By Jessica Richardson, Law & Policy
This is the second blog in our four-part blog series on Sharia law and what it could mean for Sudan if President Omar al-Bashir implements Sharia law throughout the country and incorporates it into the Sudanese constitution. Here, we will briefly examine Iran’s system and some of the ways in which Sharia law has impacted its constitution. Iran is one of the few Islamic states with a government based primarily on Islamic religious law.
Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, the state has been ruled primarily under Sharia law. This implementation of Sharia has placed limitations or qualifications on individual freedoms and equality by requiring certain constitutional provisions to be “in conformity with Islamic criteria” or not “detrimental to the principles of Islam.” These constitutional provisions cover some of the most basic principles of human rights, such as the freedom of expression and dissemination of thoughts (Article 175); the formation of political and professional associations (Article 26); and the freedom of the press unless specified by law (Article 24).[i]
Human Rights Watch, in its 2012 world report, details some of the human rights and civil rights violations that stem from these limitations imposed by Sharia law: “On September 5, 2011 the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance’s Press Supervisory Board shut down the weekly Shahrvand (Citizen) and daily Ruzegar (Time) for insulting the authorities and propaganda against the state. The government has systematically blocked websites that carry political news and analysis, slowed down Internet speeds, and jammed foreign satellite broadcasts” (for more information, click here). Freedom of speech and expression are two of the most important rights not only because they facilitate the progress of society but also because they can be essential weapons in combating oppression and other human rights violations. Here, we see some examples of how these essential rights are limited under Iran’s system.
Furthermore, on paper, the individual rights of citizens and non-Muslims may look creditable under Sharia, but in practice, there is a significant shortfall, especially for women. For example, Article 20 of the Iranian Constitution [Equality before Law] declares, “All citizens of the country, both men and women, equally enjoy the protection of the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, in conformity with Islamic criteria” (emphasis added). Article 21[Women’s Rights] follows and states that the government must ensure the rights of women in all respects, in conformity with Islamic criteria. The Iranian government, however, has interpreted these provisions to mean that women are worth less than men. And, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, reports that “…a woman’s court testimony and her life is valued at half that of a man’s” (for more information click, here or here).
Article 14 (Non-Muslims’ Rights) requires Muslims and the government to protect the human rights of religious minorities (e.g., Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christians) so long as they refrain from engaging in conspiracy or activity against Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Yet, despite this provision, guaranteed by the Quran, the Iranian government has engaged in the arrest and prolonged detention of hundreds of Christians within Iran. “On July15, 2011, authorities in the town of Kalibar outside of Tabriz beat and detained Vahid Rofegar and Reza Kahnamoei, two 25-year-old Christian converts after the authorities discovered Christian bibles in their possession. They remain in prison.”[ii] The Supreme Court in Iran has noted that although the penal code does not codify apostasy, it is as a crime in Sharia law and therefore those accused can be put to death (for more information, click here).
Thus, in the above examples, we can see some of the limitations on fundamental freedoms and rights under the Iranian Islamic law system. These limitations are important to note when examining the possibility of President Bashir implementing a constitution in Sudan based on Sharia law. In July 2012, President Bashir spoke at a conference in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. According to a Reuters report, he stated, “We want to present a constitution that serves as a template to those around us. And our template is clear, a 100 percent Islamic constitution, without communism or secularism or Western (influences)… And we tell non-Muslims, nothing will preserve your rights except for Islamic Sharia because it is just.”[iii] Amidst the ongoing human rights violations in Darfur and other regions of Sudan, we must ask ourselves what impact would Sharia law have on individuals. In our next blog, we will further explore Bashir’s statements and expressed intentions regarding Sharia law and what Sharia could look like in the context of Sudan.
Iranian Revolution, known as the Islamic Revolution began in January 1978. The revolution took the form of strikes and demonstrations in the streets, paralyzing the country. The Shah or Emperor of Iran, Mohammad Pahlavi, imposed martial law and on “Black Friday,” September 8, 1978, troops gunned down thousands of protestors. On December 11, 2 million protestors marched the capital. Within the month, Pahlavi fled the country, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile. Khomeini founded the fundamentalist Iranian Republic Party (IRP) and had a large role in the creation and adoption of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran on October 24, 1979.
[i]Iran- Constitution, translation provided by the Iranian embassy in London. http://www.princeton.edu/lisd/projects/PORDIR/research/Iran%20Constitution.pdf
[ii] The Human Rights Documents Center. Islamic Republic of Iran: NGO Report in Response to the List of Issues Presented to the Islamic Republic of Iran, May 2011. http://www2/ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/ngos/IHRDC_Iran103.pdf