The invasion of the private sphere in Iran: individual, family, community and state
By: Mehrangiz Kar, 2003
The Islamic regime that governs Iran constantly violates the private domain of the Iranian citizen through religious and legal means. The intrusion of political power into the private lives of citizens is characteristic of totalitarian regimes. In Iran the regime has disguised the intrusion as a religious ethics requirement and justifies it by cloaking it in a religious guise.
The private sphere of those labeled "dissidents" is more threatened than that of other citizens. Using the legal and religious laws the regime has adopted, government agencies have brought all aspects of the private life of dissidents, critics, artists, and political activists under surveillance. For instance, listening to the telephone conversations of dissidents is a widespread practice, allowing the authorities to monitor and control dissidents' private interaction and communication. Through these methods the regime conspires against dissidents, accusing them of illegal sexual activities, apostasy, and spying. This infringement of citizens' private lives by the police and the regime's security forces by falsely accusing them of ideological and sexual crimes, clearly violates Article 37 of the Iranian constitution, which calls for the presumption of innocence.
Violation of the private sphere is not limited to dissidents but extends to all Iranian citizens. Since 1979, technocrats have legitimized this intrusion based on an appeal to Islamic laws. They have drawn on the religious interpretations of political clergy who are connected to political power in Iran to pass legislation that blatantly contradicts the principles of freedom and human rights. The ruling clergy thus puts its stamp of approval on the systematic violation of citizens' private lives. The constitution of the Islamic Republic that was adopted in 1981 envisioned that the country's laws and policies would not contravene Sharia, or religious law (this is stated in Article 4 and 94). This means that the rights formulated in the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights cannot be incorporated in Iranian laws--and this also means that government agencies have free rein to carry out their intrusions and oppression.
The application of Sharia makes possible the control of the private sphere of citizens' lives. In this paper I will discuss two legal means by virtue of which the regime keeps private lives of citizens under surveillance. These are: 1- legalized inquisition; and 2- the obligation to enjoin the good and forbid the evil.
Even though Article 23 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran forbids inquisition, the regime actively carries out the practice. The legal and political architectonics of the Islamic Republic justifies inquisition as necessary for the protection of Islamic and revolutionary values. And the scope of religious government is so vast that it allows for the investigation of every aspect of an individual's private beliefs. A few examples follow.
Individuals trying to register a political party or cultural organization or who want to obtain a license to publish a newspaper must submit to inquisition. To register a political party or to run for office requires a thorough investigation of one's private convictions. The approval of an applicant depends on a positive evaluation by the administrative agencies. During the evaluation process the agencies not only inspect the applicant's past but also his or her personal beliefs, private thoughts, and family history. If in any of these areas there is any evidence that the applicant is not committed to the doctrine of velayat-e faqih, or rule by the clergy, his or her application is rejected. The conduct of inquisition for the purposes of political and cultural activities is so rigorous that even the pious are required to prove their faithfulness. Of course, the measure of faithfulness is always how faithful one is to velayat-e faqih. Those whose conduct reveals a critical view of that doctrine or evidence that puts into doubt their absolute loyalty to the regime are branded as infidels, counter-revolutionaries, and spies, and their candidacy for an office or their application for a license rejected. To keep such individuals under surveillance, they are followed, their phone lines are tapped, and their homes inspected. The warrant for such intrusions into the public's private domain of life is, of course, granted by the clergy connected to the political power of the velayat-e faqih.
Religious minorities, other than those who are Christian, Jewish, or Zoroastrian, are not allowed to practice their religious beliefs. The regime assumes as its undisputed right the ability to conduct an inquisition of religious minorities and prescribe limits on their lives. Baha'is are a case in point. They are kept under constant surveillance and control and are denied opportunities for higher education and employment. When they are victims of crime or even killed they or their families are denied justice. From the regime's perspective they are considered dispensable or "deserving to die" (mahdur al-dam); see Article 226 and subsection 2 of Article 295 of the criminal code.
Similarly, the punishment of a Muslim who converts to another religion is death. This and other techniques of control carried out by the regime's various agencies allow the Islamic Republic to manage the lives those opposed to its rule. As soon as these agencies gather enough evidence to accuse a dissident of infidelity, the dissidents is declared "deserving of murder" and killed. To kill an infidel who deserves to be killed has no punishment and the law allows fanatics to kill those who have converted from Islam without fear of punishment.
Undercover agents from the Ministry of Information have committed serial killings of many opposition figures and have not faced prosecution. These killings have been prefaced by intrusion into the most private areas of the dissidents' lives--private relations, opinions, actions, and expressions were scrutinized for years.
All Iranian citizens live under a system that determines opportunities for social advancement on the basis of appeals to legal and religious authorities. Thus, in the area of employment, an individual's preferences and abilities are often ignored in favor of a test of the candidate's loyalty to the regime--a test that is carded out by examining the individual's private life. The undercover agents conduct a thorough background check that includes visits to all places that the candidate has lived during his or her life and interviews with all the candidate's local contacts. The local investigation even includes the kind of hejab of the women of the candidate's family. The candidate's loyalty to velayat-e faqih is the mark of his loyalty to Islam and the revolution.
Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil
The obligation of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil is an uncompromising Islamic principle. In the Islamic Republic, Sharia has become a legal means to intrude violently into the lives of the people and oppress them. The imperative of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil is used to control women's hejab, gatherings, associations, parties, weddings, dating, and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. The numerous inspection agencies believe they have the right to invade the lives of private individuals and attack their personal preferences. Such invasions are, of course, justified by appeal to the imperative of enjoining the good and the forbidding evil as stated in Article 8 of the constitution, which grounds the laws governing the rights and duties of the security forces and police. A few examples of these laws, which have led to the violent treatment of citizens by the police and judiciary system, will be discussed.
For women, choice of clothing is regulated. All women are required to wear the hejab and the law penalizes those who do not by imprisonment or considerable fine (see the relevant section under Article 638 of the Islamic criminal code).
Choice of spouse is also regulated. The father and paternal ancestors are allowed to arrange for their children or grand-children to be wed before the children reach the legal age for marriage (see the section under Article 1041 of the civil law). A young women is allowed--as long as she is still a virgin--to marry only with the permission of her father, grandfather, or the court. If a woman marries without the required permission, a court will nullify marriage, regardless of the age of the couple (see Articles 1143 and 1144 of the civil law). Moreover, the marriage of a Muslim woman with a non-Muslim man is not allowed (under Article 1054 of the civil law). The marriage of an Iranian woman with a foreigner is only allowed with the permission of the government (under Article 1060 of civil law). A man can divorce his wife anytime he so desires (under Article 1133), but mere desire is not enough for a woman to divorce her husband (under Article 1130). Furthermore, a man may marry up to four wives (according to Article 942 of the civil law).
When it comes to sexual satisfaction in marriage, women, by law, are always required to meet the sexual needs of their husbands. Women's psychological needs and readiness are not taken into account by the lawmakers. Consequently, women's sexual satisfaction as the most private area of their existence is controlled by the governing regime (see Article 1106 of the civil law). Women who do not attend to their husband's needs, according to these laws, can be punished with severe fines (see Article 1108 of the civil law).
Free sexual relationships are considered crimes and are severely punished (see Article 63 of the criminal code). The punishment for a man or woman condemned of adultery is 100 lashes (according to Article 88 of the criminal code). Adultery may even be punished by death when a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man are involved, in which case the man is condemned to death (see Article 82 of the criminal code). In cases where the man and woman are married, their punishment, according to Article 83 of the criminal code, is stoning.
Women's romantic and sexual preferences are thus severely limited by law. By bestowing upon men the right to have multiple spouses, the regime in effect has institutionalized women's disadvantage and brought gender relations under its legal control.
Homosexuality is considered a crime and those who commit homosexual acts may be punished. If two women who are not related to each other are found naked under a cover they are to be punished by lashing (see Article 134 of the criminal code). Lesbianism is punishable by 100 lashes, and if the act is repeated up to four times the accused can be condemned to death (see Article 131 of criminal code). Similarly, if two unrelated men are found naked under a cover their punishment is 99 lashes (Article 123 of criminal code) and if their conduct is repeated four times both can be put to death (Article 122 of criminal code). If two men are found guilty of engaging in a homosexual act, both are to be put to death, according to Articles 109 and 110 of the criminal code.
A man and a woman who socialize with one another without any sexual relations occurring may be punished by 74 lashes (Article 638 of the criminal code). This crime is called Fe'l haram or a "taboo act" and it even includes handshakes between men and women. Private parties at which women may be in attendance are scrutinized to determine whether the women are dressed "correctly" and whether alcohol is being consumed or Western music is being played (the consumption of alcohol and enjoying one's preferred but unsanctioned music is a crime; anyone found guilty of drinking alcohol may be punished by lashing, as may be those who have been found listening to Western music, although fines or imprisonment could also be meted out). The private sphere of an Iranian citizen's life, whether a man or a woman, Muslim or non-Muslim, is tumultuous because of the fear of invasion and violation by the regime's agencies.
We have looked at only a few of the many examples of bow the Islamic regime violates the private sphere. From this summary we can see that women's private lives, their preferences, their personal beliefs, and their convictions are invaded and violated by government agencies more than those of men in Iran. One also can see that religious minorities and political dissidents live in a constant state of fear and insecurity. Dissidents held in jail in Iran--including Hashem Aghajari, who has been condemned to death because of a speech in which he expressed critical views of the regime's ideology--have generally been the focus of scrutiny and inquisition by the police and the courts. The charges against them would not have been possible if their private lives had not been invaded by the Islamic regime's agencies.
- Article 8 of the constitution states that, "In the Islamic Republic of Iran, al-'amr be al-ma'ruf wa al-nahy 'an al-munkar' is a universal and reciprocal duty of each individual, of the government with respect to the people, and of the people with respect to the government. This is in accordance with the Quaranic verse, "The believers, men and women, are guardians of one another; they enjoin the good and forbid the evil."
- The hejab is an Islamic covering that cloaks an individual from head to toe.