Iran: Law and Culture both Affect Human Rights

By INU staff,

At the same time that Iran is forming closer partnerships with adversaries of the West on the global stage, similarly close partnerships are forming domestically between Iran’s government agencies and other adversaries of human rights.

IranWire reported on Monday that Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, had been barred from practicing law for three years, as of October 17.  This move by the Iranian Bar Association is the first ban of its kind, and IranWire argues that it signifies growing closeness between that organization and the Intelligence Ministry. Other lawyers have complained of a lack of support from the bar association, or active antagonism under apparent government pressure.

This may point to greater difficulty for human rights lawyers in the future as they fight against a range of recurring abuses, including the execution of persons who were convicted of crimes as minors. It was reported on Monday that just such an execution had taken place on Sunday when Fardin Jafarian was executed at the age of 18, approximately four years after he killed another teenager in what a close relative described as an unintentional act.

Human rights activists  point out that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iran is a signatory, bars these types of sentences for persons under 18 years of age. Iran’s contravention of these norms is partly attributable to the theocratic regime’s interpretations of sharia law and its understanding of Iranian culture. Iran generally considers children to be adults at the point of puberty, easily determined in the case of girls by the onset of menses.

IranWire detailed some of the other conservative views and double standards concerning gender in a special report on Monday. It describes, among other things, the requirement that women prove their virginity if they wish to remove their husbands’ names from their identification following a divorce. There is no such requirement for men, nor any means of furnishing supposed proof.

Beyond simply justifying harsh punishments for young offenders, the Iranian regime has also used its views on youth and gender to encourage vigilante enforcement of what it sees as Islamic principles. Last week it was reported that the Iranian parliament had moved to give greater power to vigilante groups, which are known for attacking people in public for defying sharia law.

Extreme examples of this have been seen recently in Isfahan, where a number of people have thrown acid on women deemed to be improperly attired, according to Reuters. The particularly extreme attacks have forced a response from the regime, which announced the arrest of several people on Monday. A police commander in Isfahan declared that the people responsible were likely to be “mentally unstable,” and the region’s Friday prayer leader asserted that there was no basis in Islam for these actions.

But despite these statements, there is no doubt that vigilantism in general has been actively encouraged by the regime, and these incidents certainly raise questions about how capable the regime would be of controlling its more empowered vigilantes, even if it wanted to.