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Human Rights and the Larijani Brothers

humanrightsRoozonline - The publication of the latest report by Ahmad Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, caused a stir in Iran. In his report, Ahmad Shaheed lambasted the Iranian government for the increasing number of executions, the passage and implication of Islamic penal law, imprisonment of journalists and political activists, and deepening ethnic and religious discrimination. In response, Islamic Republic officials, most notably the heads of the legislative and judicial branches, denounced the report by accusing it of being false and a political dance move. But what Ahmad Shaheed documented as indisputable violations of human rights are the real outcomes of a political philosophy that is theorized and implemented in Iran by the Larijani brothers, the contours of which have not often been analyzed by human rights activists. This short article intends to shed light on that philosophy.

Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, the head of Iranian judiciary, is in charge of an institution that is responsible for the majority of human rights violations, including executions, imprisonment of activists, and in essence, clear violations of international human rights norms. But what is his view of human rights? According to Mr. Sadegh Larijani, human rights are not universal, bur rather local norms. In an academic conference on human rights, he dismissed the International Declaration of Human Rights in its entirety and argued that Iran had made an unjustifiable mistake in becoming a signatory to the Declaration 66 years ago. He believes that western nations do not know what is in the best interest of humanity and had drafted the provisions of the Declaration without regard to their ignorance. In his view, human rights in Iran are built on principle of Sharia, and Islamic penal law, which prescribes punishments such as flogging, stoning, execution and bodily amputation, are divine. In another set of remarks, Sadegh Larijani called on members of the judiciary’s human rights committee to theorize this view and publicize it globally.

The second brother, Ali Larijani, the Majlis speaker, delves less in human rights issues, but his response to Ahmad Shaheed’s report shows that he also regards human rights from the same perspective. Through him, these views can therefore permeate the laws. He states that Islamic penal law is consistent with the Koran and that Majlis lawmakers have made such laws in conformity with the Koran. He also views the confrontation between Iran and the west as essentially a cultural one, calling on the United Nations to respect all cultures.

The third brother, however, is Mohammad Javad Larijani, who heads the judiciary’s human rights committee, and must be regarded as the Islamic Republic’s main human rights theoretician. He often represents the regime in international conferences and discussions related to human rights in order to defend its performance in this field. Now we must ask what his views on human rights are. He clearly states that flogging is not an incident of torture, but is rather a form of punishment. Javad Larijani is in favor of banning advocacy for any religion except Islam and believes that other religions do not have the right to advocate their views, crediting this view with the revolutionary founder ayatollah Khomeini. Javad Larijani also credits capital punishment with lowering crime rates, and believes that empirical data proves his point. He describes Ghesas [Islamic law of retribution] as “beautiful and important” and says that there is life in Ghesas. He also supports stoning as a legitimate religious law and believes that it must be implemented precisely. He, who is in charge of the judiciary’s human rights committee, denies that there are any political prisoners in Iran. According to him, a political prisoner is a person who has engaged in lawful political activism but has been imprisoned unjustly solely because of the rulers’ disdain for that person. Based on that definition, the Islamic Republic has no political prisoners, because none of the political prisoners in Iran have engaged in lawful political activism. He blames the United States and Israel, as well as domestic adversaries, of propagating the false charge that there are political prisoners in Iran.

Today, human rights activists and international human rights organizations face a phenomenon that not only denies human rights violations in Iran but actually justifies it using a fundamentalist interpretation of religion. In effect, these remarks are so clear and transparent that they do not require any analysis. It must be said that in today’s Iran not only are human rights violated, but also anti-human rights views in defense of the death penalty, Ghesas, and other inhumane punishments are theorized, propagated and exported.

The views of the Larijani family, which are connected with a prominent Shia cleric as well, is one of the main worrisome points regarding human rights in today’s Iran. Until such an interpretation of human rights, which is the same as the ideological interpretation propagated by the Taliban, is in effect in Iran, one cannot hope for the situation to improve. In fact, the worsening of the situation must be expected. What human rights activists face in Iran today is not merely anti-human rights behavior; rather, they face anti-human rights ideology, an ideology that has found an official host in all levels of political decision making. In view of this, it is expected that the fate of Iran’s human rights case will soon resemble that of its nuclear case.