Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,January 30, 1998.
The Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979 aftera populist revolution toppled the monarchy. The Government isdominated by Shi'a Muslim clergy. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is theLeader of the Islamic Revolution and functions as the Chief ofState. He is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. President Seyed Mohammad Khatami was inaugurated in August, followinga landslide victory in elections held on May 23. The Constitutionestablishes a 270-seat unicameral Islamic Consultative Assembly,or Majles. The Government seeks to conform public policy to itspolitical and socio-religious values, but serious differencesexist within the leadership and within the clergy. The Governmentmaintains 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 Ministryof Interior, and the Revolutionary Guards, a military force establishedafter the revolution. Paramilitary volunteer forces known asBasijis, and gangs of street thugs, known as the Ansar-e Hezbollah(Helpers of the Party of God), who are often aligned with specificconservative members of the clergy, act as vigilantes. Both regularand paramilitary security forces committed numerous, serious humanrights abuses.
Iran has a mixed economy. The Government owns the petroleumand utilities industries and the banks. Large charitable foundationscalled bonyads, most with strong connections to the Government,control properties expropriated from the former Shah and figuresassociated with his regime. The bonyads exercise considerableinfluence in the economy. Oil exports are the primary sourceof foreign exchange. Mismanagement and corruption have createdserious economic problems. Unemployment in 1997 was estimatedto be at least 25 percent, and inflation was an estimated 20 percent.
The Government's human rights record remained poor. The Governmentrestricts the right of citizens to change their government. Systematicabuses include extrajudicial killings and summary executions;disappearances; widespread use of torture and other degradingtreatment; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention;unfair trials; infringement on
*The United States does not have an embassy in Iran. This reportdraws heavily on non-U.S. Government sources.
citizens' privacy; and restriction of the freedoms of speech,press, assembly, association, religion, and movement. The Governmentmanipulates the electoral system and represses political dissidents. However, during the presidential election campaign however, alively debate on political, economic, and social issues occurred,although the Government closed several newspapers, disqualifiedcandidates, and intimidated opposition campaigners by encouragingvigilante 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 notdisputed and the regime apparently did not engage in electionfraud. Khatami's election appeared to demonstrate a strong desireamong his supporters, primarily women, youth, and the middle class,for greater social and cultural freedom and increased economicopportunity. Women face legal and social discrimination. TheGovernment discriminates against minorities and restricts importantworker rights.
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 Representativeon Human Rights in Iran, Maurice Copithorne, and independent humanrights organizations continue to comment on the absence of proceduralsafeguards in criminal trials. Inhuman punishments are used insome cases, including stoning (see Section 1.c.). In 1992 thedomestic press stopped reporting most executions; however, executionsappear 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 throughNovember.
Iranian journalist Ebrahim Zalzadeh, editor of Mayar literarymagazine, had criticized government censorship and persecutionof writers, and was arrested in February. His body was foundon March 29 with multiple stab wounds to the chest, accordingto Human Rights Watch (HRW). It is widely believed that the regimeis responsible. Attorney Mohammed Assadi was executed on August9 on charges that included taking part in a 1980 coup attempt,visiting Israel before the 1979 Iranian revolution, and beinga Freemason and a member of the International Lions organization.
Exiles and human rights monitors allege that many of thoseexecuted for criminal offenses, primarily narcotics charges, areactually political dissidents. A November 1995 law criminalizeddissent and applied the death penalty to offenses such as "attemptsagainst the security of the State, outrage against high-rankingIranian officials, and insults against the memory of Imam Khomeiniand against the Leader of the Islamic Republic."
Two Baha'i men reportedly died under circumstances that ledsome observers to believe that the men were killed because oftheir religious beliefs.
Investigations of the killing of political dissidents abroadcontinued in 1997. A verdict issued on January 24 by the seventhCriminal Court of Istanbul sentenced an Iranian citizen to morethan 32 years in prison with hard labor for his role--under thesupervision of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security--inthe murders of two members of the People's Mojahedin Organizationof Iran, according to the U.N. Special Representative.
On April 10, in its official verdict, the Berlin SuperiorCourt stated that the Supreme Leader, President and Minister ofIntelligence and Security had ordered the 1992 killings of threeKurdish Iranian dissidents and their translator at the Mykonosrestaurant in Berlin. The trial revealed persuasive evidencethat government agents were responsible for the killings and thatsenior Iranian government officials had ordered them.
In June a Swiss judge voiced suspicions that Iranian authoritiesordered the 1990 murder of Kazem Rajavi, a member of the NationalCouncil of Iranian Resistance. The announcement was made after1 1/2 years of close collaboration with German judicial authorities.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur noted that a total of 91 mostlyKurdish oppositionists based in Iraq were reported to have beenkilled by the Iranian regime in 1997, as a result both of targetedkillings and armed clashes.
The Government took no action to repudiate the fatwa, or religiousruling, calling for the murder of British author Salman Rushdieor 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 areheld incommunicado.
Faraj Sarkuhi, who disappeared for 2 months in 1996, was arrestedin February and convicted of spreading antigovernment propaganda(see Section 2.a.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or DegradingTreatment or Punishment
Credible reports indicate that security forces continue totorture detainees and prisoners. Common methods include suspensionfor long periods in contorted positions, burning with cigarettes,and, most frequently, severe and repeated beatings with cablesor 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 werereported to have been stoned in 1997. According to Amnesty International,in August a 20-year-old woman, Zoleykhah Kadkhoda, was arrestedon charges of adultery and stoned on the same day, but survived.
Prison conditions are harsh. Some prisoners are held in solitaryconfinement or denied adequate food or medical care in order toforce confessions. Female prisoners have reportedly been rapedor otherwise tortured while in detention. In the past, prisonguards have intimidated the family members of detainees and havesometimes 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 MehdiBazargan. Amir Entezam reported that the conditions in Evin prisonimproved after 1989, but that political prisoners still were housedwith violent criminals and denied regular family visits. AmirEntezam claimed that he was beaten so severely that he lost thehearing in his left ear. There is no indication that conditionsin the prisons have improved substantially since Copithorne'svisit.
The Government does not permit unrestricted visits to imprisoneddissidents by human rights monitors. During the 1996 visit theU.N. Special Representative was not able to see all the dissidentshe asked to see.
In September 1994, the International Committee of the RedCross (ICRC) issued a report on "unresolved humanitarianissues" from the Iran-Iraq war. The ICRC noted that theGovernment failed to identify combatants killed in action andfailed to exchange information on those killed or missing. Thereport criticized the Government for obstructing ICRC effortsto register and repatriate prisoners of war (POW's). The ICRCestimated in August that more than 13,000 Iraqi POWs had not beenrepatriated. Iran released 46 POW's in September in what it calleda humanitarian gesture. In late November, Iran released 500 IraqiPOW's, describing it as a "philanthropic" action. Thegovernments of Iran and Iraq made little progress during the yearon 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 limiton incommunicado detention, nor any judicial means to determinethe legality of detention. Suspects may be held for questioningin jails or in local Revolutionary Guard offices.
The security forces often do not inform family members ofa prisoner's welfare and location. Even if these circumstancesare known, the prisoner still may be denied visits by family andlegal counsel. In addition, families of executed prisoners donot always receive notification of the prisoner's death. Thosethat do receive such information may be forced to pay the Governmentto retrieve the body of their relative.
On December 14, Ebrahim Yazdi, Secretary-General of the FreedomMovement (IFM) since 1995, was arrested on unknown charges anddetained in Evin prison in Tehran. Yazdi was Minister of ForeignAffairs for the Islamic Republic's first government after the1979 revolution. He tried to run in recent presidential and parliamentaryelections but was denied permission by the regime. Yazdi hadmade public statements that may have been considered insultingto the Supreme Leader and joined some 50 others in signing anopen letter to President Khatami urging the regime to respectthe 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 AmirEntezam early in 1996, he is still detained. Initially arrestedin 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 arrestand detention. The Government appears to adhere to a practiceof keeping a small number of Baha'is in detention at any giventime. According to the Special Representative and Baha'i groups,at least 21 Baha'is are currently in Iranian prisons, including2 men convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death. Two otherBaha'i men are in prison and sentenced to death for espionageand Zionist activities. Eleven Baha'is were arrested betweenMay and December, two on unknown charges, one for proselytizinga Muslim, four for holding Baha'i meetings, and four for workingwithout permits (see Section 2.c.).
Although reliable statistics are not available, observersbelieve that scores or hundreds of Iranians are currently imprisonedfor their political beliefs.
The Government does not use forced exile, but many dissidentsleave Iran because they feel threatened. Amnesty Internationalreported in June that at least three dissident senior religiousfigures have been held under house arrest. The clerics includeAyatollah Hassan Tabataei-Qomi, under house arrest for more than13 years; Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq Rowhani, under house arrestfor more than 12 years; and Ayatollah Yasub al-Din Rastgari, underhouse arrest since late 1996. Additionally, the ayatollahs' followersreportedly have been detained and tortured.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The court system is not independent and is subject to governmentand religious influence.
Iran has two court systems: The traditional courts, whichadjudicate civil and criminal offenses; and the Islamic RevolutionaryCourts, established in 1979 to try political offenses, narcoticscrimes, and "crimes against God."
Many aspects of the prerevolutionary judicial system survivein the civil and criminal courts. For example defendants havethe right to a public trial, may choose their own lawyer, andhave the right of appeal. Trials are adjudicated by panels ofjudges. There is no jury system. If a situation is not addressedby statutes enacted after the 1979 revolution, the Governmentadvises judges to give precedence to Islamic law rather than relyon statues enacted during the Shah's regime. The courts are subjectto political influence. The Revolutionary Courts may considercases normally in the jurisdiction of the civil and criminal courts,and also may overturn their decisions. Criteria for assigningcases 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 authorizesjudges to act as prosecutor and judge in the same case, and judgesare appointed for their ideological beliefs. Often, pretrialdetention is prolonged and defendants lack access to attorneys. When legal help is available, attorneys are rarely given timeto prepare an effective defense. Indictments are often for undefinedoffenses such as "antirevolutionary behavior," "moralcorruption," and "siding with global arrogance." Defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers orto appeal. Secret or summary trials of 5 minutes are not uncommon. Others are show trials intended to highlight a coerced publicconfession. A woman's testimony is worth only half that of aman making it difficult for a woman to prove a case against amale defendant. In addition, the families of female victims ofviolent crime reportedly must pay the assailant's court costs.
The Government often charges members of religious minoritieswith crimes such as drug offenses or apostasy. Ayatollah MohammadYazdi, the head of the judiciary, stated in 1996 that Baha'ismwas an espionage organization. In January it was learned thatthe Supreme Court of Iran had confirmed the death sentences againstZabihullah 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, havingbeen charged in July 1996 with espionage and economic fraud duringthe 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
No estimates are available on the number of political prisoners. However, the Government often arrests persons on questionablecriminal charges, usually drug trafficking or espionage, whentheir actual "offenses" are political.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home,or Correspondence
The Constitution states that "reputation, life, property,(and) dwelling(s)" are protected from trespass except as"provided by law." However, security forces enter homesand offices, monitor telephone conversations, and open mail withoutcourt authorization.
The Basijis, other security forces, and the Ansar-e Hezbollahmonitor the social activities of citizens. Such organizationsmay harass or arrest women whose clothing does not cover the hairand all of the body except the hands and face, or those who wearmakeup. Vigilante violence may include attacks on young peoplebelieved to be too foreign in their dress or activities, invadingprivate homes, and abusing unmarried couples. Women also havebeen beaten if caught without proper clothing in public or inprivate houses when men are present. Enforcement appears to bevery arbitrary, varying widely with the political climate andthe individuals involved.
In the past, prison guards have intimidated family membersof detainees (see Section 1.c.). Iranian opposition figures livingabroad 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, exceptwhen published ideas are "contrary to Islamic principles,or are detrimental to public rights." In practice the Governmentrestricts freedom of speech and the press. However, since hisAugust inauguration, President Khatami has publicly stated hisintention to loosen constraints on freedom of expression, andsome signs of this have been observed.
The Government exerts strong control over most media, particularlypublications. Some newspapers are associated with factions inthe Government. They reflect different views and criticize theGovernment, but are prohibited from criticizing the concept ofvelayat-e faqih, or rule by a supreme religious leader, or frompromoting the rights of ethnic minorities.
Complaints against journalists, editors, and publishers arefrequently 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 imprisonmentbeing common punishments if found guilty of offenses ranging frompropaganda against the State to insulting the leadership of theIslamic Republic. Ansar-e Hezbollah have in the past attackedthe offices of liberal publications and bookstores without interferencefrom 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 loosenconstraints on freedom of expression, and in October, after hisinauguration, it was reported that a year-long ban on the Iranian-Armenianmonthly Araz had been lifted. The journal was to resume publicationin Tehran with the support of the Ministry of Islamic Cultureand Guidance. Also in October, the 2 1/2 year ban on Jahan-eEslam newspaper was lifted, and the Ministry of Culture and IslamicGuidance blocked the reissue of the blacklist Hoviyyat, citingit as hostile to Iranian intellectuals..
Faraj Sarkuhi, a magazine editor who had been critical ofthe Government and who disappeared in November 1996 while travelingto Germany, reappeared in Iran in late December 1996. He wassubsequently arrested and detained in February on charges of espionageand attempting to leave the country illegally. Sarkuhi was deniedpermission to meet with family members, lawyers, or foreign diplomatswho requested to see him, according to Human Rights Watch. InSeptember 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, wasvariously interpreted as being influenced by Khatami's emphasison openness, or by strong international pressure on Sarkuhi'sbehalf.
Despite Khatami's public commitment to increased openness,many constraints remain. In particular, criticism of the SupremeLeader or of the principle of rule by a religious leader tendto generate a stern, immediate response from the Government. In November, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri called into questionthe Supreme Leader's authority. In the past, Khamenei had beenattacked by other clerics on the grounds that he does not possesssufficient religious credential to serve as the senior Iranianreligious authority. Montazeri's remarks sparked attacks on hisresidence by Ansar-e Hezbollah mobs. These events prompted EbrahimYazdi and 49 others to issue an open letter calling for the Governmentto respect Montazeri's rights (see Section 2.d.). Montazeri remainsunder house arrest.
At least nine publications were banned during the year, mostbefore Khatami's inauguration. In March the Esfahan-based culturalmagazine, Zayendeh Rud, was closed down. No reason was citedfor this action. In May Ya Sarat al-Hoseyn was banned for insultingthen-candidate Khatami, who had initially lodged the complaintagainst the publication. In July Sobh magazine was suspendedfor a month after its publisher was accused of scandalous reporting. In a July letter published in a newspaper, publisher and writerAbdolkarim Soroush confirmed that he had been banned from leavingthe country and that his passport had been confiscated. In NovemberAnsar-e Hezbollah thugs attempted to break up at least one ofSoroush's lectures.
The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance is also chargedwith vetting books prior to publication to ensure that they donot contain offensive material. However, some books and pamphletscritical of the Government are published without reprisal. Itwas announced in July that regulations on book censorship wouldbe made available to publishers to help them "overcome potentialproblems more easily." The Ministry inspects foreign printedmaterials 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 sentencedto 1 year in prison because of the content of one of the volumesof 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 tightenedduring the year. In August new regulations were announced requiringthat film producers get official permission before they can sellinternational distribution rights to their films. Films producedin Iran already needed Ministry approval before they could beproduced or screened. However, the Foreign Ministry intervenedin May to overturn a ban imposed by the Ministry of Islamic Cultureand 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 leasttwo previously-banned films despite the protests of religiousconservatives.
The Government owns all broadcasting facilities, and theirprogramming reflects its political and socio-religious ideology.
The Government took no action to repudiate the fatwa, or religiousruling, calling for the murder of British author Salman Rushdieor anyone associated with his book, "The Satanic Verses." Also, the Government has failed to demand that the 15 KhordadFoundation rescind the bounty offered for Rushdie's murder. Moreover,it was announced by the head of the 15 Khordad Foundation, AyatollahSane'i, a member of the council of senior clerics that overseeslegislation, that anyone who carried out the execution of Rushdieduring the 10-day Dawn of the Victory of the Islamic Revolutionwould receive an increased bounty; after the 10-day period, thebounty was decreased to its former amount.
Academic censorship persists. In his 1996 interim reportthe U.N. Special Representative noted the existence of a campaignto bring about the "Islamization of the universities,"which seemed to be a movement to purge persons "who fightagainst the sanctities of the Islamic system."
Government informers are said to be common on university campusesand monitor classroom material. Admission to universities ispoliticized; all applicants must pass "character tests"in which officials screen out applicants critical of the Government'sideology. To achieve tenure, professors must cooperate with governmentauthorities over a period of years.
An academic, Habibollah Peyman, was not allowed to leave the countryin February.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution permits assemblies and marches "providedthey do not violate the principles of Islam." In practice,the Government restricts freedom of assembly. The Special Representativein 1996 noted the tendency of government police and military forcesnot to intervene when Ansar-e Hezbollah attempted to break upopposition or cultural gatherings.
The Constitution provides for the establishment of politicalparties, professional associations, and religious groups providedthat 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-optedby the Government, or moribund.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution declares that the "official religionof Iran is Islam and the sect followed is Ja'fari Shi'ism." It also states that "other Islamic denominations shall enjoycomplete respect," and specifically mentions "protectedreligious minorities" including Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians.However, the Government restricts freedom of religion, particularlyfor those religious minorities not recognized by the Constitution. The Government is profoundly influenced by Shi'a Islam. ThePresident and many top officials, including the Speaker of theParliament 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 restof the population are Sunni Muslims, drawn largely from Kurdish,Arab, Turkoman, Baluchi, and other ethnic minorities.
Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians are legally permitted topractice their religion and instruct their children, but may notproselytize Muslims. The Government interferes with the administrationof their schools, and harassment by government officials is common(see Section 5).
Oppression of evangelical Christians continued in 1997. InJanuary two visiting Christian evangelists, Daniel Baumann andStuart Timm, were arrested and detained under suspicion of espionage,a charge often levied against persons who proselytize. Both eventuallywere released without having been charged.
In January Hedayatollah Zendehdel, a Jewish businessman whoconverted to Islam, was hanged, having been charged in July 1996with espionage and economic fraud during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraqwar. Zendehdel is widely believed to have been targeted becausehe was a wealthy member of the Jewish community.
The Government regards the Baha'i community, with 300,000to 350,000 members, as a "misguided sect." Baha'ismay not teach or practice their faith or maintain links with coreligionistsabroad. The Government appears to adhere to a practice of keepinga small number of Baha'is in arbitrary detention at any giventime. According to the Special Representative, at least 12 Baha'isare currently in Iranian prisons, including 2 men sentenced todeath for apostasy and two others sentenced to death for espionage. Two Baha'i men reportedly died in circumstances that led someobservers to believe that the men were killed because of theirreligious beliefs (see Section 1.a.).
The Government continues to persecute Baha'is. Broad restrictionson the Baha'is appear to be geared to destroying them as a community(see Section 5). For example, Baha'i marriages are not recognizedby the Government, leaving Baha'i women open to charges of prostitution. Children of Baha'i marriages are not recognized as legitimateand, therefore, are denied inheritance rights. Baha'i sacredand historical properties have been systematically confiscatedand some have been destroyed. Group meetings and religious educationare severely curtailed. Universities continue to deny admittanceto Baha'i students. Baha'is regularly are denied compensationfor injury or criminal victimization. Government authoritiesclaim that only Muslim plaintiffs are eligible for compensationin these circumstances. Baha'is are prohibited from governmentemployment. A 1993 law prohibits government workers from membershipin groups that deny the "divine religions." The Governmentuses such terminology to describe members of the Baha'i faith. The law also stipulates penalties for government workers whodo not observe "Islamic principles and rules."
The Government often charges members of religious minoritieswith crimes such as drug offenses or apostasy (see Section 1.d.)
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, ForeignTravel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens may travel to any part of Iran, although there havebeen restrictions on travel to Kurdish areas during times of heavyfighting. There were no reports of heavy fighting in these areasin 1997. Citizens may change their place of residence withoutobtaining official permission. The Government requires exit permitsfor draft-age males and citizens who are politically suspect. Some citizens, particularly those whose skills are in short supplyand who were educated at government expense, must post bonds toobtain exit permits.
The Government permits Jews to travel abroad, but often deniesthem the multiple-exit permits normally issued to other citizens. The Government does not normally permit all members of a Jewishfamily to travel abroad at the same time. Baha'is often experiencedifficulty getting passports. The Government prevented at leastone 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 Afghanrefugees in Iran. Of this total, only about 21,800 are accommodatedin refugee camps administered by the Government. The rest liveseminomadic lives or reside in settlements. In 1996 about 8,000refugees repatriated to Afghanistan; none were repatriated in1997. This was far fewer than the UNHCR had predicted would returnand resulted from continued instability in Afghanistan.
The UNHCR estimates that there are about 580,000 Iraqi Kurdishand Shi'a Muslim refugees in Iran who were displaced by the GulfWar. There were no substantial changes in the population of Kurdishrefugees in Iran in 1997. Most Kurdish refugees who fled fightingin northern Iraq in 1996 have returned there.
The Government generally cooperates with the UNHCR and otherhumanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. Although theGovernment generally provides first asylum (and provided it toa large number of Afghan and Iraqi refugees), there have beeninstances, most recently in 1996, where pressure was applied toforce refugees to return to their home countries.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Rightof Citizens to Change Their Government
The right of citizens to change their government isseverely compromised by the leadership of the Government. TheSupreme Leader, who exercises decisive power, is not elected andcannot be removed. The Government effectively manipulates theelectoral system to its advantage. There is no separation ofstate and religion, and clerics dominate all branches of government. The Government represses any movement seeking to separate stateand religion, or to alter the State's existing theocratic foundation. The selection of candidates for elections is effectively controlledby the ruling clerics.
The Constitution provides for a Council of Guardians composedof six Islamic clergymen and six lay members who review all lawsfor consistency with Islamic law and the Constitution. The Councilalso screens political candidates for ideological and religioussuitability. It accepts only candidates who support a theocraticstate, but clerics who disagree with government policies alsohave 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 SupremeLeader. The decisions of the Majles are reviewed by the Councilof Guardians, which must approve legislation before it entersinto force. Vigorous parliamentary debates take place on variousissues. Most deputies are associated with powerful politicaland religious officials, but often vote independently and shiftfrom one faction to another.
A new president was elected in May. The Interior ministryestimated that over 90 percent of the eligible population votedin the May presidential election. During the campaign, therewas considerable government intervention and censorship. TheCouncil of Guardians reviewed 238 candidates, including a women,but only allowed 4 individuals to run. Three were clerics; allwere men. Seyyed Mohammad Khatami garnered nearly 70% of thevote, his greatest support coming from the middle class, youth,minorities, and women.
The election results were particularly notable because Khatamiwas not the regime's preferred candidate. In a break with precedent,Supreme Leader Khamenei let it be known that he preferred MajlesSpeaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri. Prayer leaders also supported Nateq-Nuriin their sermons. The regime attempted to censor public debateby restricting the campaign coverage of some technocratic andmodern left publications, particularly the pro-Khatami daily,Salam. As the election neared, Khatami was evicted from his campaignheadquarters. Despite the regime's clear preference for Nateq-Nuri,the election results were not disputed, and the regime does notappear to have engaged in election fraud--possibly due to Khatami'searly and overwhelming lead. The results appear to indicate thatcitizens demanded change within the limits allowed by governmentcontrol of the electoral process.
The Government continued in early 1997 to nullify electionresults from the spring 1996 Majles elections in several districts,including Malayer, Astara, and Esfahan. Women are underrepresentedin government. They hold only 13 of 270 Majles seats, and thereare no female cabinet members. President Khatami appointed thefirst female vice president since the 1979 Islamic Revolution,Masoumeh Ebtekar, following his in auguration. Minister of Cultureand Islamic Guidance Ata'ollah Mohajerani appointed a second womanto a senior post, Azam Nouri, when he chose her in August as hisdeputy. A woman was also appointed as a district mayor of Tehran.
Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians elect deputies to reserveddMajles seats.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding Internationaland Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of HumanRights
The Government continued to repress local human rightsgroups. In 1996 the Government established a human rights committeein the Majles and a human rights commission in the judiciary,but observers believe that they lack independence. The ICRC andthe UNHCR both operate in Iran.
In 1997 the Government did not allow U.N. Special Representativefor Human Rights in Iran, Mr. Copithorne, to visit the country,and complained that his annual report to the U.N. Human RightsCommission was biased. Iran denies the universality of humanrights and has stated that separate "Islamic" standardsof human rights should apply to Islamic countries.
In April a Foreign Ministry spokesman complained that Copithornehad exploited the goodwill of the Government and published liesand rumors in his reports. The spokesman also claimed that theissue of human rights was being used as a political tool and wasmanipulated by Zionist and foreign interests. Although the SpecialRepresentative reported that the Government was generally cooperativeduring his February 1996 visit, following the release of his findingshe was refused permission to go back to Iran in late 1996 andearly 1997 to gather fresh material for an updated review. Inhis October report, Copithorne stated that he was disappointedby the difficulty in getting information from the Government onspecific cases.
A newspaper close to the regime advised that allowing membersof the UNHRC to visit Iran would "in fact enable them toabuse 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 onthe basis of race, disability, language, or social status. TheGovernment does discriminate on the basis of religion and sex.
Although domestic violence is known to occur, little is knownabout its extent. Abuse in the family is considered a privatematter and seldom discussed publicly. There are no official statisticson the subject.
Discrimination against women has increased since the revolution. In general women suffer discrimination in the legal code, particularlyin family and property matters. It is difficult for many women,particularly those residing outside large cities, to obtain anylegal redress. Under the legal system, a woman's testimony asa 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. Illiteracyand lack of university degrees also affect their standing. Theenforcement of conservative Islamic dress codes has varied considerablysince the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. Such dress codespersist, although reports from human rights organizations andindividual citizens indicate that enforcement varies with thepolitical climate and the location. Women are often subject toharassment by the Ansar-e Hezbollah or the authorities if theirdress or behavior is considered inappropriate.
Under legislation passed in 1983, women have the right todivorce, and regulations promulgated in 1984 substantially broadenedthe grounds on which a woman may seek a divorce. However, a husbandis not required to cite a reason for divorcing his wife. In 1986the Majles passed a 12-article law on marriage and divorce thatlimited the privileges accorded to men by custom and traditionalinterpretations of Islamic law. The 1986 law also recognizeddivorced women's rights to a share of the property that couplesacquire during their marriage and increased alimony rights.
Although the Government permitted women to attain the rankof judge in 1995 for the first time since the 1979 revolution,until May they were not allowed to issue judicial verdicts. Theymay 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 ofchild abuse.
People With Disabilities
There is no available information regarding whether the Governmenthas legislated or otherwise mandated accessibility for the disabled. However, the Cable News Network reported in 1996 on the harshconditions in an institution for retarded children who had beenabandoned by their parents. The film showed children tied orchained to their beds, in filthy conditions, without appropriatecare. It is not known to what extent this represents the typicaltreatment of the disabled in Iran.
The Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Baha'i minoritiessuffer varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination,particularly in the areas of employment, education, and publicaccommodations (see Section 2.d.). Muslims who convert to Christianityalso suffer discrimination.
University applicants are required to pass an examinationin Islamic theology. Although public-school students receiveinstruction in Islam, this requirement limits the access of mostreligious minorities to higher education. Applicants for public-sectoremployment 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 incurringheavier punishments than Muslims. Sunni Muslims encounter religiousdiscrimination at the local level.
In 1993 the U.N. Special Representative reported the existenceof a government policy directive on the Baha'is. According tothe directive, the Supreme Revolutionary Council instructed governmentagencies to block the progress and development of the Baha'i community,expel Baha'i students from universities, cut the Baha'is' linkswith groups outside Iran, restrict the employment of Baha'is,and deny Baha'is "positions of influence," includingthose in education. The Government claims that the directiveis a forgery. However, it appears to be an accurate reflectionof current government practice.
Property belonging to the Baha'i community as a whole, suchas places of worship, remains confiscated. Other government restrictionshave been eased, so that Baha'is may currently obtain food rationbooklets and send their children to public schools. However,the prohibition against the admission of Baha'is to universitiesappears to be enforced. Thousands of Baha'is dismissed from governmentjobs in the early 1980's receive no unemployment benefits andhave been required to repay the Government for salaries or pensionsreceived from the first day of employment. Those unable to doso face prison sentences (see Sections 1.d. and 2.c.).
The Kurds seek greater autonomy and continue to suffer fromgovernment discrimination.
In February the Special Representative contacted the Governmenton two occasions regarding questionable detentions of personsreported to be sympathetic to Azeri nationalism.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Although the Labor Code grants workers the right to establishunions, there are no independent unions. A national organizationknown as the Worker's House, founded in 1982, is the sole authorizednational labor organization. It serves primarily as a conduitfor the Government to exert control over workers. The leadershipof the Worker's House coordinates activities with Islamic laborcouncils, which are organized in many enterprises. These councilsalso function as instruments of government control, although theyhave 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 atodds with its economic and labor policies. In 1993 the Parliamentpassed a law that prohibits strikes by government workers. Italso prohibits government workers from having contacts with foreignersand stipulates penalties for failure to observe Islamic dresscodes and principles at work.
In February oil refinery workers in Tehran went on striketo protest pay and working conditions. There were several reportsof 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 andnegotiate collective bargaining agreements. No information isavailable on mechanisms used to set wages.
It is not known whether labor legislation and practice inthe export processing zones differ from the law and practice inthe rest of the country.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Penal Code provides that the Government may require anyperson who does not have work to take suitable employment. Thisprovision has been criticized frequently by the InternationalLabor Organization (ILO) as contravening ILO Convention 29 onforced labor. There is no information available on the Government'spolicy on forced and bonded labor by children.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Agefor Employment
The labor law prohibits employment of minors under 15 yearsof age and places special restrictions on the employment of minorsunder age 18. Education is compulsory until age 11. The lawpermits children to work in agriculture, domestic service, andsome small businesses. By law women and minors may not be employedin hard labor or, in general, in night work. Information on theextent to which these regulations are enforced is not available. There is no information available on the Government's policyon forced and bonded labor by children.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Code empowers the Supreme Labor Council to establishannual minimum wage levels for each industrial sector and region. It is not known if the minimum wages are adjusted annually orenforced. The Labor Code stipulates that the minimum wage shouldbe sufficient to meet the living expenses of a family and shouldtake inflation into account. Under current poor economic conditions,many middle-class citizens must work two or even three jobs tosupport their families. The daily minimum wage was raised inMarch to $2.80 (8,500 rials). It is unlikely that minimum wagelaws alone can ensure a decent standard of living for a workerand family. Information on the share of the working populationcovered by minimum wage legislation is not available.
According to press reports, the Ministry of Labor in December1996 announced that employers had 1 month in which to fire foreignworkers and replace them with Iranians. It is believed that approximately1 million foreign workers, mostly Afghan refugees, would havebeen affected. The Government apparently hoped to alleviate highunemployment by pressuring foreigners to leave. However, repatriationnumbers 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 daysof paid annual leave and several paid public holidays.
According to the Labor Code, a Supreme Safety Council, chairedby the Labor Minister or his representative, is responsible forpromoting workplace safety and health. The Council reportedlyhas issued 28 safety directives, and oversees the activities of3,000 safety committees established in enterprises employing morethan 10 persons. It is not known how well the Ministry's inspectorsenforce regulations. It is not known whether workers can removethemselves from hazardous situations without risking the lossof employment.
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