Apostasy in Iranian legal system


With the advancement of the 1979 revolution in Iran and the new constitution backed by Ayatollah Khomeini receiving the people’s vote of confidence on April 2nd, 1979, the fundamental reasons for the uprising, political liberty, freedom of the press and political parties and equality, slowly began to fade away and became forgotten. The new leaders started to put more importance on necessity of synchrony of laws and regulations with Sharia than anything. Achieving this needed other ways of thinking to be oppressed and extinguished. Thus “apostasy”, “apostate” and “infidel” became keywords in the legal discourse of the day. The constitution further provided the necessary legal basis for the ruling clergy to use courts to suppress dissidents.

One of the key articles of the Constitution, permitting the declaration of one faith superior over all others and suppression of religious minorities is the Article 4 which states: “All civil, penal, financial, economic, administrative, cultural, military, political, and other laws and regulations must be based on Islamic criteria. This principle applies absolutely and generally to all articles of the Constitution as well as to all other laws and regulations, and the Guardian Council presides over this matter.”

The array of problems that the legal society in Iran has faced after the 1979 revolution could be mostly linked to the materialization of Article 4 of the Constitution. This started with the identification of Sharia laws and translating them from Arabic to Farsi and seeking the confirmation of Ayatollah Khomeini when he lived and by using his documented theological opinions after he died. The Constitution and the set of laws put into place based on Islamic provisions have proven to be cruel if anything. This cruelty gradually gained momentum, first with the blanket executions of the supporters of monarchy and then with the executions of some of the revolutionaries and young Iranians against the rule of the clergies that were seen as blasphemous infidels in the eye of the regime. The further establishment of the rules based on Sharia law started to affect not only people that didn’t believe in Islam, but also slowly began to aim at those believers who didn’t think all Sharia teachings could be implemented in Iran. The first group to be officially charged with infidelity and pronounced apostates by Ayatollah Khomeini was the people who stood against the Punishments and Retribution Bill brought up after the formation of the first Parliament after the revolution. On June 15th, 1981 they called on the public to rise and protest against passing of this law.

Khomeini reacted to the announcement by the National Front of Iran inviting the people to hold demonstrations to protest this bill with declaring them apostates and clearly calling for their execution. (Sahife Nur, Khomeini, P.19, 20)

Stressing on dealing with apostasy with force was further strengthened with assignment of “Sharia Rulers” on judicial benches to control the public legal. Two examples of this practice were assignment of Sadegh Khalkhali and Hosseinali Nayeri (who still holds a high position in the judiciary as the head of the judicial supervision of the Supreme Court). This was the start to a process for the legal system in Iran to cease a great deal of private property and shed the blood of numerous people with apostasy as an excuse.

As the pertinence of a legal system founded with reliance on a religion is to be intolerant of other religions, the issue of Apostasy has always been of great importance for religious rulers.

Later on we will look at how three decades after the revolution, Enghelab Courts still stand side by side with Ministry of Intelligence officers and the IRGC in using apostasy as an excuse for their political agenda, executing and ceasing of private property for punishing and suppression.

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