International Criminology World

World : Asia : Iran

The ancient nation of Iran, historically known to the West as Persia and once a major empire in its own right, has been overrun frequently and has had its territory altered throughout the centuries. Invaded by Arabs, Seljuk Turks, Mongols, and others--and often caught up in the affairs of larger powers--Iran has always reasserted its national identity and has developed as a distinct political and cultural entity.

Archeological findings have placed knowledge of Iranian prehistory at middle paleolithic times (100,000 years ago). The earliest sedentary cultures date from 18,000-14,000 years ago. The sixth millennium B.C. saw a fairly sophisticated agricultural society and proto-urban population centers. Many dynasties have ruled Iran, the first of which was under the Achaemenians (559-330 B.C.), a dynasty founded by Cyrus the Great. After the Hellenistic period (300-250 B.C.) came the Parthian (250 B.C.-226 A.D.) and the Sassanian (226-651) dynasties.

The seventh century Arab-Muslim conquest of Iran was followed by conquests by the Seljuk Turks, the Mongols, and Tamerlane. Iran underwent a revival under the Safavid dynasty (1502-1736), the most prominent figure of which was Shah Abbas. The conqueror Nadir Shah and his successors were followed by the Zand dynasty, founded by Karim Kahn, and later the Qajar (1795-1925) and the Pahlavi dynasties (1925-1979).

Modern Iranian history began with a nationalist uprising against the Shah (who remained in power) in 1905, the granting of a limited constitution in 1906, and the discovery of oil in 1908. In 1921, Reza Khan, an Iranian officer of the Persian Cossack Brigade, seized control of the government. In 1925, he made himself Shah, ruling as Reza Shah Pahlavi for almost 16 years and installing the new Pahlavi dynasty.

Under his reign, Iran began to modernize and to secularize politics, and the central government reasserted its authority over the tribes and provinces. In September 1941, following the Allies' (U.K.-Soviet Union) occupation of western Iran, Reza Shah was forced to abdicate. His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, became Shah and ruled until 1979.

During World War II, Iran was a vital link in the Allied supply line for lend-lease supplies to the Soviet Union. After the war, Soviet troops stationed in northwestern Iran not only refused to withdraw but backed revolts that established short-lived, pro-Soviet separatist regimes in the northern regions of Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. These were ended in 1946. The Azerbaijan revolt crumbled after U.S. and UN pressure forced a Soviet withdrawal and Iranian forces suppressed the Kurdish revolt.

In 1951, Premier Mohammed Mossadeq, a militant nationalist, forced the parliament to nationalize the British-owned oil industry. Mossadeq was opposed by the Shah and was removed, but he quickly returned to power. The Shah fled Iran but returned when supporters staged a coup against Mossadeq in August 1953. Mossadeq was then arrested by pro-Shah army forces.

In 1961, Iran initiated a series of economic, social, and administrative reforms that became known as the Shah's White Revolution. The core of this program was land reform. Modernization and economic growth proceeded at an unprecedented rate, fueled by Iran's vast petroleum reserves, the third-largest in the world.

In 1978, domestic turmoil swept the country as a result of religious and political opposition to the Shah's rule and programs--especially SAVAK, the hated internal security and intelligence service. In January 1979, the Shah left Iran; he died abroad several years after.

On February 1, 1979, exiled religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from France to direct a revolution resulting in a new, theocratic republic guided by Islamic principles. Back in Iran after 15 years in exile in Turkey, Iraq, and France, he became Iran's national religious leader. Following Khomeini's death on June 3, 1989, the Assembly of Experts--an elected body of senior clerics--chose the outgoing president of the republic, Ali Khamenei, to be his successor as national religious leader in what proved to be a smooth transition.

In August 1989, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the speaker of the National Assembly, was elected President by an overwhelming majority. He was re-elected June 1993, with a more modest majority; some Western observers attributed the reduced voter turnout to disenchantment with the deteriorating economy. (Ali) Mohammad Khatami-Ardakani, elected President in August 1997 with an overwhelming majority, was re-elected, again with a majority in June 2001.

After the 1979 Islamic revolution, the Constitution, ratified after the revolution by popular referendum, established a theocratic republic and declared as its purpose the establishment of institutions and a society based on Islamic principles and norms. The Government is dominated by Shi'a Muslim clergy. The Head of State, Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i, is the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution and has direct control over the armed forces, the internal security forces, and the judiciary. Mohammad Khatami was elected to a second 4-year term as President in a popular vote in June, 2001, with 77 percent of the vote. A popularly elected 290-seat unicameral Islamic Consultative Assembly, or Majles, develops and passes legislation. Reformers and moderates won a landslide victory in the February 2000 Majles election, and constitute a majority of that body; however, the Council of Guardians and other elements within the Government blocked much of the early reform legislation passed by the Majles. A Council of Guardians reviews all legislation passed by the Majles for adherence to Islamic and constitutional principles. The Council consists of six clerical members, who are appointed by the Supreme Leader, and six lay jurists, who are appointed by the head of the judiciary and approved by the Majles. The Constitution provides the Council of Guardians the power to screen and disqualify candidates for elective offices based on an ill-defined set of requirements, including candidates' ideological beliefs. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Council of Guardians rejected the candidacy of 145 out of the 356 candidates who filed to run for 17 seats in the special Majles election held concurrently with the Presidential election in June, 2001. This constituted a far higher percentage than were rejected in the February 2000 Majles elections. The judiciary is subject to government and religious influence.


The Khomeini regime faced severe challenges from several opposition groups, including royalists, National Front bureaucrats, intellectuals and professionals, communists, guerrilla organizations, Kurdish rebels, and distinguished mujtahids (Shia clerics whose demonstrated erudition in religious law has earned them the privilege to interpret law). Of these, the royalists and the National Front leaders have operated mainly from foreign bases or underground cells. The communists were purged in 1983 when the Tudeh's leadership was almost entirely eliminated. The main guerrilla group, the Mojahedin, claimed to have made strides in organizing a war of attrition against the regime. But because it has operated since July 1986 primarily from Baghdad, thus giving the impression of collaboration with Iraq, the Mojahedin's effectiveness and credibility may have been lessened by the war. The Kurds have been fighting the regime since their 1979 rebellion, even though Tehran has kept them off balance by using Pasdaran forces. Finally, National Front politicians have openly displayed their differing views, mostly in West European capitals, although the group led by former Prime Minister Bazargan was the only domestic "opposition" party tolerated by the regime.

In the early 1970s, supporters of Khomeini decided to create the Mojahedin movement to organize operations against the shah's government. Initial demands made by Mojahedin leaders, who included clerical officials like Hashemi-Rafsanjani, covered such points as the cancellation of all security agreements with the United States; expropriation of multinational corporations; nationalization of agricultural and urban land, banks, and large industries; administration of the army and other institutions by people's councils; creation of a "people's army"; regional autonomy for Iran's ethnic minorities; and various measures to benefit workers and peasants. Unlike other anti-shah organizations, the Mojahedin channeled its efforts into gaining supporters and developing an effective party network. The members were not ideologically inspired by outside sources but focused on strong nationalistic arguments and attacked the shah and his perceived abuses. By 1979 the membership of the Mojahedin had reached a record high of 25,000, and it had hundreds of thousands of supporters. The movement frequently mobilized these masses against the shah.

The organization fell out of favor immediately after the Revolution, however, when its new leader, Masud Rajavi, boycotted the referendum on the new Constitution and advocated the total separation of the religious establishment and the state. Khomeini considered this a calculated and direct challenge to the IRP and the revolutionary regime. Rumors spread that the Mojahedin organization was a pawn of foreign powers, especially the United States. In response, the Mojahedin launched its own anti-Khomeini campaign by calling on the government to purify the Revolution.

President Bani Sadr supported the Mojahedin. When he lost the support of Khomeini, Bani Sadr sought refuge with Mojahedin leaders and was smuggled out of Iran, along with Rajavi and other senior representatives. In July 1981, the two leaders announced the formation of the National Council of Resistance (NCR) and launched a campaign to overthrow the Khomeini regime. From its headquarters in France, the NCR recruited additional support both within and outside Iran and welcomed ethnic minority leaders to its ranks. Its published charter was almost identical to the program of the Mojahedin. Partly to satisfy its diverse constituency and partly to distinguish itself from the Khomeini regime, the NCR offered a new agenda that reflected special concern for the interests of the lower middle class. In its attempt to gain the support of minor civil servants, shopkeepers, artisans, and small merchants, it adopted a slightly more moderate position than the one the Khomeini government had espoused concerning private property. The charter also promised to respect individual liberties, "except for persons identified with the shah's or Khomeini's regime," and guaranteed special rights for ethnic minorities, particularly the Kurds.

A score of other promises were made, including the return of land to farmers who would, however, be encouraged to consolidate their holdings in collective farms; the increase of available housing, education, and health services; the guarantee of equality for women; and the establishment of a "democratic army" in which the rank and file would be consulted on decisions and selections of officers. Yet, these promises could not be implemented because the NCR was not in power. The organization had to operate inside Iran, and the process strained the leadership's unity; disagreements over goals eventually led to the dissolution of the NCR. By March 1984, Bani Sadr and Kurdish leaders withdrew from the coalition. The French government asked Rajavi to leave France in July 1986. The Mojahedin set up their headquarters in Baghdad, whence they continued to launch military and propaganda offensives against the Khomeini regime.

In June 1987, Rajavi announced the formation of the Iranian National Army of Liberation, open to non-Mojahedin members, that would escalate attacks. Subsequently, Mojahedin sources claimed to have set up military training camps near the war front and to have launched numerous attacks against Pasdaran outposts. The Mojahedin has also been active in Western Europe and the United States; it has organized numerous rallies, distributed anti-Khomeini literature, and recruited Iranians living abroad.

Among the armed leftist guerrilla groups operating in Iran in 1987, the Fadayan was the most active. The Fadayan was established when smaller groups operating in Tabriz, Mashhad, and Tehran merged in 1970. Its founders were university students and graduates who saw violence as the only means to oppose the shah. As Iran's economic situation deteriorated in the mid-1970s, the Fadayan recruited workers from large manufacturing industries and the oil sector. Recruitment expanded to include such national and ethnic movements as those of Kurdish, Turkoman, Baluch, and Arab minorities. The Fadayan opposed both imperial and republican regimes but did participate fully in the Revolution, taking over various military barracks and police stations in Tehran, Tabriz, Hamadan, Abadan, and Shiraz in 1979. In early June 1980, the Fadayan split into two factions: the Fadayan "Minority" and the Fadayan " Majority." The "Minority" faction, which was actually the larger of the two, has consistently opposed the Republic and considered Khomeini "reactionary." It vehemently condemned the Tudeh's cooperation with Khomeini prior to 1983. It also rejected the armed activities of the Mojahedin and advocated instead the expansion of underground cells. The "Minority" faction refused to join the NCR because of Bani Sadr's past association with the Khomeini regime. Subsequently, the "Minority" faction, along with a number of smaller leftist groups, established a new organization known as the Organization of Revolutionary Workers of Iran.

The Fadayan "Majority" faction moved closer to the views held by the Tudeh and supported Khomeini because of his anti-imperialist stance. This support of Khomeini changed in early 1983 when Khomeini turned against the Tudeh. In late 1987, the "Majority" faction was a satellite of the Tudeh.

The falling out of the Fadayan with the Islamic government within the first year of the Revolution was attributed to the ideological rift that emerged between the Fadayan's leftist-secular agenda and the religious and ideological views of the clerical leadership. Khomeini's velayat-e faqih was a powerful concept that swept aside all leftist arguments; the Khomeini view of the Revolution was appealing precisely because of its nationalist aspects, which were easily assimilated by the Iranian population.

The Paykar (Struggle) Organization was formed in 1979 from a Mojahedin splinter group that advocated the total separation of the religious establishment and the state. It considered Khomeini's policies backward and damaging to Iran's long-term socioeconomic development. The Paykar, perceived by other leftist groups as a dogmatic movement, called for an end to the Iran-Iraq War, viewing it as a diversionary tactic "waged by two reactionary and unpopular regimes." In 1982, when several Paykar leaders were arrested, the organization ceased to function overtly, but in 1987 it was still suspected of operating underground cells in major Iranian cities.

Ethnic cooperation has been a consistent national security problem for successive regimes throughout the twentieth century, and, after the 1979 Revolution, the Khomeini government faced one of its earliest challenges from Kurdish, Baluch, and Turkoman tribal members. The Turkoman and Baluch rebellions, reminiscent of secession attempts in the 1970s, were quickly ended. The revolutionary regime went out of its way to accommodate opposition because it did not want any instability to develop on the border with Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Tehran wanted at all costs to prevent foreign powers from exploiting ethnic discontent in southwestern Iran. By emphasizing shared religious and cultural values, the revolutionary government persuaded some tribal members to accept the central authority of Tehran, while it sought to co-opt others, such as the Turkomans and Baluchs, by providing special economic incentives.

A more pressing ethnic challenge to the regime came from Kurdish rebels in the northeast, who had long struggled for independence. In several 1979 meetings, Khomeini warned key Kurdish leaders that any attempts at dismantling Iran would be met with the harshest response, and he sent Pasdaran units to the north, underlining the seriousness of the government's intention. Despite these warnings, in the spring of 1979, seizing on the turmoil of the Revolution, the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, the Komala (Komala-ye Shureshgari-ye Zahmat Keshan-e Kordestan-e Iran, or Komala, or Committee of the Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kordestan) and the Kurdish branch of the Fadayan mounted a well-organized rebellion, but the revolutionary regime was ready.

The confrontation between Tehran and the Kurds intensified sharply when the Iran-Iraq War broke out. It was assumed that Iraqi Kurds and their Iranian brothers would cooperate to exploit weaknesses on both sides. Past divisions within the Kurdish communities were temporarily shelved in pursuit of the long-cherished goal of an independent state. Not surprisingly, neither Baghdad nor Tehran was willing to accept this outcome. Rather, both sides insisted on organizing special loyalist Kurdish military units to participate in the war and to demonstrate allegiance to their respective states.

In contrast to the Kurds, the Arab population of Khuzestan stood firmly behind the revolutionary government. Iranian Arabs rejected Saddam Husayn's call to "liberate Arabistan" from Persian rule and overwhelmingly opted to remain loyal to their country. Since 1980 Khuzestan has witnessed some of the bloodiest battles in the twentieth century, but its Arab inhabitants have not wavered in their allegiance.

Iran regards ethnic minority challenges with apprehension. It has taken every precaution, for example, to resist Iraqi- or Soviet-sponsored efforts to persuade the Kurdish minority to secede from Iran. Much as the Pahlavi regime before it had done, the revolutionary government considered the unity of Iran vital to its national security. The commitment to defend the entire country, with all its ethnic groups, remained an uncompromised objective, and sensitive, pragmatic, and political steps have been taken since 1979 to strengthen national unity. Despite the commitment of the Khomeini regime to the revival of the Islamic community (ummah), it, no less than the shah's regime, sought to preserve Iran's territorial integrity as an aspect of national security.

Of all the issues facing revolutionary Iran since 1979, none was more serious than alleged human rights violations. Although the trend was toward greater adherence to constitutional guarantees, particularly after December 1982, when Khomeini issued several directives relaxing the application of Islamic laws, Iran's human rights record showed serious abuses. Procedural safeguards were lacking for defendants tried in revolutionary courts, which handled virtually all political cases. In evaluating the hundreds of executions ordered each year, separating cases of executions for actual crimes from executions based purely on the defendant's beliefs, statements, or associations, was difficult, given the regime's practice of cloaking the latter category with trumped-up charges from the former category. Reliable statistics were not available in 1987 on the number killed for political or religious reasons under the Khomeini regime, but the number of persons executed each year for political reasons was high.

Amnesty International's 1986 annual report recorded an estimated 6,500 executions in Iran between February 1979 and the end of 1985; the report noted, however, that "Amnesty International believed the true figures were much higher, as former prisoners and relatives of prisoners consistently testified that large numbers of political prisoners were executed in secret." These killings were largely conducted by the government's own organizations, including the Pasdaran and the SAVAMA.

Political opposition to the revolutionary regime was punished in ways other than execution. Iranians listed as "killed while resisting arrest," but actually alive and in jail, were too numerous to count, according to Amnesty International. Torture in Iran's prisons was rampant and covered a wide range of inhuman practices, particularly in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. Mock executions, along with blindfolding and solitary confinement, were favorite methods of torture, according to witness reports assembled by Amnesty International. Beatings of all kinds were common, and prisoners were regularly beaten on the soles of their feet until they could no longer walk. Individuals also suffered damaged kidneys as a result of being kicked and beaten.

The revolutionary prosecutors continued to revise Iran's civil code to conform more closely with their interpretation of Islamic law. In January 1985, for example, Tehran announced the inauguration of a new machine for surgical amputation of the hands of convicted thieves. As interpreted in Iran, this punishment consisted of amputation of the four fingers of the right hand. There have been subsequent announcements of the occasional use of this device to administer justice. Death by stoning was allegedly reinstituted as a punishment for certain morality crimes, at least in remote areas of the country. There have been many reports of floggings, both as a means of torture and as a formal punishment for sexual offenses.

Although the Constitution guarantees many basic human rights, including rights related to due process (e.g., the right to be informed in writing of charges immediately after arrest, the right to legal counsel, the right to trial by jury in political cases), the revolutionary court system ignored these provisions in practice for "security reasons." When there was a formal accusation, the charge was usually subversion, antiregime activities, or treason. Political arrests were made by members of the Pasdaran or, less commonly, by komiteh members. Member of the National Police and Gendarmerie were not normally involved in arrests made on political or moral charges. In political cases, warrants for arrests were seldom used. Consequently, there was no judicial determination of whether these detentions were in conformity with Iranian law. Detainees were frequently held for long periods without charge and in some cases were tortured. For political crimes, no access to a lawyer was permitted; such cases were heard, if at all, by the revolutionary judiciary, and bail was not permitted.

Religious opposition as well as political opposition has met with severe punishment. For example, Iran's largest non-Muslim minority, the Bahais, have suffered persecution. Charges against Bahais were vague, but penalties were severe. As of December 1986, 767 Bahais had been imprisoned and approximately 200 Bahais had been executed or had died following torture.

Between 1979 and 1982, these abuses of human rights were all defended as necessary to safeguard the Revolution. Tehran launched a systematic attack on its opponents in order to protect its own interpretations of revolutionary norms. Since then, many revolutionary leaders have adopted a more relaxed mood without jeopardizing perceived internal security requirements. It remained to be seen in late 1987 whether the revolutionary regime would be able to maintain the internal security it felt it needed without returning to the drastic measures characteristic of the early period of the Revolution.


Pre-revolutionary Iran's economic development was rapid. Traditionally an agricultural society, by the 1970s, Iran had achieved significant industrialization and economic modernization. However, the pace of growth had slowed dramatically by 1978, just before the Islamic revolution.

Since the revolution, increased government involvement in the economy has further stunted growth. Iran's current difficulties can be traced to a combination of factors. Economic activity, severely disrupted by the revolution, was further depressed by the war with Iraq and by the decline of oil prices beginning in late 1985. After the war with Iraq ended, the situation began to improve: Iran's GDP grew for 2 years running, partly from an oil windfall in 1990, and there was a substantial increase in imports.

A decrease in oil revenues in 1991 and growing external debt, though, dampened optimism. In March 1989, Khomeini had approved Rafsanjani's 5-year plan for economic development, which allowed Iran to seek foreign loans. But mismanagement and inefficient bureaucracy, as well as political and ideological infighting, have hampered the formulation and execution of coherent economic policies. Today, Iranís economy is a mixture of central planning, state ownership of oil and other large enterprises, village agriculture, and smallscale private trading and service ventures. President Khatami has continued to follow the market reform plans of former President Rafsanjani and has indicated that he will pursue diversification of Iranís oil-reliant economy, although he has made little progress toward that goal.

Official unemployment was estimated to be 14% for 1999. Although Islam guarantees the right to private ownership, banks and some industries--including the petroleum, transportation, utilities, and mining sectors--were nationalized after the revolution, although Iran has been pursuing some privatization. (Oil price and debt problems are no longer relevant.) The import-dependent industrial sector is further plagued by low labor productivity, lack of foreign exchange, and shortages of raw materials and spare parts.

Agriculture also has suffered from shortages of capital, raw materials, and equipment, as well as from the war with Iraq; in addition, a major area of dissension within the regime has been how to proceed with land reform.

Prior to the Revolution of 1979, political connections were considered a key measure of one's social status. In other words, the amount of access that one was perceived to have to the highest levels of decision making was the major determinant of prestige. Wealth was important, but acquiring and maintaining wealth tended to be closely intertwined with access to political power. Consequently, members of the political elite were generally involved in numerous complex interrelationships. For example, some members of the Senate , a legislative body that included many members of the political elite appointed by the shah, were also on the boards of several industrial and commercial enterprises and were owners of extensive agricultural lands. Since being part of an elite family was an important prerequisite for entry into the political elite, marital relationships tended to bind together important elite families.

The other classes attempted to emulate the political elite in seeking connections to those with political power, whether on the provincial, town, or village level. By the 1970s, however, the nonelite of all classes perceived education as important for improving social status. Education was seen as providing entry into high-status jobs that in turn would open up opportunities for making connections with those who had political power. Despite a great expansion in educational opportunities, the demand far outstripped the ability or willingness of the elite to provide education; this in turn became a source of resentment. By the late 1970s, the nonelite groups, especially the middle classes, rather than admiring the elite and desiring to emulate them, tended to resent the elite for blocking opportunities to compete on an equal basis.

As a result of the lack of field research in Iran after the Revolution, it was difficult in the late 1980s to determine whether the traditional bases for ascribing class status had changed. It is probable that access to political power continued to be important for ascribing status even though the composition of the political elite had changed. It also appears that education continued to be an important basis for determining status.

Iran has a mixed economy that is heavily dependent on export earnings from the country's extensive petroleum reserves. The country has a population of approximately 65,620,000. The Constitution mandates that all large-scale industry, including petroleum, minerals, banking, foreign exchange, insurance, power generation, communications, aviation, and road and rail transport, be publicly owned and administered by the State. Large charitable foundations called bonyads, most with strong connections to the Government, control the extensive properties and businesses expropriated from the Pahlavi family and from other figures associated with the monarchy. The bonyads exercise considerable influence in the economy, but neither account publicly for revenue nor pay taxes. The Government subsidizes basic foodstuffs and energy costs heavily. Oil exports account for nearly 80 percent of foreign exchange earnings. Private property rights largely are respected. Although economic performance had improved somewhat when worldwide oil prices increased, the recent fall in prices has had an adverse effect. Government mismanagement and corruption also negatively affect economic performance. Unemployment is estimated to be between 25 and 30 percent, and inflation approximately 20-25 percent.


The overwhelming majority of Iranians--at least 90 percent of the total population--are Muslims who adhere to Shia Islam. In contrast, the majority of Muslims throughout the world follow Sunni Islam. Of the several Shia sects, the Twelve Imam, is dominant in Iran; most Shias in Bahrain, Iraq, and Lebanon also follow this sect. All the Shia sects originated among early Muslim dissenters in the first three centuries following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632.

The principal belief of Twelvers, but not of other Shias, is that the spiritual and temporal leadership of the Muslim community passed from Muhammad to Ali and then sequentially to eleven of Ali's direct male descendants, a tenet rejected by Sunnis. Over the centuries various other theological differences have developed between Twelver Shias and Sunnis.

Although Shias have lived in Iran since the earliest days of Islam, and there was one Shia dynasty in part of Iran during the tenth and eleventh centuries, it is believed that most Iranians were Sunnis until the seventeenth century. The Safavid dynasty made Shia Islam the official state religion in the sixteenth century and aggressively proselytized on its behalf. It is also believed that by the mid-seventeenth century most people in what is now Iran had become Shias, an affiliation that has continued.

All Shia Muslims believe there are seven pillars of faith, which detail the acts necessary to demonstrate and reinforce faith. The first five of these pillars are shared with Sunni Muslims. They are shahada, or the confession of faith; namaz, or ritualized prayer; zakat, or almsgiving; sawm, fasting and contemplation during daylight hours during the lunar month of Ramazan; and hajj, or pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina once in a lifetime if financially feasible. The other two pillars, which are not shared with Sunnis, are jihad--or crusade to protect Islamic lands, beliefs, and institutions, and the requirement to do good works and to avoid all evil thoughts, words, and deeds.

Twelver Shia Muslims also believe in five basic principles of faith: there is one God, who is a unitary divine being in contrast to the trinitarian being of Christians; the Prophet Muhammad is the last of a line of prophets beginning with Abraham and including Moses and Jesus, and he was chosen by God to present His message to mankind; there is a resurrection of the body and soul on the last or judgment day; divine justice will reward or punish believers based on actions undertaken through their own free will; and Twelve Imams were successors to Muhammad. The first three of these beliefs are also shared by non- Twelver Shias and Sunni Muslims.

The distinctive dogma and institution of Shia Islam is the Imamate, which includes the idea that the successor of Muhammad be more than merely a political leader. The Imam must also be a spiritual leader, which means that he must have the ability to interpret the inner mysteries of the Quran and the shariat. The Twelver Shias further believe that the Twelve Imams who succeeded the Prophet were sinless and free from error and had been chosen by God through Muhammad.

The Imamate began with Ali, who is also accepted by Sunni Muslims as the fourth of the "rightly guided caliphs" to succeed the Prophet. Shias revere Ali as the First Imam, and his descendants, beginning with his sons Hasan and Husayn (also seen as Hosein), continue the line of the Imams until the Twelfth, who is believed to have ascended into a supernatural state to return to earth on judgment day. Shias point to the close lifetime association of Muhammad with Ali. When Ali was six years old, he was invited by the Prophet to live with him, and Shias believe Ali was the first person to make the declaration of faith in Islam. Ali also slept in Muhammad's bed on the night of the hijra, or migration from Mecca to Medina, when it was feared that the house would be attacked by unbelievers and the Prophet stabbed to death. He fought in all the battles Muhammad did except one, and the Prophet chose him to be the husband of his favorite daughter, Fatima.

In Sunni Islam an imam is the leader of congregational prayer. Among the Shias of Iran the term imam traditionally has been used only for Ali and his eleven descendants. None of the Twelve Imams, with the exception of Ali, ever ruled an Islamic government. During their lifetimes, their followers hoped that they would assume the rulership of the Islamic community, a rule that was believed to have been wrongfully usurped. Because the Sunni caliphs were cognizant of this hope, the Imams generally were persecuted during the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. Therefore, the Imams tried to be as unobtrusive as possible and to live as far as was reasonable from the successive capitals of the Islamic empire.

During the ninth century Caliph Al Mamun, son of Caliph Harun ar Rashid, was favorably disposed toward the descendants of Ali and their followers. He invited the Eighth Imam, Reza (A.D. 765-816), to come from Medina to his court at Marv (Mary in the present-day Soviet Union). While Reza was residing at Marv, Mamun designated him as his successor in an apparent effort to avoid conflict among Muslims. Reza's sister Fatima journeyed from Medina to be with her brother but took ill and died at Qom. A shrine developed around her tomb, and over the centuries Qom has become a major Shia pilgrimage and theology center.

Mamun took Reza on his military campaign to retake Baghdad from political rivals. On this trip Reza died unexpectedly in Khorasan. Reza was the only Imam to reside or die in what is now Iran. A major shrine, and eventually the city of Mashhad, grew up around his tomb, which has become the most important pilgrimage center in Iran. Several important theological schools are located in Mashhad, associated with the shrine of the Eighth Imam.

Reza's sudden death was a shock to his followers, many of whom believed that Mamun, out of jealousy for Reza's increasing popularity, had him poisoned. Mamun's suspected treachery against Reza and his family tended to reinforce a feeling already prevalent among his followers that the Sunni rulers were untrustworthy.

The Twelfth Imam is believed to have been only five years old when the Imamate descended upon him in A.D. 874 at the death of his father. The Twelfth Imam is usually known by his titles of Imam-e Asr (the Imam of the Age) and Sahib az Zaman (the Lord of Time). Because his followers feared he might be assassinated, the Twelfth Imam was hidden from public view and was seen only by a few of his closest deputies. Sunnis claim that he never existed or that he died while still a child. Shias believe that the Twelfth Imam remained on earth, but hidden from the public, for about seventy years, a period they refer to as the lesser occultation (gheybat-e sughra). Shias also believe that the Twelfth Imam has never died, but disappeared from earth in about A.D. 939. Since that time the greater occultation (gheybat-e kubra) of the Twelfth Imam has been in force and will last until God commands the Twelfth Imam to manifest himself on earth again as the Mahdi, or Messiah. Shias believe that during the greater occultation of the Twelfth Imam he is spiritually present--some believe that he is materially present as well-- and he is besought to reappear in various invocations and prayers. His name is mentioned in wedding invitations, and his birthday is one of the most jubilant of all Shia religious observances.

The Shia doctrine of the Imamate was not fully elaborated until the tenth century. Other dogmas were developed still later. A characteristic of Shia Islam is the continual exposition and reinterpretation of doctrine. The most recent example is Khomeini's expounding of the doctrine of velayat-e faqih, or the political guardianship of the community of believers by scholars trained in religious law. This has not been a traditional idea in Shia Islam and is, in fact, an innovation. The basic idea is that the clergy, by virtue of their superior knowledge of the laws of God, are the best qualified to rule the society of believers who are preparing themselves on earth to live eternally in heaven. The concept of velayat-e faqih thus provides the doctrinal basis for theocratic government, an experiment that Twelver Imam Shias had not attempted prior to the Iranian Revolution in 1979.


Iran has provided data neither for United Nations nor INTERPOL surveys of crime; however, an estimate of crime is given in the United States State Department's Consular Information Sheet according to which U.S. citizens should exercise caution throughout the country and especially in the southeastern area of the country. Several European travelers were kidnapped in 1999 near the cities of Kerman and Bam, apparently by drug-traffickers. They were later freed through the intervention of the Iranian authorities. In 1999, in the period before and after anti-government demonstrations in major cities around the country, there were several incidents of organized harassment and violent intimidation of American tourists. A high-level Iranian official spoke out publicly against hostility to tourists, and no such incidents have been reported since then. There was also no reported harassment of Americans during the disturbances that took place in October 2001.

Iranian security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities. Major crime is not a problem for travelers in Iran, although foreigners occasionally have been victims of petty street crime.


Several agencies share responsibility for internal security, including the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the Ministry of Interior, and the Revolutionary Guards, a military force that was established after the revolution. Paramilitary volunteer forces known as Basijis, and gangs of thugs known as the Ansar-e Hezbollah (Helpers of the Party of God), act as vigilantes, and intimidate and threaten physically demonstrators, journalists, and individuals suspected of counterrevolutionary activities. The Ansar-e Hezbollah often are aligned with particular members of the leadership. Both the regular and the paramilitary security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses.

The Islamic Revolution destroyed the structures on which the shah's internal security policies depended. Mohammad Reza Shah had not tolerated dissent, had reacted strongly when challenged, and had relied on an elaborate internal security police force to enforce his absolute authority. Over the years, Khomeini had vigorously condemned the shah's secret police operations and continually called on Iranians to rise against a perceived tyrannical ruler. By the late 1970s, the shah's internal security organizations were in disgrace because of their abuses. In early 1979, the revolutionary regime dismantled existing security organizations and called on loyal citizens to protect the Revolution. Yet, like the shah, the revolutionary regime faced clear opposition to its authority.

The Pahlavi regime identified the Fadayan, the Tudeh, and several ethnic groups as opponents to the shah's rule. To meet their rising challenge, the shah relied on security forces whose agents infiltrated many underground organizations. By early 1970, a sophisticated intelligence-gathering system was in place, reporting all currents of political dissent directly to the monarch.

In 1970 opposition forces took the initiative by launching a terrorist campaign against the regime. At the time, this was perceived as a nuisance and an embarrassment to the shah, because the monarchy was not "threatened." Nevertheless, opposition to the shah grew stronger when the monarch authorized unrelenting punishment of those accused of security violations. Hundreds of young Iranians were arrested, tried, and sentenced. Many were tortured and some executed for their unwavering opposition. In 1976 opposition forces clashed with the police in a series of gun battles that mobilized thousands in the streets of Tehran. With heightened visibility, terrorist groups mounted successful attacks on police posts, further threatening the regime's hold on internal security. By 1978 organized opposition to the monarchy reached a high point with ideologically incompatible groups joining in efforts to overthrow the shah. Leftist guerrillas joined student and religious organizations in calling for political change.

The two most important leftist guerrilla groups operating in Iran in 1978 were the Mojahedin and the Fadayan. The Mojahedin had changed its name at least three times since its formation in 1960 under the name of Nehzat-e Azadi-yi Iran, or the Iran Freedom Movement (IFM). Although it was not formally a religious party, its rank-and-file membership was religiously oriented, a fact that helped mobilize clerical support in 1978. Unlike the clerical forces, however, the Mojahedin and the Fadayan conducted a systematic assassination campaign in 1977 and 1978 against Iranian security officials and United States military and defense-related personnel stationed in Tehran. The shah was also a target, as evidenced by periodic uncoverings of assassination plots. This wave of violence was met by an equally strong and determined campaign of arrests and executions. Iranian students abroad also became part of a cycle of action and counteraction: in the United States and Western Europe, students who protested against the shah were kept under surveillance so that punitive action could later be taken against them. In addition, the Mojahedin and the Fadayan conducted a propaganda campaign in support of "the Iranian armed struggle" and against the shah, SAVAK, and what was termed "institutionalized repression in Iran."

Within Iran's borders, stiff government security measures notwithstanding, organized opposition was never eliminated. Although the shah had declared illegal all opposition political parties, labor unions, peasant organizations, and university student groups, antigovernment sentiments remained high, especially among the clerical community. By late 1977, student demonstrations increased in frequency, with a vocal minority calling on Iranians to "raise their voices against absolute rule." These protests, timed to call President Jimmy Carter's attention to the human rights situation in Iran, resulted in the arrest of hundreds of demonstrators, many of whom were allegedly tortured by SAVAK forces.

In January 1978, conservative religious students demonstrated in the holy city of Qom to express the long-standing clerical opposition to the shah's land reform policies, which had resulted in the expropriation of vaqf (religious endowment) and other lands. Religious leaders were also outraged at what they perceived to be the shah's violations of sacred Islamic laws in such areas as the role of women in society and the imposition of a secular legal system that usurped clerical authority. Attempts by the police to disperse demonstrators resulted in several deaths.

The religious leadership called for a general strike across the country for February 18, to highlight the forty-day mourning period for those killed in Qom. Far more serious disturbances erupted on that day in Tabriz and Tehran, precipitating the worst riots since 1963. After several days of widespread arson directed at banks, movie theaters, and hotels in Tabriz, the army moved in to restore order. Similar measures were taken in Tehran and other major cities. According to the government 12 persons were killed in Tabriz and 250 persons arrested. In reality, the casualty figure was much higher and the arrests more numerous. Ironically, the deaths presented the next opportunity for confrontation. When demonstrators, commemorating the forty-day mourning period, defiantly marched through the streets of Tabriz, the armed forces reacted as expected. To protect themselves and restore order, they opened fire, killing and injuring more civilians. The result was a sequence of events in which the opposition, led by influential clerics, conducted "religious commemorations," and the government interpreted them as challenges to law and order. With neither side relenting, the cycle of violence spread.

Observers of these tragic events pointed out that the reemergence of large-scale protest demonstrations was only made possible because of the shah's more liberal policies toward the nonviolent expression of dissent. Indeed, the shah confirmed on several occasions his commitment to more "liberal" political reforms, but at the same time he warned that the dissident movement was "completely illegal" and that he would "not let it get out of hand." Illegal or not, mass protest demonstrations did get out of control when the shah openly chastised the clerics for "destroying the country." The shah could not end these demonstrations, which gathered more support throughout 1978. Workers from the oil industry, heeding the call of the religious authorities, slowly paralyzed Iran's economic sector. It became only a matter of time before the shah lost control over Iran's internal security.

Intensely concerned with matters of internal security in the post-1953 environment, the shah authorized the development of one of the most extensive systems of law enforcement agencies in the developing world. The Gendarmerie--the rural police--and the National Police gained in numbers and responsibilities. The secret police organization, SAVAK, gained special notoriety for its excessive zeal in "maintaining" internal security. But as in the regular armed forces, the shah's management style virtually eliminated all coordination among these agencies. A favorite approach was to shuffle army personnel back and forth between their ordinary duties and temporary positions in internal security agencies, in order to minimize the possibility of any organized coups against the throne. Added to this list of institutional shortcomings was agencies' all- important public image, cloaked in mystery and fear. Iranians in and out of the country came to perceive these agencies as "arms" of the shah's absolute power and resented them deeply.

Formed under the guidance of United States and Israeli intelligence officers in 1957, SAVAK developed into an effective secret agency. General Teymur Bakhtiar was appointed its first director, only to be dismissed in 1961, allegedly for organizing a coup; he was assassinated in 1970 under mysterious circumstances, probably on the shah's direct order. His successor, General Hosain Pakravan, was dismissed in 1966, allegedly for having failed to crush the clerical opposition in the early 1960s. The shah turned to his childhood friend and classmate, General Nematollah Nassiri, to rebuild SAVAK and properly "serve" the monarch. Mansur Rafizadeh, the SAVAK director in the United States throughout the 1970s, claimed that General Nassiri's telephone was tapped by SAVAK agents reporting directly to the shah, an example of the level of mistrust pervading the government on the eve of the Revolution.

In 1987 accurate information concerning SAVAK remained publicly unavailable. A flurry of pamphlets issued by the revolutionary regime after 1979 indicated that SAVAK had been a full-scale intelligence agency with more than 15,000 full-time personnel and thousands of part-time informants. SAVAK was attached to the Office of the Prime Minister, and its director assumed the title of deputy to the prime minister for national security affairs. Although officially a civilian agency, SAVAK had close ties to the military; many of its officers served simultaneously in branches of the armed forces. Another childhood friend and close confidant of the shah, Major General Hosain Fardust, was deputy director of SAVAK until the early 1970s, when the shah promoted him to the directorship of the Special Intelligence Bureau, which operated inside Niavaran Palace, independently of SAVAK.

Founded to round up members of the outlawed Tudeh, SAVAK expanded its activities to include gathering intelligence and neutralizing the regime's opponents. An elaborate system was created to monitor all facets of political life. For example, a censorship office was established to monitor journalists, literary figures, and academics throughout the country; it took appropriate measures against those who fell out of line. Universities, labor unions, and peasant organizations, among others, were all subjected to intense surveillance by SAVAK agents and paid informants. The agency was also active abroad, especially in monitoring Iranian students who publicly opposed Pahlavi rule.

Over the years, SAVAK became a law unto itself, having legal authority to arrest and detain suspected persons indefinitely. SAVAK operated its own prisons in Tehran (the Komiteh and Evin facilities) and, many suspected, throughout the country as well. Many of these activities were carried out without any institutional checks. Thus, it came as no surprise when, in 1979, SAVAK was singled out as a primary target for reprisals, its headquarters overrun, and prominent leaders tried and executed by komiteh representatives. High-ranking SAVAK agents were purged between 1979 and 1981; there were 61 SAVAK officials among 248 military personnel executed between February and September 1979. The organization was officially dissolved by Khomeini shortly after he came to power in 1979.

Little information existed in 1987 on SAVAK's successor agency, SAVAMA. According to General Robert E. Huyser, President Jimmy Carter's last special envoy to imperial Iran, SAVAMA's first director was Major General Fardust, who was arrested in December 1985 for being a "Soviet informer." But after this major arrest the revolutionary government's keen desire to gain an upper hand over leftist guerrilla organizations may have influenced certain IRP leaders to relax their previously unrelenting pursuit of military intelligence personnel. Key religious leaders, including Majlis speaker Hashemi-Rafsanjani, insisted on recalling former agents to help the regime eliminate domestic opposition. Consequently, some intelligence officers and low-ranking SAVAK and army intelligence officials were asked to return to government service because of their specialized knowledge of the Iranian left. Others had acquired in-depth knowledge of Iraq's Baath Party and proved to be invaluable in helping decision makers.

Although it is impossible to verify, in 1987 observers speculated that some of SAVAK's intelligence-gathering operations were turned over to SAVAMA. It remained to be determined whether these newly authorized operations proved effective and whether there was coordination with other branches of government, including the powerful Pasdaran.

The Gendarmerie, numbering nearly 74,000 in 1979, was subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. Its law enforcement responsibilities extended to all rural areas and to small towns and villages of fewer than 5,000 inhabitants. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated its manpower at 70,000 in 1986.

The National Police operated with approximately 200,000 men in 1979, a figure that has not fluctuated much since. Like the Gendarmerie, the National Police was under the Ministry of Interior, and its responsibilities included all cities with more than 5,000 in population--a total of 20 percent of the population. In addition, the National Police was responsible for passport and immigration procedures, issuance and control of citizens' identification cards, driver and vehicle licensing and registration, and railroad and airport policing. Some of these duties were absorbed into the Ministry of the Pasdaran during the early years of the Revolution, and cooperation between these two branches seemed extensive.

Since 1979 both these paramilitary organizations have undergone complete reorganizations. IRP leaders quickly appointed Gendarmerie and police officers loyal to the Revolution to revive and reorganize the two bodies under the Republic. Between 1979 and 1983, no fewer than seven officers were given top National Police portfolios. Colonel Khalil Samimi, appointed in 1983 by the influential Hojjatoleslam Nategh-e Nuri, then minister of interior, was credited with reorganizing the National Police according to the IRP's Islamic guidelines. The Gendarmerie followed a similar path. Seven appointments were made between 1979 and 1986, leading to a full reorganization. In addition to Brigadier General Ahmad Mohagheghi, the commander in the early republican period who was executed in late summer of 1980, five colonels were purged. Colonel Ali Kuchekzadeh played a major role in reorganizing and strengthening the Gendarmerie after its near collapse in the early revolutionary period. The commander in 1987, Colonel Mohammad Sohrabi, had served in that position since February 1985 and was the first top officer to have risen from the ranks.

As of 1987, the National Police and the Gendarmerie reflected the ideology of the state. Despite their valuable internal security operations, the roles of both bodies were restricted by the rising influence of the Pasdaran and the Basij.

The Government's human rights record remained poor; although efforts within society to make the Government accountable for its human rights policies continued, serious problems remain. The Government significantly restricts citizens' right to change their government. Systematic abuses include summary executions, disappearances, widespread use of torture and other degrading treatment, reportedly including rape, severe punishments such as stoning and flogging, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and detention, and prolonged and incommunicado detention.

Judicial proceedings against some government officials for misconduct have continued; however, perpetrators usually go unpunished. A group of 20 police officials was brought to trial in March 2000 for their actions in an attack on a Tehran University student dormitory in July 1999. However, according to the U. N. Special Representative for Iran of the Commission on Human Rights (UNSR), all but one were cleared of charges and released; the court sentenced one individual to 6 months in prison. In December 2000, 18 former officials of the Intelligence Ministry were tried before a military court in closed proceedings for the killings of four dissidents in 1998. On January 27, 15 were convicted. However, the Supreme Court reversed the convictions in August.

The Constitution states that "reputation, life, property, (and) dwelling(s)" are protected from trespass except as "provided by law;" however, the Government infringes on these rights. Security forces monitor the social activities of citizens, enter homes and offices, monitor telephone conversations, and open mail without court authorization.

Organizations such as the Ansar-e Hezbollah, an organization of hard-line vigilantes who seek to enforce their vision of appropriate revolutionary comportment upon the society, harass, beat, and intimidate those who demonstrate publicly for reform or who do not observe dress codes or other modes of correct revolutionary conduct. This includes women whose clothing does not cover the hair and all parts of the body except the hands and face, or those who wear makeup or nail polish. Ansar-e Hezbollah gangs also have been used to destroy newspaper offices and printing presses, intimidate dissident clerics, and disrupt peaceful gatherings. Ansar-e Hezbollah cells are organized throughout the country and linked to individual members of the country's leadership.

Vigilante violence includes attacking young persons considered too "un-Islamic" in their dress or activities, invading private homes, abusing unmarried couples, and disrupting concerts or other forms of popular entertainment. Authorities occasionally enter homes to remove television satellite dishes, or to disrupt private gatherings in which unmarried men and women socialize, or where alcohol, mixed dancing, or other forbidden activities are offered or take place. For example, more than 1,000 satellite dishes were confiscated after the October soccer riots, according to press reports. Enforcement appears to be arbitrary, varying widely with the political climate and the individuals involved. Authorities reportedly can be bribed in some of these circumstances.

There have been reports during the year 2001 that authorities in several cities confiscated homes and property of a number of Baha'is.


The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, these practices remain common. There is reportedly no legal time limit for incommunicado detention, nor any judicial means to determine the legality of detention. Suspects may be held for questioning in jails or in local Revolutionary Guard offices.

The security forces often do not inform family members of a prisoner's welfare and location. Prisoners also may be denied visits by family members and legal counsel. In addition families of executed prisoners do not always receive notification of the prisoners' deaths. Those who do receive such information reportedly have been forced on occasion to pay the Government to retrieve the body of their relative.

Mohammed Chehrangi, an advocate for the cultural rights of Azeris, was arrested in December 1999. Azeri groups claim that Chehrangi was arrested to prevent his registration as a candidate in the February 2000 Majles elections.

In March authorities closed the 50-year-old Iran Freedom Movement for "attempting to overthrow the Islamic regime." HRW reported that the closure came after the March 11 arrest of 21 independent political activists, including a former chancellor of Tehran University. The activists were associated with religious-nationalism, which advocates constitutional Islamic rule and a respect for democratic principles. The Government has arrested more than 40 persons for association with the Freedom Movement, including one of its founders, the prominent legal scholar Dr. Seyed Ahmad Sadr Haj Seyed Javadi. Security forces also reportedly ransacked the offices of the Bazargan Cultural Foundation and the Society of Islamic Engineers while searching for suspects.

In February and March 1999, security forces in the cities of Isfahan and Shiraz arrested 13 Jews. Among the group were several prominent rabbis, teachers of Hebrew, and their students, one a 16-year-old boy. They were held for 14 months or more without formal charges until their trial began in May 2000. The delay in clarification of charges appeared to violate Article 32 of the Constitution, which states in part that in cases of arrest "charges with the reasons for accusation must, without delay, be communicated and explained to the accused in writing, and a provisional dossier must be forwarded to the competent judicial authorities within a maximum of 24 hours so that the preliminaries to the trial can be completed as swiftly as possible." The court eventually convicted 10 of the 13 of charges relating to illegal contacts with Israel. Governments around the world criticized the detentions and trial as unfair and in violation of due process.

Authorities detained as many as 1,500 students following student protests on July 8, 1999, and subsequent riots. Many of them remain in prison at year's end.

Numerous publishers, editors and journalists either were detained, jailed, fined, or prohibited from publishing their writings during the year. The Government appeared to follow a policy of intimidation toward members of the media whom it considers to pose a threat to the current system of Islamic government.

Adherents of the Baha'i Faith continue to face arbitrary arrest and detention. The Government appears to adhere to a practice of keeping a small number of Baha'is in detention at any given time. Sources claim that such arrests are carried out to "terrorize" the community and to disrupt the lives of its members. Most of those arrested are charged and then quickly released. However, the charges against them are often not dropped, forcing them to live in a continuing state of uncertainty and apprehension. According to Baha'i sources, five Baha'is remained in prison as of the end of October, including two who were convicted of either apostasy or "actions against God" and sentenced to death. In October authorities released two Baha'is from prison in Mashad. One of those, whose original death sentence was reduced to 51/2 years was released after serving 5 years. The other was released after completing his 4-year sentence, which had been reduced from his original sentence of 10 years.

The Government has enforced house arrest and other measures to restrict the movements and ability to communicate of several senior religious leaders whose views regarding political and governance issues are at variance with the ruling orthodoxy. Several of these figures dispute the legitimacy and position of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. These clerics include Ayatollah Seyyed Hassan Tabataei-Qomi, who has been under house arrest in Mashad for more than 15 years, Ayatollah Ya'asub al-Din Rastgari, who has been under house arrest in Qom since late 1996, and Ayatollah Mohammad Shirazi, who died in December while under house arrest in Qom. Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the former designated successor of the late Spiritual Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, and an outspoken critic of the Supreme Leader, remains under house arrest and heightened police surveillance. The followers of these and other dissident clerics, many of them junior clerics and students, reportedly have been detained in recent years and tortured by government authorities.

Iran and Iraq continued to exchange prisoners of war (POW's) and the remains of deceased fighters from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, adding to the large number of Iraqi POW's returned by Iran in 1998. However, a final settlement of the issue between the two governments was not achieved by year's end.

Although reliable statistics are not available, international observers believe that between scores and hundreds of citizens are detained for their political beliefs.

No information is available regarding whether the law prohibits forced exile. The Government uses internal exile as a punishment.


Iran is governed by an Islamic legal system that is codified by the constitution. Article 156 of the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. According to Articles 157 and 158, the highest judicial office is the High Council of Justice, which consists of five members who serve five-year, renewable terms. The High Council of Justice consists of the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the attorney general (also seen as State Prosecutor General), both of whom must be Shia mujtahids (members of the clergy whose demonstrated erudition in religious law has earned them the privilege of interpreting laws), and three other clergy chosen by religious jurists. The responsibilities of the High Council of Justice include establishing appropriate departments within the Ministry of Justice to deal with civil and criminal offenses, preparing draft bills related to the judiciary, and supervising the appointment of judges. Article 160 also stipulates that the minister of justice is to be chosen by the prime minister from among candidates who have been recommended by the High Council of Justice. The minister of justice is responsible for all courts throughout the country.

Article 161 provides for the Supreme Court, whose composition is based upon laws drafted by the High Council of Justice. The Supreme Court is an appellate court that reviews decisions of the lower courts to ensure their conformity with the laws of the country and to ensure uniformity in judicial policy. Article 162 stipulates that the chief justice of the Supreme Court must be a mujtahid with expertise in judicial matters. The faqih, in consultation with the justices of the Supreme Court, appoints the chief justice for a term of five years.

In 1980 Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti was appointed by Khomeini as the first chief justice. Beheshti established judicial committees that were charged with drafting new civil and criminal codes derived from Shia Islamic laws. One of the most significant new codes was the Law of Qisas, which was submitted to and passed by the Majlis in 1982, one year after Beheshti's death in a bomb explosion. The Law of Qisas provided that in cases of victims of violent crime, families could demand retribution, up to and including death. Other laws established penalties for various moral offenses, such as consumption of alcohol, failure to observe hejab, adultery, prostitution, and illicit sexual relations. Punishments prescribed in these laws included public floggings, amputations, and execution by stoning for adulterers.

The entire judicial system of the country has been desecularized. The attorney general, like the chief justice, must be a mujtahid and is appointed to office for a five-year term by the faqih (Article 162). The judges of all the courts must be knowledgeable in Shia jurisprudence; they must meet other qualifications determined by rules established by the High Council of Justice. Since there were insufficient numbers of qualified senior clergy to fill the judicial positions in the country, some former civil court judges who demonstrated their expertise in Islamic law and were willing to undergo religious training were permitted to retain their posts. In practice, however, the Islamization of the judiciary forced half of the former civil court judges out of their positions. To emphasize the independence of judges from the government, Article 170 stipulates that they are "duty bound to refrain from executing governmental decisions that are contrary to Islamic laws."

The influence of conservative government clerics, which pervades the judiciary, often prevents citizens from receiving due process or fair trials. The Government uses the judiciary to stifle dissent and obstruct progress on human rights. The Government infringes on citizens' privacy rights, and restricts freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. Over the last 2 years, the Government has closed nearly all reform-oriented publications, and brought charges against prominent political figures and members of the clergy for expressing ideas viewed as contrary to the ruling orthodoxy. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has continued to issue licenses for the establishment of newspapers and magazines, some of which eventually challenged government policies, but those, too, were shut down.

The Government has been responsible for numerous killings, and during the year 2001 reportedly there were executions that took place following trials in which there was a lack of due process.

There were anecdotal reports of security forces killing persons during the October "soccer riots." The Government acknowledged that it arrested hundreds of persons, but denies that anyone was killed.

Human rights groups reported that security forces killed at least 20 persons while violently suppressing demonstrations by Kurds that occurred in the wake of the February 1999 arrest of Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan in Turkey. HRW reported at least four student deaths in July 1999, when government-sanctioned agitators attacked a student dormitory during protests in Tehran.

Citizens continue to be tried and sentenced to death in the absence of sufficient procedural safeguards. In 1992 the domestic press stopped reporting most executions; however, executions continue in substantial numbers, according to U.N. and other reporting. The UNSR, based on media reports, cited an estimated 60 executions from January through July, down from 130 during the same period last year. The Government has not cooperated in providing the UNSR with a precise number of executions carried out. The UNSR reported that approximately two thirds of the executions took place in public, contrary to regulations, and that state television broadcasted scenes from hangings on at least two occasions during the year 2001. He also noted that a woman was hanged publicly on March 19, a very rare event in the Islamic republic. Exiles and human rights monitors allege that many of those executed for criminal offenses, such as narcotics trafficking, actually are political dissidents. Supporters of outlawed political organizations, such as the Mujahedin-e Khalq organization, are believed to make up a large number of those executed each year.

No reliable information is available regarding the number of disappearances. In the period immediately following arrest, many detainees are held incommunicado and denied access to lawyers and family members.

The Constitution forbids the use of torture; however, there were numerous credible reports that security forces and prison personnel have continued to torture detainees and prisoners. Some prison facilities, including Tehran's Evin prison, are notorious for the cruel and prolonged acts of torture inflicted upon political opponents of the Government. Common methods include suspension for long periods in contorted positions, burning with cigarettes, sleep deprivation, and, most frequently, severe and repeated beatings with cables or other instruments on the back and on the soles of the feet. Prisoners also have reported beatings about the ears, inducing partial or complete deafness, and punching in the eyes, leading to partial or complete blindness. Stoning and flogging are prescribed expressly by the Islamic Penal Code as appropriate punishments for adultery.

During the year 2001, HRW reported that public floggings were "increasingly used for a wide range of social offenses, including breaches of the dress code, despite opposition from Interior Ministry officials who questioned the effectiveness of such punishments." For example, eight men convicted of drinking alcohol and causing public disturbance were flogged publicly in Tehran in July. Authorities flogged the men with 70 to 80 lashes.

HRW also reported that clashes between police and demonstrators broke out at public floggings and executions in Tehran in July and August when protesters demonstrated against these forms of punishment.

The court system is not independent and is subject to government and religious influence. It serves as the principal vehicle of the State to restrict freedom and reform in the society.

There are several different court systems. The two most active are the traditional courts, which adjudicate civil and criminal offenses, and the Islamic Revolutionary Courts. The latter were established in 1979 to try offenses viewed as potentially threatening to the Islamic Republic, including threats to internal or external security, narcotics crimes, economic crimes (including hoarding and overpricing), and official corruption. A special clerical court examines alleged transgressions within the clerical establishment, and a military court investigates crimes committed in connection with military or security duties by members of the army, police, and the Revolutionary Guards. A press court hears complaints against publishers, editors, and writers in the media. The Supreme Court has limited authority to review cases.

The judicial system has been designed to conform, where possible, to an Islamic canon based on the Koran, Sunna, and other Islamic sources. Article 157 provides that the head of the judiciary shall be a cleric chosen by the Supreme Leader. Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi resigned as the head of the judiciary in August 1999, and was replaced by Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi. The head of the Supreme Court and Prosecutor General also must be clerics.

Many aspects of the prerevolutionary judicial system survive in the civil and criminal courts. For example, defendants have the right to a public trial, may choose their own lawyer, and have the right of appeal. Trials are adjudicated by panels of judges. There is no jury system in the civil and criminal courts. If a situation is not addressed by statutes enacted after the 1979 revolution, the Government advises judges to give precedence to their own knowledge and interpretation of Islamic law, rather than rely on statutes enacted during the Pahlavi monarchy.

Trials in the Revolutionary Courts, in which crimes against national security and other principal offenses are heard, are notorious for their disregard of international standards of fairness. Revolutionary Court judges act as both prosecutor and judge in the same case, and judges are chosen in part based on their ideological commitment to the system. Pretrial detention often is prolonged and defendants lack access to attorneys. Indictments often lack clarity and include undefined offenses such as "antirevolutionary behavior," "moral corruption," and "siding with global arrogance." Defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers. Secret or summary trials of 5 minutes duration occur. Others are show trials that are intended merely to highlight a coerced public confession.

In November 2000, a Revolutionary Court began the trials of 17 writers, intellectuals, and political figures who took part in an April conference in Berlin regarding the implications of the February 2000 Majles elections. The 17 defendants included 12 persons who had attended the conference and who were arrested upon their return to Iran. They were charged with taking part in antigovernment and anti-Islamic activities, and included investigative journalist Akbar Ganji, newspaper editor Mohammed Reza Jalaipour, Member of Parliament Jamileh Kadivar, women's rights activists Mehrangiz Kar and Shahla Lahidji, opposition politician Ezzatollah Sahabi, student leader Ali Afshari, and others, including two translators for the German Embassy in Tehran. According to HRW, on January 13, the Court convicted seven of them on the vague charge of "having conspired to overthrow the system of the Islamic Republic." The Court convicted three other defendants on lesser charges, imposing fines and suspended sentences, and acquitted seven others. The trial reportedly was closed, and HRW claimed that it violated recognized international standards for free trial because several of the defendants were held for months without access to legal counsel.

According to HRW, the sentences handed down by the Court included: 10 years in prison and then 5 years of internal exile for journalist Ganji (his sentence was reduced to 6 months on appeal, but increased to the original 10 years by the Tehran Press Courts); 10 and 9 year sentences for the 2 translators employed by the German Embassy in Tehran; 5 years for student leader Afshari; 41/2 years for politician Ezzatollah Sahabi; and 4 years each for Lahidji and Kar. Sahibi's appeal of that verdict had not been heard by year's end. He was provisionally released but rearrested following public remarks he made in March, and remained in detention without new charges being filed against him at year's end. For a time, Kar was not allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment for breast cancer. Kar's husband Siamak Pourzand disappeared in late November and has not been heard from since.

In late December 2000, a military court began the trials of 18 persons in connection with the killings of several prominent dissidents and intellectuals in late 1998. In January 15 of the defendants were convicted; however, the results were overturned by the Supreme Court in August.

The legitimacy of the Special Clerical Court (SCC) system has continued to be a subject of debate. The clerical courts, which were established in 1987 to investigate offenses and crimes committed by clerics, and which are overseen directly by the Supreme Leader, are not provided for in the Constitution, and operate outside the domain of the judiciary. In particular, critics allege that the clerical courts are used to prosecute certain clerics for expressing controversial ideas and for participating in activities outside the sphere of religion, such as journalism.

During the latter part of 2000, an SCC began the trial of Hojatoleslam Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, a cleric who participated in the Berlin conference, on charges of apostasy and "corruption on earth," which potentially carry the death penalty. Eshkevari had called for more liberal interpretations of Islamic law in certain areas. He was sentenced to death, but the sentence was overturned on appeal in May. He was permitted a 2-day furlough from prison in September.

In November 1999, former Interior Minister and Vice President Abdollah Nouri was sentenced by a branch of the SCC to a 5-year prison term for allegedly publishing "anti-Islamic articles, insulting government officials, promoting friendly relations with the United States," and providing illegal publicity to dissident cleric Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri in Khordad, a newspaper that was established by Nouri in late 1998 and closed at the time of his arrest. Nouri used the public trial to attack the legitimacy of the SCC.

In April 1999, a branch of the SCC convicted Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar, a Shi'a cleric and popular seminary lecturer, to 18 months in prison for "dissemination of lies and confusing public opinion" in a series of broadcast interviews and newspaper articles. Kadivar advocated political reform and greater intellectual freedom and criticized the misuse of religion to maintain power. In an interview published in a newspaper, Kadivar criticized certain government officials for turning criticism against them into alleged crimes against the State. He also observed that such leaders "mistake themselves with Islam, with national interests, or with the interests of the system, and in this way believe that they should be immune from criticism." He also allegedly criticized former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini and demonstrated support for dissident cleric Ayatollah Montazeri. Kadivar's trial was not open to the public.

It is difficult for women to obtain legal redress. A woman's testimony in court is worth only half that of a man's, making it difficult for a woman to prove a case against a male defendant.

The Government frequently charges members of religious minorities with crimes such as "confronting the regime" and apostasy, and conducts trials in these cases in the same manner as is reserved for threats to national security. Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, who resigned as head of the judiciary in August 2000, stated in 1996 that the Baha'i faith is an espionage organization. Trials against Baha'is have reflected this view. The trial of 13 Iranian Jews on charges related to espionage for Israel was marked throughout by a lack of due process. The defendants were held for more than 1 year without being charged formally or given access to lawyers. The trial was closed, and the defendants were not allowed to choose their own lawyers. Following the trial, defense lawyers told news reporters that they were threatened by judiciary officials and pressured to admit their clients' guilt.

In December 1999, authorities rearrested former Deputy Prime Minister and longtime political dissident Abbas Amir-Entezam after an interview with him was published in an Iranian newspaper. Amir-Entezam has spent much of the past 20 years in and out of prison since being arrested on charges of collaboration with the United States following the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by revolutionary militants in 1979. In his original trial, Amir-Entezam was denied defense counsel and access to the allegedly incriminating evidence that was gathered from the overtaken U.S. Embassy and used against him. Since then he has appealed for a fair and public trial, which has been denied to him. He has been a frequent victim of torture in prison; he suffered a ruptured eardrum due to repeated beatings, kidney failure resulting from denial of access to toilet facilities, and an untreated prostate condition. He reported having been taken on numerous occasions before a firing squad, told to prepare for death, only to be allowed to live. Amir-Entezam remained in prison at year's end.

Independent legal scholar and member of the Islamic clergy Hojatoleslam Sayyid Mohsen Saidzadeh, who was convicted by the SCC in 1998 for his outspoken criticism of the treatment of women under the law, was released from prison in early in 1999; however, the Government banned him from performing any clerical duties for 5 years. Human rights groups outside the country noted reports that Saidzadeh's 1998 sentence also included a prohibition on publishing. He has ceased authoring monthly columns on legal issues, many focusing on the rights of women, since the time of his detention.

In December 2000, Judiciary Chief Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi announced an initiative to reform the Iranian judicial system. He said that the country is "still a long way off from having a reformed and developed judicial organization." He also announced that 40 judges, clerks, and other officials had been arrested on corruption charges. Some sources outside the country claim that Shahroudi used this initiative to purge the judiciary of some of its more moderate elements in the guise of fighting corruption.

No estimates are available regarding the number of political prisoners. However, the Government often arrests, convicts, and sentences persons on questionable criminal charges, including drug trafficking, when their actual "offenses" are political.


Prison conditions are harsh. Some prisoners are held in solitary confinement or denied adequate food or medical care in order to force confessions. Female prisoners reportedly have been raped or otherwise tortured while in detention. Prison guards reportedly intimidate family members of detainees and torture detainees in the presence of family members. In his 2000 report, the UNSR reported receiving numerous reports of prisoner overcrowding and unrest, and cited a reported figure of only 8.2 square feet (2.5 square meters) of space available for each prisoner. In his August report, the UNSR noted that the head of the National Prisons Organization (NPO) had told him that the prison population had risen 40 percent over the past year. The UNSR reported that much of the prisoner abuse was occurring in unofficial detention centers run by the secret service and military, among others. The UNSR further reported that according to the head of the NPO, the unofficial detention centers officially were brought under the control of the NPO during the year 2001. In his latest report, the UNSR was unable to determine whether the change actually had taken place, and whether it had impacted the number of cases of prisoner abuse. HRW has reported that Prison 59 in Tehran, which is located in a Revolutionary Guard compound, is the only remaining prison that has not been brought under the jurisdiction of the NPO. Access to Prison 59 had been denied, including to Members of Parliament and the President's staff. During the year 2001, the Iranian Human Rights Working Group reported that conditions for political prisoners have deteriorated. The group further noted that prisoner Reza Raiss-Toussi appeared physically ill and disoriented at his court hearing in March. He stated that prison officials keep him blindfolded at all times he is out of his cell.

According to HRW, in August a parliamentary group investigating abuses committed by state institutions produced a still-unreleased report that cites a large increase in the number of persons being imprisoned, more than two-thirds of them for drug-related offenses. It also noted that HIV/AIDS and other diseases were spreading rapidly throughout the prison population.

Other than the ICRC, the Government does not permit visits to imprisoned dissidents by human rights monitors.


Although spousal abuse and violence against women occurred, statistics regarding such abuse are not available publicly. Abuse in the family is considered a private matter and seldom is discussed publicly. Rape is illegal; however, the law rarely is enforced, and rape is a widespread problem. The Special Representative noted in his September 2000 report that media reporting on the situation of women has diminished, in part due to the closure of the reform-oriented press.

Prostitution is illegal. Information regarding the extent of the problem is not available.

A girls' center in Karaj reportedly was involved in the trafficking of girls.

Women have access to primary and advanced education; however, social and legal constraints limit their professional opportunities. In September 2000, the Majles approved a controversial bill to allow single women to travel abroad for graduate education. The Council of Guardians was considering the legislation at year's end. Women are represented in many fields of the work force, and the Government has not prevented women from entering many traditionally male-dominated fields, including medicine, dentistry, journalism and agriculture. However, many women choose not to work outside the home. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there were 2 million women in the work force, of whom approximately 1.8 million were employed during the year 2001. A 1985 law enacted by the Government instituted 3 months of paid maternity leave, and 2 half-hour periods per day for nursing mothers to feed their babies. Pension benefits for women were established under the same law, which required companies hiring women to provide day-care facilities for young children of female employees.

The State enforces gender segregation in most public spaces, and prohibits women mixing openly with unmarried men or men not related to them. Women must ride in a reserved section on public buses and enter public buildings, universities, and airports through separate entrances. Women are prohibited from attending male sporting events, although this restriction does not appear to be enforced universally. While the enforcement of a conservative Islamic dress codes has varied with the political climate since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, what women wear in public is not entirely a matter of personal choice. The authorities harass women if their dress or behavior is considered inappropriate, and women may be sentenced to flogging or imprisonment for such violations. The law prohibits the publication of pictures of uncovered women in the print media, including pictures of foreign women. There are penalties for failure to observe Islamic dress codes at work.

Discrimination against women is reinforced by law through provisions of the Islamic Civil and Penal Codes, in particular those sections dealing with family and property law. Shortly after the 1979 revolution, the Government repealed the Family Protection Law, a hallmark bill adopted in 1967, that gave women increased rights in the home and workplace, and replaced it with a legal system based largely on Shari'a practices. In 1998 the Majles passed legislation that mandated segregation of the sexes in the provision of medical care. The bill provided for women to be treated only by female physicians and men by male physicians and raised questions about the quality of care that women could receive under such a regime, considering the imbalance between the number of trained and licensed male and female physicians and specialists.

In October 2000, the Parliament passed a bill to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 9 to 15. However, the Council of Guardians rejected the bill in November 2000 as contrary to Islamic law. Nonetheless, even under the law, marriage at the minimum age is rare. All women, no matter the age, must have the permission of their father or a living male relative in order to marry. The law allows for the practice of Siqeh, or temporary marriage, a Shi'a custom in which a woman or a girl may become the wife of a married or single Muslim male after a simple and brief religious ceremony. The Siqeh marriage may last for a night or as little as 30 minutes. The bond is not recorded on identification documents, and, according to Islamic law, men may have as many Siqeh wives as they wish. Such wives are not granted rights associated with traditional marriage.

The Penal Code includes provisions that mandate the stoning of women and men convicted of adultery. Women have the right to divorce, and the grounds on which a woman may seek a divorce include proving that her husband is addicted to drugs or that he has not supported her for extended periods. However, a husband is not required to cite a reason for divorcing his wife. In 1986 the Government issued a 12-point "contract" to serve as a model for marriage and divorce, which limits the privileges accorded to men by custom and traditional interpretations of Islamic law. The model contract also recognized a divorced woman's right to a share in the property that couples acquire during their marriage and to increased alimony rights. Women who remarry are forced to give up to the child's father custody of children from earlier marriages. However, the law granted custody of minor children to the mother in certain divorce cases in which the father is proven unfit to care for the child, such as in cases in which the father suffers from drug addiction or has a criminal record. Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men. The testimony of a woman is worth only half that of a man in court. A married woman must obtain the written consent of her husband before traveling outside the country.

In his August report, the UNSR reported that poverty severely impacts women and that there are about one million single-mother families, and that 29 percent of the families below the poverty line are single-mother families. In addition, 70 percent of the single mothers in rural areas are illiterate.


A girls' center in Karaj reportedly was involved in the trafficking of girls.

There is no known pattern of child abuse.


The law does not prohibit specifically trafficking in persons, and persons reportedly were trafficked to, through, and from the country during the year 2001. The UNSR noted in his August report that "a girl's shelter in Karaj, the Jasmine Center, was closed down after an investigation reportedly revealed that it had become involved in the trafficking of girls. The press focused on the high-level connections of the operators of the Center. The authorities subsequently charged a judge of the Revolutionary Court in the affair."

There were reports that women were trafficked to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the purpose of forced prostitution. There also were reports that young boys were trafficked through the country to be camel jockeys in the UAE.

There reportedly were 3 trials during the year 2001 related to the trafficking of persons; however, there was no information regarding the details of the trials or their outcomes.


Land routes across Iran constitute the single largest conduit for Southwest Asian opiates en route to European markets. Entering from Afghanistan and Pakistan into eastern Iran, heroin, opium, and morphine are smuggled overland, usually to Turkey but also to Turkmenistan, Armenia and Azerbaijan and occasionally by sea across the Persian Gulf. Iran is no longer a major drug-producing country. A 1998 USG survey concluded that the amount of opium poppy cultivation is negligible, down from an estimated 3,500 hectares in 1993. As with all former producing countries, the USG will be watching closely for evidence of renewed poppy cultivation or evidence that transiting drugs are significantly affecting the U.S. Iran has a widespread drug addiction problem that now attracts significant Government of Iran (GOI) attention and resources.

Iran's drug interdiction programs are apparently large and aggressive, even if only partially successful at stemming the flow of illicit drugs. UNDCP teams visited Iran three times in 1998, and in January 1999 Iran and UNDCP signed an agreement to expand UN-Iranian cooperation, including opening a UNDCP office in Tehran.

Regional cooperation efforts by Iran are limited in scope and number, but have been mentioned favorably by the Dublin Group and the UNDCP, and appear to signal a new willingness to cooperate with the international community on counter-narcotics matters.

Iran has ratified the 1988 UN Drug Convention, but its laws do not bring it completely into conformity with the Convention.

Drug addiction in Iran is a growing problem. In 1998, Iran estimated that the number of drug abusers was 1,200,000, although these statistics do not distinguish between "users" and "addicts." Observers ascribe the GOI's more aggressive anti-drug policies, at least in part, to concern over the burgeoning drug addiction and related crime problems in major Iranian urban centers.

Criminology Links
Antiregime Opposition Groups
Incidence of Crime
Socioeconomic System
Drug Trafficking
Legal System
Juvenile Delinquency
Crime Prevention

Other Links
Online literature
Travel tips
International criminal justice agencies
Legal system
News and media
Correspondent email addresses
Distance learning courses
Comparative criminology-related sites

A Comparative Criminology Tour of the World
Dr. Robert Winslow
San Diego State University