Human Rights in Iran: The Abuse of Cultural Relativism

By Reza Afshari | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
The Right to a Fair Trial

In this prison, the prisoner is considered first a criminal, then an
accused, and last, sometimes, a human being.

—Parviz Ousiya (A. Paya)

The guard’s reply—one I was to hear again and again in the course of
the next five years—sent a shiver down my spine: “You wouldn’t have
been brought here if you were innocent.”

—Roger Cooper

Under the rubric of the right to a fair trial, the UN Special Representative Galindo Pohl often, and appropriately, discussed “the administration of justice” in the Islamic Republic. Following his lead, this chapter will examine the lack of due process of law by looking at a few judicial cases that revealed many of the peculiarities of the Islamic court system.

In 1979, the clerics whom Khomeini appointed as Islamic judges conducted “Islamic revolutionary trials” in a rather haphazard way in applying what they understood to be Shiite penal law. In 1982, the Majlis (parliament) inserted the ancient judicial concepts in the general Islamic Penal Codes and codified the four Shiite judicial categories into state laws for a provisional period of five years.

The hodud category defined punishment for crimes against divine will, such as rebellion against the Islamic state, apostasy, various sexual crimes, and the consumption of alcohol. The next was the qesas laws (retribution). Until 1991, when the clerics bowed to the reality of the contemporary state and modified the qesas laws, they in effect privatized punishments, by allowing the victim or his/her family the prerogative of deciding the punishment for homicide and aggravated assault. Based on lex talionis, private parties could demand punishment equal to the harm the victim had suffered. In a homicide, the victim’s family could demand the death penalty or accept financial compensation based on a specific “Islamic” formula, diyat, according to which the worth of a male or female Muslim was determined.

-68-

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