that of the daughters. [Article 907].

If the deceased leaves ancestors and brothers and sisters [kalaleh], 2/3s of the estate goes to the heirs which have relationship on the side of the father; and in dividing up this portion the males take twice the portion of the females; however, the 1/3 going to the heirs on the mother’s side is divided equally. [Article 924].

According to Zahra Eshraghi, granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, “Discrimination here [in Iran] is not just in the constitution. As a woman, if I want to get a passport to leave the country, have surgery, even to breathe almost, I must have permission from my husband.”

In Iranian Islamic law the woman is considered as someone under guard and non-mature.

Torture in prison and rape:

Article 38 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic forbids “all forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information” and the “compulsion of individuals to testify, confess, or take an oath.” It also states that “any testimony, confession, or oath obtained under duress is devoid of value and credence.”

Nonetheless human rights groups and observers have complained that torture is frequently used on political prisoners in Iran. In a study of torture in Iran published in 1999, Iranian-born political historian Ervand Abrahamian included Iran along with “Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, and early modern Europe” of the Inquisition and witch hunts, as societies that “can be considered to be in a league of their own” in the systematic use of torture.

Torture techniques used in the Islamic Republic include:

Whipping, sometimes of the back but most often of the feet with the body tied on an iron bed; the qapani; deprivation of sleep; suspension from ceiling and high walls; twisting of forearms until they broke; crushing of hands and fingers between metal presses; insertion of sharp instruments under the fingernails; cigarette burns; submersion under water; standing in one place for hours on end; mock executions; and physical threats against family members. Of these, the most prevalent was the whipping of soles, obviously because it was explicitly sanctioned by the sharia.

Two “innovations” in torture not borrowed from the Shah’s regime were:

The ‘coffin,’ and compulsory watching of – and even participation in – executions. Some were placed in small cubicles, [50cm x 80cm x 140cm – 20 inches x 31.5 inches x 55 inches] blindfolded and in absolute silence, for 17-hour stretches with two 15-minute breaks for eating and going to the toilet. These stints could last months – until the prisoner agreed to the interview. Few avoided the interview and also remained sane. Others were forced to join firing squads and remove dead bodies. When they returned to their cells with blood dripping from their hands, Their roommates surmised what had transpired. ….”

According to Abrahamian, torture became commonly used in the Islamic Republic because of its effectiveness in inducing political prisoners to make public confessions. Recorded and edited on videotape, the standard statements by prisoners included not only confessions to subversion and treason, but praise of the Islamic Revolution and denunciation or recantation of their former beliefs, former organization, former co-members, i.e. their life. These recantations served as powerful propaganda for both the Iranian public at large – who by the 1980s almost all had access to television and could watch prime time programs devoted to the taped confessions – and the recanters’ former colleagues, for whom the denunciations were demoralizing and confusing. From the moment they arrived in prison, through their interrogation prisoners were asked if they were willing to give an “interview.” [mosahebah] “Some remained incarcerated even after serving their sentences simply because they declined the honor of being interviewed.”

Scholars disagree over whether at least some forms of torture have been made legal according to the Qanon-e Ta’zir [Discretionary Punishment Law] of the Islamic Republic. Abrahamian argues statutes forbidding `lying to the authorities` and ability of clerics to be both interrogators and judges, applying an “indefinite series of 74 lashings until they obtain `honest answers`” without the delay of a trial, make this a legal form of torture. Another scholar, Christoph Werner, claims he could find no Ta’zir law mentioning lying to authorities but did find one specifically banning torture in order to obtain confessions.

Abrahamian also argues that a strong incentive to produce a confession by a defendant [and thus to pressure the defendant to confess] is the Islamic Republic’s allowing of a defendant’s confession plus judges “reasoning” to constitute sufficient proof of guilt. He also states this is an innovation from the traditional sharia standard for [some] capital crimes of `two honest and righteous male witnesses’.

Several bills passed the Iranian Parliament that would have had Iran joining the international convention on banning torture in 2003 when reformists controlled Parliament, but were rejected by the Guardian Council.

Chronicle of Higher Education International, reports that the widespread practice of raping women imprisoned for engaging in political protest has been effective in keeping female college students “less outspoken and less likely to take part” in political demonstrations. The journal quotes an Iranian college student as saying, “most of the girls arrested are raped in jail. Families can’t cope with that.”

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz. He can be contacted at:


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