Islamic Republic of Iran
General Status of Rights in Iran
Far from the principle stated in the Constitution of Iran emphasizing the Rights of People, the dignity of pretrial detainees is generally not observed by the Iranian government. The Criminal Code of Procedure is harsh, and allows for extended and discretionary pretrial detention times. Iran has many notorious cases involving pretrial detainees who remain imprisoned for years before trial or release. The application of pretrial detention rights by the Iranian government appears to be arbitrary and varies depending upon the detainee’s nationality, political status, or other personal features. The United States does not maintain a physical embassy in Iran, but it maintains a “virtual embassy” there. If you are seeking help from the United States government in Iran, the Swiss government maintains an Embassy in Tehran and assists as a protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran.
Domestic Laws Governing Pretrial Detention
Emphasizing the primary rights of detainees, Article No. 32 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran sets out that, “No person may be arrested except according to and in the manner laid down in the law. If someone is detained, the subject matter of the charge, with reasons (for bringing it), must immediately be communicated and explained in writing to the accused. Within at most 24 hours, the file on the case and preliminary documentation must be referred to the competent legal authority. Legal procedures must be initiated as early as possible. Anyone infringing this principle will be punished in accordance with the law.”
Furthermore, in Chapter III, under the title of ‘The Rights of People’, Article No. 39 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran stipulates that, “All affronts to the dignity and repute of persons arrested, detained, imprisoned, or banished in accordance with the law, whatever form they may take, are forbidden and liable to punishment.”
Criminal Code of Procedure for Public and Revolutionary Courts 1999
The Criminal Code of Procedure for Public and Revolutionary Courts in Iran provides the basic framework for pretrial detention. The law has many grey areas, which allow for prosecutorial discretion and arbitrary detention. We provide quotes from a publicly available translation here, although the translation is not very clear. Other versions are available here.
Article 32 of the Criminal Code of Procedure for Public and Revolutionary Courts governs pretrial detention procedures, and such detention is only allowed under the law if the evidence collected is enough to incriminate the accused. A person may be temporarily detained where the criminal charges carry a punishment of execution, crucifixion or amputation of a body organ, or a punishment of three-year imprisonment. Criminal charges for crimes listed in the Book Five of the Penal Code, such as crimes against national security, crimes against people and property, and crimes against family rights and sacred religious values also can justify pretrial detention under the law. Article 32 states:
In the following cases, whenever the existing evidence and affairs incriminates the accused, the issuance of a sentence for temporary detention is allowed in the following cases:
- Crimes for which the legal punishment is execution, stoning, crucifixion and amputation of a body organ.
- Intentional crimes for which the minimum legal punishment is a three-year imprisonment.
- Crimes related to Chapter One of Book Five of the Islamic Penal Code.
- In cases where the freed accused might destroy evidence, or the accused colludes with other accused, or with the witnesses and others who were aware of the incident; or if the accused can cause witnesses to refuse to testify. Also, when there is a fear that the accused might escape or hide, and there is no other way to prevent it.
- Maximum of six days for murders when the parents of the murdered request evidence.
Note 1 – In crimes of unchaste behavior, if there is no personal element involved, the detention of the accused is allowed only if his or her freedom would result in depravity.
Note 2 – Observing the regulations stipulated in section (D) above is mandatory for sections (A), (B) and (C) as well.
Article 23 of the Criminal Code of Procedure allows pretrial detention where there is a fear that the accused will destroy evidence, or that the accused will escape, hide, or cooperate with other persons to hide evidence or prevent witnesses from testifying. Article 23 also allows temporary detention that does not exceed a limit of six days for murders if the parents of the murdered requests evidence of the crime. Article 23 states:
With regard to evident crimes for which the investigation is beyond the responsibility of the District Court, the District Judicial Authority is obliged to take all necessary measures to prevent destruction of evidence and prevent the accused from absconding and to perform whatever prosecution is deemed appropriate to uncover the crime and promptly present the result of his estimations to the appropriate judicial authority.
Article 35 requires pretrial detention if there is “existing proof and evidence” of certain crimes, providing:
In the following cases, while observing the bonds in article (32) of this code and its notes, whenever existing proof and evidence implicate the accused, issuance of the temporary detention verdict is mandatory and continues until the issuance of the initial sentence, provided that its duration does not exceed the minimum duration of the legal punishment for the committed crime.
1. Murder, kidnap, acid spray, battle, public corruption.
2. Crimes for which the legal punishment is execution or life imprisonment.
3. Crimes such as robbery, scams, embezzlement, bribery, malversation, forging and using a forged document provided that the accused has at least had a record of a definite condemnation and two or more records of indefinite condemnation due to having committed any of the above-mentioned crimes.
4. In cases when the freedom of the accused causes corruption.
5. All crimes specified within the special rules.
It is unclear what the “special rules” are referenced in Article 35(5). Article 35 does place a time limitation on detention, which is that it should not exceed the minimum duration of the punishment of the crime committed by the accused.
According to Article 37, the Court has the authority to renew any order of detention; otherwise the accused may be released with bail. Notably Article 37 requires that “temporary detention” be “reasonable and based on documents, stating in the order the reasons for the detention and the right for the detainee to object.”
Article 33 provides the methods to challenge pretrial detention. It states that a court decision to impose pretrial detention may be appealed to the Court of Appeal within 10 days. The Court of Appeal may make a decision immediately, but no longer than one month from the date of appeal. Any orders for continued pretrial detention should be accompanied by a reasoned decision. However, in practice, this process does not appear to be followed, especially where the police make the decision to detain without any decision of a court.
Law of Respecting Legitimate Freedoms and Rights 2004
In an attempt to improve the Iranian legal framework, a new law that emphasizes fundamental rights of Iranian citizens came into force in May 2004, known as the Law of Respecting Legitimate Freedoms and Rights. The preamble of the law is clear about binding “all public tribunals, Revolutionary Courts, military courts, public prosecutor’s offices, and judicial officials” by the provisions of this law.
Specifying the rights of the detainees, Article 5 states that, “The guiding principle that individuals should not be arrested or detained without due process demands that all necessary arrests and convictions follow the procedures and conventions that have been determined by the law. In the event of a moratorium, the file must be sent to the appropriate judicial authorities, and the family of the detained must be apprised of any and all developments.”
Commentary by Iranian scholars notes that this law even recognizes the right of the families of detainees to have access to regular updates regarding the detainee.
Islamic Penal Code, 1991 with amendments of 2012
Chapter 10 (Art. 570-587) of the Penal Code of Iran includes several articles that require criminal prosecutors to follow the Criminal Procedure Code and adhere to basic Constitutional freedoms and rights when applying the law. Article 570 provides that any official who illegally prevents a person from his freedom may be discharged from his job, may be prohibited from obtaining a governmental job for a period of 1 to 5 years, and may be detained for violating the Criminal Procedure Code. Iranian lawyer Behnam Daraeizadeh commented that this provision could result in removal of an official from his position if he holds a detainee for a period that exceeds the legal duration for detention. Additionally, Articles 578, 579, and 587 penalize officials who abuse detainees. Article 583 sets out the punishment against any official who detains an individual without acquiring the legal permission to do so.
International or Multilateral Treaties Concerning Arbitrary Detention
Article 9 of the Iranian Civil Code provides that International Conventions that are ratified and in accordance with the Constitution shall be treated as domestic laws.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948
Iran has joined the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 9 of the UDHR states that, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
Convention of Civil and Political Rights 1966
Iran is a signatory of the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights. Iran signed the treaty in 1968 and ratified it in 1975. Articles 9 and 10 of the ICCPR prohibit arbitrary detention and explain the basic rights of the detainees. Iran’s laws appear on their face to comply with this Convention. However, the practical implementation of these laws directly conflict with such international provisions and principles.
Although Iran signed, ratified and brought into force the ICCPR, it has not signed the Optional Protocol of the ICCPR which enables the Human Rights Committee to receive complaints and communicate with individuals who faces violations of the ICCPR by the State Party.
Case Examples / Practical Observations
- Rebwar Kamrani Pour, a Kurdish Iranian civil society activist who has been detained for more than 3 months without a known accusation or reason. The law of Criminal Procedure states that the time limitation for pretrial detention should be determined based on the charges; in the Kamrani case, the charges remain unknown.
- Washington Post reporter and U.S. citizen, Jason Rezaian, is currently in pretrial detention and his rights to an attorney have reportedly been violated.
- Human Rights Documentation Centre (IHRDC) is a non- governmental organization that believes that the reformation of the regime is not enough to build a society that observes human rights. IHRDC endeavors to promote a culture of human rights and awareness of civil society by documenting human rights issues in Iran and making such details available to the public. IHRDC has documented many matters concerning pretrial detainees’ rights.
- Embassy of Switzerland in Iran
No. 2 Yasaman Street, Sharifi Manesh Ave., Elahieh, Tehran
Tel.: +98 21 22 00 83 33
+41 31 324 18 21
Fax: +41 31 324 18 24
+98 21 22 00 60 02
- According to the University of Essex-affiliated International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS) and based on governmental data from December 2012, the estimation of Iran’s total prison population is 217,000 prisoners, and about 26% of this population is pretrial detainees.
- The International Center for Prison Studies claims that in 2014, the number of prisoners in Iran was 217,851, and 25% of them were in pretrial detention.
- “You Can Detain Anyone for Anything”: Iran’s Broadening Clampdown on Independent Activism, 2008.
- International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s compliance with ICCPR, 2010.
- Iran 2013 human rights report – US Department of State.
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