Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1996--Iran
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
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.
* The United States does not have an embassy in Iran. This report
draws heavily on non-U.S. Government sources.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
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
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
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
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.).
No reliable information is available on the number of disappearances.
In the period immediately following arrest, many detainees are
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
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
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
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
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
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
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Most children have access to education through the 12th grade,
and to some form of health care. There is no known pattern of
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.
The Kurds seek greater autonomy and continue to suffer from government
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
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
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
Source: U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights Practices