Perhaps the saddest commentary on the situation in Iran is Amnesty International’s recent statement that “some former prisoners of conscience held during the 1970s when the late Shah was in power, for whose unconditional release [Amnesty] then worked, now figure among those with responsibility for the incarceration of prisoners of conscience and for other human rights violations in Iran. Others who were imprisoned in the 1970s for the non-violent expression of their conscientiously held beliefs are once more in prison, and many have been executed.”
Secret political executions in Iran continue. Amnesty has confirmed and verified the names of 1200 victims — what it refers to as the “tip of the iceberg.” The “true total could run into thousands,” Amnesty says. There were mass hangings of Mojahedin supporters following that group’s armed invasions from Iraq in the last days of the war, but those executed also include many from leftist secular groups and Kurdish organizations. Iranian officials have responded to Western critics that the numbers “were less than the collaborators killed by France at the end of WWII.” In addition, since January, when a new anti-drug law was passed, more than 430 drug-related executions have been carried out.
Whatever the justifications, there is an incontrovertible pattern of brutal abuse. According to Amnesty, two factors are the “lack of a centralized [judicial] authority able to ensure the correct treatment of prisoners and the apparent non-uniform application of the law.” It is unclear how much the situation would improve should centralized authority emerge, since there has not been a single person tried, much less sentenced, for torturing detainees.
Most of the political arrests and subsequent torture are carried out by the Revolutionary Guards and the Revolutionary Committees. The Revolutionary Guards also have jurisdiction over drug-related crimes and “anti-corruption” drives.
The precise number of political detainees is impossible to gauge. Iranian officials state that they are holding 9000 prisoners belonging to “counter-revolutionary grouplets.” Given the chaotic state of the judicial structure and the fact that many are arrested and tortured for religious beliefs, “ignoring Islamic precepts” and as hostages for relatives being sought, the numbers are probably higher.
Torture is widespread and involves beatings, mostly on the soles of the feet or on the back with electric cables, telephone wires plaited into a ball, and the like. Prisoners are suspended for long periods by the arms or the legs. There are also reports of sexual abuse; Revolutionary Guards reportedly favor temporary “marriage” contracts with female prisoners. Mock executions are a common form of psychological torture; the victim is often included among a group of people actually being executed.
The numerous articles of the Islamic Penal Code which rely on confessions to prove criminal guilt — everything from “enmity toward God” to murder, theft, sexual offenses and drinking alcohol — seem to encourage torture. Another disturbing element in gathering “evidence” is the testimony of “righteous men.” Two of these witnesses can condemn a man for “enmity with God.”
Two men or two “righteous women” in lieu of a male witness can condemn a person for murder. “Knowledge of the judge” is also deemed to be sufficient for proof of a crime. The Islamic Revolutionary Courts which try most political detainees allow for no lawyers. Their regulations prohibit appeals. The accused are denied the right to call witnesses or to question their accusers. Except for a few highly publicized cases, the trials are secret.
The constitution of the Islamic Republic prohibits torture for the purpose of “extracting confessions or gaining information.” Nevertheless, the penal code includes articles that clearly condone such behavior. Article 119 specifies that “in the punishment of stoning to death (rajm), the stones should not be too large so that the person dies on being hit by one or two of them.
Floggings are prescribed in some 26 articles for everything from crimes against internal security to lesbianism to alcohol-related offenses. Thousands of floggings are reported every year and the Iranian press continues to carry reports of stonings despite the Majlis Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani’s condemnation of these in an August 10, 1987, Die Welt interview. Article 207 prescribes crucifixion for certain crimes. Article 218 specifies amputations for theft. According to Judicial Police Chief Abbas Hashemi Isaqpour, the ministry of health and the medical faculties of Tehran and Beheshti Universities have developed a device to carry out amputations. Amnesty reported 21 amputations in 1988.
Sources: Amnesty International, Iran: Violations of Human Rights; Documents Sent by AI to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran (London, 1987) and Iran: Persistent Violations of Human Rights (May 20, 1988); Middle East International, January 6,1989; Washington Post, February 24 and March 10, 1989; Keyhan (English Edition), April 8,1989; Middle East Economic Digest, May 12,1989; Amnesty International, Iran: Written Statement to the 45th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, January 1989.