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Mockery of Justice: The Framing of Siamak Pourzand

10. Violations of National and International Law

One of the most striking aspects of Siamak Pourzand’s case is the degree to which the conservative clerical establishment was prepared to subvert the rule of law within Iran by ignoring Siamak Pourzand’s constitutional rights and the Islamic Republic’s own judicial rules, as well as international human rights law.

10.1. Violations of Iranian Law

Siamak Pourzand’s method of arrest, detention, and trial violated aspects of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, as well as Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure. When Siamak Pourzand was arrested, he was not shown an arrest warrant. He was abducted outside his sister’s house by plainclothesmen who did not publicly identify themselves. Such an act is prohibited by Article 32 of the Iranian Constitution,[247] and Articles 112[248]  and 119[249] of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure. Article 121 of the Code of Criminal Procedure also requires such arrests to be carried out during the daylight hours, and Mr. Pourzand was detained at night.[250]

Siamak Pourzand was not informed of the charges against him and was not handed over to the relevant court within 24 hours as prescribed by Article 123 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure.[251] He was also denied legal representations of his choice, a right granted to every Iranian citizen by Article 35 of Iranian Constitution[252] and Article 185 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.[253] 

Siamak Pourzand was eventually tried primarily for offenses relating to his journalistic activities. Article 168[254] of the Iranian Constitution prescribes that press offenses shall be tried in public and in the presence of a jury. Siamak Pourzand’s case was not heard by a jury. 

Article 38[255] of the Iranian Constitution prohibits all forms of mistreatment and torture carried out for the purposes of extracting a confession. The Constitution invalidates testimony obtained by compulsion or duress, and it prescribes a penalty for those violating this law. No disciplinary action has been taken against those who coerced Siamak Pourzand’s confession, and his forced testimony was admitted as evidence at his trial. 

Siamak Pourzand’s trial did not meet the due process requirements of Iranian law in another important respect. Article 55 of the Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure states: “If a person has committed multiple crimes that fall under the concurrent jurisdiction of the public courts, revolutionary courts, and military courts, he or she should be tried first for the more serious crime in a court that has jurisdiction over that crime and then he or she should be handed over to the court that has jurisdiction over the lesser charge. Furthermore, if the crimes carry equal punishments, the accused would be tried by relevant courts in order of offenses committed.”[256]  Judge Zafarqandi charged Siamak Pourzand with lesser offenses while keeping two more serious charges – Maharib (at war with God) and Murtad (apostate) – suspended over him. This implicit threat appears designed to compel Siamak Pourzand’s continued cooperation.

Finally, Siamak Pourzand was also held in an unknown location for an extended period of time before he was brought to trial. Article 33 of the Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure requires a court order authorizing a suspect’s pre-trial detention beyond one month.[257]  Siamak Pourzand was held for four months prior to trial without the required court authorization.

10.2. Violations of International Human Rights Law

The Pourzand case reveals a profound disregard for international due process norms and human rights law on the part of the conservative clerical establishment in Iran. Siamak Pourzand was subjected to arbitrary detention in contravention of Article 9 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Specifically, Siamak Pourzand was not informed of the reasons for his arrest and was not promptly, or indeed accurately, informed of the charges against him, a direct contravention of Article 9(2).

Article 10 of the ICCPR requires states to treat persons in detention with humanity and dignity. The ill treatment described by Witness A to which Siamak Pourzand was subjected by his jailers prior to his trial was a clear violation of Articles 10(1) and 10(2)(a). Furthermore, the use of stress positions as a coercive tool in particular has been widely condemned as a breach of human rights. Article 7 of the ICCPR prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture (CAT) defines ‘torture’ as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on an individual for the purposes of inter alia, gaining a confession. Although Iran is not a signatory to the CAT, freedom from torture is an absolute right in customary international law and is not subject to derogation in any circumstances.

Incommunicado detention – in which one is denied access to family, friends and others – has also been identified by the UN Human Rights Committee, the international body of experts that monitors the application of the ICCPR, as a potential breach of both Article 7 and Article 10 of the Covenant. The shortest period of incommunicado detention found to be in breach of Article 10(1) by the Human Rights Committee was just fifteen days.[258] Seven weeks passed before any member of Siamak Pourzand’s family was allowed to see him, and even then they were not told where he was being held. The Committee has also found that instances of forced disappearance that last for eight months or more pass the threshold for “cruel and inhuman treatment” established under Article 7.[259] Siamak Pourzand was held in detention facilities operated by the so-called ‘parallel institutions’ outside the official state prison system for 12 months after his arrest.

Siamak Pourzand was denied a fair trial as defined by Article 14 of the ICCPR. He was not brought to trial without “undue delay,” a violation of Article 14(3)(c). The manner in which the charges brought against him kept changing made it impossible for him to fully understand the “nature and cause” of charges he faced, a violation of Article 14(3)(a).   He was refused access to a legal representative of his own choosing, a violation of Article 14(3)(d). He was not given the opportunity to examine, or have examined, the witnesses against him, a violation of Article 14(3)(e). Most serious of all, he was forced to confess to crimes he had not committed in highly coercive circumstances, a violation of Article 14(3)(g).

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Siamak Pourzand was prosecuted because of his convictions, and the expression of his opinion highlights an additional violation of Article 19 of the ICCPR – his right to freedom of expression.

In December 2006, the United Nations General Assembly formally adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Article 2 of the Convention defines enforced disappearance as the “arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State… followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”[260] The treatment suffered by Siamak Pourzand meets the criteria for enforced disappearance established by the Convention.

Finally, Siamak Pourzand was denied any medical attention for an extended period, and he suffered a heart attack while he was in prison. The denial of medical attention is a violation of Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Iran is also a State Party.

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