I was reading this morning with great interest – and great dismay – about the criminal justice system in Iran, and what initially caught my attention was a public execution of a man for drinking alcohol. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime in Iran.
The Iranian legal system is very different from what you would find in many developed countries. People in the United States, for example, often take for granted the rights that exist for anyone who is arrested and facing a trial. Although the Constitution of the Republic of Iran does provide for basic rights of the accused such as a presumption of innocence, the right to an attorney, or a prohibition against torture (yes, this is specifically stated in the Iranian constitution), those rights are only on paper. Criminal suspects and defendants quite often are not afforded these rights.
Crimes, regardless of their seriousness, could have a penalty of death. Habitually drinking alcohol is one of those surprising crimes that could get you executed. Prostitution and drug trafficking are other surprising crimes with a punishment of death. Iran executes more people per capita than any other country, many of which are under questionable circumstances and with the presence of evidence to suggest defendants’ innocence.
“The Iranian authorities have once again laid bare the sheer cruelty and inhumanity of their judicial system by executing a man simply for drinking alcohol. The [man] was the latest person to be executed in Valkalibad prison, the site of numerous secret mass executions and a grotesque theatre of Iran’s contempt for human life.”
I found this to be quite shocking. According to Iran’s Penal Code, the import, sale, manufacture, and consumption of alcohol is strictly forbidden for religious reasons. The statute provides for a punishment of 80 lashes, or strikes to the body with a whip or rod, for the first three occasions. On the fourth occurrence, the punishment is death. Hanging is the most common form of execution used in Iran. Most executions are carried out by public hanging, though firing squads are occasionally used too.
An interesting thing to note is, the death penalty in Iran has been exacted upon persons irrespective of the crime. Consumption of alcohol, armed robbery, or homicide could each get you executed. There have even been executions of protesters, sometimes without a fair trial. There have also been executions of persons in Iran who publicly speak out against the government or criticize government leaders. Furthermore, torture-tainted confessions are not uncommon. Rights of the accused as stipulated in the US Constitution are only a fantasy in Iran, even though as stated above, Iran’s constitution lists several rights.
Iran’s executions see no boundaries. A little more than a year ago two teens were executed in Iran following an unfair trial. The teens’ bodies had bruises and gashes, indicating they had been beaten immediately before their hangings. They were held in a detention center for nearly two months before their families could see them, and the kick in the gut is their parents didn’t know their kids would be executed and found out after the fact when they were contacted to collect the bodies. That is beyond callous.
It’s not just Iranian citizens that face this plight. Even tourists and persons travelling to Iran on official business, from many countries around the globe have faced unfair detention. Just a few months ago, there was a lot of attention given to American and British citizens detained in Iran in what some suggest was a plot to seek revenge for the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. There was no cogent, legal reason to explain why Iranian officials detained them. The French government expressed anger over Iran’s detention of two French academics and and their sentence of six years in prison, apparently for speaking out against Iran, charges that Iran labeled as a national security threat. An Australian couple visiting Iran was detained and tortured. These are but a few of the many instances of visitors to the country being detained unfairly.
The unique caveat is, defendants get better treatment if they are rich and willing to pay handsomely. There are many instances of police and court officials freely and openly accepting bribes in exchange for rendering a favorable outcome to the defendant. The problem with corruption is, you could pay for a specific outcome and the officials might snatch your money and still not give you what you wanted. The corruption has made the legal safeguards stated in Iran’s constitution ineffectual.
Amnesty International, an independent human rights organization, for years has been urging Iran to stop the unfair and inhumane treatment and for the United Nations to intervene to save the lives of Iranian citizens and visitors to the country. Hopefully one day, suspects and criminal defendants will see fairness and equity and the corruption eradicated.