The Islamic Judiciary
- The judiciary plays a vital role in preserving Iran’s Islamic system, often by prosecuting critics under vaguely defined national security laws.
- The judiciary falls under the authority of the supreme leader. He appoints its chief for five-year terms. Iran has the traditional criminal and civil courts, but it also has separate Islamic revolutionary courts that can try people on vague charges of being un-Islamic.
- During the Islamic Republic’s first three decades, crime rates, drug-related offenses and financial crimes rose significantly. The surge has seriously overstrained the court and prison systems.
- Allegations of corruption and bribery within the judiciary are rife. Judicial officials have regularly acknowledged problems and promised major overhauls to address them, but there are few indications of improvement.
- The judiciary implements the Islamic penal code, including stoning, amputations and flogging, all considered torture under international law. Iran also has the largest number of executions of any country proportional to its population.
- During the 1980s, Revolutionary Courts routinely sentenced political prisoners to death. In 1988, at least 4,000 political prisoners who had already been prosecuted and sentenced to prison terms were summarily retried and executed within a two-month period, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
- Iran still carries out more executions proportionate to its population than any other country. Only China executed more people in sheer numbers than Iran. In 2005, the year President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumed office, Iran executed 86 individuals. In 2009, Iran executed 388 people.
- A large number of executions are for drug-related offences. Despite tough penalties, drug use and smuggling remain serious problems.
- Iran leads the world in executing juvenile offenders. In 2008 and 2009, it was the only country to carry out executions of minors, in violation of its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- In the 2009 show-trials after the election turmoil, eleven dissidents were sentenced to death for participating in street demonstrations. Between November 2009 and May 2010, Iran executed nine political prisoners.
- Crimes punishable by death under Iranian law include armed resistance against the state (defined as enmity against God), murder, drug trafficking, rape, adultery and homosexuality.
- Investigating and passing judgment on grievances, violations of rights and complaints
- Resolving litigation
- Restoring public rights and promoting justice and legitimate freedoms
- Supervising the proper enforcement of laws
- Uncovering crimes
- Prosecuting, punishing and chastising criminals
- Enacting the penalties and provisions of the Islamic penal code
- And taking suitable measures to prevent the occurrence of crime and to reform criminals.
- The role of the judiciary as a key institution in suppressing dissent and implementing politically-motivated prosecutions is likely to continue. But its abuses are also increasingly likely to undermine its independence and legitimacy.
- Despite growing international condemnation, Iran’s current regime appears defiantly committed to the extensive use of capital punishment, juvenile executions and cruel and inhumane punishments such as stoning. However, concerted focus on these violations of Iran’s obligations under international human rights treaties will empower reform advocates.
- The debate over rival interpretations of Islamic laws—and their incorporation into Iran’s legal system—is a major flashpoint in the political struggle between reformist and conservative factions. The outcome of this political struggle will seriously affect the power of the judiciary.
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“The Iran Primer” brings together 50 experts—Western and Iranian—in comprehensive but concise online chapters on Iran’s politics, economy, military, foreign policy, and nuclear program. It chronicles U.S.-Iran relations under six U.S. presidents. It also offers policy options, timelines, leader bios, data on nuclear sites—and context for what lies ahead. Click here to order a hardcopy. Timely articles are added weekly at the top.