Recent Iranian Court Rulings Are a Parade of Horribles

A man state-run newspapers identify only as Hamed will have his eyes gouged out at the order of an Iranian court.  Iran has accepted UN recommendations against such human rights abuses, but the UN says Iran resists implementing them.Hamed, at the age of 23, was at his home around midnight when his mother called him.  She told him his father had gotten into a car accident.  Hamed rushed to the scene to help, but when he arrived he got into a brawl with another man.  During the course of the fistfight, the other man suffered injuries to his eyes that damaged his sight.   According to the Iranian legal principle of qesas, “retribution in kind,” the court ordered Hamed’s eyes to be gouged out by an Iranian surgeon.This is only one case of many whose sentences should give the international community pause as it considers the question of whether or not to pursue a deal that will give Iran access to advanced nuclear technologies in return for a pledge not to pursue weapons.  In another, two prisoners were sentenced to the amputation of one leg and one hand each.  This sentence was for theft, as was the sentence recently carried out in which the Iranian surgeons cut off the hands of “two young prisoners.”

Mohammed-Javad Larijani, chief of Iran’s Human Rights Council, described these cases of qesas as “beautiful and necessary things,” because the act of vengeance reinforces the rules of society, and civil society benefits from having firm rules.   For that reason, he said, “The executioner or the person administering the sentence is in fact very much a defender of human rights.”

This same principle was advocated by a highly ranked Iranian cleric, Ghulam-Ali Naeem, during his visit to Mashhad where two prisoners had recently had their fingers amputated.  “If the hands of a few of those who commit theft in society are cut off,” he said, “they would serve as examples for others and security will be restored.”

The international community does not agree, and the parallels with the proposed nuclear deal are striking.  The United Nations considered the practice of Iranian amputations, execution by stoning and hanging, and similar practices last year.  Iran presented a defense of the practices before the United Nations committee that was considering the question.  The committee adopted the resolution in spite of the defenses, noting “with concern the Iranian government’s lack of cooperation with UN mechanisms, including its poor implementation of the recommendations it accepted” during earlier reviews.

United Nations Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed, the top official at the United Nations for Iran’s human rights issue, expressed hope that the conclusion of the nuclear talks would create a window for focusing on Iran’s human rights record instead.  He pointed out that Iranian president Hassan Rouhani had run on a campaign promise that included an increased focus on human rights.  However, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already rejected such a shift in emphasis.  In a speech last year, he said that the nuclear issue had been used by Iran’s enemies to bully the regime, and predicted that once the nuclear issue was resolved the human rights issue would become the new focus of what he views as illegitimate foreign pressure.

Not only has Iran not shown openness to implementing the UN resolutions even where it had accepted their recommendations, but the deal itself has become a new focus for human rights violations.  Iran’s Press Oversight Committee has banned a newspaper and issued warnings to several others because they have publicly opposed the deal.  This was not the first time a newspaper has been banned during Rouhani’s time in office.  One, the independent centrist daily Aseman, was shut down for describing the “qesas” principle as “inhumane.”  On both the deal and human rights, public opposition to the regime is punished.