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Violent Aftermath: The 2009 Election and Suppression of Dissent in Iran

The military court concluded its investigation on December 20 and published its findings:

Because three people from those arrested died (late Mohsen Ruholamini, Amir Javadifar and Mohammad Kamrani) and charges were made by their legal representatives, expansive research started on this case by interviewing those accused, witnesses and experts. Forensics was asked, based on the assessment of corpses, to declare its opinion on the definite cause of their death and also to get the opinion of the Forensics Experts Board. Forensics, in their opinion, rejected the idea that the above-mentioned people have died because of meningitis. Also, based on the beating marks on the corpses, they declared the reason for the deaths was physical abuse.[387]

The committee appointed by the Majlis to investigate Kahrizak released its report on January 10, 2010. It reported that, in an interview on July 28, Mortazavi claimed that, at the time, there were 390 detainees arrested at the demonstrations and 50 “non-field” detainees. He claimed that law enforcement had brought the arrestees to Kahrizak because there was no room at Evin Prison. However, the committee concluded that there was room at Evin and that Kahrizak was full before the arrestees arrived. It found that even if there was no room at Evin, housing the arrestees in the detention center was unacceptable. The committee also noted:

Kahrizak was an official detention center and all the judicial officials, from the highest level down, were aware of its existence and even visited it. Therefore, the warding off of responsibility done by some judicial officials in certain interviews is in no way acceptable and at present, more than any other body, the judiciary must be responsive to the weaknesses and shortcomings of this detention center.[388]

It found that the “existence of an issue such as meningitis was refuted” and that the three named detainees had died from “lack of space, weakness of health services, inappropriate nutrition, lack of air conditioner and … and as a result of beating and neglect of the officers and authorities of the detention center to their physical condition.”[389]

However, the committee placed the fundamental blame for Kahrizak on Mousavi and Karroubi:

If everyone had traveled their paths within the legal framework, and if the two presidential candidates did not attempt to break the law and incite the emotions of the people, we would not be observing such bitter events today that led to disrespect of the IRI regime and weakening of the precious opportunity of the presence of 40 million people at the ballot posts. They must, without a doubt, be accountable and the judicial system must not be dismissive of such criminal acts.[390]

3.2       Violations of Iranian and International Law

The Iranian authorities arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned demonstrators in violation of Iranian and international law. Demonstrators were imprisoned without charge and once imprisoned, were not afforded fundamental due process, including contact with their lawyers and families. Detainees were mistreated, denied medical care, beaten, raped, tortured, and killed. The regime’s failure to inform families of the whereabouts of their loved ones also constituted forced disappearances in violation of international law.

3.2.1       Arbitrary Arrests and Denial of Due Process Rights

Iran’s Constitution and laws[391] provide a significant range of due process protections to individuals who are arrested and detained, including the following: 

  • Prohibition against arbitrary arrests;[392]
  • Requirement that charges be promptly explained to the accused and provision for judicial oversight;[393]
  • Presumption of innocence;[394]
  • Requirement that families be informed as to the whereabouts and condition of detainees, and that they be afforded visits and communications, and time off in cases of family emergencies. [395]

Under Iran’s Criminal Code of Procedure (CCP), all preliminary investigations leading to temporary arrests and detentions of individuals suspected of committing national security crimes must be conducted pursuant to orders issued by trial judges and overseen by the Judiciary.[396] Such orders must conform to due process standards.[397] Pretrial arrest warrants are appealable and are only valid for a month unless extended by the issuing judge.[398] If the judge fails to issue a warrant, the suspect must be allowed to post bail.[399] Judicial officers and other governmental agents who illegally take people into custody or initiate criminal prosecutions are subject to punishment.[400]

International law also protects the due process rights of the accused. Article 9 of the ICCPR outlines Iran’s duty to provide due process before it limits, interferes with, or otherwise extinguishes an individual’s liberty. Article 9(2) requires government agents to promptly inform the accused of the reasons for his arrest at the time of arrest,[401] and Article 9(3) obligates the State to promptly bring the accused before a judge so that he shall be subject to trial within “a reasonable time.” Article 9(3) also provides that “it shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody.”[402]

Article 9(4) provides that anyone detained “shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court” in order to decide the “lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.”[403] Article 14(b) mandates that States provide “adequate time and facilities for the preparation of … defen[s]e and to communicate with counsel of [one’s] own choosing.”[404] In addition to these rights, the ICCPR guarantees the right to counsel (both at trial and at stages prior to trial) and doctor,[405] the right to humane treatment,[406] and the right to be presumed innocent.[407]

In the summer of 2009, the international community quickly realized that the vast majority of people arrested were deprived of contact with members of their family and were not being provided adequate access to legal counsel.[408] Just a week after the election, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, raised alarms about the lack of transparency:

The legal basis of the arrests that have been taking place, especially those of human rights defenders and political activists, is not clear … What are the grounds for the arrests? Have proper warrants been issued in accordance with Iranian law? Why have some of those who have been arrested been denied access to lawyers and members of their families? And why is the whereabouts of others unknown? These are all troubling questions, and I urge the Iranian authorities to ensure that due process is followed, since to do otherwise may fan the feelings of injustice.[409]

In violation of Iranian and international law, the authorities arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned demonstrators without charge. Most were not allowed contact with family or attorneys. Many were not allowed to post bail even after it was clear they were eligible. [410] 

3.2.2       Denial of Medical Care, Mistreatment, Torture, Forced Confessions and Death

The Islamic Republic’s denial of medical care to injured detainees, and mistreatment, torture and killing of detainees, particularly for the purposes of coercing confessions, violated Iranian and international law. Iranian law is replete with provisions outlawing these activities. The authorities are forbidden from degrading a detainee in any fashion during arrest, detention, imprisonment or banishment.[411] The Citizen’s Rights Law provides that, “[d]uring arrest and interrogation or asking for information or research, harassing the individuals like blindfolding, tying other body parts, belittling or denigrating them must be avoided.”[412] Detainees have the right to adequate medical care provided by the government.[413] Detainees may not be held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time; solitary confinement is limited to a maximum of 20 days.[414]

Ill treatment is forbidden under Article 169 of the State Prison Organization (SPO) Law, and Article 9 of the Citizen Rights Law reiterates the prohibition against forced confessions.

Torture, particularly for the purpose of coercing confessions, is prohibited under Iranian law. Article 38 of the Constitution provides that “[a]ll forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confession[s] or acquiring information” are prohibited, as is “compulsion of individuals to testify, confess, or take an oath.”[415] Under Article 578 of the Islamic Penal Code, an official who inflicts corporal harm and torment on an individual in custody is subject to Qisas (retribution) or the payment of blood money and a prison term ranging from six months to three years.[416] In addition, the article shifts responsibility for the harm to superior officers who order it, unless a detainee dies, in which case, both the security officer causing the harm and his superior officer giving the order are subject to homicide proceedings.[417]

Torture is absolutely prohibited under international law. This absolute prohibition is codified in the Convention Against Torture,[418] but is also found in other international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment or Prisoners.[419] Article 7 of the ICCPR states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”[420] Article 10 provides that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human persons.”[421]

Iran’s use of solitary confinement was highlighted as an issue of concern by the UN General Assembly[422] and by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention during its visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2003.[423] It was a key obstacle to identifying the legal basis of the arrest and detention of an individual.[424]

Victims of beatings, tear gas, rubber bullets and air guns, many of the demonstrators detained following the elections were in dire need of medical attention. While there are reports of some detainees being examined by medical professionals, guards refused to allow them to adequately treat the sometimes mortally wounded demonstrators.[425] Although the number of deaths due to lack of medical care remains unknown, it directly contributed to the deaths of at least three demonstrators imprisoned in Kahrizak.[426]  

The torture of detainees, including solitary confinement, denial of medical care, beatings and rape appear to have been commonplace.[427] Detainees were beaten and tortured as part of an interrogation process intended to extract confessions and intelligence.[428] These sessions were conducted by unknown interrogators wearing masks, using pseudonyms and/or while the detainees were blindfolded. One witness recounted being faced with the choice of continued beatings and rape by unseen assailants or agreeing to serve as an informant.[429]

Many spent their entire detention in solitary confinement, broken up only by lengthy interrogation sessions. For example, one witness relates:

During the whole of my detention, my only encounter with another person other than my interrogator was when one night, in one of the adjacent cells, a Kurdish man started singing in Kurdish and was dealt with violently. The sound of the stomping feet that stormed the cell, the beating of the guy and him getting dragged away is still in my ear.[430]

Cells failed to meet basic requirements including adequate space, basic bedding and sanitation.[431] Witnesses recount floors and walls of solitary cells covered in vomit, urine, blood and excrement.[432] In group holding cells in Kahrizak, many injured demonstrators were forced to defecate and urinate on the floor.[433]

Each instance of denial of medical care, torture, mistreatment, solitary confinement and death violated the victim’s rights under Iranian and international human rights law. Should the torture or killing of detainees be found to be widespread and systematic, and with the knowledge of the perpetrators,[434] these acts also constitute crimes against humanity.[435]

The perpetrators and their superiors are liable under Iranian law, particularly for murder of detainees in Kharizak. Those responsible include, but are not limited to, the heads of the military and paramilitary forces, including Hojjatoleslam Hossein Taeb, the head of the Basij until October 4, 2009,[436] Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the head of the Basij since October 4, 2009, Major General Mohammad-Ali Jafari who commands the IRGC, Police Chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, his deputy, Brigadier General Ahmad-Reza Radan and Saeed Mortazavi for their roles in establishing and managing Kahrizak.

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Sexual Violence, Death Penalty, Political Killings, Executions, Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Punishment, Personal Liberty, Arbitrary Detention, Travel Restrictions, Due Process, Right to an Attorney, Illegal Search and Seizure, Free Speech, Right to Protest, Protests, Political Freedom, Equality Before the Law, Discrimination, Reports