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IRAN

Judicial CP - August 2001



masthead Washington Post, 16 August 2001

Iran's Cultural Backlash

Public Floggings Used as Tool Against Reform

By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service

TEHRAN, Aug. 15 -- It was the evening rush hour, and, as usual, traffic was congested and crazy in Fatemi Square, a busy intersection in the heart of Iran's capital.

Suddenly, cars swerved to block the road, and dozens of security officers fanned out through the crowd. Five young men, already in custody, were stripped to the waist. As hundreds watched, one was tied by his hands to a sign post, according to numerous witnesses. Someone roared over a loud speaker that these men had been drunk in public and had harassed girls in a park, and under Islamic law, they would be punished with 80 lashes each.

"They started at the ankles and went all the way up their backs" with a long leather whip, said a shopkeeper. "They were all bleeding, every one of them, and if they objected, they were beaten harder. . . . These were criminals trying to enforce 1,400-year-old laws on us."

The whippings, which came on Aug. 7, were part of a rash of at least nine mass public floggings in Tehran that have taken place since the beginning of July. Most were administered to young men for drinking alcohol, distributing Western music CDs or being alone with women who were not their relatives.

Analysts here say the whippings are the latest example of the ideological clash between Iran's powerful religious conservatives and a youthful public wanting greater personal freedoms and civil liberties. The beatings also reflect the overly politicized nature of Iran's judicial system, critics say, and the failure of reformers to change it in the face of hard-line opposition.

The lashings were ordered by judges in Iran's ultraconservative judiciary who are angry and afraid, analysts here say, of what they see as public displays of immorality and the growing social liberalization under the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami, which has condemned the floggings. A political spat between reformers, who dominate the elected administrative side of the government, and conservatives, who control the religious side, which includes the judiciary, military and state broadcasting agencies, forced a three-day delay in Khatami's second-term inauguration ceremony last week.

Put on the defensive by stunning losses at the polls in June -- Khatami won reelection with 77 percent of the vote against nine conservative opponents -- hard-liners here have struck back by closing more than 40 reformist newspapers and jailing dozens of journalists, students and political activists. Lawmakers who have criticized the measures in parliament have been prosecuted for defaming the judiciary.

"Conservative forces are genuinely concerned by what they consider to be increasing public immorality" and the surging demand for political, social and religious liberalization, said Tehran University political scientist Hadi Semati, who was a consultant to Khatami's campaign. "Maybe they realized that it's getting too out of control, and as a result of the election itself, they decided they had to do something about it, and that's public flogging."

"Conservatives feel threatened -- themselves and their ideas," said another political science professor, who asked not to be identified. "They feel Islamic values are being breached, society and the youth are becoming corrupt and many aspects of life are being changed in the direction of Western culture, so their resort is to attack the government with public floggings."

The lashings have put reformers in a familiar quandary, in which the civil side of the state is overpowered by the religious side and seems powerless to block its actions. When Khatami's Interior Ministry tried to wrestle the flogging issue away from the judiciary by administrative sleight-of-hand -- ordering that public floggings could not take place without approval from local security councils to ensure that they did not disturb the social peace -- judges simply ignored the order.

One of the biggest mass floggings occurred on a Friday -- the Muslim holy day and the last day of the weekend in Iran -- in Darband Square, which sits along the main road to the mountainous area north of Tehran where thousands of young people and families go for daylong excursions.

Two police officers who participated in the event on July 20 said 45 men were whipped, one after another, in a three-hour session that was witnessed by thousands of people, whose cars were forced to a crawl as they passed on the way to the countryside. The people who were whipped were laid across a table, with their hands tied to its legs, witnesses said.

The officers, both four-year police veterans who spoke on condition that their names not be used, said all the suspects had been rounded up in the mountains that morning for drinking alcohol or for being with women they were not related to.

"We had five or six judicial authorities here [in the square], and they examined the cases on the spot, someone took the minutes, and the punishment was performed right there," one of the officers explained. "Some people said they were against it and that we should let people live freely, and others said that this was the way to discourage wrongdoers from repeating their misdeeds."

"Before, when we didn't have as much freedom, they [ranking officers] told us to question boys and girls to see if they were legally related," said his colleague. "But after the elements in favor of more freedom came to office, we were told not to even talk to boys and girls, and now they are going around hand in hand."

"Everything has gotten worse because Khatami has granted more social freedoms," he said. "You can be as free as you want now, and that's why the judiciary believes they have to stop it."

A worker in the square said, "There's a group in the state that wants to destroy Khatami." That could happen, he explained, because "people will say, 'You are the president, it's your state and your government, and you are responsible.' "

Citizens and political analysts said that appeared to be part of the reason behind the Aug. 7 lashings at Fatemi Square, where the ministries of culture, agriculture and interior are located.

"The Interior Ministry is 10 steps away, and the minister has announced that he opposes this act," said a shop owner. By flogging people right under his nose, "they're trying to prove to him that you're nothing."

Like many of the ideological conflicts in Iran today, this one partially revolves around different interpretations of Islam. Hard-liners say that Islam's holy book, the Koran, mandates 80 lashes for drinking alcohol. Others say the punishment is discretionary.

The decision by hard-line judges to administer the floggings in public, apparently for its deterrent effect, also has sparked debate about both religion and politics.

Public punishments -- particularly hangings of murderers, rapists and drug dealers -- are fairly common in Iran and such other Muslim nations as Saudi Arabia. But publicly flogging young men for what conservatives say is social immorality is extreme and counterproductive, many argue. Officials from Iran's judiciary did not respond to requests for interviews on the subject.

"Implementing Islamic punishment in public is not mentioned in Iran's civil law . . . and it's never mentioned in the Koran that punishment should happen publicly," said Nasser Qavami, a mid-level cleric and reformist lawmaker who heads parliament's legal committee. But neither is it prohibited, he said.

"I personally do not believe in this, and I believe that views of this kind are not for the benefit of the people, the system or the country," he said. "In the fields of ideology and culture, using force may lead to the opposite result. You can't apply violence and expect people to believe in an ideology."

Ali Reza Nouri, a leading reformer in parliament, said that while lawmakers could not compel the judiciary to stop public floggings, he hoped parliament could craft legislation that would persuade them to try something else. "We are trying to create other options to flogging -- prison terms and fines, for instance -- so that a judge doesn't feel he has to choose flogging as the only option," Nouri said.

But the conservative head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, announced on Aug. 9 that the practice would be accelerated beginning Aug. 23. He said that offenses that contribute to moral corruption, particularly the distribution of Western music CDs and the consumption of alcohol, should be considered major crimes that deserve "the public punishment of the wrongdoers," according to an article in the Hamshahri newspaper.

Shahroudi said he would not be swayed by negative public opinion and suggested that the public floggings had the blessing of Iran's top political and religious authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"It's a sort of control, a lesson for the young," said Abdul Rashid Rashidi, 50, the owner of a flower shop on Fatemi Square who said he approved of the recent floggings outside his store. "You can see how much harassment there is -- there is vandalism and delinquency on the streets. These people should be whipped so others learn, and if they are flogged inside a prison, no one would learn the lesson."

But Parastou, 22, a computer software student who was talking to her boyfriend outside the store, said there was no deterrent value.

"Torturing people? That makes them worse," she said. "People tend to learn newer ways to do the same thing, and bribery goes up immensely because police take the money and then prevent nothing."

"The conservatives know nothing can get better by flogging people, but they hold all the power," said a shopkeeper -- the father of a son, 17, and daughter, 19 -- who witnessed the flogging of five men at Kaj Square in a residential area of northwestern Tehran on July 26. "I think Mr. Khatami's efforts are all in vain."

The shopkeeper complained that the reason so many young people are being arrested for offenses punishable by flogging is that social and religious restrictions give Iran's young people few opportunities for diversion. Families and the state have a responsibility to create legitimate pastimes so kids can have fun, he said.

"I'd like to find a good girlfriend for my son, like when I was his age, and I have the same idea for my daughter," he said. "But that could create a lot of problems with the police," who often arrest young, unmarried couples for illegally fraternizing in public.

"I take them to a restaurant with live music to provide food for their souls," he said. "I bought them a computer with Internet services, and my son spends eight or nine hours a day on it," often listening to Western music that is prohibited in Iran.

"I'm trying my best not to break the law," he said, "but if I find it's necessary to satisfy the needs of my children and myself, I would commit a minor wrongdoing."

2001 The Washington Post Company



masthead Gulf News, Dubai, UAE, 16 August 2001

Public floggings fuel Iran row

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- The Iranian authorities have flogged 13 men in a central Tehran square for drinking alcohol and harassing women, the latest in a spate of punishments that is fuelling a row over the aims of the hardline judiciary.

The official IRNA news agency said the lashings were carried out during Tuesday evening's rush hour, bringing traffic to a standstill along Tehran's main north-south thoroughfare.
The newspaper Norouz yesterday quoted witnesses as saying blood flowed from the bare backs of the young men as they were being whipped.

Although young men and women convicted of morals charges are routinely flogged in detention centres, public lashings had until recently been rare, especially in more cosmopolitan Tehran.

The latest round of public lashings, which started after the re-election of moderate President Mohammad Khatami in June, have been publicly endorsed by the hardline judiciary chief as punishments aimed to deter others.

But judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is accused by reformists of trying to derail Khatami's attempts to bring about social change.

The Interior Ministry, reformist parties and several MPs have all criticised the recent judicial crackdown as an attempt to discredit Khatami and his embattled reformist allies.
Now religious leaders are also questioning the validity of public punishments according to Islamic law.

"If punishments carried out in public have an adverse effect on public opinion, they should not take place in public," IRNA quoted Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi as saying.

IRNA also quoted Mohammad-Javad Haq-Shenas, deputy interior minister for political affairs, as saying: "Public flogging is in fact a toughening of a convict's sentence...it unfortunately damages Iran's image abroad."

But Qorbanali Dorri Najafabadi, a member of the conservative-dominated Expediency Council, which mediates in disputes between the parliament and the Islamic watchdog Guardian Council, backed the new wave of public floggings.

"We cannot be merciful towards corrupt people who put the security of society in danger," IRNA quoted him as saying. Shahroudi has also called for more public hangings.

Al Nisr Publishing LLC - Gulf News Online



masthead Gulf News, Dubai, UAE, 22 August 2001

Floggings may hurt Islam image - Kharrazi

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said yesterday a wave of public hangings and floggings in Iran may paint a "violent image" of Islam in the world. The moderate minister issued the warning in widely anticipated talks with the hardline judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi.

"I told the judiciary chief that we should not impose Islamic rules in a way that would show a violent image of Islam," Kharrazi told IRNA news agency.

"When we speak of negative repercussions abroad, we do not mean that we should act to the wishes of other countries. No country has the right to protest against the implementation of Islamic rules in Iran," he said.

There has been a wave of public hangings of convicted murderers and street floggings of mostly young men charged with consuming alcohol or harassing women.

Hardline clerics have defended such punishments as an essential part of Islamic law and a deterrent to rising crime and breaches of Islamic teachings by youngsters, who make up two thirds of the country's 65 million population.

But President Mohammad Khatami and his reformist allies have denounced them as anachronistic and possibly harmful to Iran's image abroad at a time when the country seeks foreign investment to improve its stagnant economy.

Kharrazi said he had submitted to the judiciary a guideline on "implementing Islamic rules in a way that would not have an adverse effect". "These rules should be implemented in a way that is both supported by the public and does not have negative consequences in our foreign relations," he said.

Al Nisr Publishing LLC - Gulf News Online



masthead BBC News Online, London, 27 August 2001

Middle East

Judiciary defends Iran floggings

By Jim Muir in Tehran

Amid rising concern over a recent series of public floggings, the Iranian judiciary has said that such punishments were only being inflicted on those whose crimes were themselves committed in public.

In recent weeks, several hundred young men are reported to have been publicly lashed for offences including drunkenness and harassing women.

The level of concern provoked by the spate of public floggings and several recent hangings was evident at a meeting between several senior government ministers called by the parliamentary national security committee.

They included the ministers of the interior, foreign affairs, intelligence and justice, as well as the Tehran police chief.

Newspaper accounts of the meeting said all the ministers expressed their opposition to the practice of public lashing.

Counter-productive

Most argued that it was counter-productive as a deterrent and was alienating public opinion both at home and abroad.

The Tehran Police Chief, Mohsen Qalibaf, was quoted as saying the judiciary had initiated the flogging campaign without regard to the law and without coordinating with the law enforcement agencies.

Clearly on the defensive, the deputy head of the judiciary told the meeting that such punishments were only being applied to those whose offences had been committed publicly, outraging public morals and sentiment.

The judiciary is widely seen as a stronghold of entrenched hardliners opposed to the reform movement.

The crackdown on what it regards as moral corruption among young people has caused widespread unease and it has become the latest issue in the ongoing struggle between the hardliners and reformists.

It has also triggered a sharp theological debate among clerics, with hardliners arguing that public floggings and hangings are an immutable element of Islamic law, while more moderate figures have said they lack Koranic justification.

President opposed

The reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, has spoken out against the practice, saying that harsh punishments were not the answer to social corruption.

He added that in a society rife with poverty, discrimination and corruption, young people could not be expected to stay on the straight and narrow.

Most of those critical of the floggings do not dispute the merit of the punishments themselves.

The controversy is over whether they should be carried out in public.




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Colin Farrell 2001
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