Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1997Iran
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 Seyed Mohammad Khatami was inaugurated in August, following
a landslide victory in elections held on May 23. The Constitution
establishes a 270-seat unicameral Islamic Consultative Assembly,
or Majles. The Government seeks to conform public policy to its
political and socio-religious values, but serious differences
exist within the leadership and within the clergy. The Government
maintains 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. Paramilitary volunteer forces known as
Basijis, and gangs of street thugs, known as the Ansar-e Hezbollah
(Helpers of the Party of God), who are often aligned with specific
conservative members of the clergy, act as vigilantes. Both regular
and paramilitary security forces committed numerous, serious human
Iran has a mixed economy. The Government owns the petroleum
and utilities industries and the banks. Large charitable foundations
called bonyads, most with strong connections to the Government,
control properties expropriated from the former Shah and figures
associated with his regime. The bonyads exercise considerable
influence in the economy. Oil exports are the primary source
of foreign exchange. Mismanagement and corruption have created
serious economic problems. Unemployment in 1997 was estimated
to be at least 25 percent, and inflation was an estimated 20 percent.
The Government's human rights record remained poor. The Government
restricts the right of citizens to change their government. Systematic
abuses include extrajudicial killings and summary executions;
disappearances; widespread use of torture and other degrading
treatment; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention;
unfair trials; infringement on citizens' privacy; and restriction of the freedoms of speech,
press, assembly, association, religion, and movement. The Government
manipulates the electoral system and represses political dissidents.
However, during the presidential election campaign however, a
lively debate on political, economic, and social issues occurred,
although the Government closed several newspapers, disqualified
candidates, and intimidated opposition campaigners by encouraging
vigilante attacks. Supreme Leader Khamenei, in a break with precedent,
backed one candidate, Majles Speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri. Nonetheless,
Khatami's election victory, with nearly 70% of the vote, was not
disputed and the regime apparently did not engage in election
fraud. Khatami's election appeared to demonstrate a strong desire
among his supporters, primarily women, youth, and the middle class,
for greater social and cultural freedom and increased economic
opportunity. Women face legal and social discrimination. The
Government discriminates against minorities and restricts important
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person,
Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
U.N. representatives, including the U.N. Special Representative
on Human Rights in Iran, Maurice Copithorne, and independent human
rights organizations continue to comment on the absence of procedural
safeguards in criminal trials. Inhuman punishments are used in
some cases, including stoning (see Section 1.c.). In 1992 the
domestic press stopped reporting most executions; however, 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.
Special Representative Copithorne reported 137 executions through
Iranian journalist Ebrahim Zalzadeh, editor of Mayar literary
magazine, had criticized government censorship and persecution
of writers, and was arrested in February. His body was found
on March 29 with multiple stab wounds to the chest, according
to Human Rights Watch (HRW). It is widely believed that the regime
is responsible. Attorney Mohammed Assadi was executed on August
9 on charges that included taking part in a 1980 coup attempt,
visiting Israel before the 1979 Iranian revolution, and being
a Freemason and a member of the International Lions organization.
Exiles and human rights monitors allege that many of those
executed for criminal offenses, primarily narcotics charges, are
actually political dissidents. 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 Republic."
Two Baha'i men reportedly died under circumstances that led
some observers to believe that the men were killed because of
their religious beliefs.
Investigations of the killing of political dissidents abroad
continued in 1997. A verdict issued on January 24 by the seventh
Criminal Court of Istanbul sentenced an Iranian citizen to more
than 32 years in prison with hard labor for his role--under the
supervision of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security--in
the murders of two members of the People's Mojahedin Organization
of Iran, according to the U.N. Special Representative.
On April 10, in its official verdict, the Berlin Superior
Court stated that the Supreme Leader, President and Minister of
Intelligence and Security had ordered the 1992 killings of three
Kurdish Iranian dissidents and their translator at the Mykonos
restaurant in Berlin. The trial revealed persuasive evidence
that government agents were responsible for the killings and that
senior Iranian government officials had ordered them.
In June a Swiss judge voiced suspicions that Iranian authorities
ordered the 1990 murder of Kazem Rajavi, a member of the National
Council of Iranian Resistance. The announcement was made after
1 1/2 years of close collaboration with German judicial authorities.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur noted that a total of 91 mostly
Kurdish oppositionists based in Iraq were reported to have been
killed by the Iranian regime in 1997, as a result both of targeted
killings and armed clashes.
The Government took no action to repudiate the fatwa, or religious
ruling, calling for the murder of British author Salman Rushdie
or anyone associated with his book, "The Satanic Verses."
No reliable information is available on the number of disappearances.
In the period immediately following arrest, many detainees are
Faraj Sarkuhi, who disappeared for 2 months in 1996, was arrested
in February and convicted of spreading antigovernment propaganda
(see Section 2.a.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
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 July 1996 law strengthens Islamic punishments such as flogging,
stoning, amputations, and public executions. Four people were
reported to have been stoned in 1997. According to Amnesty International,
in August a 20-year-old woman, Zoleykhah Kadkhoda, was arrested
on charges of adultery and stoned on the same day, but survived.
Prison conditions are harsh. Some prisoners are held in solitary
confinement or denied adequate food 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. Special Representative
Copithorne met privately in 1996 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 still were housed
with violent criminals and denied regular family visits. Amir
Entezam claimed that he was beaten so severely that he lost the
hearing in his left ear. There is no indication that conditions
in the prisons have improved substantially since Copithorne's
The Government does not permit unrestricted visits to imprisoned
dissidents by human rights monitors. During the 1996 visit the
U.N. Special Representative 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 (POW's). The ICRC
estimated in August that more than 13,000 Iraqi POWs had not been
repatriated. Iran released 46 POW's in September in what it called
a humanitarian gesture. In late November, Iran released 500 Iraqi
POW's, describing it as a "philanthropic" action. The
governments of Iran and Iraq made little progress during the year
on resolving the issue of those missing in action.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Although the Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention,
it remains a problem. 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 Guard offices.
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.
On December 14, Ebrahim Yazdi, Secretary-General of the Freedom
Movement (IFM) since 1995, was arrested on unknown charges and
detained in Evin prison in Tehran. Yazdi was Minister of Foreign
Affairs for the Islamic Republic's first government after the
1979 revolution. He tried to run in recent presidential and parliamentary
elections but was denied permission by the regime. Yazdi had
made public statements that may have been considered insulting
to the Supreme Leader and joined some 50 others in signing an
open letter to President Khatami urging the regime to respect
the rights of dissident clerics. He was released on December 25,
but faces charges of "desecrating religious sanctities,"
according to press reports.
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 under house arrest.
Adherents of the Baha'i faith continue to face arbitrary arrest
and detention. The Government appears to adhere to a practice
of keeping a small number of Baha'is in detention at any given
time. According to the Special Representative and Baha'i groups,
at least 21 Baha'is are currently in Iranian prisons, including
2 men convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death. Two other
Baha'i men are in prison and sentenced to death for espionage
and Zionist activities. Eleven Baha'is were arrested between
May and December, two on unknown charges, one for proselytizing
a Muslim, four for holding Baha'i meetings, and four for working
without permits (see Section 2.c.).
Although reliable statistics are not available, observers
believe that scores or hundreds of Iranians are currently imprisoned
for their political beliefs.
The Government does not use forced exile, but many dissidents
leave Iran because they feel threatened. Amnesty International
reported in June that at least three dissident senior religious
figures have been held under house arrest. The clerics include
Ayatollah Hassan Tabataei-Qomi, under house arrest for more than
13 years; Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq Rowhani, under house arrest
for more than 12 years; and Ayatollah Yasub al-Din Rastgari, under
house arrest since late 1996. Additionally, the ayatollahs' followers
reportedly have been detained and tortured.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The 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 prerevolutionary 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. If a situation is not addressed
by statutes enacted after the 1979 revolution, the Government
advises judges to give precedence to Islamic law rather than rely
on statues enacted during the Shah's regime. The courts are subject
to political influence. The Revolutionary Courts may consider
cases normally in the jurisdiction of the civil and criminal courts,
and also may overturn their decisions. Criteria for assigning
cases to either system of courts appear to be arbitrary and unsystematic.
The Supreme Court has limited authority to review cases.
Trials in the Revolutionary Courts are not fair. A law authorizes
judges to act as prosecutor and judge in the same case, and judges
are appointed for their ideological beliefs. 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 undefined
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 not uncommon.
Others are show trials intended to highlight a coerced public
confession. A woman's testimony is worth only half that of a
man making it difficult for a woman to prove a case against a
male defendant. In addition, the families of female victims of
violent crime reportedly must pay the assailant's court costs.
The Government often charges members of religious minorities
with crimes such as drug offenses or apostasy. Ayatollah Mohammad
Yazdi, the head of the judiciary, stated in 1996 that Baha'ism
was an espionage organization. In January it was learned that
the Supreme Court of Iran had confirmed the death sentences against
Zabihullah Mahrami and Musa Talabi, two Baha'is convicted of apostasy
(see Sections 2.c. and 5). In January Hedayatollah Zendehdel,
a Jewish businessman who converted to Islam, was hanged, having
been charged in July 1996 with espionage and economic fraud during
the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
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.
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
The Basijis, other security forces, and the Ansar-e Hezbollah
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. Vigilante violence may include attacks on young people
believed to be too foreign in their dress or activities, invading
private homes, and abusing unmarried couples. Women also have
been beaten if caught without proper clothing in public or in
private houses when men are present. Enforcement appears to be
very arbitrary, varying widely with the political climate and
the individuals involved.
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. However, since his
August inauguration, President Khatami has publicly stated his
intention to loosen constraints on freedom of expression, and
some signs of this have been observed.
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
velayat-e faqih, or rule by a supreme religious leader, or from
promoting the rights of ethnic minorities.
Complaints against journalists, editors, and publishers are
frequently levied by public officials and even rival publications,
and the offending writer is often subject to a trial, with fines,
suspension from journalistic activities, lashings, and imprisonment
being common punishments if found guilty of offenses ranging from
propaganda against the State to insulting the leadership of the
Islamic Republic. Ansar-e Hezbollah have in the past attacked
the offices of liberal publications and bookstores without interference
from the police or prosecution by the courts.
The record on freedom of expression has been mixed this year.
President Khatami has publicly stated his intention to loosen
constraints on freedom of expression, and in October, after his
inauguration, it was reported that a year-long ban on the Iranian-Armenian
monthly Araz had been lifted. The journal was to resume publication
in Tehran with the support of the Ministry of Islamic Culture
and Guidance. Also in October, the 2 1/2 year ban on Jahan-e
Eslam newspaper was lifted, and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic
Guidance blocked the reissue of the blacklist Hoviyyat, citing
it as hostile to Iranian intellectuals..
Faraj Sarkuhi, a magazine editor who had been critical of
the Government and who disappeared in November 1996 while traveling
to Germany, reappeared in Iran in late December 1996. He was
subsequently arrested and detained in February on charges of espionage
and attempting to leave the country illegally. Sarkuhi was denied
permission to meet with family members, lawyers, or foreign diplomats
who requested to see him, according to Human Rights Watch. In
September he was convicted of "spreading antigovernment propaganda"
and sentenced to a year in jail, including time already served.
This sentence, lighter than some observers had expected, was
variously interpreted as being influenced by Khatami's emphasis
on openness, or by strong international pressure on Sarkuhi's
Despite Khatami's public commitment to increased openness,
many constraints remain. In particular, criticism of the Supreme
Leader or of the principle of rule by a religious leader tend
to generate a stern, immediate response from the Government.
In November, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri called into question
the Supreme Leader's authority. In the past, Khamenei had been
attacked by other clerics on the grounds that he does not possess
sufficient religious credential to serve as the senior Iranian
religious authority. Montazeri's remarks sparked attacks on his
residence by Ansar-e Hezbollah mobs. These events prompted Ebrahim
Yazdi and 49 others to issue an open letter calling for the Government
to respect Montazeri's rights (see Section 2.d.). Montazeri remains
under house arrest.
At least nine publications were banned during the year, most
before Khatami's inauguration. In March the Esfahan-based cultural
magazine, Zayendeh Rud, was closed down. No reason was cited
for this action. In May Ya Sarat al-Hoseyn was banned for insulting
then-candidate Khatami, who had initially lodged the complaint
against the publication. In July Sobh magazine was suspended
for a month after its publisher was accused of scandalous reporting.
In a July letter published in a newspaper, publisher and writer
Abdolkarim Soroush confirmed that he had been banned from leaving
the country and that his passport had been confiscated. In November
Ansar-e Hezbollah thugs attempted to break up at least one of
The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance is also charged
with vetting books prior to publication to ensure that they do
not contain offensive material. However, some books and pamphlets
critical of the Government are published without reprisal. It
was announced in July that regulations on book censorship would
be made available to publishers to help them "overcome potential
problems more easily." The Ministry inspects foreign printed
materials prior to their release on the market.
Human Rights Watch reports that in January Karamollah Tavahodi,
a Kurdish writer living in Mashhad, was detained and sentenced
to 1 year in prison because of the content of one of the volumes
of his work, "The Historical Movement of Kurds in Khorassan."
The book had been banned prior to his detention.
Government restrictions on the film industry were tightened
during the year. In August new regulations were announced requiring
that film producers get official permission before they can sell
international distribution rights to their films. Films produced
in Iran already needed Ministry approval before they could be
produced or screened. However, the Foreign Ministry intervened
in May to overturn a ban imposed by the Ministry of Islamic Culture
and Guidance on Abbas Kiarostami's "The Taste of the Cherry,"
so that it could be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. In addition,
since Khatami's inauguration, the Government has released at least
two previously-banned films despite the protests of religious
The Government owns all broadcasting facilities, and their
programming reflects its political and socio-religious ideology.
The Government took no action to repudiate the fatwa, or religious
ruling, calling for the murder of British author Salman Rushdie
or anyone associated with his book, "The Satanic Verses."
Also, the Government has failed to demand that the 15 Khordad
Foundation rescind the bounty offered for Rushdie's murder. Moreover,
it was announced by the head of the 15 Khordad Foundation, Ayatollah
Sane'i, a member of the council of senior clerics that oversees
legislation, that anyone who carried out the execution of Rushdie
during the 10-day Dawn of the Victory of the Islamic Revolution
would receive an increased bounty; after the 10-day period, the
bounty was decreased to its former amount.
Academic censorship persists. In his 1996 interim report
the U.N. 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."
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.
An academic, Habibollah Peyman, was not allowed to leave the country
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. The Special Representative
in 1996 noted the tendency of government police and military forces
not to intervene when Ansar-e Hezbollah attempted to break up
opposition or cultural gatherings.
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.
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," and specifically mentions "protected
religious minorities" including Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians.
However, the Government restricts freedom of religion, particularly
for those religious minorities not recognized by the Constitution.
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.
Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians are legally permitted to
practice their religion and instruct their children, but may not
proselytize Muslims. The Government interferes with the administration
of their schools, and harassment by government officials is common
(see Section 5).
Oppression of evangelical Christians continued in 1997. In
January two visiting Christian evangelists, Daniel Baumann and
Stuart Timm, were arrested and detained under suspicion of espionage,
a charge often levied against persons who proselytize. Both eventually
were released without having been charged.
In January Hedayatollah Zendehdel, a Jewish businessman who
converted to Islam, was hanged, having been charged in July 1996
with espionage and economic fraud during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq
war. Zendehdel is widely believed to have been targeted because
he was a wealthy member of the Jewish community.
The Government regards the Baha'i community, with 300,000
to 350,000 members, as a "misguided sect." Baha'is
may not teach or practice their faith or maintain links with coreligionists
abroad. The Government appears to adhere to a practice of keeping
a small number of Baha'is in arbitrary detention at any given
time. According to the Special Representative, at least 12 Baha'is
are currently in Iranian prisons, including 2 men sentenced to
death for apostasy and two others sentenced to death for espionage.
Two Baha'i men reportedly died in circumstances that led some
observers to believe that the men were killed because of their
religious beliefs (see Section 1.a.).
The Government continues to persecute Baha'is. Broad restrictions
on the Baha'is appear to be geared to destroying them as a community
(see Section 5). For example, Baha'i marriages are not recognized
by the Government, leaving Baha'i women open to charges of prostitution.
Children of Baha'i marriages are not recognized as legitimate
and, therefore, are denied inheritance rights. Baha'i sacred
and historical properties have been systematically confiscated
and some have been destroyed. Group meetings and religious education
are severely curtailed. Universities continue to deny admittance
to Baha'i students. Baha'is regularly are denied compensation
for injury or criminal victimization. Government authorities
claim that only Muslim plaintiffs are eligible for compensation
in these circumstances. Baha'is are prohibited from government
employment. A 1993 law 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."
The Government often charges members of religious minorities
with crimes such as drug offenses or apostasy (see Section 1.d.)
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. There were no reports of heavy fighting in these areas
in 1997. Citizens 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 citizens, 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 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. Baha'is often experience
difficulty getting passports. The Government prevented at least
one academic from leaving the country (see Section 2.a.).
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 8,000
refugees repatriated to Afghanistan; none were repatriated in
1997. This was far fewer than the UNHCR had predicted would return
and resulted from continued instability in 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. There were no substantial changes in the population of Kurdish
refugees in Iran in 1997. Most Kurdish refugees who fled fighting
in northern Iraq in 1996 have returned there.
The Government generally cooperates with the UNHCR and other
humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. Although the
Government generally provides first asylum (and provided it to
a large number of Afghan and Iraqi refugees), there have been
instances, most recently in 1996, where pressure was applied to
force refugees to return to their home countries.
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. The
Supreme Leader, who exercises decisive power, is not elected and
cannot be removed. The Government effectively manipulates the
electoral system to its advantage. There is no separation of
state and religion, and 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 also
have been disqualified.
Regularly scheduled elections are held for the President,
members of the Majles, and members of the Assembly of Experts,
a body responsible for selecting the successor to the Supreme
Leader. The decisions of the Majles are reviewed by the Council
of Guardians, which must approve legislation before it enters
into force. Vigorous parliamentary debates take place on various
issues. Most deputies are associated with powerful political
and religious officials, but often vote independently and shift
from one faction to another.
A new president was elected in May. The Interior ministry
estimated that over 90 percent of the eligible population voted
in the May presidential election. During the campaign, there
was considerable government intervention and censorship. The
Council of Guardians reviewed 238 candidates, including a women,
but only allowed 4 individuals to run. Three were clerics; all
were men. Seyyed Mohammad Khatami garnered nearly 70% of the
vote, his greatest support coming from the middle class, youth,
minorities, and women.
The election results were particularly notable because Khatami
was not the regime's preferred candidate. In a break with precedent,
Supreme Leader Khamenei let it be known that he preferred Majles
Speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri. Prayer leaders also supported Nateq-Nuri
in their sermons. The regime attempted to censor public debate
by restricting the campaign coverage of some technocratic and
modern left publications, particularly the pro-Khatami daily,
Salam. As the election neared, Khatami was evicted from his campaign
headquarters. Despite the regime's clear preference for Nateq-Nuri,
the election results were not disputed, and the regime does not
appear to have engaged in election fraud--possibly due to Khatami's
early and overwhelming lead. The results appear to indicate that
citizens demanded change within the limits allowed by government
control of the electoral process.
The Government continued in early 1997 to nullify election
results from the spring 1996 Majles elections in several districts,
including Malayer, Astara, and Esfahan. Women are underrepresented
in government. They hold only 13 of 270 Majles seats, and there
are no female cabinet members. President Khatami appointed the
first female vice president since the 1979 Islamic Revolution,
Masoumeh Ebtekar, following his in auguration. Minister of Culture
and Islamic Guidance Ata'ollah Mohajerani appointed a second woman
to a senior post, Azam Nouri, when he chose her in August as his
deputy. A woman was also appointed as a district mayor of Tehran.
Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians elect deputies to reservedd
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International
and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human
The Government continued to repress local human rights
groups. In 1996 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. The ICRC and
the UNHCR both operate in Iran.
In 1997 the Government did not allow U.N. Special Representative
for Human Rights in Iran, Mr. Copithorne, to visit the country,
and complained that his annual report to the U.N. Human Rights
Commission was biased. Iran denies the universality of human
rights and has stated that separate "Islamic" standards
of human rights should apply to Islamic countries.
In April a Foreign Ministry spokesman complained that Copithorne
had exploited the goodwill of the Government and published lies
and rumors in his reports. The spokesman also claimed that the
issue of human rights was being used as a political tool and was
manipulated by Zionist and foreign interests. Although the Special
Representative reported that the Government was generally cooperative
during his February 1996 visit, following the release of his findings
he was refused permission to go back to Iran in late 1996 and
early 1997 to gather fresh material for an updated review. In
his October report, Copithorne stated that he was disappointed
by the difficulty in getting information from the Government on
A newspaper close to the regime advised that allowing members
of the UNHRC to visit Iran would "in fact enable them to
abuse Iran's goodwill to publish their pre-planned reports,"
and further stated that the criteria for assessing human rights
"should undergo a drastic change."
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, (see Section 1.e.)
Although women may be educated and employed in the professions,
social constraints tend to inhibit their opportunities. Illiteracy
and 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. Such dress codes
persist, although reports from human rights organizations and
individual citizens indicate that enforcement varies with the
political climate and the location. Women are often subject to
harassment by the Ansar-e Hezbollah or the authorities if their
dress or behavior is considered inappropriate.
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.
Although the Government permitted women to attain the rank
of judge in 1995 for the first time since the 1979 revolution,
until May they were not allowed to issue judicial verdicts. They
may now do so, but only in cases relevant to women.
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.
However, the Cable News Network reported in 1996 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 in Iran.
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 suffer discrimination.
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 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.
Property belonging to the Baha'i community as a whole, 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 2.c.).
The Kurds seek greater autonomy and continue to suffer from
In February the Special Representative contacted the Government
on two occasions regarding questionable detentions of persons
reported to be sympathetic to Azeri nationalism.
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 the Government to exert control over workers. 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.
In February oil refinery workers in Tehran went on strike
to protest pay and working conditions. There were several reports
of mass arrests.
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. There is no information available on the Government's
policy on forced and bonded labor by children.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age
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.
There is no information available on the Government's policy
on forced and bonded labor by children.
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. Under current poor economic conditions,
many middle-class citizens must work two or even three jobs to
support their families. The daily minimum wage was raised in
March to $2.80 (8,500 rials). It is unlikely that minimum wage
laws alone can ensure a decent standard of living for a worker
and family. 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 December
1996 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 have
been affected. The Government apparently hoped to alleviate high
unemployment by pressuring foreigners to leave. However, repatriation
numbers appear to be low due to continuing unrest in Afghanistan.
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 reportedly
has 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
for 1997. Note: The United States does not have an embassy in Iran. This report draws heavily on non-U.S. Government sources.