By Maryam Sinaee
The Iranian Police have in recent days resorted to parading detainees on the streets in various cities including Tehran in a show of force that critics argue is aimed at would-be political protestors and that lawyers say is illegal.
One video posted on social media shows police officers in balaclavas parading suspects on police pick-up trucks in central Tehran while a large crowd lines the sidewalks, watching and recording videos with their mobiles. The masked police are seen hitting the suspects on the head and neck as they beg for forgiveness.
While police and military commanders have justified such public humiliation on the grounds of reducing crime, many Iranians detect a tactic that is used whenever the authorities fear protests over economic or political issues. “The aim of these performances is instilling fear and awe in people during hard times,” one Twitter user commented on a video showing one of the latest instances of public humiliation posted on Wednesday [October 6].
On Tuesday Brigadier-General Majid Mir-Ahmadi, acting Intelligence and Security Deputy of the Chiefs of Joint Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, said all armed forces including the police (the Law Enforcement Force) had the duty to crack down on “hooligans and thugs.” Mir-Ahmadi told a gathering of army, Revolutionary Guard and police officers in Isfahan that “the main mandate of the Supreme Leader [for us] is drying up the roots of insecurity in society.”
Last week, in a meeting with Isfahan’s Prayer Leader, Amir-Ahmadi had said that the Supreme National Security Council had on August 10 ordered the police to form a special unit for battling “thugs and hooligans” in every province and city. Mohammad-Reza Mir-Heydari, Law Enforcement Commander in Isfahan Province, said the armed forces were prepared to suppress anyone inciting “sedition,” whether through economic profiteering, undermining security by theft or violent crimes, or “mocking the values…of the Islamic Republic.”
Many, including rights activists, have questioned such measures.
“Punishment [for crimes] is necessary but society does not have the right to carry out any kind of punishment and in any manner [without a legal basis],” Abbas Abdi, political analyst and sociologist, wrote in Etemad newspaper on Saturday. “It is a mistake to think that with heavy sentencing repetition of crime can be prevented…in many cases they commit crimes [again] exactly because they have been humiliated. One can’t put out fire with pouring petrol over it. Intensification of punishment and instilling fear does not prevent others from committing crimes, either.”
In one of the latest public humiliations, Marzieh Mousavi, a photojournalist wrote in an Instagram post that she had recognized ‘Meysam,’ a 32-year-old man reportedly famous for thuggery in the Moshirieh neighborhood of south-east Tehran, who was paraded by uniformed police after his arrest for armed robbery.
“I realized his face looked very familiar when [the officers] brought him out of the police station,” Mousavi wrote. “I remembered he was the same man who had been paraded in the same neighborhood nine years ago, which I had also covered.”
Many government officials and managers of state companies implicated in multi-million dollar corruption and financial fraud cases never receive such a treatment. Many are able even to leave the country and never return. When they are tried, they receive full legal defense and their trials are reported in detail by the media.
Lawyers and human rights activist have pointed out that public humiliation of suspects is illegal. “Punishing criminals before trial and sentencing is a breach of the law,” a Tehran-based lawyer who declined to be named told Iran International. “Punishing criminals before trial and sentencing is a breach of the law. Article 6 of the Citizens’ Rights Act says suspects should not be humiliated during arrest and interrogation. According to Article 7 of the same law those responsible for ordering or carrying out such shows of violence in public must be dismissed from their position and legally prosecuted.”