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The Inhumanity of Iran’s Justice System

By Mahmoud Hakamian

Wednesday marked World Day Against the Death Penalty and a number of outlets including Iran News Update used the occasion to report upon Iran’s longstanding role as the world’s leading executioner.

The Islamic Republic consistently maintains the highest per capita rate of executions, and the second highest overall rate behind only China. But this tells only part of the story of Iran’s archaic and inhumane judicial system, with the liberal application of the death penalty being a symptom of the clerical regime’s obsession with a hardline interpretation of Islamic law.

As Iran Human Rights pointed out on Wednesday, the head of the Iranian judiciary has dismissed calls for the abolition of the death penalty and justified the prosecution of anti-death penalty activists by saying that capital punishment is mandated by the Islamic principle of “retribution in kind.” This same view justifies a number of other internationally condemned forms of corporal punishment such as flogging and amputation.

On Thursday, Kurdistan 24 underscored the fact that such brutal sentences are still utilized in the Iranian judicial system. The Kurdish news outlet reported that a man by the name of Kasra Karami was sentenced to have four fingers of his right hand removed, three years after being detained in Urmia Central Prison on a charge of theft.

The report notes that according to Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, a second incident of the same offense may be punished with the amputation of the suspect’s left foot. A third offense may result in life imprisonment, while four-time offenders may be put to death. Kurdistan 24 further points out that punishment by amputation is outlawed by the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory. But the Islamic Republic has a long history of flouting its obligations under that agreement, as it does each time an Iranian is put to death despite having been under the age of 18 at the time of his or her alleged crime.

Naturally, the International Convention also prohibits torture, and the Islamic Republic is routinely credited with using torture either as a form of extrajudicial punishment or in order to secure false confessions from political prisoners. But torture takes many forms, and in addition to beating and threatening prisoners, Iranian authorities are also known to routinely engage in passive and psychological torture, as by withholding medical treatment or barring certain prisoners from basic accommodations that are afforded to others.

In the first place, Iran Human Rights Monitor reported on Thursday that officials at Rajai Shahr Prison are still depriving the well-known political prisoner Arash Sadeghi of access to specialized medical treatment one month after he underwent cancer surgery. Sadeghi was transferred back to his cell three days later despite medical professionals’ insistence that he would need to remain in hospital to be monitored for 25 days. As a result, he has developed a serious infection in his surgical wound, which is likely to be life threatening if he does not receive long-term care.

The IHRM report quoted an Amnesty International statement as saying, “The Iranian authorities’ treatment of Arash Sadeghi’s is not only unspeakably cruel; in legal terms it is an act of torture. Every step of the way, the prison authorities, the prosecutor’s office and the Revolutionary Guards have done everything they can to hinder and limit access to the essential treatment that Arash requires in order to address his life-threatening cancer.”

A number of prominent political prisoners have either died or incurred lifelong disability from this practice of withholding medical care. Notably, this adds to the number of Iranians who have died at the hands of the judiciary without adding to the official figures regarding executions. Other phenomena arguably have a similar effect, including instances of suicide that were motivated, in whole or in part, by mistreatment and deprivation.

Another IHRM report, pointed to one such suicide, that of Mohammad Ahoupa, who had served eight years of a 25-year sentence for drug-related charges. The report connected his suicide to the denial of family visits and noted that it served as the spark for a mass protest on Wednesday, as 700 prisoners reportedly began a hunger strike in order to call attention to the inhumane conditions of Urmia Central Prison and the Iranian justice system as a whole.

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