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Condemned by Law: Assassination of Political Dissidents Abroad

the accused was not in custody or had fled the country, summary trials and death sentences were carried out in abstentia.127

In addition to death sentences handed down by ad hoc courts, state-sanctioned killings were also endorsed by the judiciary’s ratification of fatwas. Over the past twenty-nine years, the regime has often relied on fatwas in connection with the execution or assassination of alleged “criminals” or enemies of Islam.128 These decrees are usually issued by the Supreme Leader, or other high ranking members of the clergy who are often not members of the country’s civil court system.129 Fatwas are self-executing – they compel official members of the judiciary and law enforcement (i.e. prosecutors) to issue legal decrees carrying out the death sentence, even if the “offender” resides outside the jurisdiction of the Islamic Republic.130 As such, they are rarely, if ever, issued pursuant to the commission of an actual trial in abstentia conducted by an independent and impartial judiciary. Statements made by Ayatollah Khalkhali, the religious magistrate who accepted personal responsibility for the assassination of Shahriar Shafiq and sanctioned the killings of high ranking members of the former regime such as General Oveisi, reveal the degree to which Iran’s judiciary essentially acted as a rubber stamp for fatwas issued by the Supreme Leader.131 Other examples include the decree to assassinate Manouchehr Ganji,132 issued by the Prosecutor General of the Islamic Republic pursuant to a fatwa handed out by a high ranking cleric.133

The regime’s practice of issuing fatwas (and accompanying assassination decrees) violates all of the “fair hearing” principles articulated in both the Covenant and the Constitution of the Islamic Republic. Notably, fatwas violate international standards regarding the competence, independence, and impartiality of tribunals in so far as they are issued by individuals who do not meet objective criteria related to the appointment, selection and functioning of civil judges, and often serve executive or legislative functions not related to the administration of the country’s civil judicial system.134 Through the improper exercise of adjudicatory and enforcement jurisdiction, the regime seeks to do that which it either cannot do under proper legal channels or is prohibited from doing under international law.135 The practice of issuing fatwas clearly violates an individual’s right to a trial, even if such is conducted in abstentia.136

The judiciary’s heavy involvement in the regime’s state-sanctioned killings highlights the significant gap between the minimum fair hearing guarantees enshrined in Article 14 of the Covenant and the regime’s brand of justice. Specifically, an examination of the structure and function of the judiciary and its officials reveals a system that utterly fails to satisfy the competence, independence and impartiality provisions of the Covenant. It is not surprising, therefore, that over time the regime simply decided to abandon the charade of legitimizing its state-sanctioned policy of killing political dissidents through the judiciary, and instead resorted to a secret campaign of global assassinations orchestrated in large part by executive agencies such as the Ministry of Intelligence.

[127]See id., supra note 25, at Appendix 3.
[128]See id. at Appendix 4. An example is the 1980 fatwa issued by the Supreme Leader, Imam Khomeini for those involved in the conspiracy to overthrow the regime. See id.
[129]Fatwas may not be retracted or withdrawn by anyone other than the issuing cleric. See id.
[130]See id. at Appendix 5.
[131]See id. at 16, Appendix 3; see also id. at 31 (providing statements made by Hojjatolislam Mohsen Qara’ati in connection with Kazem Rajavi’s assassination).
[132]Ganji is an ex-minister under the Shah, and a leader of the monarchist Flag of Freedom Party. See id. at 37-39.
[133]See id. at Appendix 5.
[134]Moreover, these clerics are appointed by religious institutions using non-objective criteria. HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, World Report 2001, Iran: Human Rights Developments, available at www.hrw.org/wr2k1/mideast/iran.html (last visited Oct. 31, 2008).
[135]See id.
[136]See supra notes 112-14 and accompanying text.

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Political Killings, Assassinations, Political Freedom