Why has Iran’s judiciary been unable to gain public trust over the last 40 years? What are the basic problems of the institution, the original primary goals of which were to"litigate, protect public rights and implement justice" in order to "uphold individual and social rights”?
In this series, IranWire will look at the structural problems of the judicial branch of government, relying on concrete examples and statements from legal experts to build a picture of the judiciary and whether it functions according to the principles on which it was originally based.
In the first part of the series, IranWire looked at the independence and impartiality of Iran’s judiciary. The second article looked at the protracted trial process, which successive judiciary heads have promised to reform, without success.
This, the third article, addresses corruption in the judiciary.
"My client was sentenced to death for drug possession. His wife, a young and beautiful woman, was constantly going from building to building, coming and going, following the case. We tried our best, but we could not get close to the desired result. Then I found out that my client's wife was completely discouraged from following the case and stopped trying. Finally, my client was sentenced to a commuted life imprisonment. Later, his wife told me that one afternoon, during a follow-up, the judge asked to have sex with her, and she agreed, to save her husband's life. On the advice of a close friend, she recorded the judge's voice. When she found out that the judge did not keep his promise, she sent the audio file and documents she had in her possession. She forced the judge to cooperate."
These are the comments of the first lawyer I contacted about corruption in the judiciary. The lawyer still lives in Iran and asked not to be named.
Hossein Raeisi, who practiced law in Iran for many years before moving to Canada, heard similar stories while handling cases.
"In one case, the judge asked for my client to have sexual relations with him. He had texted her. We complained to the judge. He was transferred from that city to another place; I do not know what happened to him. In another case, a judge openly ruled in a case counter to the law. I sued the judge and the judge was convicted in the court of judges. In another case, a man had sued a woman for having an illicit affair and had bribed a judge to keep her in prison. I encouraged the woman to file a complaint, and she did, and the case was transferred from that branch to another. This transfer led to my client's acquittal."
Raeisi recalled several cases where a judge’s corruption was revealed throughout the course of the trial:
"I even got into a fight with Judge Ali Akbar Heydarifar, who later became known as the Judge of Kahrizak, because he had arrested a woman in place of her husband and taken her hostage."
But Raeisi stopped short of saying that corruption is institutionalized in Iran’s judiciary. However, he did say that since the judiciary is a hierarchical institution, it is easy for corruption to flourish.
"I have heard people say of some judges: 'if you have a fit and beautiful female lawyer, you will win the case in his court,' which also happened to be an appeal court"
The high volume of complaints about judges indicates the high volume of corruption in the judiciary, and points to other structural problems in the institution too. Noting that nearly 3,000 complaints are filed against judges each year, Raeisi said these complaints are made despite strict systems put in place, including the judges' disciplinary court and the judges' disciplinary tribunal. Judicial misconduct cases are also referred to the Special Court for Government Employees, and there is also a special intelligence section within the judiciary to deal with these and related matters.
A Judiciary Contaminated to the Core
Reza Alijani, a political activist and member of the Council of Nationalist-Religious Activists, has been arrested and imprisoned numerous times. Alijani recalls the anti-corruption plan launched by Ahmad Sadr Haj Seyed-Javadi, a lawyer, a minister of justice, and a prosecutor when Ali Amini was prime minister (1961 to 1962).
"The late Haj Seyed-Javadi [one of the founders of the Freedom Movement] was very modest and well-mannered, but once, when he was deeply offended by the corruption in the judiciary, he recited a poem among a group of friends. I remember it went: ‘One should defecate on this judiciary.’ Despite his opposition to the Pahlavi regime, he said that in the time of the Shah, the judiciary was healthier than it is today."
Alijani continued: "These days, both the judiciary and the foundation of the Revolutionary Courts are based on corruption, and this corruption is a gangrene that has infected the entire system. This corruption is not limited to one person or one area: the whole system is contaminated. A lawyer told me about Judge Mansouri [a judge who fled Iran after facing corruption charges, and who died in Romania in suspicious circumstances in July 2020], whom I hope God will forgive and have mercy on, who did not even resort to the head of the office, secretary, administrator, or mediator, but acted directly and personally handled the matter, reaching an agreement with the client."
In January 2018, a video was posted online showing a private meeting between deputy chief of the judiciary Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei and Mansour Nazari, a poet with links to the Iranian regime and Hezbollah and whose poem “Defendants of the Shrine” gained him notoriety.
In the clip, Nazari says to the judiciary official: “I know of a case where the judge, through his intermediary, demanded 50 million tomans from the defendant and the forensic expert demanded 20 million. We reported them and the gang was broken up. What happened to the judge, Mr. Mohseni-Ejei? According to the Ministry of Intelligence, the judge had been taking bribes for 15 years, since the beginning of his career. There are reports of him receiving mutton and gold coins as bribes, and having an illicit affair with a prisoner's aunt. This corrupt person has been ruling on the wealth and honor of the people for 15 years.”
However, the Mansour Nazari case is also suspicious.
When interviewed on the occasion of the Ammar Festival, Nazari told an Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting reporter: "An investigator looking into a case of corrupt judges at the Special Court for Government Employees, who wrote an 83-page indictment on charges including attempting to seize other people’s property, having illicit affairs, and colluding with others to alter the way a particular piece of land was used, was sent into exile from his hometown. That branch of court was totally shut down and he was tried in the offices of the same judges [he was investigating] and sentenced to one year in prison for spreading lies.”
Paying or accepting bribes is a criminal offense under the laws of the Islamic Republic, so if a judicial employee receives money to do anything he or she should be doing as part of his or her job, the law specifies that the offender should be sentenced to between six months and 15 years in prison. The person doing the bribing can also face punishment, and can face between one to three years in prison.
The individual can only be exempt from this punishment if he or she can prove that they paid the money in order to demonstrate that they were on the right side of the law.
Lawyer Hossein Raeisi described one incident involving a gang operating in the Tehran Provincial Court of Appeals. The group contacted the parties involved in a particular case, promised them victory, and then demanded large sums of money from both parties. In the end, they returned the money to the unsuccessful party in the case, and kept the money of the successful party. Whatever happened in that case, the group was always going to profit.
Seyed Ahmad Mortazavi Moghadam, the head of the Supreme Court of Iran, has pointed out that the main type of corruption among judges is moral and financial corruption. He also warned judges about the dangers of female lawyers, who he said had used the corrupt nature of the courts to influence judge’s verdicts through sexual coercion.
Despite many anecdotal examples and widespread personal experience of corruption in the judiciary, there are no clear statistics about corrupt judges in Iran.
A spokesperson for the judiciary gave a comment on June 9, 2020, about the number of offending judges: "Despite special rules and criteria in the judiciary, our accurate statistics indicate that the number of offenders within the judiciary, especially in the judges' community, is low, and less than one percent."
However, in June 2019, senior judiciary official Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei stated that in a matter of 45 days, about 60 offending judges had been removed from office. Prior to this, on July 9, 2017, the judiciary intelligence office announced the suspension of 78 judges and 64 judicial experts. But not long after this, on June 20, 2017, Mohseni-Ejei contradicted this figure and put the number of the offending judges at 50, while in May of that year, Ahmad Tavakoli, a Tehran representative in parliament, announced the dismissal of 170 judges due to economic or moral violations.
The judiciary employees around 87,900 people. Out of that number, 10,000 of them are said to be judges.
Non-senior judges in Iran are paid between 8 and 20 million tomans [between US$348 and $870] a month, and according to the judiciary, they review and issue verdicts of between 100 and 120 cases each month.
Read other articles in the series: