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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Iran

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Iran, 30 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa57c.html [accessed 21 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
IRAN[1]*

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997

 

The Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979 after a populist revolution toppled the monarchy. The Government is dominated by Shi'a Muslim clergy. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the Leader of the Islamic Revolution and functions as the Chief of State. He is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, first elected in a popular vote in 1989 and reelected in 1993, is constitutionally barred from a third term. The Constitution provides for a 270-seat unicameral Islamic Consultative Assembly, or Majles. The Government seeks to ensure that public policy is consistent with its view of political and socio-religious values, but some serious differences exist within the leadership. The authoritarian government maintains its power through widespread repression and intimidation. The judiciary is subject to government and religious influence.

Several agencies share responsibility for internal security, including the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the Ministry of Interior, and the Revolutionary Guards, a military force established after the revolution and coequal with the regular military. Paramilitary volunteer forces known as Hezbollahis or Basijis conduct vigilante actions. Both regular and paramilitary security forces commit numerous and serious human rights abuses.

Iran has a mixed economy. The Government owns the petroleum and utilities industries and the banks. Oil exports are the primary source of foreign exchange. The economy has not yet recovered from the disruptions of the 1979 revolution and the destruction from the Iran-Iraq war. Iran's isolation from international financial markets has decreased slightly, but remains a problem. Economic performance is adversely affected by corruption and government mismanagement. Unemployment in 1996 was estimated at 30 percent, and inflation was about 50 percent.

The Government's human rights record remains poor; there was no evidence of significant human rights improvement during the year. Systematic abuses include extrajudicial killings and summary executions; disappearances; widespread use of torture and other degrading treatment; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of fair trials; infringement on citizens' privacy rights; and restriction of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement. The Government represses political dissidents and the ruling clerics effectively control the electoral process, thereby denying citizens the right to change their government. Women face legal and social discrimination, and the Government discriminates against minorities and restricts important worker rights. Although a lively debate on political, economic, and social issues occurred during the parliamentary election campaign this year, freedom of expression remained firmly under government control and became more severely restricted in the wake of the parliamentary elections. The Government closed several newspapers, disqualified candidates, barred speakers, and intimidated opposition gatherings by encouraging Hezbollahi attacks.

However, the Government did allow the first visit in 5 years of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran. Canadian Maurice Copithorne, the newly appointed Special Rapporteur, visited Iran from February 10 to 16. The Special Rapporteur heard credible reports of abuses including: Inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment; arbitrary arrests, imprisonments, and executions; unfair judicial practices; and disregard for freedom of expression and religion. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the UNHRC Special Rapporteur reported that the Government was generally cooperative during their visits, However, the Government continues to deny the universality of human rights and attempts to discredit critics. For example, in one Iranian press report, the chief of Evin prison described human rights inspectors as "sick" people who filed misleading and untruthful reports. The U.N. Special Rapporteur for Religious Freedom and the U.N. Special Rapporteur for the Freedom of Expression also traveled to Iran in 1996. In November the UNHRC continued the mandate of its Special Rapporteur.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Most executions in political trials amount to summary executions because basic procedural safeguards are lacking. In his 1995 report, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions noted "the persistent allegations of violations of the right to life in the Islamic Republic of Iran." Although the domestic press stopped reporting most executions as of 1992, executions appear to continue in substantial numbers. Amnesty International (AI) reported that at least 110 persons were executed in 1996, a substantial increase over the previous year's total of 50 executions. Inhuman punishments are used in some cases, including two cases of stoning (see Section 1.c.). Those executed included Mehrdad Kalany, who was executed on June 22 on charges that included "meeting and talking" with Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, the former U.N. Special Representative, and the delegation that accompanied him. Also on June 22, Ahmed Bakhtiari, a member of the Iranian People's Fedaian Organization (Minority), was executed on charges of participation in a terrorist group and terrorist operations, as well as other criminal charges. Rahman Radjabi Hamvand, a member of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, was executed on July 28. The charges against him stemmed from a complaint by a private individual that was later withdrawn. AI reported that Hedayatollah Zendehdel and Abolghasem Majd-Abkahi were believed to have been hanged at the end of the year, after 7 years' detention without trial and conviction on mainly political charges.

Exiles and human rights monitors report that many of those executed for alleged criminal offenses, primarily narcotics charges, were actually political dissidents. In addition a November 1995 law criminalized dissent and applied the death penalty to offenses such as "attempts against the security of the State, outrage against high-ranking Iranian officials, and insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini, and against the Leader of the Islamic Republic."

The Government continued its repression of the Sunni minority, both inside and outside Iran. On January 28, a 50-year-old Sunni cleric, Molawi Ahamed Sayyad, imprisoned by the Government from 1990-95, disappeared at Bandar Abbas airport. His body was found in a suburb of the city on February 2. Allegedly, six members of the Revolutionary Guards arrested him at the airport; he is believed to have died in their custody. In early March, 46-year-old Molavi Abdul Malek, a Sunni cleric and Iranian Balouch leader, was reportedly killed by Iranian intelligence operatives in Karachi. Also reported killed in a related incident were Iranian Sunni Molavi Abdulmalek, the son of a prominent Iranian Sunni cleric, and Jamshid Zahi, another Iranian Sunni leader.

In December clashes erupted in Bakhtaran at a funeral after mourners accused the Government of killing Mohammad Rabil, a Sunni prayer leader. Officials said that Rabil died of a heart attack. It is unclear whether any persons were killed in the rioting.

The Government also continued to kill political opponents abroad. Opposition leaders Zahrah Rajabi and Abdul Ali Moradi were killed in Istanbul by agents of the Government on February 20. In Iraq eight members of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran were killed by elements of the Revolutionary Guards. The victims were: Ghafour Mehdizadeh; Ali Amini; and Saddig Abdulahi, who were killed on December 27, 1995 in Koya; Usman Ruyan and Abubaker Rahimi, who were killed on December 30, 1995 in Arbil; Rahman Schabannajad and Ali Abdulah, who were killed on January 2 in Suleimanya; and Cheder Mahmudi, who was killed in November 1995 in Suleimanya. In May a former official from the Shah's regime, Reza Masluman, was killed in Paris. The murder is believed to have been ordered by the Government.

Investigations of state-sponsored terrorism abroad continued in 1996. For example the trial of Kazem Darabi, an Iranian charged with murdering four Iranian Kurdish dissidents in Berlin in 1992 allegedly under instructions from the Iranian Government, continued in Germany. In November the German prosecutor stated that Iranian Head of State Ayatollah Khameini and President Rafsanjani were responsible for the murders. Iran responded by threatening the German embassy in Tehran, the German judiciary, and political and economic ties with Germany. In France a French prosecutor accused Iranian chief of intelligence Ali Fallahian of ordering a killing, and in Germany a warrant was issued for Fallahian's arrest.

The Government took no action to repudiate the religious ruling (fatwa), or its related bounty, calling for the death of Salman Rushdie and anyone associated with publishing his book, "The Satanic Verses" (see Section 2.a.).

b. Disappearance

No reliable information is available on the number of disappearances. In the period immediately following arrest, many detainees are held incommunicado.

In early November, Faraj Sarkuhi, a magazine editor who had been critical of the Government, disappeared while traveling to Germany where his wife and children reside. His wife accused the Government of abducting him in Tehran. Sarkuhi reappeared in late December and held a press conference at the Tehran airport where he said that he had been in Germany but had not contacted his wife, with whom he was having problems. The German Government stated that he had not entered Germany, and the press speculated that the Government had forced Sarkuhi to give a false account of his whereabouts.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Credible reports indicate that security forces continue to torture detainees and prisoners. Common methods include suspension for long periods in contorted positions, burning with cigarettes, and, most frequently, severe and repeated beatings with cables or other instruments on the back and on the soles of the feet. A new law entered into force on July 10 that reinforces Islamic punishments such as flogging, stoning, amputations, and public executions. Two persons were stoned to death, while two others were executed after receiving lashes.

Prison conditions are harsh. Some prisoners are held in solitary confinement or denied adequate rations or medical care in order to force confessions. Female prisoners have reportedly been raped or otherwise tortured while in detention. In the past, prison guards have intimidated the family members of detainees and have sometimes tortured detainees in their presence. The UNHRC Special Rapporteur met privately with detainee Abbas Amir Entezam, a former deputy minister in the government of Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan. Amir Entezam reported that the conditions in Evin prison improved after 1989, but that political prisoners were still housed with violent criminals and denied regular family visits. Some prisoners, who met with former U.N. Special Representative Galindo Pohl during his last visit in 1991, complained of reprisals. Amir Entezam claimed that he was beaten so extensively that he lost the hearing in his left ear.

The Government does not permit unrestricted to imprisoned dissidents by human rights monitors. The U.N. Special Rapporteur was not able to see all the dissidents he asked to see.

In September 1994, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on "unresolved humanitarian issues" from the Iran-Iraq war. The ICRC noted that the Government failed to identify combatants killed in action and failed to exchange information on those killed or missing. The report criticized the Government for obstructing ICRC efforts to register and repatriate prisoners of war. Throughout 1996 the Governments of Iran and Iraq made little progress in resolving the issue of those missing in action.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Although the Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, there is reportedly no legal time limit on incommunicado detention, nor any judicial means to determine the legality of detention. Suspects may be held for questioning in jails or in local Revolutionary Guard offices.

The security forces often do not inform family members of a prisoner's welfare and location. Even if these circumstances are known, the prisoner still may be denied visits by family and legal counsel. In addition, families of executed prisoners do not always receive notification of the prisoner's death. Those that do receive such information may be forced to pay the Government to retrieve the body of their relative.

Although the Government claimed to have released Abbas Amir Entezam early in 1996, he is still detained. Initially arrested in 1979 on charges of espionage and condemned to life in prison, he is now held in a "security house."

Adherents of the Baha'i faith continue to face arbitrary arrest and detention. The Government appears to adhere to a practice of detaining a small number of Baha'is at any time.

The Government does not use forced exile, but many dissidents leave Iran because they feel threatened.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The traditional court system is not independent and is subject to government and religious influence.

Iran has two court systems: The traditional courts, which adjudicate civil and criminal offenses; and the Islamic Revolutionary Courts, established in 1979 to try political offenses, narcotics crimes, and "crimes against God."

Many aspects of the prerevolution judicial system survive in the civil and criminal courts. For example defendants have the right to a public trial, may choose their own lawyer, and have the right of appeal. Trials are adjudicated by panels of judges. There is no jury system. In the absence of postrevolution laws, the Government advises judges to base their decisions on Islamic law. These courts are not independent. The Revolutionary Courts may consider cases normally in the jurisdiction of the civil and criminal courts, and also may overturn their decisions. Assignment of cases to either system of courts appears haphazard. The Supreme Court has limited authority to review cases.

Trials in the Revolutionary Courts are not fair. Often, pretrial detention is prolonged and defendants lack access to attorneys. When legal help is available, attorneys are rarely given time to prepare an effective defense. Indictments are often for vague offenses such as "antirevolutionary behavior," "moral corruption," and "siding with global arrogance." Defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers or to appeal. Secret or summary trials of 5 minutes are common. Others are show trials intended to highlight a coerced public confession.

The Government often charges members of religious minorities with crimes rather than apostasy. Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, the head of the judiciary, stated in May that Baha'ism was an espionage organization rather than a religion. On February 18, the Iranian court confirmed death sentences for two Baha'is, Kayvan Khalajabadi and Bihnam Mithaqi. When they were sentenced in 1993, an Iranian member of the U.N. Human Rights Commission stated that they were sentenced to death not because they were Baha'is, but because they were spies (see Sections 2.c. and 5). In July a Muslim convert to Christianity was arrested on charges of espionage (see Section 2.c.).

In 1995 the Government began implementing a law authorizing judges to act as prosecutor and judge in the same case. The rights of defendants are further eroded by the fact that many judges retired after the revolution, and others were disbarred for ideological reasons. The Government has replaced them with judges who are regarded as politically acceptable to the regime. The law's effect was clear to the U.N. Special Rapporteur when he viewed a 45-minute session of a trial. He wrote in his report: "The judge was clearly not a neutral third party between the prosecution and the defense."

In June the Government requested technical assistance in training judges and administering prisons from the UNHCR, and from the U.N. Crime Prevention and Justice Branch.

No estimates are available on the number of political prisoners. However, the Government often arrests persons on questionable criminal charges, usually drug trafficking or espionage, when their actual "offenses" are political. In October 1994, the U.N. Special Rapporteur issued a report that noted that he had requested the Government to provide information on 78 reported political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution states that "reputation, life, property, (and) dwelling(s)" are protected from trespass except as "provided by law." However, security forces enter homes and offices, monitor telephone conversations, and open mail without court authorization.

Paramilitary volunteer forces, including the basijis and hizbollahis, and other security forces monitor the social activities of citizens. Such organizations may harass or arrest women whose clothing does not cover the hair and all of the body except the hands and face, or those who wear makeup. Enforcement varies with the political climate and the jurisdiction.

There were increasing reports of hizbollahi violence. Incidents included attacks on young people believed to be too foreign in their dress or activities. Reports indicate that the hizbollahi more frequently invaded private homes and intervened on the streets. They also disrupted memorial services for prominent literary figures. There are reports of several deaths resulting from these incidents. There have been other reports that hizbollahi or basiji question and abuse unmarried couples. Women have also been beaten if caught without proper clothing in public or in private houses when men are present.

In the past, prison guards have intimidated family members of detainees (see Section 1.c.). Iranian opposition figures living abroad have reported harassment of their relatives in Iran.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for the freedom of the press, except when published ideas are "contrary to Islamic principles, or are detrimental to public rights." In practice the Government restricts freedom of speech and the press. The Government exerts strong control over most media, particularly publications. Some newspapers are associated with factions in the Government. They reflect different views and criticize the Government, but are prohibited from criticizing the concept of Islamic government or promoting the rights of ethnic minorities.

The U.N. Special Representative for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Abid Hussain, visited Iran from January 6 to 10. He reported significant problems: The strong connection between adherence to the Government's version of Islam and the right to freedom of opinion and expression. He noted that the vagueness of criteria determining what forms of expression are allowable under Islamic law hampers free expression and also reported limits on women's right to free expression. He pointed out that the Government "generally fails to condemn strongly and unequivocally" both threats and the use of violence "by irregular groups of private persons against professionals in the field of information." He expressed concern that prominent members of the Government defend and encourage the hizbollahi in these attacks, and that no court cases have been brought against the hizbollahi.

The Government continued its heavy-handed censorship of the press. Iranian publisher and writer Abdolkarim Soroush again left Iran after continuing harassment by the Government and hizbollahi. In May a band of hizbollahi prevented Soroush from speaking at Amir Kabir University in Tehran.

Another influential writer, Abbas Maroufi, publisher of the now defunct magazine, Gardoun, was sentenced to 35 lashes and 6 months in prison for "publishing lies" after printing a survey stating that many Iranians are psychologically depressed. He was also convicted of "insulting the Leader of the Islamic Republic" for publishing an article comparing the Shah and Ayatollah Khamenei.

In January publisher Abolghassem Golbaf of the monthly magazine, Gouzarish, was sentenced to 3 months in prison for publishing a negative story on a state-owned fertilizer company. Under the press law, only the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance may bring cases against a publisher or writer; however, the case against Golbaf was brought by the Minister of Agriculture.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur reported that several newspapers were closed by the authorities, and that the editor of Kinyan, a publication critical of government policies, was charged with publishing false information and "weakening the foundation of the Islamic Republic."

The Special Rapporteur also reported that the authorities broke up an informal gathering of writers protesting the intolerant atmosphere, threatening that if such meetings were held again, those involved would be detained.

The Government owns all broadcasting facilities, and their programming reflects its political and socio-religious ideology. In the fall, a new television program "Hovigat" (Identity) was launched. The program's apparent aim is to categorize targeted intellectuals as social misfits or foreign spies.

Government censorship extends to the film industry. Any cinema showing films not considered acceptable is vulnerable to hizbollahi attacks. In early June, a group of hizbollahi attacked the audience and employees of the Qods cinema because it played a movie in which a man appeared in women's clothing. Several persons were reported injured, including a pregnant woman.

The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance is also charged with ensuring that books do not contain offensive material prior to publication. The Ministry inspects foreign printed materials prior to their release on the market. However, some books and pamphlets critical of the Government are published without reprisal.

The Government made no effort to repudiate the 1989 religious decree condemning to death British author Salman Rushdie for his book, "The Satanic Verses," which the Government considers blasphemous. Nor did the Government move to repudiate its promise of a cash award to any person who kills Rushdie or anyone associated with publishing his book. According to press reports, senior government officials declared that the Government would not take steps to enforce the decree. However, Ayatollah Yazdi, head of the Iranian judiciary, stated that the decree "applies to all Muslims and would eventually be carried out one day."

In the fall the authorities began rigorously enforcing the ban on satellite dishes. Many were seized and others were removed and hidden by their owners. The press speculated that the crackdown was related to the debut of a television program featuring popular Iranian performers that was broadcast by the Voice of America.

Academic censorship persists. In his interim report the UNHRC Special Representative noted the existence of a campaign to bring about the "Islamization of the universities," which seemed to be a movement to purge persons "who fight against the sanctities of the Islamic system." The deputy Dean of the law school at the University of Tehran, Dr. Javad Tabatabai, was dismissed after criticizing a 1994 law reorganizing the country's court system.

Government informers are said to be common on university campuses and monitor classroom material. Admission to universities is politicized; all applicants must pass "character tests" in which officials screen out applicants critical of the Government's ideology. To achieve tenure, professors must cooperate with government authorities over a period of years.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution permits assemblies and marches "provided they do not violate the principles of Islam." In practice, the Government restricts freedom of assembly. Oppositionists tried to hold press conferences about the election on January 2 and again on January 31. The police broke up both meetings, first claiming they could not guarantee security for the event and then stating that the conference was sponsored by an illegal organization. The UNHCR Special Rapporteur also noted the tendency of government police and military forces not to intervene when unofficial groups attempted to break up opposition or cultural gatherings. The press reported significant antigovernment unrest in the western city of Kermanshah following the death of a Kurdish Sunni Muslim cleric in early December. Protests over the next week were violently suppressed by security forces, resulting in several deaths, many persons injured, and perhaps hundreds arrested.

The Constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional associations, and religious groups provided that they do not violate the principles of "freedom, sovereignty, and national unity," or question Islam or the Islamic Republic. In practice, most independent organizations are banned, co-opted by the Government, or moribund.

In 1995 the Ministry of Interior refused to grant a license to the Freedom Movement, a political group founded in 1961 and declared illegal in 1991. The Ministry decision effectively precluded the party from participating in the March Majles elections. No major opposition faction was represented in the elections. In the northwestern city of Bonab, demonstrations against the Government's handling of the elections were forcibly broken up, resulting in the deaths of a number of persons.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution declares that the "official religion of Iran is Islam and the sect followed is Ja'fari Shi'ism." It also states that "other Islamic denominations shall enjoy complete respect." However, the Government restricts freedom of religion. The Government is profoundly influenced by Shi'a Islam. The President and many top officials, including the Speaker of the Parliament and many parliamentary deputies, are Shi'a clergymen.

Approximately 90 percent of the population are Shi'a Muslims. Aside from slightly over 1 percent who are not Muslims, the rest of the population are Sunni Muslims, drawn largely from Kurdish, Arab, Turkoman, Baluchi, and other ethnic minorities.

The Constitution also recognizes Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. Members of these religions elect representatives to reserved Parliamentary seats. They are free to practice their religion and instruct their children, but the Government interferes with the administration of their schools. Harassment by government officials is common (see Section 5).

Non-Muslims may not proselytize Muslims. Oppression of evangelical Christians increased in 1996. In early July, a Muslim convert, Shahram Sepehri-Fard, was arrested on charges of having "sensitive information." He has been denied visitors since shortly after his arrest, and his condition is unknown. In late September, another Muslim convert to evangelical Christianity, Pastor Mohammed Yussefi (also known as Ravanbaksh), was reportedly murdered by authorities. Yussefi had been imprisoned by the Government on several occasions prior to his death. Three members of the opposition movement Mojahadin-e-Khaleq (MEK), Farohnaz Anami, Betoul Vaferi Kalateh, and Maryam Shahbazpoor, are currently in prison for the 1994 murder of Reverend Tatavous Michaelian, an evangelical Protestant pastor. The three women claim that two other Christian pastors murdered in 1994, Reverend Mehdi Dibaj and Reverend Haik Hovsepian Mehr, were also killed by the MEK.

The Government regards the Baha'i community, the largest non-Muslim minority with 300,000 to 350,000 members, as a "misguided sect." It prohibits Baha'is from teaching and practicing their faith or maintaining links with coreligionists abroad. Recently, Baha'i youth have been denied admittance to the fourth year of high school. Universities continue to deny admittance to Baha'i students. In addition, Baha'i are regularly denied compensation for injury or criminal victimization. Government authorities claim that only Muslim plaintiffs are eligible for compensation.

In October 1993, the Majles approved legislation that prohibits government workers from membership in groups that deny the "divine religions." The Government uses such terminology to describe members of the Baha'i faith. The law also stipulates penalties for government workers who do not observe "Islamic principles and rules."

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens may travel to any part of Iran, although there have been restrictions on travel to Kurdish areas during times of heavy fighting. People may change their place of residence without obtaining official permission. The Government requires exit permits for draft-age males and citizens who are politically suspect. Some Iranians, particularly those whose skills are in short supply and who were educated at government expense, must post bonds to obtain exit permits.

The Government permits Iranian Jews to travel abroad, but often denies them the multiple-exit permits normally issued to other citizens. The Government does not normally permit all members of a Jewish family to travel abroad at the same time.

The Government and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimate that there are approximately 1.3 million Afghan refugees in Iran. Of this total, only about 21,800 are accommodated in refugee camps administered by the Government. The rest live seminomadic lives or reside in settlements. In 1996 about 10,000 refugees repatriated to Afghanistan. This was far fewer than the UNHCR had predicted would return and resulted from continued instability in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan.

The UNHCR estimates that there are about 580,000 Iraqi Kurdish and Shi'a Muslim refugees in Iran who were displaced by the Gulf War. In September an additional 65,000 Iraqi Kurdish refugees fled to Iran following the eruption of fighting between two Kurdish factions in northern Iraq. Since the cessation of fighting in October, the majority of this most recent wave of refugees has returned to Iraq.

The Government generally cooperates with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. Iran is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 U.N. Protocol. Although the Government generally provides first asylum (as demonstrated by the large number of Afghan and Iraqi refugees in Iran), there have been instances where pressure was applied to force refugees to return to their home countries. In late 1996, the Government hastened the return of many recently arrived Iraqi Kurdish refugees by depriving them of adequate food and other relief. The UNHCR protested this policy of forced repatriation to the Government.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The right of citizens to change their government is severely compromised by the leadership of the Government, which effectively manipulates the electoral system to its advantage. Iran is ruled by a group of religious leaders and their lay associates who share a belief in the legitimacy of a theocratic state based on Ayatollah Khomeini's interpretation of Shi'a Islam. There is no separation of state and religion. The clerics dominate all branches of government. The Government represses any movement seeking to separate state and religion, or to alter the State's existing theocratic foundation. The selection of candidates for elections is effectively controlled by the ruling clerics.

The Constitution provides for a Council of Guardians composed of six Islamic clergymen and six lay members who review all laws for consistency with Islamic law and the Constitution. The Council also screens political candidates for ideological and religious suitability. It accepts only candidates who support a theocratic state, but clerics who disagree with government policies have also been disqualified.

Regularly scheduled elections are held for the President, members of Parliament (the Majles), and members of the Assembly of Experts, a body responsible for selecting the successor to the Leader of the Revolution. The Majles exercises a considerable amount of independence from the executive branch, but its decisions are reviewed by the Council of Guardians. Vigorous parliamentary debates take place on various issues, and in some cases the Majles has respected laws proposed by the executive branch. Most deputies are associated with powerful political and religious officials, but often vote independently and shift from one faction to another.

Majles elections in the spring were marred by government control and violence. Preelection debate was vigorous, but the Council of Guardians succeeded in controlling the elections by selectively approving candidates. Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimated that the Government disqualified about 44 percent of the 5,121 prospective candidates, including 32 sitting members of the Majles. The criteria for vetting candidates was vague; the Council did not have to give a reason for rejection; and there was no right of appeal. The U.N. Special Rapporteur noted a number of irregularities in the elections, in particular the nullification of election results in eight jurisdictions apparently on ideological grounds. Most of the candidates disqualified were pragmatists rather than conservative candidates.

Human Rights Watch received reports indicating that riot police opened fire on demonstrators protesting government interference in the northwestern city of Bonab during voting on March 8. On April 6, the Government annulled election results in Isfahan, Malayer, Najafabad, Naeen, Miandoab, Meimeh, Borkhar, and Khomeini Shahre. New elections for these constituencies were to be held after 5 months but they did not materialize. On April 19, runoff elections took place for 125 seats.

Women are underrepresented in government. They hold only 9 of 270 Majles seats, and there are no female cabinet members.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

In 1996 the Government continued to repress local human rights groups, but it was more cooperative with foreign groups. The U.N. Special Representatives on Human Rights in Iran, Freedom of Expression, and Religious Freedom visited Iran. In addition Human Rights Watch sent a representative. All reported reasonably good cooperation from the Government, but all found continuing serious abuses of human rights. The ICRC and the UNHCR both operate in Iran.

The Government established a human rights committee in the Majles and a human rights commission in the judiciary, but observers believe that they lack independence. Government officials regularly assert that Iran should be judged by Islamic, rather than Western, human rights principles, and reject the universality of human rights.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

In general the Government does not discriminate on the basis of race, disability, language, or social status. The Government does discriminate on the basis of religion and sex.

Women

Although domestic violence is known to occur, little is known about its extent. Abuse in the family is considered a private matter and seldom discussed publicly. There are no official statistics on the subject.

Discrimination against women has increased since the revolution. In general women suffer discrimination in the legal code, particularly in family and property matters. It is difficult for many women, particularly those residing outside large cities, to obtain any legal redress. Under the legal system, a woman's testimony as a witness is worth only half that of a man's, making it difficult for a woman to prove a case against a male defendant. In addition the families of female victims of violent crime often have to pay the assailant's court costs to bring him to trial. Although women may be educated and employed in the professions, social constraints tend to inhibit their educational and economic opportunities. Illiteracy and the lack of university degrees also affect their standing. The enforcement of conservative Islamic dress codes has varied considerably since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. Nonetheless, such dress codes persist and are enforced arbitrarily.

Under legislation passed in 1983, women have the right to divorce, and regulations promulgated in 1984 substantially broadened the grounds on which a woman may seek a divorce. However, a husband is not required to cite a reason for divorcing his wife. In 1986 the Majles passed a 12-article law on marriage and divorce that limited the privileges accorded to men by custom and traditional interpretations of Islamic law. The 1986 law also recognized divorced women's rights to a share of the property that couples acquire during their marriage and increased alimony rights.

In June the Government requested the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to "render advisory services to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) network on women existing in the country," according to the U.N. Special Representative.

In 1995 the Government permitted women to attain the rank of judges. But the Government does not permit female judges to preside over legal hearings, so the practical effect of the change in the law remains unclear. Women's activities can be severely restricted by the hizbollahi as well.

Children

Most children have access to education through the 12th grade, and to some form of health care. There is no known pattern of child abuse.

People with Disabilities

There is no available information regarding whether the Government has legislated or otherwise mandated accessibility for the disabled. The Cable News Network (CNN) reported, however, in late October on the harsh conditions in an institution for retarded children who had been abandoned by their parents. The film showed children tied or chained to their beds, in filthy conditions, without appropriate care. It is not known to what extent this represents the typical treatment of the disabled Iran.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Kurds seek greater autonomy and continue to suffer from government discrimination.

Religious Minorities

The Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Baha'i minorities suffer varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and public accommodations (see Section 2.d.). Muslims who convert to Christianity also suffer discrimination.

University applicants are required to pass an examination in Islamic theology. Although public-school students receive instruction in Islam, this requirement limits the access of most religious minorities to higher education. Applicants for public-sector employment are similarly screened for their adherence to Islam.

Religious minorities suffer discrimination in the legal system, receiving lower awards in injury and death lawsuits, and incurring heavier punishments than Muslims. Sunni Muslims encounter religious discrimination at the local level.

In 1993 the U.N. Special Representative reported the existence of a government policy directive on the Baha'is. According to the directive, the Supreme Revolutionary Council reportedly instructed government agencies to block the progress and development of the Baha'i community; expel Baha'i students from universities; cut the Baha'is' links with groups outside Iran; restrict the employment of Baha'is; and deny Baha'is "positions of influence," including those in education. The Government claims that the directive is a forgery. However, it appears to be an accurate reflection of current government practice.

The persecution of Baha'is persisted in 1996. The Government continued to return some property previously confiscated from individual Baha'is, although the amount returned is a fraction of the total seized. Property belonging to the Baha'i community as a whole, however, such as places of worship, remains confiscated. Other government restrictions have been eased, so that Baha'is may currently obtain food ration booklets and send their children to public schools. However, the prohibition against the admission of Baha'is to universities appears to be enforced. Thousands of Baha'is dismissed from government jobs in the early 1980's receive no unemployment benefits and have been required to repay the Government for salaries or pensions received from the first day of employment. Those unable to do so face prison sentences (see Sections 1.d. and 5).

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Although the Labor Code grants workers the right to establish unions, there are no independent unions. A national organization known as the Worker's House, founded in 1982, is the sole authorized national labor organization. It serves primarily as a conduit for government control. The leadership of the Worker's House coordinates activities with Islamic labor councils, which are organized in many enterprises. These councils also function as instruments of government control, although they have frequently been able to block layoffs and dismissals. Moreover, a network of government-backed guilds issues vocational licenses, funds financial cooperatives, and helps workers find jobs.

The Government does not tolerate any strike deemed to be at odds with its economic and labor policies. In 1993 the Parliament passed a law that prohibits strikes by government workers. It also prohibits government workers from having contacts with foreigners and stipulates penalties for failure to observe Islamic dress codes and principles at work.

There are no known affiliations with international labor organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers do not have the right to organize independently and negotiate collective bargaining agreements. No information is available on mechanisms used to set wages.

It is not known whether labor legislation and practice in the export processing zones differ from the law and practice in the rest of the country.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Penal Code provides that the Government may require any person who does not have work to take suitable employment. This provision has been criticized frequently by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as contravening ILO Convention 29 on forced labor.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The labor law prohibits employment of minors under 15 years of age and places special restrictions on the employment of minors under age 18. Education is compulsory until age 11. The law permits children to work in agriculture, domestic service, and some small businesses. By law women and minors may not be employed in hard labor or, in general, in night work. Information on the extent to which these regulations are enforced is not available.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Code empowers the Supreme Labor Council to establish annual minimum wage levels for each industrial sector and region. It is not known if the minimum wages are adjusted annually or enforced. The Labor Code stipulates that the minimum wage should be sufficient to meet the living expenses of a family and should take inflation into account. Many middle-class citizens must work two or even three jobs to support their families. It is unlikely that minimum wage laws alone can ensure a decent standard of living for a worker and family, given current economic conditions in Iran

Information on the share of the working population covered by minimum wage legislation is not available.

According to press reports, the Ministry of Labor in early December announced that employers had 1 month in which to fire foreign workers and replace them with Iranians. It is believed that approximately 1 million foreign workers, mostly Afghan refugees, would be affected. The Government apparently hoped to alleviate high unemployment by pressuring foreigners to leave.

The Labor Code establishes a 6-day workweek of 48 hours maximum, with 1 weekly rest day, normally Fridays, and at least 12 days of paid annual leave and several paid public holidays.

According to the Labor Code, a Supreme Safety Council, chaired by the Labor Minister or his representative, is responsible for promoting workplace safety and health. The Council has reportedly issued 28 safety directives, and oversees the activities of 3,000 safety committees established in enterprises employing more than 10 persons. It is not known how well the Ministry's inspectors enforce regulations. It is not known whether workers can remove themselves from hazardous situations without risking the loss of employment.



[1]* The United States does not have an embassy in Iran. This report draws heavily on non-U.S. Government sources.

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