Constitutional Obstacles to the Realization of Human Rights and Democracy in Iran – Part 14

Besides the patent inequalities described above, a close look at the Constitution reveals serious legal impediments to the fulfillment of the necessary conditions for the freedom of opinion, religion, and sect. These are, of course, to add to the arbitrary decisions the authorities have at times applied to non-Muslims in order to restrict their freedom. Among the examples of such policies, we can refer to the right to ration books, university entrance, registration of marriages and employment with the result that a group of Iranians have been deprived of their religious and human rights. One such example is discrimination carried out against the followers of the Bahai faith, for which there is no explicit reference in the constitution.
A few years ago, Maurice Mo’tamed, the representative of the Jewish minority at the parliament gave a speech (Majles debates of 4.10.1379 reprinted in the official gazette No. 1627) that marked the first time that some of the discriminations against Iranian Jews and other minorities were openly discussed:
“I hope that with the wisdom and good intention of the esteemed authorities, some of the problems faced by Iran’s small Jewish minority and other religious minorities will be addressed. It is necessary that in this sacred parliament, I refer to the discriminations practiced by the employment selection units of governmental and even some non-governmental entities, which stem from the enforcement of personal and individual ideas. I should in particular refer to the fact that to ban our educated young from governmental services or stopping them from enrollment at post-graduate and doctoral courses are against the sublime objectives of the Islamic Revolution and the recommendations of the departed Imam [Khomeini] and the Supreme Leadership and results in our educated people’s flight from the country. Another problem concerns the blood money payable to victims of car accidents in these days of fast traffic. I request the esteemed religious authorities and the respected officials of the Judiciary to pay attention to the blood money rulings issued for non-Muslim victims and adopt the necessary measures so that the blood of an innocent person is not wasted.”
In late 2002, the parliament and the religious establishment decided to address the inequality represented in unequal blood money for men who are religious minorities, finally equalizing payments. But the inequality between men and women still continues even though female parliamentarians have publicly stated that they will attempt to erase this inequality from the books as well. Despite some changes, fundamental problems persist. The unsatisfactory state of the rights of the minorities, particularly the followers of the Baha’i faith, who are deprived of security of life and property, puts great pressure on them and forces them to leave the country. Considered a heretical version of Shi’a Islam, followers of the Baha’i faith are not even allowed to publicly declare their faith, enter universities, hold jobs, and so on until they publicly forfeit their religion. According to the recent published reports, the Brazilian government agreed to admit thirty Baha’i families as immigrants as a part of an agreement brokered by the UN High Commission for Refugees (Iranian daily newspaper Hambastegi 29 Dey 1379/ 30 December 2000).
The situation of the followers of the Baha’i faith is perhaps among the worst, but the problem of unequal treatment of citizens in Iran is endemic, operating at many levels. For instance, the Selection of Teachers and Other Employees of the Ministry of Education Act of 1995 that, along with a similar 1996 act, was extended to employment in other government departments, contains the moral, ideological and political criteria that applicants must meet (Article 2). These criteria are contained in several sections, the first of which specifies devotion to the sublime religion of Islam or one of the recognized religions, and the third of which requires the applicants to believe in and follow the system of the velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the Islamic jurists), the Islamic republic regime and the Constitution. Note 1 of this section exempts the followers of recognized religions, permitting them to be devoted to their own religions, but they are not exempted from other requirements. Thus, when a non-Muslim wishes to be employed, he must show devotion to the concept of velayat-e faqih.
According to Article 15 of the Employment Act, these qualifications must be proven upon expressed confession, or useful proof or indications and evidence. According to Note 1 of Article 15 of the Act, even the employment of temporary personnel, including wage laborers on a daily basis, on contract and so on, must conform to the requirements set above. This means that if an organization wants to employ a few workers temporarily, it must first ascertain their devotion to Islam and velayat-e faqih. The content of this act and many similar acts is clearly against the principle of the freedom of opinion recognized by Article 23 of the Constitution and puts the greatest pressure on non-Muslims.
Discrimination against women and minorities are not the only forms of discriminations practiced by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Free or independent thinkers (which is a loose translation of the term degar andish, meaning those who think differently) are those who do not fully endorse the political or legal structure of the Iranian state and declare their views in their speech or written works. For this reason, they usually face grave risks to their security. This legal insecurity results in insecurity in their lives, and deprivation of the rights to introduce candidates in elections and to create political parties or groups. Inevitably, the isolation of these individuals can cause harm to any prospect of creating a secure Iran.
Instances of discrimination against free thinkers are numerous. On the whole, the employment selection procedure, part of which was described above, can also be applied to free thinkers, depriving them of the freedom of employment, freedom to introduce or stand as candidates in elections or rise to higher political and governmental positions. Today, the system of inquisition and of prying into citizens’ private lives and tendencies for the purpose of employment selection has become so serious and widespread that it is even used in the employment procedures for low- level employees.
With regard to standing as candidates in parliamentary elections or elections to rural and urban councils, the complications do not end. Because devotion to the official line is among the necessary qualifications, free thinkers have no chance of entering the race. In the Tehran urban council elections held in 1999, some of the candidates were asked by the Election Supervision Council not only to fill out the standard forms, but also to submit a written affidavit containing their commitment to velayat-e faqih. This requirement is of course against the spirit of Article 23 of the Constitution.
In addition to numerous instances of discrimination against free thinkers, there are pieces of the written law that go as far as to place their lives in jeopardy. Article 226 of the Islamic Penal Code states that “murder results in qissas only if the victim does not deserve to be killed by religious criteria, and if he/she deserves to be killed, the murderer must prove that the victim deserved to be killed in the court of law.” According to the Note for Section C of Article 295 of the same law, “if a person kills another under the impression that the victim deserved death for qissas or believed that the victim was mahdur ul-dam (whose blood is forfeited), and the court accepts the argument but later discovers that the victim was not deserving of death for qissas or for being mahdur ul-dam, the murder is considered unintentional manslaughter. If the murderer proves that the victim deserved to be killed as mahdur ul-dam, then he is not liable to qissas and diya.” The term mahdur ul-dam (literally one whose blood is wasted) is a person whose blood, according to religious law, can be shed without entailing punishment and the murderer is not penalized for his action. Since there is no specific legislation containing the meaning of the term, the murderer can commit the crime and later claim to have done it under the impression that the victim was mahdur ul-dam. In other words, the person who has involuntarily lost his life is the one who is tried by the court, without being brought to trial, and may even be condemned to posthumous death! And if the victim is thus convicted, the murderer goes free. It is interesting that even if the murderer fails to prove his claim of having been convinced of the victim’s characteristic of mahdur ul-dam, the law foresees leniency and the murderer can pay the diya and escape qissas. This lenient approach, which is contained in some sections of the penal code, can be used with impunity by certain groups of criminals and or even utilized in the course of the internal power struggle within the ruling circles. The result, ultimately, is a dangerous assault on the security of individuals and even the nation. Although no trial or conclusive evidence has come forth regarding the so-called serial murders of a group of intellectuals and writers that occurred in 1997, given the revealed involvement of elements within the Ministry of Intelligence, it could be argued that these murders were made possible and justified by this sort of legal tendency.
There is no question that the Islamic Republic’s penal code is in need of basic revision and reform in order to end discrimination against women, non-Muslims and free thinkers. It is fortunate that the question of reform has become an important part of the public discourse in Iran. As pointed out by Ayatollah Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari, a high-ranking reformist cleric, “The Islamic penal code is not only in need of amendment, it is capable of being amended.” (Quoted in Iran Daily, Vol. 6, No. 1578, 5 Mordad 1379 – 26 August 2000, p. 7). He added that it is possible for Muslim communities to abide by universal human rights criteria. This is of course something to be seen in the future.

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