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Iran's justice system criticized

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 27, 2003

TEHRAN, Iran -- A visiting team of U.N. human rights experts Wednesday criticized Iran for a judicial system that allowed significant numbers of political prisoners to be arbitrarily detained.

The visit was the first by a U.N. Human Rights Commission team since 1997. It gave Iran a chance to address a rights record that has strained relations with the European Union, which has sought tangible evidence of progress before cooperating more on trade.

French jurist Louis Joinet and his commission colleagues visited prisons in three cities, interviewed political prisoners and met with judiciary officials during a 12-day trip.

The team praised Iran's cooperation but concluded that the structure and culture of Iran's judiciary led to widespread miscarriages of justice. They said they found many prisoners were unaware of their right to a lawyer and that sentences were often inconsistent. The same crime sometimes received sentences as low as a few years in prison and as harsh as execution.

Joinet said the group found the Special Court for Clergy, where clerics are put on trial, unnecessary and at odds with the principle of citizens being treated equally before the law. The judiciary, dominated by hardliners, has used the court as a tool to silence dissident clerics.

"The problem is less one of freedom of expression, but freedom after expression," Joinet told reporters. He reminded Iran that it was signatory to a U.N. rights covenant that protects free speech that is not inciting violence or racial hatred.

Iran's government did not immediately respond.

In what quickly became an embarrassing development for the U.N. team, two political activists, Mohsen Sazgara and Qassem Sholeh-Saeedi, were detained by police last week.

Expatriate Iranian satellite TV stations broadcasting from Los Angeles encouraged Iranians to protest the arrests outside the hotel used by the U.N. team. About 100 people gathered Saturday to demand the release of political prisoners. Security forces arrested 10 to 20 demonstrators.

"This shows people don't believe their problems can be solved through the judiciary. It shows we have an accountability problem," Abbas Maleki, former deputy foreign minister under President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, said of the visit.

Report says Turkish women abused

ANKARA, Turkey -- Women detained in Turkey have been raped, abused and assaulted by security forces, according to a report released Wednesday by human rights group that urged the country's new Islamic-rooted government to halt the abuse.

Kurdish women and those with dissident political views were particularly at risk, London-based Amnesty International said in the report.

Amnesty said that many of the abuses occurred during the recently lifted state of emergency in southeastern Turkey. It warned that violence against women could increase should emergency rule be reinstated if there is war in neighboring Iraq.

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