Iran: Depoliticize The Judiciary
(New York, March 19, 2001) In an open letter sent today to Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khamene'i, Human Rights Watch protested further closure orders against independent newspapers, the closure of an independent political party and the continued detention without access to lawyers or their families of independent political activists.
These judicial actions constitute violations of the Iranian Constitution and of Iran's obligations in international law.
The judiciary should not be used as a weapon in the hands of a political faction," said Hanny Megally, Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "The leader must use his authority to ensure that doesn't happen."
March 19, 2001
His Excellency Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i
Leader of Islamic Republic of Iran
Human Rights Watch is seriously concerned by recent actions of the Iranian judiciary that have resulted in the closure of a longstanding political party, the arrests of political activists, and the shutting down of four newspapers. We believe these actions have been carried out in violation of Iranian law as well as international human rights law. We respectfully urge you to use your authority to ensure that the judiciary carries out its function in accordance with the Constitution and to ensure that these charges are dismissed and those held released from detention, and that any unlawful orders are rescinded.
On March 18, 2001, the Revolutionary Court ordered the effective closure of the Iran Freedom Movement, an unlicensed political party, on the grounds that it was attempting to "overthrow the Islamic regime." This is in apparent contravention of Iran's political party law. Under the political party law, the courts may not take action against a political party before a special committee responsible for overseeing party activities (an "Article 10 Commission") files a formal complaint. No such complaint has been made against the Freedom Movement.
The Freedom Movement, throughout its
fifty-year history, has been an advocate of constitutional Islamic rule with
respect for democratic principles. Several of its members, including its late
leader Mehdi Bazargan, served in the first government of the Islamic Republic
in 1979. Since then it has attempted to nominate candidates for parliamentary
and presidential elections, but its candidates have almost always been ruled
inadmissible by the Council of Guardians.
The closure of the Freedom Movement followed the arrest and detention of 21 independent political activists associated with the religious nationalist trend at a political meeting in Tehran on March 11. The Revolutionary Court stated that the activists, who are associated with various movements and parties, are linked to the Freedom Movement. Eleven of those arrested have not been allowed access to legal counsel, doctors or their families and are being held incommunicado in violation of Iranian and international law. Particularly disturbing is that their whereabouts remain unknown. Among those who remain in detention are: Dr. Mohammad Maleki, the former chancellor of the University of Tehran, Dr. Habibullah Peiman, Taghi Rahmani, Mohammad Basteh Nagar, Dr. Ali Reza Rajaei, Mahmoud Omrani, Saeid Madani-Farokhi, Mohammad Mohammadi-Ardehali, Dr. Hossein Rafei, Dr. Reza Reiss-Toussi, Dr. Massoud Pedram and Morteza Kazemian.
Iran is about to begin its major annual national holiday of Nowrouz with the prospect that these men will continue to be held without access to their families, doctors or lawyers. Several other persons believed to have been arrested on the orders of the same Revolutionary Court remain in detention in unknown locations and without access to lawyers. These include two journalists, Hoda Saber and Reza Alijani, the editor of the closed Iran-e Farda newspaper; student leader Ali Afshari; and independent veteran political activist Ezzatollah Sahhabi, who is seventy years old.
The courts continue to restrict the right to freedom of expression in violation of Iranian law and international human rights law. On March 18, the press court ordered the closure of four more independent newspapers, one daily, Douran-e Emrouz, and three monthly publications: Peyam-e Emrouz, Jamaeh Madani and Mubayyin. These closures are the latest in a severe clampdown by the judiciary on the activities of the independent print media. The Court justified its actions as being in accordance with Article 156 (5) of the Constitution (which empowers it to take "appropriate measures in order to prevent crime") and by reference to Articles 12 and 13 of the Precautionary Measures Law of the Iranian penal law (which empowers courts to order the seizure of "instruments used for committing crimes"). However, under Iranian law, only the Press Supervisory Board within the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance can order the closure of newspapers and magazines.
Your Excellency, in recent years, as the competition between political factions has intensified in Iran, you have not hesitated to intervene in accordance with your extensive powers under the Constitution to ensure the proper coordination of the different branches of the government. Your Excellency, your silence in the face of these serious violations of both Iranian and international human rights law is only likely to exacerbate political tensions and undermine respect for the rule of law.
Human Rights Watch urges you to use your authority so that political activists who are being held in violation of the law be released and the cases against them dismissed, and that the court orders against the Freedom Movement and independent newspapers and magazines be rescinded.
Middle East and North Africa Division