Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Verdicts through history

Posted by IHRV On February - 4 - 2013

This is Shiraz, one of the oldest cities in Iran. It is a city near the palaces of the oldest Iranian royal dynasty, the Achaemenids. Takhte Jamshid (Jamshid’s Throne) is known by foreigners as the Persepolis. It is well known that Cyrus, the Achaemenian King, wrote the first Human Rights Declaration in history and held a fair view of the residents in the regions under his rule. But today, people have gathered around a city square to watch a strange scene. An odd machine has been set up in the centre of the square and a number of men, wearing black ski masks, are standing in the middle. A while later, a blindfolded man in green is brought in. After a number of verses from the Koran are recited, a clergy man announces that the hands of the man in green must be amputated, the punishment for theft. Two of the men in black ski masks bring the man in green to the machine. Now, people understand this machine is used to amputate hands. They put his right hand in the machine and with a push; four of his fingers are cut off. One of the headsmen, looking through the holes of his ski mask, makes sure the fingers have been correctly amputated. The clergy man has a smile on his face because he has carried out the order of god. People scatter to go on with their lives. The man in green is taken to Shiraz prison to serve out the rest of his sentence which is three years of imprisonment.
Implementing Islamic Hudud – the punishments for a class of crimes under Shari’a law
Since the beginning of the Islamic Republic regime, one of the goals of this government has always been “Islamic Hudud.” This includes punishments such as lashes for drinking alcohol, stoning for extra-marital sex, hand amputation for theft and the execution of some political dissidents. Those Islamic Republic officials who have a reliable standing with Shiite clergy, carry out these punishments based on Shari’a law. Critics of the government, both inside and outside the country, have protested these punishments since day one. The Iranian government went through various phases of leniency. Sometimes convicts have just been imprisoned due to international implications and pressures while other times the government has been stricter and implemented amputations.
However in recent years, the government has insisted on an “iron fist” policy. Radio Zamaneh described numerous instances in the past few months which were reported on by domestic news outlets. For example in November, two thieves had four fingers amputated each in public in Yazd under the order of the Judiciary of Yazd province. In the same month, Sadegh Abuhalal, the public and revolutionary prosecutor in Dezful, stated that the sentence of finger amputation for one thief in this city would be carried out in public very soon. In September last year, two men, aged 27 and 29 years old, were also sentenced to death and the amputation of their left legs and hands. They had been convicted of murder and the armed robbery of a number of gold shops. In September 2011, the hands of four men convicted of theft were amputated in Isfahan. A month later, in Adelabad prison in Shiraz, two thieves had their feet and hands amputated. (1) Lastly, the public and revolutionary prosecutor in Sari announced that the hand of a man had been amputated in the prison of this city.
Review of the positions and reactions
Iranian judicial officials wholeheartedly defend these sentences. Both and ISNA news agency reported that in reaction to the amputation in Shiraz, the Shiraz public and revolutionary prosecutor stated, “The judiciary has announced time and again that its agenda will be strict and unforgiving. Whenever criminals violate laws and threaten the security of society and public peace, the judiciary will show the strictest reactions.” Ali Alghasi told reporters that, “Carrying out this sentence, is a serious warning to all those who cause social insecurity through theft.” This judicial official continued, “Following the guidelines of the honorable head of the judiciary, and his emphasis on dealing with muggers and those who disturb social order, you will soon see the strict actions of the judiciary in Fars province against these people.” (2) Also in similar comments, the prosecutor in Sari said, “Carrying out sentences like these has a serious and firm message for professional thieves, people with criminal backgrounds and the people who steal and violate other people’s property.” He further added, “Let those people know that the judicial system will seriously clamp down on professional thieves with criminal backgrounds, gangsters, muggers, armed robbers and drug related criminals and will issue and carry out criminal sentences.” (3)
The implementation of these sentences has triggered different reactions among critics. Many users of social media such as Facebook have voiced a very critical view of these sentences. They believe that although theft is a crime and the criminal needs to be punished, hand amputation is not humane. For example, one Facebook user writes, “While other countries in the world are trying to find ways to reattach the cut off hand to the body, in our country they are looking for a way to cut the hand off.” Others believe that carrying out these sentences in public, expands violence to different layers of society. In some cases, minors have been seen around the scene of the punishment, and these scenes undoubtedly have negative effects on their minds.
Also the organization Global Tolerance released a statement and protested the implementation of this sentence. The statement partly reads, “Before the tenure of Mr. Larijani, the head of the Iranian judiciary, the amputation of hands and feet was rare, and if there were any, there weren’t more than four or five. After his designation and even in recent years, public amputation has been unprecedented. Public amputation illustrates the depth of the catastrophe and it is alarming for all Iranians. The head of the judiciary had previously said that carrying out Hudud in public is used as a tool for the edification of law breakers. However many experts, including pathologists and judges, believe that the way to prevent crime is not heavy and violent penalties.” (4) Iranian attorney Mohammad Mostafaei expresses his doubts about the deterring effect of these punishments and says, “It is a basic point in pathology that the punishment must be proportional to the crime. The punishment should be carried out with authority, but not violent punishments and not punishments that turn violence into culture. If you look at the statistics in recent years, you can see that these kinds of sentences have not reduced the number of crimes but these kinds of crimes have increased! You could say that in the short term, these penalties can be used as painkillers, but in the long term, they certainly won’t work as a cure.” (5)
Laws contradicting the Human Rights
These punishments were included in the penal code of the Islamic Republic because of references to Shari’a law. Article 201 of the Islamic Penal Code states that the punishment for the first offense for theft is the amputation of the four fingers on the thief’s right hand. In the second offense it is the amputation of the left foot and for the third offense the punishment is life imprisonment. The repetition of the crime for the fourth time is punishable by death. In reality Iranian laws suggest a strict penal interpretation of all the legal issues. They believe that through decisive punishment, fairness can be implemented and a good foundation for the prevention of crimes can be developed. However, many scholars do not believe that penal justice is successful and suggest a healing justice. Based on the latter; the focus falls more on the roots of the crime and its social foundations. According to this viewpoint, a person who has committed a crime is considered a part of human society and the effects of an unorganized economic and cultural issue in the formation of their character needs to be studied. In fact, steps need to be taken to return a person to a normal life path. Hand amputation of criminals will stop them from economical activities in the future and the person, frustrated with society, will seek revenge.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is trying to expand views such as this to issues of crime and social problems; a view in which the “inherent dignity and munificence of all the members of the human family” is recognized. According to the Article Five of this declaration, “inhumane, cruel and degrading punishments or treatments” are prohibited. With all this, the government of Iran insists on issuing sentences of hand amputation. Governments and international organizations concerned with human rights need to voice their opposition to these types of punishments and demand their immediate cessation.

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