Please Do Not Reform the Laws!

Iranian legal experts have been calling for legal reforms in Iran for many years now. Such reforms are aimed at improving the citizen’s legal situation. Some even believe that such reforms will improve Iran’s status in international human rights circles. But despite the efforts of professionals, Iran’s record in legal reforms is not a bright one, to say the least. Therefore the news about the bill for the “interpretation of political crimes” has mounted the concerns of those following these events.
The history of Iran’s legal reforms shows more regression in the recent past than progressive advances forward. In these steps, there is no record to show an improvement in human rights and democratic values.
Twenty six years after the new Islamic constitution, there is now talk that officials wish to implement article 168 of the document. One of the provisions of this article is the definition of political offenses and crimes. The purpose of the drafters of the constitution in this regard was to protect citizens from arbitrary trespass and thus protect their basic political and social rights. The history of political rights and legal reforms since the Islamic revolution in Iran is alarming, especially as there is now again talk of reforms, whatever that means to the officials. Iranian legislators, parliamentarians and even jurisprudents who have interpreted the constitution and Islamic tenets, have unfortunately presented radical and fundamental interpretations rather than moderate ones. The interpretations have not been in tune with the culture, historic development and expectation of the Iranian masses. A good example is the amendments that were made to parts of the constitution in which the term “absolute” was added to “velayat” (i.e. the ruling leader) thus in practice ending the independence of the three branches of government. Similarly the modification of article 158 of the constitution led to an increase in the powers of one person (the head of the judiciary branch) at the expense of a council that managed the judiciary (the Supreme Judiciary Council).
Another series of reforms related to the rights of women and the family. These laws denied women the limited equal rights they enjoyed with men prior to the revolution. The reformed laws deteriorated women’s legal status in the country.
The press laws were also modified or reformed about twenty years ago and the result was something that the professional journalists and media has called regressive. The result has been self censorship by the press and other media. And when they tried to break out of that about eight years ago, arrests, detentions and even murders followed. The press has been the subject of many such “reforms” through which the normal journalistic activities have been legally curtailed. Just five years ago another “reform” marked the life of Iran’s press, that in practice closed many of the newspapers that had been operating on the basis of the earlier press law.
But the masterpiece in these reforms is what happened to the Criminal Procedures law just five years ago. Through these changes, a judge acquired the right to deny defense attorneys from participating in the discovery phase of a trial. So the accused was left at the mercy of the interrogators, prosecutors and the judge who in many cases was the same person as the prosecutor. These reforms weakened the already dismal human rights record of the citizen.
With such a negative “reform” record, who would now wish to further reform the constitution or the laws of the land? We who have been in the business of dealing with laws, courts, the constitution, interpretations, legal process, human rights, etc, have reason so worry about the new round of reforms and the definition of political crimes that are being talked about by officials. We do not believe these will be carried out with the goal of protecting the rights of the individual in the political realm.
In the world’s legal dictionaries, reform is described as democratization and removing legal barriers that block democracy and equality while Iran’s record of legal reform has always taken a different path.
The Iranian lawyer fears that the scope of political activity and rights will further diminish with these reforms. If this happens, the new laws will make it even harder for those judges who believe in and wish to protect the political rights of individuals to carry out their job. In this light, it is better that the current laws not be reformed rather than new limitations be imposed on the life of political activists.

This article was originally published in Roozonline on September 30, 2005