Iran’s Parliament Seeks Death Penalty for “Collaborating with Enemy States”
Draft Bill Criminalizes Filming of “Crime Scenes” to Prevent Spread of Images of State Violence
On June 8, 2021, Iran’s Parliament passed the first draft of a bill that, if it becomes law, would impose the death penalty for those convicted of “spying or collaborating with enemy states,” specifically the U.S.
The bill also criminalizes filming “crime scenes” and sending clips and images to “enemy or foreign networks,” designed to punish those who share visuals that could incriminate or embarrass the Islamic Republic of Iran, such as the killing of protesters by the security forces.
Introducing such legislation is an indication that the security establishment is trying to further intimidate and prevent the Iranian public from sharing vital information online regarding protests and state atrocities, as they have in past protests.
During the nationwide November 2019 protests, a state-imposed news blackout and internet shutdown meant that images of security forces firing live ammunition into crowds of unarmed civilians and killing hundreds were circulated only due to videos recorded by Iranians and shared on social media.
The victory of the hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi in Iran’s presidential election on June 18, who has a record of severe rights violations spanning decades, has increased the possibility that legislation that further limits rights and liberties will be introduced and ratified by Parliament and the Guardian Council.
Bill Drafted in Order to Overcome “Weaknesses in Deterrent Measures”
According to the legislation’s forward, the Bill for Increasing the Punishment for Collaborators with Enemy States Against National Security and Interests has been drafted in order to overcome “weaknesses in deterrent measures” in existing laws.
Article 1 states, “From the date of ratification of this law, spying or collaborating with enemy states, such as the government of the United States of America, against national security or interests, will be considered an act of corruption of earth, eligible for punishment stipulated in Article 286 of the Islamic Penal Code [the death penalty].”
In an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on June 25, 2021, Mohammad Moghimi, a legal expert in Iran, said the bill is against Sharia law and questioned if the U.S. can be designated as an “enemy” state.
“The lawmakers have expanded the theological definition of Islamic punishments, which is against Sharia law,” Moghimi said. “Article 15 of the Islamic Penal Code has defined the types and degrees of punishments according to Sharia law. But the lawmakers… have interfered with these divine boundaries.”
Regarding the direct mention of the U.S., Moghimi noted, “An enemy state refers to a government that is waging war against Iran, a status that needs to be determined by a court in a fair judicial process, which is usually absent in the Revolutionary Court.”
Moghimi said that in some instances judges, after consultations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the status of relations between Iran and the U.S., have acquitted suspects charged with collaborating with enemy states. The bill is designed to make sure that does not happen again.
Bill Formalizes the Judiciary’s Subservience to Iran’s Security Establishment
Article 1 of the new bill also calls for the formation of a committee composed of senior officials from the Intelligence Ministry, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the army’s intelligence unit, a member of Parliament’s National Security Committee, and chaired by the intelligence chief of the Armed Forces General Staff, “with the authority to determine the crimes committed by individuals.”
The bill’s explicit mention of the security agencies’ role in the judicial process is almost unprecedented, giving legitimacy to the judiciary’s long record of subservience to the security establishment.
“It would have been more appropriate if the courts were put in charge of such matters… but in this form, the bill paves the way for the security agencies to exert greater influence,” Moghimi told CHRI. “These actions are aimed at increasing punishments and putting more pressure on civil rights activists and dissidents.”
The only other legal precedent of the role of the security agencies in the judiciary is in Paragraph B of Article 29 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which authorizes “Agents from the Ministry of Intelligence, the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization and the Basij militia” to act as judicial associates to carry out interrogations.
Sending of Images to “Enemy or Foreign Networks” Explicitly Forbidden
According to the bill’s Article 7, “Any filming or photographing of crimes that result in the death penalty, life imprisonment or amputation of limbs, or any deliberate crimes against the whole body, or any accidents that result in the loss of life or bodily harm, or terrorist actions, with the exception of legal instances noted in Article 131 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, are crimes punishable by imprisonment of the fifth degree (2 to 5 years).”
It adds, “Publishing or republishing such films or photos that have been recorded illegally, or recorded legally by closed-circuit cameras and other legitimate means, will be subject to the said punishment. If these films and photos are sent to enemy or foreign networks, the said punishment will be imposed to the fullest.”