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Special Features

Iran Ignores its Own Laws to Stifle Legal Protests

December 9, 2019
IranWire
12 min read
Article 27 of the Islamic Republic constitution clearly states: “Unarmed assemblies and marches may be freely organized, provided that no violation of the foundations of Islam is involved”
Article 27 of the Islamic Republic constitution clearly states: “Unarmed assemblies and marches may be freely organized, provided that no violation of the foundations of Islam is involved”

The November 2019 nationwide protests in Iran triggered by a steep rise in gas prices resulted in the death and injury of hundreds of people, and the arrest of thousands. Protesters and observers were shot at or attacked arbitrarily. Families have not been given assistance when looking for their loved ones in hospitals, and authorities have either refused to hand over the bodies of dead people to their next of kin, or made it very difficult for the families to make necessary funeral arrangements. When authorities have allowed families to take the bodies, they have given them strict instructions as to what they are allowed to say about what happened. 

So what legal recourse do these individuals and families have, if any? Iranian citizens have been trying to gain what knowledge they can about their legal rights in the current situation, and some of them have been in touch with IranWire’s legal consultants about the matter. Unfortunately, according to these legal experts, access to legal redress is limited. 

Below IranWire has published a selection of questions sent to, and answered by, IranWire’s legal consultants. They provide a glimpse of what Iranians face under a system that is not faithful even to its own laws, flouting them without fear of consequences.


 

I have a general question. Is it illegal to participate in demonstrations? If not, then why has the government arrested so many people? On what basis do the courts plan to put these people on trial?

Article 27 of the Islamic Republic constitution clearly states: “Unarmed assemblies and marches may be freely organized, provided that no violation of the foundations of Islam is involved.” This article does not specify that people require a permit to demonstrate. The only time that a permit is necessary is when, according to Article 6 of Iran’s Political Parties Law, the relevant parties intend to organize demonstrations in public spaces, in which case they must obtain a permit from the interior ministry. Otherwise, there is no legal basis for arresting demonstrators who have not destroyed property or have not committed a crime.

In practice, however, the Iranian judiciary routinely ignores the law and tries people who have been arrested during demonstrations on charges including “gathering and collusion to commit a crime.

 

In the demonstrations over the increase of gas prices a number of my fellow Iranians were killed. Reports say they were shot dead by the police and the security forces. Do Iranian laws allow the authorities to shoot demonstrators outright?

According to a law enshrined in January 1995, “the use of arms by agents [is allowed] when necessary” [Persian link]. The law says that under certain conditions, government agents can use arms – but this does not mean that they are allowed to directly shoot at people in every demonstration.

First of all, under this law, a precondition to use arms includes a riot or unrest that cannot be otherwise controlled. But a demonstration cannot be called a “riot” simply because it includes some acts of violence. Secondly, the law sets specific criteria for the use of arms, the most important of which is the concept of “necessity,” meaning that armed agents can only shoot in an emergency situation. 

Article 4 of the law states: “Forces of law and order have the right to use arms by orders from their commander to restore order, control illegal marches and suppress riots and unrests that cannot be controlled without using arms, provided the following conditions are met: A) Other legal means have been used but have proven unsuccessful and B) Before using arms, the rioters and disturbers of peace must be warned...”

Article 4 makes it clear that first authorities must try other means before using arms, and even then, they can only use arms provided the demonstrators have been warned. The text of the law does not specify what these “other means” are, but it is logical to conclude that it refers to non-lethal means, including water cannons, teargas and batons. No matter what, there can be no doubt that shooting directly at demonstrators without trying other means and without warning is not permitted under Iranian law.

 

One of our relatives was arrested in Shiraz during the demonstrations. His friends witnessed a number of plainclothesmen arresting him. We went to the police to inquire about it. They said they did not know anything. We did not get a straight answer wherever we went. Would you please tell us what to do and where to go? His parents are very worried. They are afraid that something has happened to their son.

As a first step, go to the prosecutor’s office and try to get information from the prosecutor or one of his assistants. It is highly likely that the prosecution has opened legal cases against the detainees and, for this reason, the best way is to ask the office. Under current conditions, officials at the prosecutor’s office might brush it aside, but be obstinate and try to see the prosecutor’s assistants.

If by going to the prosecutor you get no answers or you are told that no legal case under that name has been opened, you can go to the Ministry of Intelligence’s News Headquarters or call them and ask for information. If this fails, then contact the Revolutionary Guards. It is very likely that the detainee has been arrested by the police or the Intelligence Ministry. If all fails, we suggest you tell the media about the detainee.

 

I am a political activist and live outside Iran. In recent protests, a number of Iranian citizens were killed and many were injured. I want to know whether the families of those killed or the injured themselves can bring complaints against the police or the security forces? Did they have the right to shoot at the protesters?

Under the law on “the use of arms by armed agents,” the police and security forces can use arms against rioters but only under certain conditions – if all other methods have not worked and the demonstrators have been warned. As a next step, they must shoot in the air and if that does not work they must aim at the body below the waist. The shoot-to-kill practice used during recent protests had no legal justification, so the families of those killed and injured can legally bring complaints. Unfortunately, in practice, it is very unlikely that such complaints will get anywhere.

 

My son works as motorbike messenger. As he was riding his bike for his job, he was arrested by the police. He had not participated in any demonstration. We went to the court and they said that he had to remain in detention for a few days until it was decided what to do with him. I want to know whether my son will be tried or not. How should he defend himself in court? Do you think we should get a lawyer?

Unfortunately, in situations like these the police and the security forces also arrest innocent people who have played no part in bringing about damages. In any case, it is best to ask the examining magistrate about the warrant issued. If the warrant is temporary detention then your son must be officially informed, in which case he can object to it.

It is possible that an order for release on bail has been issued and the examining magistrate is refusing to carry it out under the current conditions, but such a refusal is illegal. It is better to get a letter from his workplace that confirms that when he was arrested he was on the street to deliver a package to a certain destination and then submit this letter to the examining magistrate. But, in any case, it is best to hire a lawyer if you have the financial means.

 

An acquaintance of ours was arrested during recent protests. We have been told that he will be released on a property bond of 200 million tomans [close to $15,000] but, as of now, we have not been able to arrange it. My question is this: what if we cannot post this bail? Is it possible to ask the examining magistrate to change the bail type so that we can provide a business permit or proof of salary? I also want to ask whether the warrant to release on bail is a good sign.

If the bail is not posted, the defendant remains under arrest. The examining magistrate can reduce the bail amount or change the type but this can take time, so it is best if you can post the bail as it is set now. It is only possible to be released by submitting a business permit or proof of salary if the examining magistrate has issued a surety bond. Considering the amount set for the bail, it is very unlikely that the examining magistrate would change it to a surety bond.

About your last question: yes, the order to release on bail shows that the charge against the detainee is not very serious, but this does not necessarily mean that the defendant will be acquitted.

 

A few days ago I got a call from the Ministry of Intelligence’s News Headquarters and they told me to present myself there. I am a reporter for a local paper and I took photographs of the protests with my camera. Of course, I have not yet published any of them. Is it legal for the intelligence ministry to summon me by phone? Can I refuse to go? And what will happen if I do not go?

First, an individual can only be summoned if he or she is cited in a legal case as the accused, a suspect, a witness or somebody with information relevant to the case. The summons has to be issued by a judiciary official or by his order. Second, according to Article 169 of the Islamic Republic’s Code of Criminal Procedure, “the accused is instructed to appear in court through a summons. The summons is drawn up in two copies. The first copy is handed over to the accused and the second copy is returned to the agent after it is signed [by the accused].” 

If a person has an account with the prosecutor’s electronic system, then the summons can be sent electronically or given to the person in written form. In any case, summoning by phone is not legal and the person summoned is under no obligation to obey. If you refuse to go, you should not suffer legal consequences.

 

My brother was arrested in Isfahan. He played no part in violence but had participated in demonstrations. Nevertheless, the agents beat him after he was arrested and wanted him to confess that he had been involved in setting fire to a bank. Eventually, after two days of beatings, my brother was forced to make a false confession. He is now in prison and we might be able to visit him in the coming days. Do you think he can retract his confession? What is the best thing for him to say at the court?

A forced confession under pressure, threats, torture or beating has no credibility under law and is illegal. If the judge wants to issue a verdict based on confessions, first he must hear it himself and then make sure that it is credible. So, in the next phases of the process, it is best for your brother to clearly state that he had been forced to make a false confession and for him to retract that confession.

Also, your brother or his lawyer can ask that CCTV footage from the location be inspected and witnesses be questioned. If there are people who can testify that your brother had no part in setting fire to the bank then be sure to introduce them to the examining magistrate.

 

My son was arrested in protests over the gas price increase in Tehran. We went to the court, where they told us that my son was in Fashafuyeh Prison but gave us no further information. I told the examining magistrate that I wanted to appoint a lawyer but he did not like this and said that at this stage of the process they would not accept lawyers. Does he have this right?

Access to a lawyer is one of the basic rights of the accused. Based on Iranian laws, the accused can have access to a lawyer at any stage of prosecution, but the Code of Criminal Procedure has somewhat limited this right. In 2015, a new provision was added to Article 48 of the code. This provision states that, in the preliminary investigation stage of a case, an individual accused of crimes against the internal and external security of the country or of any form of organized crime that can be punishable by harsh sentences under Article 302 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure – which includes punishments such as the death penalty, life imprisonment, and the amputation of limbs –  will only be allowed to choose his or her lawyer from a pre-approved list of lawyers, which is issued by the head of the judiciary.

However, according to Article 190 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure, an accused person should have access to a lawyer from the moment of his or her detention, and also during any preliminary investigations. The law also stresses that the accused should be informed of this at the time of his or her arrest. If judiciary officials violate these provisions they can face disciplinary action. Therefore, if a judiciary official denies the accused the right to access a lawyer, the accused or the lawyer can bring a complaint against that official to the Judges Disciplinary Court.

 

While the final verdicts against those arrested during recent protests have yet to be issued, can authorities legally broadcast people’s confessions on TV? I read that a bill has been introduced in the parliament that bans the airing of confessions on TV. If it is banned then why have they already broadcast several confessions? My cousin was arrested in these demonstrations and, based on the information that we have received, his confessions have been recorded.

Preliminary investigations are confidential and no information about the case or the accused can be published unless the accused is a fugitive from justice and information about him, including his photograph, is published as a means of finding him. According to Article 96 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure, “during all phases of preliminary investigations, publishing the picture and other information about the identity of the accused by the media or the police or judicial authorities is forbidden.” And Article 91 states: “Preliminary investigations are conducted confidentially except in cases where the law rules otherwise. All persons involved in the preliminary investigations must safeguard these information as secrets. Otherwise...they will be punished.”

The bill that you mentioned has been shelved for now, but even without it, publishing confessions in the media is illegal.

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