In Iran, political activists and journalists live with the constant threat of being arrested, often without due process. Being arrested can be a frightening experience, and those facing detention can also suffer from uncertainty around how their case will be processed, and from poor prison conditions.
IranWire and its sister site Journalism is Not A Crime regularly publish stories on these arrests, and journalists and activists often contact us seeking out further information about what they might be up against in the course of their media or political work. Legal expert Musa Barzin Khalifehlou offers some guidelines and brief answers to the most frequently asked questions.
1. The Arrest
Many journalists have given their accounts of being arrested by security agents or the police not in possession of arrest warrants. According to Iranian laws, except in cases where the crime is evident or in progress, an arresting officer or agent must produce a warrant that has been issued by an appropriate judicial authority. This is stipulated in Article 181 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure. “The warrant lists specifics about the accused and the reasons for arrest,” it reads. “It must be signed by the examining magistrate and it must be served to the accused.”
The judicial authority can issue an arrest warrant only when there is a strong suspicion that a crime has been committed. Aside from exceptional cases, the arrest must take place during the day and the arrest warrant can be used only once. Despite these guidelines, in a significant number of cases, security agents and the police have arrested journalists without an arrest warrant or, at else they have failed to present the warrant to the accused at the time of arrest.
2. Search And Seizure
In most cases, when a journalist is arrested, authorities carry out searches on his or her workplace or home. Journalists and activists have expressed numerous complaints about the manner in which such searches are conducted.
Iranian law declares that an authority carrying out a search must have a separate search warrant in addition to the arrest warrant. An arrest warrant on its own does not authorize a search of the home or the workplace of the person being arrested. Article 55 of the Code of Criminal Procedure states: “The search of homes, closed and locked places and also the inspection of persons and possessions in non-evident crimes needs the authorization of the judicial authority on a case by case basis, even if he has authorized the bailiff to conduct a general search.” And Article 137 of the same law declares: “The search of homes, closed and locked places, and also the inspection of possessions in cases where, based on indications there is a strong suspicion of the presence of the accused or of discovering tools and evidence of the crime, must be conducted by the order of the examining magistrate and by recording the particulars of the strong suspicions in the casefile.”
The law also pays attention to the manner in which the search is carried out. It emphasizes the necessity of respecting the privacy of the accused during the search. In line with this, security agents and the police have no right to search citizens’ homes or workplaces without a specific search warrant.
3. Communication Ban
In another pervasive infringement on the rights of arrested journalists, authorities regular prevent them from informing their families that they have been detained, and from supplying details as to the nature of their arrest, including about where it took place.
Many journalists have reported that they were not allowed to communicate with their families for days or even months after they were arrested. Yet Iranian law stipulates that the accused can inform his or her family. The law also requires that agents dealing with a case must respond to questions from the accused’s family. Article 49 of the Code of Criminal Procedure states: “Parents, spouses, children, and siblings of these individuals can be informed of their detention by contacting the aforesaid authorities. Answering [questions from] the above-mentioned relatives...is necessary.”
And Article 50 of the law states: “The detained person can inform family members and acquaintances of his detention by phone or other available means; bailiffs are required to provide the necessary assistance in this respect unless they decide that the detained person cannot act on this right, in which case they must inform the judiciary authority to receive appropriate orders.” This exception is only applicable in cases where an organized group has committed the crime, and where informing the family might lead to the escape of other criminals, or to the destruction of or hiding of evidence. The exception also makes particular assumptions about journalists and how they work. The right to inform one’s family is a basic and inalienable right.
4. Prison Restrictions
Arrested journalists also report undue restrictions in prison, mostly on access to books and journals. The majority of Iranian prison officials will only allow prisoners access to religious books and place excessive limitations on other publications. But the law does not stipulate any restrictions on a prisoner’s access to authorized books and journals. This is stated clearly in Article 60 of Prisons Organization’s Bylaws. Article 146 of the same bylaws reaffirms that “Access to authorized magazines and newspapers inside the institution or the prison is allowed.”
5. Drinking Water
Inmates have also voiced complaints about the quality of drinking water in prisons. By law, prisons are required to provide proper hygiene and healthy food. Article 93 of Iranian Prisons’ Bylaws clearly states that prison officials must provide prisoners with clean drinking water.
6. Medication And Medical Treatment
Prisoners in Iran are often denied access to medication and medical treatment. The conditions in Iranian prisons are usually unhygienic and, as a result, a good number of inmates become ill. In addition, a number of prisoners suffer from preexisting conditions at the time of their incarceration, and therefore access to medication and medical treatment is vital to them.
According to the Prisons Organization’s Bylaws, prisoners must be treated inside the prison unless there is a need for outside medical facilities, in which case prison officials must take appropriate action. Prisoners must have access to their medication as approved by authorized doctors.
In any case, access to medication and medical treatment is an important right, and this right cannot be ignored or restricted under any condition. Unfortunately, prisoners often encounter severe problems in this area, and there are reports of prisoners dying because they had been deprived necessary medication.
7. Hygiene And Exercise Facilities
Every prison must have enough bathing and hygiene facilities for its inmate population. Iran’s laws or bylaws do not specify numbers for such facilities, but Article 108 of the Prisons Organization’s Bylaws states that inmates must have a sufficient number of showers with hot and cold water. It also states that prisoners must be able to exercise in open air.
Hygienic services and exercise in fresh air are internationally recognized rights for inmates. But unfortunately, reports indicate that Iranian prisons usually fall short of meeting international standards on hygiene and exercise.