Iran’s persistent use of cruel and inhuman punishments, including floggings, amputations and forced blinding over the past year, exposes the authorities’ utterly brutal sense of justice, said Amnesty International.
Hundreds are routinely flogged in Iran each year, sometimes in public.
In the most recent flogging case recorded by Amnesty International, a journalist was lashed 40 times in Najaf Abad, Esfahan Province, on 5 January after a court found him guilty of inaccurately reporting the number of motorcycles confiscated by police in the city.
“The authorities’ prolific use of corporal punishment, including flogging, amputation and blinding, throughout 2016 highlights the inhumanity of a justice system that legalizes brutality. These cruel and inhuman punishments are a shocking assault on human dignity and violate the absolute international prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment,” said Randa Habib, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The latest flogging of a journalist raises alarms that the authorities intend to continue the spree of cruel punishments we have witnessed over the past year into 2017.”
Under Iranian law, more than 100 “offences” are punishable by flogging. These cover a wide array of acts, ranging from theft, assault, vandalism, defamation and fraud to acts that should not be criminalized at all such as adultery, intimate relationships between unmarried men and women, “breach of public morals” and consensual same-sex sexual relations.
Many of those flogged in Iran are young people under the age of 35 who have been arrested for peaceful activities such as publicly eating during Ramadan, having relationships outside of marriage and attending mixed-gender parties. Such activities are protected under the rights to freedom of belief, religion, expression and association and must never be criminalized.
As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Iran is legally obliged to forbid torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. However, Iranian law continues to allow internationally banned corporal punishments including amputation, stoning and flogging and claims to justify it in the name of protecting religious morals.
In one case last April, an unmarried couple convicted of “having an illegitimate relationship” were sentenced to 100 lashes each. A month later 35 young women and men arrested in Qazvin Province for dancing, mingling and consuming alcohol at a party were sentenced to 99 lashes each. The sentences were carried out immediately. Lashing sentences were also carried out in May 2016 against a group of 17 miners who protested against their employment conditions and dismissals in West Azerbaijan Province.
Journalists and bloggers have also been sentenced to flogging in relation to their work. In July, an appeal court sentenced journalist Mohammad Reza Fathi to 459 lashes for “publishing lies” and “creating unease in the public mind” through his writing.
The popular Iranian Facebook page “Azadihayeh Yavashaki” (My Stealthy Freedom), administered by the journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, has posted detailed accounts from several women who received lashes for consuming alcohol and attending mixed-gender parties which were raided by Iran’s morality police. The page also features images showing the severe injuries on women’s backs as a result of these lashings.
In one of the posts, a 28-year-old woman who received 80 lashes for attending a birthday party described the day she was flogged as “the worst day of [her] life”. She described how, after her arrest, her photograph and fingerprints were taken before she was led to a small room where a middle-aged woman flogged her repeatedly while her feet were in chains and her hands shackled.
“With the impact of the first lash, I jumped out of my [seat] uncontrollably. I was so shocked that even my tears would not drop. I wanted to scream, but I could not even control my voice. Every time she hit me hard, she would ask me to repent so that God would forgive me,” she said.
Another woman, who was also lashed for attending a mixed-gender party to celebrate her recent engagement in the city of Robat Karim, near Tehran, described how, less than one hour after the party began, security forces stormed the villa where it was taking place, confiscating bottles of alcohol. They questioned several of the guests and brutally beat many of them before taking them to a police station where they were insulted and interrogated. They were forced to spend three nights in jail before being sentenced to 74 lashes each.
“I don’t remember how many lashes I had received, but I reached a stage where I was just moaning and had become numb with pain. When I finally arrived home, I was afflicted with a terrible pain on my body while my soul was aching due to the feelings of humiliation and fear that I had lived throughout the entire ordeal,” she said about her experience.
In addition to floggings, Amnesty International also recorded an incident in November 2016 when a man was forcibly blinded in both eyes in Tehran in retribution for blinding a four-year-old girl in an acid attack in June 2009. Several other prisoners remain at risk of being forcibly blinded.
Disturbingly, doctors from the Legal Medicine Organization of Iran provide the Supreme Court with “expert” advice on whether the implementation of a blinding sentence is medically feasible and how it can be carried out, seriously breaching medical ethics.
“Medical professionals have a clear duty to avoid any involvement in acts of torture and other ill-treatment. Rather than aiding and abetting acts of torture by providing pre-blinding medical assessments, doctors in Iran should refuse to participate in such calculated cruelty,” said Randa Habib.
Amnesty International has also recorded at least four amputations carried out for robberies in Iran, including “cross amputations” of several fingers and toes on opposite sides of the victim’s body.
“Severing people’s limbs, taking away their eyesight and subjecting them to brutal lashings cannot be considered justice. The Iranian authorities should urgently abolish all forms of corporal punishment and take urgent steps to bring the country’s deeply flawed criminal justice system into line with international human rights law and standards,” said Randa Habib.