The Islamic Republic on Trial: Guardianship of Unjust Jurist
The disputed presidential election and its violent aftermath have led members of the Iranian religious establishment to question the moral, legal and religious foundations of the Islamic Republic. Prior to the election, Shi’a clerics mostly debated the relative balance of the Republic’s Islamic and democratic aspects. Now debate has shifted to the fundamental nature, pillars and theoretical justifications for the regime itself – centered on the Shi’a concept of the guardianship of the jurist (velāyat-e faqih).
The guardianship of the jurist did not appear in the original draft of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s constitution, which prescribed virtually no role or authorities for clerics. In 1979, the Assembly of Experts for Constitution, dominated by religious elite and convened to review the constitutional draft, added the Shi’a principle of an Islamic jurist providing guardianship of the people. Almost a decade later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini imbued the jurist – or Leader – with absolute power, arguing that the jurist can discard the basic decrees of Islam to protect the Islamic regime. Since then, the dominance of the jurist, in the position of the Leader, has evolved such that coercive power has become more important than social or religious authority. The Leader now holds the power to abrogate laws as well as ordinances of shari`a.
In the wake of the June elections, Iranian clerics are now debating the source of the Leader’s legitimacy: does it come from God or from the people? Is his position a shari’ chiefship (qaimumat) or shari’ deputation? The clerical opposition advocates deputation, in which the guardian jurist monitors state affairs and gives counsel to authorities. The religious establishment sides with chiefship, allowing the Leader to interfere in legislative, executive and judicial affairs whenever he deems appropriate. Based on deputation, the jurist should consult with the reference groups and political elite, consider public opinion and work within the legal framework. Under a chiefship, he is above the law and unaccountable to the people.
Guardianship of Unjust Ruler
In the 1970s and 1980s, Shi`a clerics understood democracy as the people’s power to select a leader and put him into office. Now opposition clerics are looking at the flip side of the coin – how to change the leadership, without resorting to revolution, through the power to disqualify and remove a leader from office. Though the Iranian constitution, in Articles 109 and 111, provides criteria and the process for the dismissal of the Leader, in practice his removal is virtually impossible within the framework of Iran’s power relationships. The Assembly of Experts, which on paper has the authority to supervise the Leader, is formed by direct election from a closed list of candidates vetted by the Guardian Council. The Leader directly or indirectly appoints the members of the Guardian Council, giving him significant influence over the selection of his own oversight body. Any member of the Assembly of Experts who dares criticize the Leader is likely to be disqualified from running in the next election, providing a strong disincentive for members to hold the Leader accountable.
However, taboos against criticizing the Leader are breaking down among the broader elite. In an unprecedented July 10th posting on his website, Husein Ali Montazeri, a senior Islamic scholar and grand marja (source of emulation), pointed to three characteristics of unjust rule (velayat-e jowr) based on Islamic shari`a: intentional opposition to shari`a ordinances, breaking benchmarks of wisdom and norms and violating national contracts. According to Montazeri, religious experts, political elite, legal experts and the population at large all have the authority to evaluate – and hold accountable – the Leader against these criteria. And increasingly political and religious leaders are demanding that Leader Ali Khamenei answer for the regime’s actions during and after the elections. Shi’a clerics in an anonymous letter on Aug. 15 called for his removal, labeling him a dictator, while a group of former parliamentarians and political science students called upon the Assembly of Experts to investigate Khamenei’s actions and qualifications in line with the constitution. For many Iranians – including protesters who shout “death to the dictator” – the position of Leader is no longer sacrosanct.
Public and clerical outrage has been fueled by reports of brutality at the Kahrizak detention facility where hundreds of protestors and activists were held. Families of the detained, held incommunicado for weeks, have been returned the bodies of their loved ones with crushed teeth, fractured skulls and bruises. Reports have also surfaced that some detainees, male and female, have been savagely raped. Other detainees have apparently been coerced into making televised confessions through torture and solitary confinement. High-ranking clerics, including Montazeri, Yusof Sane`i, Asadullah Bayat and Mostafa Mohaqqeq Damad, have issued letters, statements and fatwas condemning the brutality and forced confessions. Their basic demand is that detainees should have the same access to due process in Iranian courts as afforded in liberal democracies.
Hardliners, however, are making the argument that Iranians arrested in the post-election unrest have no right to due process as characterized by opposition clerics. Their rationale is based on four premises: 1) non-believers are not equal to believers and do not benefit from the same set of rights; 2) people who do not follow the decrees of the guardian jurist are not true believers; 3) the protesters, in line with Khamenei’s June 19 Friday prayer sermon, are responsible for all illegal actions and killings; and 4) the guardian jurist is allowed to suspend laws when the regime is at risk. Therefore, their argument proceeds, the guardian jurist not only is not violating his mandate, but he actually has a shari’a obligation to defend the regime against these protestors by any means, including denying their access to due process.
Denial of due process, the raising of the guardian jurist above the law and his diminishing need for popular authority have brought Shi`a clerics to a crossroads where they seem forced to decide whether to side with a chiefship – supported by the armed forces and above the legal code – and work as ideological agents of the current regime or to side with the people and hold the jurist accountable to the legal code and shari’a ordinances. Which path clerics ultimately choose will shape the future of Islam in the Iranian public sphere. For the time being, the Islamic Republic is on trial in the people’s court and the clerical opposition is making the case against the establishment.
Majid Mohammadi is a visiting scholar at Stony Brook Institute for Global Studies and is the author of more than two dozen books on Iran.
Published on September 1, 2009
Voices from Iran
Iran’s Assemblies Fail the Iranian People
In the wake of post-election turmoil in Iran, Tehran is in the grips of a fever that only worsens as reports increase of torture and abuse of detained activists. The regime has taken measures to contain the crisis, but each action has only fanned the flames. As Iranians at home and abroad protest the regime’s actions, the parliament and the Assembly of Experts – popularly elected bodies – could have aligned themselves with the people, but have chosen instead to pay heed to their regime constituencies, losing the opportunity to write a new page in Iran’s history.
The Majlis, Iran’s parliament, has the constitutionally guaranteed right under article 76 to question and investigate “all the affairs of the country.” However, in an election where three candidates questioned the validity of the election results, repeatedly asked the Guardian Council to conduct a comprehensive recount and/or demanded a new election, none of the members of parliament have officially questioned the disputed results or called for an investigation into allegations of fraud.
Members of the Majlis, as part of their investigative authorities, have the right to interpolate ministers and submit questions to the president, as specified in articles 88 and 89 of the constitution. Yet, at a time when the whole world, not to mention the Iranian nation, is questioning the legitimacy of Iran’s election, the Majlis has been unable to think of a single question to pose to the president or his ministers. Out of 290 members, only 10 are needed to initiate the interpolation of a minister. The post-election violence, massive arrests, reports of prisoner abuse and mass trials – reminiscent of Stalinist Russia – have thus far failed to build even this smallest of constituencies in the parliament. De facto martial law has been implemented through nightly curfews, restrictions on travel and the pervasive presence of security forces, yet the parliament has not stood up to demand that the government account for these repressive measures as required in article 79 of the constitution.
The Majlis has a duty – and the constitutional authority – to investigate, hold the government accountable and respond to public concerns. Yet the members of parliament have not had the courage to stand up as the spring of elections has turned into a bloody fall. Even those who visited detention facilities in response to allegations of prisoner mistreatment failed the Iranian people by not publishing the results of their investigation and denying any signs of abuse, in clear contravention of well documented evidence.
Similarly, the Assembly of Experts is constitutionally mandated in article 111 to supervise and hold accountable the Supreme Leader for “fulfilling his constitutional duties.” However, the Assembly seems to have found nothing extraordinary in the election or post-election that would indicate the need for a meeting regarding the performance of the Supreme Leader. While one of the Experts, Ayatollah Ali Mohammad Dastgheyb, called for an immediate meeting of the Assembly in an article on his website entitled “Legitimacy and Acceptability in Islam,” several of his colleagues have been warned against action by members of the clergy in Qom.
Why have these two assemblies, the Majlis and the Assembly of the Experts, failed the Iranian people? If their members are truly elected by the people, these bodies should respond to public concerns, utilizing every legal tool at their disposal. But while the members of the Majlis and the Assembly of Experts are chosen by the electorate, the candidates for which Iranians can vote are determined by the Guardian Council – whose members are directly or indirectly appointed by the Supreme Leader. The members of any assembly respond to the constituency that put them into office. For the Majlis and the Assembly of Experts, their constituency, first, is the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader, and the people second.
Maybe if Iranians’ representatives were truly directly elected – unafraid of disqualification by the Guardian Council in the next election – then Iran would have a defiant Majlis that stood for the people and maybe the Assembly of Experts would issue a cry of protest for the nation rather than dead silence in protection of the regime.
Alinejad is a columnist for the Iranian newspaper Etemad-e Melli. A professional journalist since 2000, she served as editor of the parliamentary desk for the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) and writes articles and reports on domestic politics. Alinejad is the winner of the first annual ‘Omid Journalism Award’ from the Mehdi Semsar Foundation and is also a prominent women’s rights activist.
Published on September 1, 2009
Seen & Heard: Analysis of Recent Media Coverage in Iran
Seen and Heard: September 1
Published on September 1, 2009
“Why haven't the leaders of riots and those who everyone knows touched off the plots been arrested?”
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, in a sermon during Friday prayers
In August, Iran began mass trials of protestors and reform activists arrested in the wake of the June presidential election. Thus far approximately 150 people have been tried in what many are calling judicial theater. Those on trial are accused of vandalizing and destroying public property, creating public panic, and attacking military and security forces.
Among the defendants are many prominent reformists, including Saeed Hajjarian a senior aide to former president Mohammad Khatami and member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, from which he resigned during court proceedings after confessing to fomenting unrest. Hajjarian, who was severely disabled after an assassination attempt in 2000, has been in worsening health since his detention. His confession has been presumed to be coerced, as have most of the confessions given by those on trial. It is unclear what penalties will be handed down for those convicted.
While leading reformists and former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi remain free, the head of the Guardian Council Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, among others in the governing regime, have called for their prosecution.
Mousavi’s brother-in-law Shapour Kazemi has been held for over two months without charge or access to legal counsel. Kazemi’s family claims that he had no political involvement in Mousavi’s campaign. Speculation is that he is being held to put pressure on Mousavi.
“Raping of some detainees … has been proven to us.”
- unidentified member of parliament quoted on the Parlemannews website
“Claims of sexual abuse of detained protestors are sheer lies.”
- Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani as quoted by the Iranian run English-language PressTV on August 12
Despite claims by the government and hardliners that allegations of abuse are baseless, more reports of prison rape surfaced in the last few weeks. Mehdi Karroubi, joined by Mir- Hossein Mousavi, has taken the lead in decrying sexual violence against prisoners and has published prisoners’ accounts of abuse. The government closed Karroubi’s newspaper Etemad-e Melli in response to stories on the rape allegations.
Two days after issuing a call for an investigation, parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani stated that no evidence of sexual abuse was found during the inquiry and called upon Karroubi to present solid evidence to the parliament. On August 25, Karroubi met with the parliamentary special committee on post-election unrest to provide supporting documentation for the allegations, which the committee intends to investigate. Authorities have admitted that prisoners were subjected to physical abuse at the now closed Kahrizak detention facility.
Human rights activists are also concerned by reports that 44 unidentified bodies were buried at the Behesht Zahra cemetery and by the announcement of 17 detention facilities in Tehran that are claimed to operate outside Iran’s judicial and penal system.
“Thirty percent of president’s proposed ministers for the tenth cabinet will surely fail to gain the confidence vote from the Majlis … These ministers will not get the confidence vote because they do not have enough experience and expertise required in areas related to their ministries.”
- member of parliament Seyyed Najib Hosseini quoted by Mehr News Agency
“The president wants to be the ruler in sensitive ministries of intelligence, interior, culture, oil and foreign. So he has introduced people whose major quality is that they are yes-men.”
- member of parliament Ali Motahari quoted in the Jomhuri Eslami newspaper
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced his slate of cabinet nominees last week, taking to the airwaves to present each candidate to the Iranian public, perhaps sensing that he may have a tough confirmation battle in the parliament. In his selection of ministers, the president appears to be surrounding himself with political allies, shoring up a base of support in the midst of ongoing political turmoil. Several nominees have ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including the oil and defense ministers. The choice for defense minister has angered the international community, in particular, as he is wanted by Interpol in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
However, Ahmadinejad may be attempting some overtures to moderates with his appointment of three women – who would be the first to serve as cabinet ministers since the revolution. While some reformists, religious leaders and academics have applauded the nomination of women, others are questioning whether the women selected are fully qualified for their posts. Additionally, many Iranian women have regarded the nominations with suspicion, fearing that those nominated are far-right conservatives who would closely follow Ahmadinejad’s agenda rather than advance the cause of women. Religious conservatives are questioning whether women should hold ministerial posts at all.
See this week’s background brief in the Iran Bulletin for more information on the cabinet and those nominated.
“We thus conclude that the 10th Iranian presidential election is a genuine reflection of the will of the Iranian people and that Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the duly elected president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
- Reza Esfandiari, in the conclusion to the report “A Review of the Chatham house report on Iran’s 2009 presidential election offering a new analysis on the results”
Esfandiari released a report in August responding to British think tank Chatham House’s June 21 report that identified irregularities in voting patterns in Iran. His report, while acknowledging some aspects that might warrant further investigation, provided explanations and statistical analysis refuting the conclusions reached by Chatham House.
The widely varying analyses of voting patterns highlights that the Iranian electoral system does not contain sufficient mechanisms for transparency in the vote process, for validating results or resolving election disputes – an argument that the National Democratic Institute, the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University and others have reiterated in recent weeks.
Background Brief: Ahmadinejad’s Cabinet
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presented his final list of cabinet nominees to the nation late on Aug. 19. The president must present his cabinet within two weeks of his inauguration and presidents have traditionally waited the full two weeks, preventing extended parliamentary discussion of candidates before their confirmation.
The Iranian Cabinet, also known as the Council of Ministers, is comprised of eight vice presidents, who are appointed by the president and manage his constitutional duties, and 21 ministers, nominated by the president and subject to parliamentary approval. With their assistance the president sets governmental programs and policies, and implements the law. Each minister serves as the head of his respective ministry, working with the president to formulate relevant policy. Although ministers are technically responsible to the president, the Supreme Leader must approve candidates for the defense, intelligence and foreign affairs ministries. These positions therefore afford the most power within the cabinet body.
Cabinet nominees must be confirmed by a vote of confidence in the Majles, the 290-member parliamentary body that drafts legislation, ratifies international agreements and approves the budget. The Majles also has the power to subpoena and impeach cabinet ministers, as well as the president. Subcommittees within the Majles hold confirmation hearings during which ministers must answer questions about their relevant experience for office and plans for developing their ministry; vice presidents are not subject to parliamentary approval. The review period is one week, which this year began on Aug. 23, and the Majles began casting its final votes to confirm appointees on Aug. 30. Each minister must receive a simple majority of votes for confirmation. Should the Majles reject a nominee, the president has three months to nominate another candidate. It is not unusual for the parliament to deny candidates. In 2005, the Majles rejected four of President Ahmadinejad’s nominees for lack of experience. As Ahmadinejad moves forward with his second administration, there is already speculation that the Majles will reject at least one-third of his nominees.
Among Ahmadinejad’s cabinet nominees, only six are returning ministers from his original administration lineup in 2005. He has filled his cabinet with loyalists, confirming that appointments are often based on political affiliation rather than professional experience. Nominees for the influential ministries of oil, defense, interior and foreign affairs are veterans of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG), a valuable asset in negotiations with the Supreme Leader. In addition, for the first time since the 1979 Revolution, the president has nominated three women for cabinet positions, which has caused controversy within the conservative dominated parliament and the religious establishment.
2009 Cabinet Nominees:
1. Sousan Keshavarz: Education Minister
Keshavarz holds a PhD in philosophy of education and is currently the deputy education minister at the Special Education Organization.
2. Reza Taqipour: Communications and Information Technology Minister
Currently the head of the Iran Aerospace Organization, Taqipour helped put Iran’s first domestic research satellite into orbit. He has plans to design and launch a satellite in collaboration with the Organization of the Islamic Congress, as well as send an Iranian into space in the next 10 years.
3. Heidar Moslehi: Intelligence Minister
A mid-ranking cleric and presidential advisor on clerical matters, Moslehi currently serves as the head of the Organization for Endowment and Charity Affairs. Moslehi was Ayatollah Khomeini’s representative not only to the Khatam al-Anbia and Karbal military bases during the Iraq war, but also to the Revolutionary Guard’s land forces. Commentators speculate that if approved by the Majles Moslehi will enhance dramatically the military’s influence within the national security and intelligence apparatus. Despite his positive management record and military history, Moslehi is not familiar with Intelligence Ministry politics, and there are rumors that the Majles will not approve his nomination.
4. Seyyid Shamseddin Hosseini: Economic Affairs and Finance Minister
Hosseini became finance minister in August 2008 after a cabinet shuffle. The previous minister resigned after a row with Ahmadinejad over soaring inflation rates and attempts to manipulate the banking system. Hosseini’s appointment was widely viewed as a concession to the Majles; he replaced Ahmadinejad’s more radical candidates.
5. Manouchehr Mottaki: Foreign Affairs Minister
After serving in the army, Mottaki began his political career in 1980, serving in the first post-revolutionary parliament. With over two decades in government, Mottaki has served in the Majles, rising to chair the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee in the Seventh Majles. He has also been secretary general for West European affairs, deputy foreign minister for legal, consular and parliamentary affairs, and ambassador to Turkey and Japan. He most recently served as foreign minister in the last Ahmadinejad administration. However, his politics are more closely aligned with Iran’s pragmatic conservative factions. He managed current parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani’s campaign during the 2005 presidential elections.
6. Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi: Health Minister
A medical university professor and two-term former parliamentarian, Dastjerdi has spent most of her career in medical practice as a gynecologist and researching women’s infertility. While serving in the Majles, Dastjerdi opposed a bill that would have helped Iran join the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She also drafted a proposal to require hospitals and medical institutions to comply with Shari’a laws regarding gender segregation; the plan was rejected by health professionals and eventually by the Majles.
7. Mohammad Abbasi: Cooperatives Minister
Mohammad Abbasi, a legislator from the city of Gorgan, is a former university chancellor of the Islamic Azad University and deputy governor-general for planning affairs in the northern Mazandaran Province. Abbasi served in the previous Ahmadinejad administration as cooperatives minister and came to office during a 2006 cabinet shake-up. He holds a doctorate in strategic management, a degree commonly bestowed upon military personnel.
8. Sadeq Khalilian: Agriculture Minister
Currently Ahmadinejad’s minister for planning and economic affairs for agricultural jihad, Khalilian holds a PhD in economics from the Department of Agricultural Economics at Tarbiat Modares University.
9. Hamid Behbahani: Road and Transport Minister
Behbahani served as minister of transport in Ahmadinejad’s previous administration. He holds a PhD in civil engineering, and was formerly the head of the Civil Engineering College of Iran, University of Science and Technology.
10. Fatemeh Ajorlou: Welfare and Social Security Minister
Ajorlou, a current member of parliament and conservative lawmaker, is an outspoken advocate for punishing women who flout the Iranian dress code and an ardent supporter of the chador. She began her career serving in the Revolutionary Guard and Basij militia, later working to establish the Basij Sisters militia. Most recently she advocated a draft law to decrease the number of women entering university, claiming that men were being adversely discriminated against in higher education.
11. Ali Akbar Mehrabian: Industries and Mines Minister
Mehrabian, a former presidential advisor, is up for confirmation for a second term as minister of industries and mines. Mehrabian was convicted in July 2009 of fraud in an intellectual property rights case, which has raised concerns about his nomination. A longtime friend of Ahmadinejad, Mehrabian was a municipality official during Ahmadinejad’s term as mayor of Tehran.
12. Kamran Daneshjou: Science, Research and Technology Minister
Daneshjou’s previous appointments include deputy interior minister, governor general of Tehran, and election commissioner during the June presidential elections. He rejected the Reformist call for a referendum, confirming the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s election.
13. Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini: Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister
A faculty member of the University of Tehran, Hosseini served in the Fifth Majles and is a former deputy science minister.
14. Abdolreza Sheikholeslami: Labor and Social Affairs Minister
Currently the minister of housing, Sheikholeslami holds a PhD in civil engineering. He served as secretary of Ahmadinejad’s office and presided over the Council for Spreading the President’s Thoughts. He is also a faculty member at Iran University of Science and Technology.
15. Mostafa Mohammad Najjar: Interior Minister
Najjar held the position of defense minister during Ahmadinejad’s first administration, directing the development of Iran’s missile and nuclear technology. A career Revolutionary Guard official, he now commands the police force and his close ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) could signal an even tougher approach to safeguarding Iran’s domestic security
16. Ali Nikzad: Housing and Urban Development Minister
Nikzad served as the head of the Organization of Municipalities and Rural Administrations (OMRA), governor general and head of the Housing and Urban Development Organization for Ardebil Province.
17. Masoud Mirkazemi: Oil Minister
Mirkazemi held the position of commerce minister in Ahmadinejad’s previous administration. His experience includes time as a former commander in the Revolutionary Guard, and he directed the IRGC’s Center for Strategic Studies. Mirkazemi plans to develop Iran’s domestic oil industry by finishing the projects outlined in the Five-Year Development Plan (2010 – 2015). His priorities include increasing the private sector’s involvement in developing infrastructure, improving energy consumption and instituting reform within the oil industry.
18. Mohammad Ali-Abadi: Energy Minister
Abadi served as the vice president of Iran’s National Physical Education Organization, which oversees the Iranian football federation. He is also president of the National Olympic Committee.
19. Morteza Bakhtiari: Justice Minister
Ahmadinejad is replacing Tehran Governor General Said Mortazavi with Morteza Bakhtiari, formerly the Isfahan governor general and director of the State Prisons Organization (SPO).
20. Brigadier Ahmad Vahidi: Defense Minister
General Vahidi is a former commander of the IRGC and the elite Quds Force, a covert unit of the IRGC that organizes and finances foreign Islamic revolutionary movements. He currently serves as the deputy defense minister and chairman of the Expediency Council’s Political and Defense Committee. Vahidi is currently wanted by Interpol for a 1994 attack on a Jewish cultural center in Argentina that left 85 dead and 200 wounded.
21. Mehdi Ghazanfari: Commerce Minister
Ghazanfari currently serves as the deputy commerce minister and director of the Trade Development Organization of Iran. He is an associate professor with the Department of Industrial Engineering at Iran’s University of Science and Technology. Ghazanfari has outlined an eight-point plan for the Commerce Ministry that includes: 1) easing trade and reducing unofficial transactions; 2) expanding trade and supporting the export of non-oil goods and services; 3) joining and enhancing Iran’s membership in regional and international trade unions; 4) developing electronic commerce using the latest technology; 5) increasing efficiency and renovating distribution networks in the trade sector; 6) reasonable regulation of goods and services markets; 7) increasing effectiveness of subsidies; and 8) modifying structures and creating competent human resources
This brief was prepared by NDI’s Louisa Glenn
Published on September 1, 2009
Background Brief: Governance of Civil Society
Article 26 of the Iranian constitution provides for civil society organizations (CSOs), stating that organizations are permitted if they “do not violate the principles of independence, freedom, national unity, the criteria of Islam, or the basis of the Islamic Republic.” Subsequently, Iran’s 1982 “Law Concerning the Activities of Parties, Associations, Political Associations and Guild Associations, Islamic Associations or the Associations of Recognized Religious Minorities” outlines four types of allowable organizations.
The first type includes political parties, associations and organizations that believe in a certain ideal or policy. The second is guild associations, which are formed by members of a trade, profession or occupation and exist to achieve goals in relation to that guild’s professional orientation. They are specifically prohibited from engaging in political activities or being affiliated with political parties. The third type is Islamic associations, or volunteer organizations that exist to advance understanding of Islam and goals of the Islamic revolution. The last set of organizations is religious minority associations, which are allowed for Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians to address social issues that affect their minority. Although the Ministry of Justice maintains a registrar of all CSOs in Iran, this list is not public, leaving experts to estimate that there are 8,000 active CSOs.
Laws intended to regulate and/or protect CSOs are often complicated and contradictory. There are numerous laws regarding CSOs dating back to pre-revolution civil code and commercial laws, as well as more recent legislation, and government officials have discretion in determining which laws to administer. In 2003, former President Mohammad Khatami attempted to consolidate the numerous laws governing CSOs, but the parliament eventually rejected his reform proposal. In 2005, however, some components of the proposed legal revisions were incorporated in the Ministry of Interior’s “Executive Regulations Concerning the Formation and Activities of Non-Governmental Organizations.”
The 2005 regulations were initially intended to encourage CSO development by streamlining organization registration, improving appeal procedures and removing the requirement that organizations obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior and provisional governor. The new system established a three-tiered supervisory board, comprised of government officials and civil society representatives at provincial, state and national levels. While the inclusion of CSO representatives may be designed to foster the independence of the body, in practice the CSO representatives usually have close ties to the government.
The supervisory board is responsible for overseeing CSOs’ adherence to Iranian law by administering their registrations, activity permits and appeals of permit rejections. To register, an organization must submit a policy letter describing the organization’s mission and intent, articles of association regulating organizational management, and have at least five members, two of whom must be specialists in the organization’s field of work. None of the founding members may have a criminal record, including violations of morality, or belong to organizations recognized as hostile to Iran. CSOs are banned from profit making and political activities, except political parties that adhere to particular regulations specified in the 1982 law. If a CSO’s proposed activities coincide with a government activity, the organization must also obtain the relevant government agency’s approval. After obtaining permits from the supervisory board, organizations must also register with the Ministry of Justice. While the stated purpose of the supervisory board was to streamline the registration and oversight process, in practice the creation of the board has not removed redundancies or delays
Once CSOs are granted permission for establishment, they are required to submit annually activity and financial operations reports to the supervisory board. The supervisory board may also request additional reports on an organization’s activity or financial records.
Additional permits may be required to carry out various organizational initiatives, such as workshops or festivals. However, given the difficulty in obtaining them, some organizations engage in activities without permits. The supervisory board may revoke permits or seek judiciary dissolution of an organization if it deems activities to be inconsistent with the organization’s approved policy letter, articles or Iranian law.
The Iranian government does offer funds for non-governmental organizations; however, the government disproportionately offers funds to organizations that are controlled by government officials. If a CSO desires to receive funds from a foreign organization or partake in international trainings or gatherings, it must obtain approval from the supervisory board.
In addition to oversight by the supervisory board, civil society organizations are subject to judicial review. The judiciary has wide discretion in its review of civil society cases due to the many overlapping laws regulating civil society organizations. Judicial proceedings are often accused of bias and have been used to block civil society development through the suspension or closure of organizations and the arrest of civil society leaders. Organizations are often accused of being tools of foreign agents or pursuing a political agenda. Under Iran’s penal code, “Offenses Against the National and International Security of the Country,” peaceful activities are suppressed and activists arrested, criminalizing anyone or groups that are perceived to disrupt national security.
Civil society has little recourse against denial of permits, judicial dissolution or membership harassment. While organizations can appeal to both the supervisory board and the courts, legal access and success is limited. Consequently, many civil society activists are forced to work without permits, facing possible detention, or to conduct activities from exile.
This brief was prepared by NDI’s Kristin Kooiman
Published on August 4, 2009
Background Brief: Human Rights
The recent violent crackdown against Iranian activists intensified after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei stated that public protests against the disputed election must cease. Tehran’s prosecutor general publicly announced that more than 2,500 people were detained in Tehran alone, with over 500 still in detention. In addition, 242 people have been detained at their homes or places of work by unidentified agents and taken to undisclosed locations, including 25 journalists and 87 students. Tehran’s police chief admitted 20 fatalities, but other estimates have put the number at more than 30. Foreign media or foreign officials were not exempted in the crackdown, and technologically savvy students were especially targeted in dormitory raids, which killed at least two students. Saeed Mortazavi, a prosecutor of the Islamic Revolutionary Court who is reputed to use coercion and torture to obtain confessions, is leading the investigation of detained activists, creating fears that many of the activists will be tortured or detained indefinitely.
This unrest exemplifies long-standing human rights concerns in Iran. Although political and social restrictions were eased under President Mohammad Khatami, since 2005 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has increased the power of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which renewed a clamp down on human rights citing national security concerns. The following provides a brief overview of human rights conditions in Iran.
Although Iran has over 200 registered political parties, only a few are active and all are required to work within the limited government framework. Activists who advocate views outside of what is officially accepted can be subject to beatings, imprisonment and prosecution. Similar to recent events, more than 1,000 students were arrested during protests in 1999 and 2003. Officials have limited the ability for groups to assemble by cutting off national SMS service, labeling activists as pawns of foreign entities and calling protests acts of treason.
Freedom of Expression
Freedom House ranks Iran 181 out of 195 in global press freedom and 17 out of 19 in the Middle East region. The government controls radio and TV broadcasts; satellite receivers can be confiscated. Government officials regularly issue gag orders and close independent newspapers that publish critical comments on the government. They also prosecute journalists in a special press court for using words offensive to Iran or Islam. Since Ahmadinejad came to power in 2001, over 570 newspapers have been closed.
While Internet penetration is estimated at about 25 percent, Iran utilizes sophisticated technology for censoring the Internet and other digital medium. All Web sites and blogs that originate in Iran must obtain licensing from the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, and external Web sites are filtered to block subjects such as democracy and human rights. Social networking sites, such as Facebook, Okrut and Twitter; video sharing Web sites, such as YouTube; and certain blogs and blog aggregators are also often blocked. Iranians have been able to circumvent the restrictions by using proxies and other technologies to access the sites.
The Iranian constitution protects specific minority religious groups, such Zoroastrians and some Christians and Jewish populations, as "people of the Book." The Baha'i faith is not recognized by the Iranian constitution, and Baha'is have been forcefully repressed and denied the right to practice or even acknowledge their religious beliefs, which are routinely castigated in the official media and state sermons. Security services have imprisoned many Baha'i leaders, who are charged with being mofsed fil arz, or corrupt on earth, a crime punishable by death.
Iran’s official stance is that there is no homosexuality in Iran. International human rights organizations have long documented acts of persecution and violence committed against homosexuals. Punishments for acts of homosexuality range from lashes to execution. Late last year, the Iranian judiciary formed the Special Protection Division, a new institution that empowers volunteers to police moral crimes, such as homosexuality, in the private domain.
Although a member of the International Labor Organization, Iranian workers are denied many established labor standards protections, including: the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, abolition of forced labor, abolition of child labor, prohibition of employment and occupation related discrimination, standards regulating wages and conditions of work. While Iranian workers have actively sought to form independent unions, they are only allowed to join carefully regulated associations, such as the Islamic Labor Councils.
Despite women’s active role in the Iranian Revolution, systemic gender discrimination permeates Iran. Women do not have the same legal rights as men, especially in cases of divorce, child custody, inheritance or judicial processing. While women represent 63 percent of college students, they face significant economic and employment barriers, and have difficulty obtaining public sector jobs. The state forcefully represses the women’s movement, evident in part by the arrest of women leaders of One Million Signature Campaign, a petition that seeks a reform of gender discriminatory laws.
Iranians can be detained without legal council and their cases can be tried without access to the evidence against them. Confessions are often coerced using torture and other ill-treatment. Stoning and honor killings are still permitted, and executions, including of minors, are carried out at high rates. To date, 257 executions have been carried out this year, with 52 in July alone.
This brief was prepared by NDI’s Kristin Kooiman
Published on July 17, 2009
Background Brief: The State of Iran’s Economy
Given that Iran is the second-largest oil producer among the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has 10 percent of the world's proven petroleum reserves and the second largest reserve of natural gas, the Islamic Republic should be a very wealthy country, but Iran’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) ranks among other middle income countries in the Middle East. While Iran’s poverty rate is relatively low, inflation rates are at 23 percent (international estimates bring the rate closer to 30 percent), factories operate below capacity, major cities have rolling power blackouts and real estate prices have tripled. Seventy percent of the population is under 30 and unemployed, and many face increasing social welfare problems, including drug addiction.
International sanctions hamper foreign direct investment, and starting a domestic enterprise or maintaining a business in Iran is not easy. Iran ranks 135 out of 175 countries on the World Bank index of ease of doing business. State ownership of the economy has been estimated as high as 80 percent.
Entrants to the economic sector must compete with Agah-zadehs, or the sons of clergyman who own the major businesses and have ties to the government. They make lucrative deals with little transparency or accountability, based upon their ties to leaders who seized private assets during the revolution. Outside of the Agah-zadehs, private enterprise is limited to small-scale workshops, small businesses, services and farming. The informal market is flourishing as price controls and other rigidities that undermine private-sector-led growth are circumvented.
Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005, Iran’s economic situation has deteriorated. While the president holds limited powers, subject to oversight from unelected regime leaders, economic policy is one of the few areas that do fall within his purview. In an attempt to implement his populist agenda, the president broke from the 4th five-year economic development plan (2005 – 2010) and the 20-year economic outlook, which were designed by his predecessor’s administration to reduce state ownership in the economy. Instead, he expanded the state’s central role and spent heavily.
Ahmadinejad has blamed budget constraints on various semi-independent institutions. In 2007, he dissolvedthe 60- year-old Management and Planning Organization, charged with allocating the budget, as well as the Credit and Money Council (CMC), responsible for supervising the Central Bank of Iran and monetary decisions. The CMC had previously rejected Ahmadinejad’s plan to reduce interest rates below the inflation rate. Since the dissolution of the CMC, Ahmadinejad has intervened in Central Bank decisions, pushing the bank to reduce lending rates.
Another criticism of Ahmadinejad’s economic management has been his granting of contracts worth billions of dollars to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other paramilitary groups. Contracts have been issued without a bidding process and are funded by the Oil Stabilization Fund, Iran’s version of a sovereign wealth fund. In the implementation phase, many contract recipients have been forced to hire subcontractors to finish projects due to a lack of internal expertise. As the IRGC is only responsible to the Supreme Leader, controversy revolved around how subsequent profit from these business deals would be allocated and whether or not the profit would be added to the general budget revenue or be earmarked for military spending.
Perhaps the most debated policy of the current administration has been the expansion of subsidies, including oil, water, food and basic commodities, which have quadrupled under Ahmadinejad and are now equivalent to 25 percent of GDP. As oil prices dropped, Ahmadinejad borrowed heavily from the Central Bank and the Oil Stabilization Fund, adding to inflation and reducing purchasing power.
Lately, Ahmadinejad has attempted new programs to reform the economy. Last June, he announced a program to cut subsidies in his 2009-2010 budget, coupled with cash handouts. The conservative-led parliament was at first willing to negotiate the reform, but faced with an unwilling administration, finally rejected the entire plan. Ahmadinejad also clashed with the Central Bank of Iran, which warned that revenues could be cut by $54 billion due to falling oil prices. Ahmadinejad now faces the option of increasing the money supply or cutting the budget, but with high inflation and unemployment rates, neither option seems politically viable.
This brief was prepared by NDI’s Kristin Kooiman
Published on April 10, 2009