At a hearing without a lawyer, a 22-year-old protester was sentenced to death for committing “corruption on earth,” his mother said in an online petition. In an uproar, the judiciary denied that the verdict had been handed down.
This is what justice looks like in Iran, where the trial of protesters, bystanders and recorders of the current riot began. Due process is rarely expected in a justice system dominated by security agencies and hostile to the accused.
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Activist news agency Hrana estimates that more than 15,000 Iranians have been arrested and hundreds have died in the nearly two-month-long protests. Demonstrations that began in response to the alleged killing of Amini by police escalated into a widespread outcry against the country’s clerical leaders. Authorities are demanding harsher punishments for the protesters, whom they call “rioters,” and trying to blame foreign forces.
Some of those detained are fined and released. Others will be tried in criminal courts.But political prisoners usually Hadi Enayat, a political sociologist who specializes in Iranian law, said he was facing the feared Revolutionary Courts, a parallel system created to protect the Islamic Republic.
Human Rights Watch’s Tara Seperi Farr said revolutionary courts were notorious for “gross violations of due process.” States are “using the trial as another element in shaping their narrative about the protests.”
In late October, Iran’s judiciary said it would indict about 1,000 people in Tehran and hold public trials in the coming weeks. as before, Human rights groups expect a phony trial that will rely on fabricated evidence and confessions under threat and torture. Those detained have been accused of beating and killing Iranian security forces with little or no evidence, they say.
How these trials play out could offer hints about Tehran’s politics Calculus — Continue crackdowns to contain protests, or escalate repression to quash them once and for all.
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There is an internal debate in Iran Ellie Géranmayer, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said it would be better to “shock the streets into awe and keep protests away” or “contain the threat without resorting to mass executions.” Priority?”, Security Circle said: What We Saw in the 1980s Purge after revolution.
“I think the system is stuck between what the right approach is,” she said.
The tensions collapsed on November 5, when hardline members of the Iranian parliament issued a statement calling on the judiciary to “resolutely deal with the instigators of the recent riots” and punish the “enemies of God.” Announced. It can carry the death penalty.
The Iranians were outraged. Three days later, a parliamentary spokesperson recanted, claiming that the “Western media” had misinterpreted the MP’s words. He said the harshest punishment, which could include the death penalty, would be limited to those who “spill blood”.
Iran is one of the world’s leading executioners. According to Amnesty International, at least 314 people will be executed in 2021, although the actual figure is likely higher. Death sentences handed down to political prisoners may be commuted or not executed, but the threat remains.
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Iran’s legal system is based on a fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law. Hossein Raisi, a former Iranian lawyer and now professor of human rights at Carleton University in Ottawa, said years of international advocacy have led to some incremental reforms, but criminal courts have Corruption and abuse are widespread.
Ultimately, however, “Iran’s judicial system is that of the ‘Supreme Leader,'” he said, referring to the head of Iran’s theocratic government, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
After Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, overthrew the country’s ruling monarch in 1979, he created the revolutionary courts as a stopgap system to purge dissidents. lever of justice. The Revolutionary Court works closely with the intelligence arm of the Supreme Leader’s parallel security force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Revolutionary courts rely on a single judge rather than the panel of judges used in criminal courts. Judges are usually clergy or trained at state universities. Political prisoners have limited or no access to lawyers and cannot see evidence alleged against them.
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The Ministry of Information and the IRGC’s Intelligence Division are often involved in interrogation and evidence gathering. Raisi said it violated Iranian law. But in times of unrest, authorities drop all pretense of following criminal procedures, he said.
“Unfortunately, everything that happens in the room is based on police, IRGC or regular intelligence agents,” he said. “If you don’t want to listen to people, you’re actually barring all sorts of rights for the accused,” he added.
Before leaving Iran, Raisi was part of a small independent group of lawyers who worked on human rights matters and represented political prisoners. These lawyers are under constant pressure and threats of arrest, Raisi said. When protests erupt, they provide legal assistance to detainees’ families, often filing lawsuits for free. Hrana said he had 24 lawyers arrested in recent weeks.
First, Iran has called for rights activists. Then for his family and friends.
Raishi enlisted other lawyers in his hometown of Shiraz to volunteer during the 2009 Green Movement, when millions of Iranians protested fraudulent elections. Only 7 people did. But in recent weeks, more than 40 lawyers in the southwestern city have offered to take cases of detained protesters, he said.
“This is so beautiful,” Raishi said.
But as the demonstrations continue and more arrests are made, it will be harder for lawyers to keep up.
Raisi said the judiciary is effectively “copying and pasting” charges “like an application to every branch across the country.” Common charges include propaganda against the state and illegal assemblies.
The revolutionary court was key to Khamenei’s suppression of the green movement. After a violent crackdown in 2009, hundreds of protesters, including leading activists and reformist politicians, were put on trial and several were executed. The courthouse was also used by protesters after the 2017 and 2019 unrest.
By controlling the legal system and other institutions, Iran’s leadership “decapitated the reform movement,” said Enayat, a political sociologist.
“People have completely lost faith in reforming the system because it is not working,” he said.