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Fact Checking

Khomeini Factcheck: Have Iranian Laws Protected the Rights of Women and Minorities?

February 2, 2021
IranWire
8 min read
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, claimed that all Iranians, including women and religious minorities, are equal before the law.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, claimed that all Iranians, including women and religious minorities, are equal before the law.
IranWire investigated this claim and found that, contrary to Khomeini’s claims, the Islamic Republic has committed and continues to commit widespread discrimination against women and minorities.
IranWire investigated this claim and found that, contrary to Khomeini’s claims, the Islamic Republic has committed and continues to commit widespread discrimination against women and minorities.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, claimed in a message to the Iranian people on April 3, 1979, after the referendum for the new regime: "In the Islamic Republic, everyone is equal; the law respects the rights of religious minorities, women and others, and does not discriminate among these groups.”

Khomeini said in another message: "Different groups, Sunni and Shia, Arab and non-Arab, and Turkish and non-Turkish, have no advantages over one another. Everyone is equal in rights. Religious minorities have their rights respected; Islam respects them. All classes are respected. Kurds and other ethnic minorities, including those who have different languages, these are all our brothers and we are with them, and they are with us; and we are all from the same nation and the same religion. I hope that in some parts of Iran, where corrupt elements went and spread misleading propaganda and incited the people to unrest and to commit fratricide, that the people themselves will wake up and not let these traitors carry out such actions. We are all brothers; we are brothers with the Sunnis and we should not rule over or over around other people. We should not ignore the rights of others. We are all equal in law, and in the law, which, God willing, will be approved by the nation later, the rights of all classes are considered, and religious minorities, women, other classes, everyone their rights are considered, and there is no difference between these groups in Islam. The only a difference is based on piety and obedience to God Almighty."

Are the rights of women and religious minorities respected in the Islamic Republic? Do all people have equal rights in the Islamic Republic? IranWire investigated this questions by verifying the claims of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, in this report which addresses some of the most glaring forms discrimination against women and religious minorities in Iran. But it does not claim to cover all discriminatory laws and practices of the Islamic Republic.

The Rights of Religious Minorities and Women in the Islamic Republic

Is "equality" observed in the Islamic Republic?

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic emphasizes equality in several articles. Paragraphs 3, 9 and 14 of Article 3 emphasize the equality of children, adolescents and young people in receiving free education and physical training, eliminating discrimination and creating fair facilities for all, and equal rights of the public before the law.

Article 20 also says that "all members of the nation, men and women alike, are protected by the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social and cultural rights, under the laws of Islam." But nowhere in the constitution is "gender equality" or "religious equality" explicitly recognized. In practice, inequality has been an integral part of the Islamic Republic for the past 42 years.

Discrimination, some of which has been referred to as "sexual-religious apartheid" in Iran, is seen both in law and in practice.

Gender Discrimination

The Constitution obliges the government to respect "women's rights,” in Article 21, but the same law does not recognize women as having equal rights as men. It even encourages discrimination against women because of the following provisions:

1- Discrimination in the guardianship of children

The Islamic Republic considers men as the guardians of their children. In the absence of a father, the paternal grandfather takes precedence over the mother in claiming custody and guardianship of any children. Article 21, paragraph 5 of the Constitution mentions "Granting custody of children to worthy mothers in the absence of a religious guardian,” that is, even if the mother is fully qualified to take care of her child, custody is granted to the mother in the absence of a a religious guardian, meaning a paternal grandfather. But modern constitutional systems abide by the principle of determining the best interests of children rather than the gender of a guardian.

2- Age of criminal responsibility

The basis of Islamic jurisprudence in determining the age of criminal responsibility has led to the persecution of minors of both genders; but in this, still girls are disadvantaged as compared to boys. The age of criminal responsibility for boys is 15 years whereas for girls it is nine years old nine. Articles 146 and 147 of the Islamic Penal Code state that minors are not criminally liable, that the age of puberty for girls is nine years old, and for boys is 15 years old.

3- Deprivation of judgment

According to the Law on the Conditions for the Election of Judges, which was approved by the Iranian parliament in 1982, judges are selected from among qualified men. The legislature has barred women from holding judicial positions. And while the constitution declares the right of all Iranians to choose their form of work, this has been ignored in the judiciary.

Article 28 of the Constitution states: "Everyone has the right to choose employment that he desires and that is not against Islam or the public interest and the rights of others. The government is obliged to provide employment opportunities for all people and equal conditions for obtaining work, taking into account the society's need for various forms of work." The Islamic Republic, however, sees women's judgment as contrary to Islam and has banned the judge’s bench for women. This prohibition does not apply only to women; believers of religious minorities have also been deprived of the right to serve as judges.

4- Deprivation of the right to freedom of cover

Deprivation of women’s right to freedom in personal dress is a violation of women's rights and a form of discrimination. This is also written into the law, in Article 638 of the Islamic Penal Code, which states: "Whoever pretends to commit a haram act in public and in public places, in addition to a punishment, shall be sentenced to imprisonment from ten days to two months or up to 74 lashes. If he/she commits an act for which the act itself is not punishable but injures public decency, he/she will only be sentenced to imprisonment from ten days to two months or up to 74 lashes." The notes on this article are clear: "Women who appear in public without a religious hijab will be sentenced to imprisonment from ten days to two months or a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 rials."

The value of women's testimony being half of that of men, the deprivation of women from traveling without the permission of their husbands, not having the right to divorce, and other legal realities, are also forms of discriminations against women in Iran.

Religious Discrimination

1- Deprivation of the right to hold senior elected office

Acquiring a position of leadership or the presidency in the Islamic Republic, according to Articles 109 and 115 of the constitution, belongs to Shia jurists and religious leaders. Members of religious minorities are not allowed to reach such positions.

2- Deprivation of membership in the Assembly of Experts and the Guardian Council

The condition for membership in the Assembly of Experts or being elected as jurists of the Guardian Council is to be an Islamic jurist. But not every jurist can quality. Although the law does not provide a definition of the qualifications, in practice, Islamic jurists are approved by the Supreme Leader and his appointees in the Guardian Council.

3- Deprivation of organizing or joining political parties

According to Article 4 of the Law on the Activities of Parties, Associations and Political and Trade Unions and Islamic Associations or Recognized Religious Minorities, religious minorities are only allowed to engage in collective activities on religious, cultural, social and welfare issues of the minority to which they belong. Followers of religious minorities therefore do not have the right to engage in political activity, and their right to engage in other areas is allowed only as far as it is related to their religion.

4- Deprivation of inheritance from Muslims

According to the Article 881 of the Civil Code, "an infidel [non-Muslim] cannot not inherit from a Muslim." The opposite is not true; if an “infidel” dies and there is a Muslim among his heirs, the Muslim inherits from the “infidel.”

Unwritten Discrimination

Discrimination against women and religious minorities is not limited to the law. In practice, women and religious minorities have also been subjected to unjust discrimination over the past 42 years, some of which are as follows:

Unwritten Gender Discrimination

1- Prohibition of women to enter sports stadiums;

2- Denial of women from becoming president;

3- Denial of women from high office, including membership of the Expediency Council, the Assembly of Experts, the Guardian Council, the Council of Ministers and head of the Armed Forces.

4- Deprivation of the right to sing or play musical instruments in solo public performances.

Unwritten Religious Discrimination

1- Deprivation of membership in the Expediency Council and Supreme Council;

2- Deprivation of high public offices, senior judiciary positions, or senior military posts;

3- Denial of free religious and political activity;

4- Denial of managing schools and universities;

5- Denial for Baha’is of the of the right to higher education.

Conclusion

Khomeini claimed in a message to the Iranian people, on April 3, 1979, after the constitutional referendum, that "in the Islamic Republic, everyone has equal rights." In 1979, his claims could not be verified, because many discriminatory laws were written later, and many forms of discrimination had yet to emerge. But today, as IranWire investigated this claim on the eve of the anniversary of the Revolution, the Islamic Republic, contrary to Khomeini’s claims, has committed and continues to commit widespread discrimination against women and religious minorities, both in law and in practice, and there is no sign of this changing.

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