Revolutionary courts in Iran mete out justice with very little mercy

The stepped up pace of executions in Iran is a stark reminder to anyone who may be harboring notions of getting rid of the state that the quality of revolutionary islamic justice in the country shows little mercy.

The last 50 executions which took place since July 11, were striking because they were carried out within four days of the disclosure of a plot to overthrow the Islamic Republic set up by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Altogether about 1,500 people have faced the firing squad since the overthrow of the Shah in February, 1979.

The latest victims were accused of a charges ranging from adultery and other sexual offenses, to armed robbery, and firing on militants during the revolution against the Shah.

What all these cases had in common was their resolution through a revolutionary court administered by an Islamic judge applying the laws of the Koran.

The trials in revolutionary courts are held mainly in secret, with reporters seldom if ever being allowed in. Some of the trials, however, have been televised for the benefit of the Iranian public.

In at least one of the televised trials, the man accused, witnesses and the judge and prosecuter did appear on the screen. In most of the other televised trials, the cameras were focused on the deadpan face of the main being tried, with the judge and prosecuter only being heard, not seen.

Defense lawyers are not admitted into the court. The man on trial is expected to defend himself. The indictment is read out, and then the witnesses or documents against the accused person are presented to the court.

The accused person is not permitted to interupt while the evidence against him or her is presented to the court. He is then asked to defend himself, with a judge/prosecuter interrupting at will. There has been no known case of an accused person being permitted to present documents or witnesses in his or her defense -- most likely because they have no opportunity to collect the documents or find the witnesses and bring them to court.

The prosecution, however, has the facilities of the state radio and television to call up witnesses, and all the time in the world to collect documents -- false or genuine. There is no expert cross-examining of witnesses. Most of the trials last for no more than a few hours. The courts then enter "deliberation" and adjourn for a few hours. Sometimes there is no adjournment and the sentences are handed down immediately. IF the sentence handed down is the death penalty, the condemned man is taken out to a nearby spot and summarily executed by firing squads.

The courts are usually set up on the premises of the prison where the accused are held. It is quite often a short distance between the place where the man has been sentenced and the spot where he is shot.

Most of the trials resulting in the death penalty are held late at night. There is no particular time of day or night for the convening or adjourning of the court.

Stories emerging from the prison say that normally when a prisoner is called from his cell late at night or in the very early hours of the morning, he leaves his cell not expecting to return to it alive.

One man was called from his cell late at night and gave his wallet and watch to the Revolutionary Guards who came to collect him. He also changed to tattered old clothes, giving his good clothes away. Surprisingly, he got off with life imprisonment and lived to tell the tale.

Most of those sentenced to death are put up before a wall, tree, or post and shot by firing squad, but there have been at least two known departures from this rule.

In one case three men sentenced to death for armed robbery in the west of the country were taken to the spot of their last crime and hanged with a rope.

In another case in Terman, about 1000 miles southeast of teheran, four people (including two women) found guilty of sexual offenses were stoned to death after being buried up to their waists in sand.

No religious authority contacted by reporters afterwards could mention the exact chapter or book of the Koran, the holy book of Muslim, in which execution by stoning is permitted, but clergymen said vaguely it was permitted in cases of adultery.

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