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Features

Human Trafficking in Iran: Dearth of Transparent Data, Compensation

March 15, 2024
Sina Ghanbarpour
8 min read
According to reports from Iran, in 2023, the authorities only disclosed the identification and dismantling of 94 active trafficking gangs
According to reports from Iran, in 2023, the authorities only disclosed the identification and dismantling of 94 active trafficking gangs
Interviews with legal experts underscore the absence of protective measures for trafficking victims, especially within the context of sex trafficking under Iranian law
Interviews with legal experts underscore the absence of protective measures for trafficking victims, especially within the context of sex trafficking under Iranian law

The Islamic Republic fails to provide accurate statistics on the fight against human trafficking and the number of victims affected, which evokes a strong sense of deja vu.

This lack of transparency leaves the public with no comprehensive information regarding the fate of trafficking victims and their need for compensation.

To gain insight into the occurrence of this crime and its victims in Iran, one must rely on news sources. 

However, the situation becomes even more complex and obscured, particularly concerning human trafficking tied to sex trafficking.

According to reports from Iran, in 2023, the authorities only disclosed the identification and dismantling of 94 active trafficking gangs. 

Moreover, during this period, only two instances of sex trafficking – namely, the cases of Masoud Haminfi and Shahrouz Sokhanvari – were reported. 

Yet, details regarding the number of women victimized in these instances and the subsequent law enforcement and judicial actions remain unclear.

Interviews with legal experts underscore the absence of protective measures for trafficking victims, especially within the context of sex trafficking under Iranian law. 

In a recent report, IranWire examined proposed legislation to enhance legal protections and compared it to existing laws.

Legal professionals such as Tannaz Kolahchian, Marzieh Mohebi, and Moein Khazaeli elaborated on the legal standing of trafficking victims and the mechanisms for compensating them in interviews with IranWire.

However, before delving into the legal aspects, it's crucial to scrutinize Iran's official data on human trafficking and its victims to understand the narrative crafted by the authorities regarding the prevalence of this crime.

Absence of Human Trafficking Statistics 

The Islamic Republic fails to provide systematic and transparent statistics regarding human trafficking, a glaring gap highlighted in the statistical yearbook's judicial section.

Access to the country's statistical yearbook, which hasn't been published for years and is restricted by the government, shows a wide range of crime categories in its judicial affairs section.

While statistics on various crimes such as murder, suicide, extortion, and theft are detailed in the yearbooks, any specific data or heading about human trafficking is noticeably missing.

In stark contrast to the meticulous attention given to statistics on narcotic drugs – a focal point for the Islamic Republic to bolster its international image – there exists neither a dedicated heading nor any data regarding human trafficking.

This void has led the US State Department to condemn the Islamic Republic, placing it on the blacklist concerning human trafficking in periodic reports.

For instance, the latest report published by the US government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 25, 2023, emphasizes that Iran, along with Afghanistan, failed to meet the minimum standards for combating human trafficking.

According to this report, Iran and Afghanistan, along with 22 other nations, including Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, and North Korea, have been categorized as Category 3 countries due to their non-compliance with the minimum criteria outlined by the law to protect human trafficking victims.

The US State Department's report further underscores that the Islamic Republic is among 12 countries that have not ratified the "Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Women and Children." This Protocol supplements the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.

Insights from Published News on Human Trafficking 

A thorough examination of Iran's criminal news landscape reveals a troubling absence of information regarding the plight of human trafficking victims, especially women and girls.

Further, the Iranian police force often publishes news related to human trafficking in a vague and non-transparent manner.

For instance, Saeed Montazer al-Mahdi, the spokesperson for Iran's police force, recently announced in a press conference: "94 human trafficking gangs have been identified and dismantled during this period." 

However, no details were provided regarding the operational quality of these 94 gangs, their modus operandi, the extent of their activities, or the number of victims involved.

Tannaz Kolahchian, a lawyer, emphasized the Islamic Republic's reluctance to publicize news related to child trafficking and organ trafficking. The lawyer told IranWire, "It seems that the Islamic Republic is even obstructing the publication of other news on this matter, effectively covering up such events."

Kolahchian added, "If the Islamic Republic were proactive in publishing statistics, news, punishments, and progress in the fight against human trafficking, it could prevent new victims from falling prey, especially those vulnerable due to poverty and economic factors."

However, a review of other news about human trafficking fails to offer insights into the operational quality of the groups apprehended by the police and the number of victims. 

At least 433 news articles on human trafficking by the ISNA news agency and 156 by the Mizan news agency were published in 2023. 

Essentially, to uncover victims of women and girls trafficking, one must sift through numerous news headlines referring to the "enticement" and abuse of girls and women. 

These news articles typically detail cases where perpetrators were notorious for their sexual exploitation of women. 

For instance, a report published by ISNA exposed the actions of a man who was primarily a security guard by profession. He enticed and sexually assaulted 30 women and girls under the guise of hiring a babysitter.

Ultimately, after scrutinizing various news sources, only three news headlines relating to the trafficking of women and girls were identified. 

One of these news items concerned the arrest of an individual named Masoud Hanni.

Majid Karimi, the head of the International Police of Iran's police force, indicated Hanni's extradition through Turkey. 

Describing the reason for Hanni's arrest, Karimi stated that he was involved in "fraud, money laundering, enticing young girls, and human trafficking."

The ambiguous manner in which the police communicate information in judicial cases is further exemplified in a report issued by the International Police chief in December last year. The report informed about the arrest of an individual who had "enticed" a 12-year-old girl and brought her to Iran. 

In this regard, the head of Iran's International Police force, without providing details of the incident or the nationality of the 12-year-old girl, revealed that she had been abducted and illegally smuggled into Iran two years prior.

The only hint regarding the girl's nationality was provided in the news text, where it was mentioned that the accused in the case "entered our country through the northwestern borders of the country via a mountainous route." 

Eventually, it was revealed that "this girl was transferred to her country through Imam Khomeini Airport following coordination with the judicial police."

Another example highlighted in the news was the execution of Shahrouz Sokhanvari, also known as Alex, who was apprehended in cooperation between Iranian and Malaysian police in 2019. 

No information was provided regarding Alex's activities or the extent of his operations. However, it was disclosed in some news reports that at least 30 Iranian girls were abducted and introduced into Alex's network with the assistance of an individual named Masih.

Exclusion of Compensation for Victims

The lack of clarity on human trafficking victim statistics and related news reports brings attention to the legal and criminal dimensions of human trafficking laws in the Islamic Republic. This includes a recent bill introduced in parliament to strengthen anti-trafficking efforts.

One critical aspect of monitoring human trafficking victims, particularly in cases involving sexual exploitation, pertains to victim compensation. 

However, the extent of damages suffered by human trafficking victims varies widely due to factors such as gender, age, and belonging to minority groups.

Presently, the Islamic Republic tackles human trafficking through an eight-article law fraught with loopholes. 

Since 2018, a bill seeking to amend this law has been tabled before the government and parliament, yet it remains entangled in the Iranian legislative process. 

Nonetheless, legal experts assert that both the existing law and the proposed bill neglect the issue of compensating human trafficking victims, particularly women.

In a collective analysis of victim compensation by lawyers Marzieh Mohebi, Tanaz Kolahchian, and Moein Khazaeli, provided to IranWire, Mohebi highlights the legal void within the current law. 

Mohebi said, "The existing law against human trafficking fails to differentiate treatment based on gender, offering no support or compensation provisions."

Similarly, Khazaeli underscored the absence of victim compensation provisions in the current anti-human trafficking legislation. 

Khazaeli asserted in an interview with IranWire, "Fundamentally, there are no protective measures for victims. The proposed parliamentary bill fails to address compensation matters."

Drawing attention to the socio-economic vulnerability of human trafficking victims, particularly women exploited in sex trafficking, Khazaeli said, "While some minimal support from NGOs may be available in the form of legal assistance, comprehensive legal backing is absent."

Khazaeli further highlighted that human trafficking is a public offense, obviating the need for a private complainant to trigger prosecution. 

However, under the current circumstances, victims receive scant assistance in navigating the aftermath of the crime.

Addressing Aftermath of Human Trafficking

In the realm of sex trafficking, perpetrators often employ the tactic of withholding victims' documents, coercing them into providing sexual services. 

This egregious practice inflicts multifaceted harm upon victims, including both psychological and physical trauma. 

The repercussions of enduring violence and coercion often manifest in lasting psychological scars, necessitating comprehensive medical and counseling interventions.

Tannaz Kolahchian, the legal expert, elucidates the challenges of addressing human trafficking, particularly of women and girls, and its profound ramifications. However, legal frameworks remain largely indifferent to these complexities.

Kolahchian told IranWire, "Typically, seeking damages within Iran's justice system constitutes a protracted, multi-year ordeal for victims. The arduous legal process itself exacerbates the victim's mental and physical anguish. Consequently, victims may find themselves entangled in the judicial system for years, without any defined support mechanisms."

Furthermore, Kolahchian underscored the pervasive influence of the economic circumstances of victims in aiding sex trafficking.

She said, "Poverty serves as a significant backdrop to this crime, compelling victims into dire situations. Initially, the allure of traffickers' promises appears enticing, offering an escape from poverty and fulfilling idealized aspirations. However, economic constraints often render victims incapable of pursuing legal recourse."

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