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Society & Culture

Saba Azarpeik Under Arrest: Seven Ways Iran Violates its Own Laws

July 29, 2014
Nargess Tavassolian
7 min read
Saba Azarpeik Under Arrest: Seven Ways Iran Violates its Own Laws
Saba Azarpeik Under Arrest: Seven Ways Iran Violates its Own Laws

Saba Azarpeik Under Arrest: Seven Ways Iran Violates its Own Laws


The international human rights community has condemned the arrest of journalist Saba Azarpeik, detained on May 28 in the presence of her mother. Her family and her lawyer have not heard from her since her arrest. Authorities have refused to provide information about the journalist’s whereabouts or the charges against her.

In mid-July, Azarpeik, who works for reformist newspapers including Etemad, was brought in front of a revolutionary court. Her family was not informed and her lawyer, Alizadeh Tabatabaei, was not allowed to attend the trial.

According to reports, Azarpeik is suffering from a damaged vertebra. Prison authorities have lied to her in an attempt to undermine her morale, telling her that Etemad has suspended publication because of her, and informing her that colleagues and friends have also been arrested. Azarpeik’s family is forbidden from talking to the media; they have been told not to post information about her on Facebook or share details of her arrest via social media.

Human rights groups have spoken out on Azarpeik’s incarceration, insisting that Iranian authorities have acted illegally. But just how far have Iranian authorities gone to silence Azarpeik? In Iran, is the violation of human rights ever justified in certain circumstances, if a citizen is guilty of certain crimes? Below, we look at the how Iranian judiciary continues to deny Azarpeik her basic human rights—flouting its own laws on political prisoners, forced confessions, transparency, and judicial procedures. We look at how the punishment of political prisoners follows a similar track in Iran, whereby prisoners' rights are regularly violated and where physical and mental abuse is commonplace. 

Under its commitment to uphold international standards on human rights, the Iranian government is required to observe the following:

The right to inform family of the arrest

Article 50 of the penal code specifies that the accused has the right to “inform family and friends” of his or her arrest, either by telephone or other means. Arresting authorities are duty-bound to assist in this communication where necessary, “unless there is a pressing reason not to do so.” If sufficient reason is provided, the case must be reported to the judicial authority, which must then issue “the appropriate decree.”

Article 49 states that “the parents, the spouse, the children and the siblings of the arrested individual may find out about their detention by contacting the said authority. Answering the above relatives is necessary as long as it does not conflict with the social or familial dignity” of the accused.

The right to prompt explanation of charges

The accused has the right to appear before a judge within 24 hours and be informed of the charges against them. Under Iranian law, this right is called “making charges understood.” Article 9, paragraph 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory, states that “anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power.”

Article 32 of the Islamic Republic Constitution essentially guarantees the same right: “If someone is detained, the subject matter of the charge, with reasons (for bringing it), must immediately be communicated and explained in writing to the accused. Within 24 hours the file on the case and preliminary documentation must be referred to the competent legal authority. Legal procedures must be initiated as early as possible. Anyone infringing this principle will be punished in accordance with the law .”

In the case of Saba Azarpeik, nobody has been punished for violating this article of the constitution.

The right to a lawyer during interrogation

The Iranian penal code clearly guarantees the right to access to a lawyer upon arrest, one of the most basic rights for those accused of illegal activity. The appointed lawyer and his or her client are permitted to meet for a period of no more than one hour; legal counsel must respect the confidential nature of the conversation.  Lawyers are entitled to submit comments to an accused person's case file.

In the case of Saba Azarpeik, this right has clearly been violated. Her lawyer Alizadeh Tabatabaei has told IranWire that he has been prevented from meeting her in person or talking to her on the phone. He has not been informed of her location. 

The right to be protected against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments in the course of questioning

Iran is not a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. However, various articles included in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic stipulate that torture is not legal, including Article 22 which states: “The dignity, life, property, rights, residence, and occupation of the individual are inviolate, except in cases sanctioned by law.”

Article 38 directly forbids the torture of suspects to obtain a forced confession or extract information: “Any kind of torture used to extract an admission of guilt or to obtain information is forbidden. Compelling people to give evidence, or confess or take an oath is not allowed. Such evidence or confession or oath is null and void. Any person infringing this principle is to be punished in accordance with the law.” In addition to these fundamental laws, other bylaws also prohibit torture.

Security forces regularly lock up political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in “safe houses”. These houses are outside the rules of the penal system. The prisoners are totally isolated and denied basic rights such as visits from family members.

Since the whereabouts of Saba Azarpeik have not been divulged, it is quite likely that she is being kept at such a so-called "safe house."

The right to communicate with family and the outside world

According to Article 180 of bylaws governing Iran’s State Prison Organization, all prisoners “have the right to communicate with their family members and friends through visits and correspondence.” Article 182 states that “the spouse, the parents, the siblings, the children, and the parents of the spouse have the right to visit the prisoners in arranged weekly meetings. Other relatives and friends can meet the prisoner subject to receiving permission from the head of the institution or the presiding judge.”

After two months, Azarpeik has yet to be allowed visitors. 

Summons for questioning must be approved by judicial authorities and follow legal procedures. It must be issued in a transparent manner

On May 5, 2009, Iranian parliament approved a law to uphold Iranian citizens’ rights. Under paragraph 1 of the law for Respecting Legitimate Freedoms and Protecting Citizens’ Rights, “the investigation and prosecution of crimes, the performance of searches, and the issuance of rulings governing security and temporary arrests must be based on the law, and must result from judicial decisions and warrants that are clear and transparent.” According to the legislation, “investigators, prosecutors and judges must set aside all personal interests”, avoiding “abuse of power or any act of violence or undue detention.”

If an individual is brought in for questioning, the summons must be signed by the detainee. Two copies of the summons must be produced —one for the accused and one for the arresting officer. Any charges must be clearly stated in the summons, except in specific cases where national security or the social standing of the accused must be taken into consideration. In these exceptional cases, the accused has the right to request and receive specific details about the nature of the summons.

No more than five days must elapse between the date of a warrant being served and the time the accused is questioned, according to Article 171 of the Penal Code. Authorities must not enter or search private homes or businesses without prior consent from the relevant judicial authority. Decisions are taken on a case-by-case basis.

These rules and regulations are regularly flouted in cases pertaining to prisoners of conscience or political prisoners.

The right to an open trial

It's clear that these rights are enshrined in Iranian law—whether it's the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, the law for Respecting Legitimate Freedoms and Protecting Citizens’ Rights, the penal and criminal codes or bylaws applied to the prison system—even though, in practice, when it comes to prisoners of conscience, they are routinely disregarded.

Iran's constitution is specific about the kinds of offenses that can lead to imprisonment and punishment. Journalists must uphold certain responsibilities. Article 168 declares that “political and press offenses shall be tried openly and in the presence of a jury, in courts of justice.”

Saba Azarpeik has been denied this right as well.