Nobel Laureate Ebadi: New Form of Lawlessness Spreading in Iran

Sunday 13 May 2007

By: Sepideh Abdi

Source: Rooz Online

Rooz Online conducted an interview with Shirin Ebadi about the recent crackdown on the women’s rights movement in Iran. Here are the excerpts.

Rooz (R): As you know, the scope of crackdowns on women activists has increased since the One-Million Signature campaign began. Recently, a young activist, Zeinab Peighambarzadeh was sent to prison over this campaign. What are the legal bases of such confrontations?
Shirin Ebadi (SE): With regards to the recent arrest of many activists in relation to the One-Million Signature campaign, I have to note that there is strange insistence on the judiciary’s part to break the law when it comes to these activists. In essence, a new form of lawlessness is spreading in Iran. Many of these activists have been summoned to court over the phone. I have always insisted that this method of summoning is completely illegal, and phone summons have not been mentioned in any legal code. But it is strange that judges consistently insist on summoning defendants to court through this illegal method.

R: The same method was used with Ms. Peighambarzadeh…
SE: Yes. Ms. Peighambarzadeh was summoned over the phone. She told them that she will not appear in court by an illegal and oral summons. After some time, a written summons arrived at her house, and she appeared in court out of respect for law. According to the statements of Zeinab’s lawyers and relatives, as soon as the judge saw her, he said, “Now that you did not show up by an oral and phone warning, I will increase your bail to 200 million Rials” [about 25 thousand U.S. dollars]. What is interesting is that on that very same evening, when Zeinab’s father and lawyer went to court to post the bail amount, they were not even allowed to enter the building.

R: So in a sense they punished her for her insistence on upholding the law?
SE: Definitely. She was punished for that. A clear insistence on implementing an illegal method – by the main institution responsible of upholding the law – has no meaning other than the judiciary’s disrespect for the rule of law.

R: In your opinion, why do judges insist on using this illegal method?
SE: In general, they want to apply greater pressure on women activists. But there is a more subtle point as well. If human rights organizations and international bodies review a case like Peighambarzadeh’s, the judiciary will have an opportunity to present its skewed evidence, and argue that it has been very tolerant with the defendant. For example, it will argue that it set a very low bail amount for the defendant, and the defendant herself failed to post that amount and was then imprisoned. But the reality is something else. If they set a bail amount and then deny the defendant the possibility to appear in court to post the bail amount, then this amounts to sentencing the defendant to jail time from the beginning.

R: What are the other instances of legal violations in the government’s confrontation with women activists?
SE: There are many. Regarding Peighambarzadeh and other women who are active for equal rights for women and are voluntarily members of the one million signature campaign, it should be noted that the charges against them are listed as “actions against national security”. While this term is incomprehensible by law, the question is how can people who request the parliament and other formal government agencies to make changes to certain existing laws be considered similar to “overthrowing” a government? In any case, the activists have been arrested on security charges. To inflict cruelty on these women activists, judiciary officials along with prison authorities have been sending these prisoners to wards that are occupied by regular convicts which results in psychological pressure on them. In short, the judiciary is doing everything it can to pressures these women as much as possible by ignoring existing rules and regulations, which are all aimed at preventing other women from demanding their rights. These practices prove the proverbial notion that “when politics enters the court through a door, justice leaves it through a window.”

R: Do you believe that these violations are politically driven or simply the results of disorder?
SE: Look. Just last month the head of the judiciary said that the most important priority of the judiciary is to cooperate with the government. The real task of the judiciary is to implement justice, not to find legal ways to please the government. So when the judiciary views its principal task to be cooperation with the government, it means that politics has entered the courthouse. We hope that one day the violations of judiciary officials will be examined and such practices will end.


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