Four Decades of Special Court for the Clerics; A Special Report
HRANA News Agency – Four decades after the establishment of the Special Court for the Clerics, the structure, activities and procedures of the court are still unclear. This report briefly examines the Special Court for the Clerics in its 4 decades of establishment, and with explaining the process of these courts, this report will attend to various issues such as the right to an attorney, the attitude, and the legitimacy of these courts.
After about four decades of the establishment of the Special Court for the Clerics, the activities of this particular judicial institution continue to address issues related to clerics and graduates of the theology seminaries throughout the country. This institution was established, following the message of the founder of Islamic Republic of Iran on 24th May 1979. Ayatollah Khomeini in that message says: “… Although in Islam for the punishment of offenders, there is no difference between the groups, and everyone is equal before the law, the offenders who with wearing the clergy outfit have put themselves in this queue, should be Punished. However, as informed, some opponents of Islam and the cleric seek to crush the clergy in the name of purification … Therefore, it is necessary to pay attention to the following points.
Noting that the Clerics are more aware of the Mullahs issues, In the cities by the announced first-degree scholars, Committees consisting of three people from the field of science and two trusted locals, the structure and mandate to deal with individual cases to be given to them if the individual clerics or preacher, and after the charges have been proven true, they shall be punished under provisions of Islamic Revolutionary court. 2- No one or any group has the right to protest or object against the Mullahs or Clerics. In case of violation, the Revolutionary Court is obligated to prosecute and punish him…” (SAHIFE-Ye Imam, vol. 7, 466).
In the wake of the establishment of this court, in most of Iran’s cities, boards of delegations were formed that punished some clergies, under charges such as dependence on the Former Royal Court, the praising the Pahlavi dynasty, or the cooperation with SAVAK. These Clergies some were condemned to lose their clergy status, and were banned from preaching and sermons.
In the second phase, and from the beginning of 1980, the Clerical court pursued its work with more discipline and in the late 1980s, the court was officially established in Qom.
Attorney General of the time, Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, in a memorandum urged all courts to submit all Cleric cases to the special Clerical Court of Qom Clerical Court. However, due to lack of facilities and resources, later it was announced that the judicial judges have the inherent jurisdiction to handle clerical cases, but any case that the Clerical Court request must be sent to this court. At this stage –due to high volume of work and complaints made by the offenders– the Clerical Court of Qom was dissolved in 1985.
In 1986, by the order of the supreme leader of the time, the Clerical Court recommenced its operations. The reason for the recommencement of operations of this court was announced to be for the handling of the case of Mehdi Hashemi, the brother of the son in law of the deputy to Supreme Leader of the time, Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri. At this stage, Ali Fallahian was appointed by the supreme leader of the time, to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Special Clerical Court. In this regard, Ayatollah Khomeini writes in a letter: “In order to preserve the necessity of the dignity of clergies and the seminaries, I am appointing you in the position of the prosecutor of the Special Clerical Court, so that in accordance with the standards of the holy law, to attend to the crimes of those disguised as clerics, whom sell religion to profit in world. In addition, all courts and public prosecutors are required to assist you with forwarding all cases and documents that are within this courts jurisdiction, to this court…”.
Moreover, the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran through an order, appoints Ali Razini as the head ruler/judge of the Special Clerical Court. According to the website of the Islamic Encyclopedia, “[T]he Prosecutor’s Office and the Special Clerical Court at this stage [is] an organization independent of the judiciary and its jurisdiction [is] extended beyond the judicial jurisdiction of Qom and Tehran, at the request of the head of the special court.”
Furthermore, this court has jurisdiction has widen to all crimes committed by clerics, including aides and accessories to the crime, where the main culprit is a cleric.
In addition, a letter from the President of the Special Court, it was stated that this court shall act in accordance to religious laws. In other words, the documentation and the basis of the rules and procedure in this court, should not follow the general rule of the law, but instead it should follow religious rules.
According to the mentioned website, the next step in the consolidation of the special Clerical court was the enactment of the by-law of the Procuracy and Special Clerical Courts in July 1990. In this by-law, the procedure, the organization and structure of the Special Court was determined. Following the approval of the Supreme Leader, this by-law, which was set up by the Clerical Court’s Prosecution office, was legislated, and the special Clerical Court found a legal basis.
On November 7, 1990, Mohammad Salimi was appointed the head of the Second Branch of the Special Court for the Clerics, and this court expanded into two branches.
Article 1 of the by-law of the Special Courts of the Clerics declares, the purpose of the establishment of the Special prosecutor’s office and the special court for the cleric “to prevent the influence of corrupt and criminal individuals in the seminaries, preserve the dignity of clergy, and punish the cleric offenders.”
Article 2 declares the functions of the court and the special court as follows:
Measures to Prevent Offenses and Crimes against the law
Guidance on offences against dignity
The investigation of clerical crimes and cases that are related to the purposes of this procuracy.
Article 13 of the by-law also declared the jurisdiction of the Prosecutors and the Special Clerical Courts as follows:
All general offences committed by clerics
All acts contrary to the clergy’s dignity
All local disputes are detrimental to public safety
All matters that the supreme leader assigns to be addressed
Article 9 of the bylaw, divides the extension and distribution of Special Clerical Court to the following ten jurisdictions:
Tehran, Qom, Mashhad, Isfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz, Sari, Ahvaz, Kerman and Hamedan
In terms of legal status, the Special Clerical Court in terms of need for permanence and survival, supervision, and the appointment and dismissal of officials, is headed by the Supreme Leader.
Article 528 of the Civil Procedure Law, adopted in 2000, stipulates:
“The Special Prosecutor’s Office and the Special Clerical Court, was formed on the instructions of the supreme leader, the Supreme Leader of the Revolution, Imam Khomeini. According to Principles 5 and 57 of the Constitution, until the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution continues to consider these courts purposeful and expedient, they shall continue to attend to offences committed by the clerics, and the payment of the salaries and benefits of judges and their employees is in accordance to the relevant provisions of the judiciary.”
Article 1 of the bylaw adopted in 1390 also considered the organization of the prosecutor’s office and the Special Court of Clerics under the supervision of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, which consists of various aspects. The appointment and dismissal of the prosecutor and the court is the responsibility of the Supreme Leader.
Article 3 of the aforementioned bylaw stipulates: “The Special Clerical Attorney will be appointed by the Supreme Leader. He also has the authority to dismissal and appointment of prosecutors and staff of the Special Cleric prosecution office.” Article 10 of this bylaw mandates: “The head ruler/judge of the first branch of the Special Court for the Clerics must be appointed by the Supreme Leader.”
And according to the article 11 of this bylaw: “Other judges of this court are appointed according to the Supreme Leader’s opinion”
Heads of the Clerical Court since its inception:
Ali Fallahian, Mohammad Mohammadi Reyshahri, Ali Raazini, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni eje’i, mohammad Salimi and currently in office is Mohammad Jaffar Montazeri.
In addition to the head of the Special Court for the Clerics, the Special prosecutor for the clerics is also appointed by the Supreme Leader. The current prosecutor and chairman of the Clerical Court is Ebrahim Raisi, who was appointed by the supreme leader in 2012.
The cases and procedures before the Clerical Court are generally secret and confidential. According to available reports, the complaint is initially addressed in the provincial Clerical Court and then with the prosecutor’s order are referred to other courts. And again, referred to the special prosecutor for issuing an indictment. Following the issuance of the indictment, the case is moved to the first court that is in the same court. After the first verdict, in the case of any parties’ objection, the case moves forward to the Clerical Court of Appeal, which is only in Tehran. The appeal courts verdict is final, and only the accused cleric may request a retrial. In such cases, the plaintiff does not have the right to receive any of the documents and the written verdict.
The Right to an Attorney
Based on HRANA’s research, there has been disagreements regarding the right to an attorney up to 1991, however on 23 September 1991 and with approval of the Expediency Discernment Council, the parties were granted the right to attorney. According to reports, the lawyer of this court must be an approved Cleric and who is included in the list of attorneys approved by the Special Clerical Court.
A Glance at The Cases in the Special Clerical Court
There are not many stories about the encounters of the trials at the Special Clerical Court. Many of the cases in this court have been kept secret and even those convicted by this court have not spoken about it. However, there are some specific narratives of people who have been tried or convicted by this court. Issues raised regarding this court could be found in books such as Ayatollah Montazeries Memoirs, or writings such as the, prison notes written by Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, dating from year 2000 to 2004, titled as “From Berlin to Evin” and published in Stockholm, Sweden by Baran publication.
In the history of the Islamic Republic many clerics have been trialed, imprisoned and even executed by the Clerical Court, at the behest of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran who is the head of this court. Seyyed Hassan Tabatabai Qomi is a Marja who at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini was sent to confinement that lasted many years. Seyyid Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari the famous and well known Marja who had many followers, was also confined with the orders of the founder of the Islamic Republic and eventually died in confinement. Seyyid Reza Sadr –son of Seyyid Sadraldin sadr and brother of Seyyid Mousavi Sadr—under charge of reverence for Ayattolah Shariatmadari was confined after his death, he documented the confinement in notes named “in the prison of Vali-ye Faqih [supreme leader]”. Many Clerics in the initial decade of the Islamic republic, after the 1979 revolution, were confined with behest of Ayatollah Khomeini, for instance, Seyyid Rez Zanjani and Seyyid Abolfazl Zanjani who were well known clerics and founders and activists of the National Resistance Movement of Iran after the coup of August 19, 1953.
Mehdi Haeri Yazdi – son of the founder of the Qom Seminary—who had doctorate in philosophy and was a Marja, after returning to Iran in 1980, and after 2 years of confinement and limitations, left the country. Seyyid Mohammad Sadeq Rohani is another Marja who was confined from 1984 to 2001. Mohammad Hosseini Shirazi is another Marja, who because of his opposition during the Iran-Iraq war, was held at under house arrest in Qom for 20 years and eventually died in while under house arrest.
Ahmad Azari Qomi, Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Yousef Saanei, Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardebili, Asadallah Bayat and Abdolhamid Masoumi Tehrani are also amongs known Clerics who have been dealt with in the Islamic Republic. Azari Qomi passed away in confinement and Montazeri spent 5 years in confinement. Abdolhamid Masoumi Tehrani, also at least in two occasions was sentenced to prison in the Clerical Court.
Hassan Saanei, Hadi Ghafari, Ali Tehrani, Abdolmajid MAedikhoh, Morteza Fahim Kermani, Hadi Ghabel, Ahmad Ghabel and Hadi Khamenei are amongst others who have spent sometimes in the prisons of the Clerical Court.
Gholam-Hussein Daneshi, Mehdi Hashemi and Abdolreza Hejazi are of Clerics who have been executed in the Clerical Court, for dependence on the former regime or activities that are not permitted by the Islamic republic.
Fattallah Omid Najafabadi and Mir-Ali Naghi Seyyid Khavari Langeroudi, are amongst those who have been sentenced to death and were executed by the Clerical Court, for indecent behavior –adultery.
Many Clerics have been charged and convicted of the indecent behavior (Adultery) in the Special Clerical Court. Some of the offenders in this court have spoken of a charge titled “Failure to comply to dignity of Clergy”, and they have mentioned this charge could receive any sentence from very light to very harsh, and that is up to the case judge.
In the years following June 1997 and the beginning of the reform era in Iran, the cases of some reformist clerics were trialed in this court. Among those are Abdollah Nouri, Mohsen Kadivar and Mohammad Mousavi Khoeini.
The followings are some of the cases being processed in the Special Clerical Court currently: Ahmad Montazeri, Mohammad-Reza Nekounam, Majid Jafaritabar , and Seyyed Mohammad-Hossein Kazemeyni Borougerdi. Given the lack of transparency of the Clerical Court and the lack of precise knowledge of its cases, only when a case is brought up in the public it could be realized that it is under process in this court.
Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari writes in his book about his house phone being monitored, he states the Judge telling him that he must have a lawyer as a decoration! Eshkevari also mentions twice the judge has requested death sentence for him. He also has mentioned of the prison gurds asking him to write a a letter to the supreme leader asking for “repentance and pardon”. Reza Alijani in an article titled “A direct narration from behind the walls of the Special court and the clerics’ special prison” that was published in the “Zeytoun” website, with reference to Yousef Eshkevari and his book writes: “for instance he recalls he person called Ghaem Maghami who was known as the Rasul Ajam [Iranian messenger]. He claimed to be a prophet that continues the path of the prophet of Islam. Except for this claim, Yousefi strongly defends and support him throughout the book, and mentions him as a ‘good friend’: ‘If you didn’t have this one issue; you were perfect!’. Yousefi says ‘he was a decent person in terms of curtesy and self-esteem and serving others and acting according to the Sharia law; if there was one real Muslim in this ward that was him.’ He also recalls the corrupt clerics in the prison harassing and even attempting to murder him, that seem to be led by the officials of the Clerical Court. Once because he walked in the prison pool –as they knew him as Najis[unclean]– they make a spectacle that its details are mentioned in the book. Yousefi also mentions a memory where Ghaem Maghami warned him of an error himself was about to make, and agrees that due to his honesty and integrity he had some revelations”
Eshkevari also mentions that at least half of the imprisoned Clerics have temporary wives. In another point in his book he mentions the story of a cleric, who was being stoned but was able to pull him self out of the ground during the stoning procedure and run way.
He also writes in this book that some of the offenders were in prison under financial charges.
Yousefi Eshkevari was sentenced to loosing his cleric status and prison by the Special Clerical Court.
“moral corruption” is a common allegation against clerics who have been arrested and trailed by Special Clerical Court, for instance Mohammad-Reza Nekounam, a Shia Marja, has been alleged to be morally corrupt. He was reportedly, initially alleged to be morally corrupt on the grounds that he was arrested for his criticizing the head of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Some Clerics have told HRANA, that such allegations are based on a hadith called “Mubahala”. Based on the Hadith studies they consider this Hadith to be unauthentic.
Majid Jafaritabar is another cleric who was known for his Istikharah. He along his wife were initially accused of moral corruption, but it has been said that in his case he was sentenced to loosing cleric status and death for charges such as, “fellowship and followers”, “financial”, “being in contact with Jinns”, and “claiming to be in contact with Imam Zaman”, this is while the judicial sources have not made official announcements regarding his charges.
Legal Criticism of the Clerical Court
The first issue is the lack of mention of this court in the constitution, and that it is not approved by the Islamic Consultative Assembly as a legislative body. In the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, in Principles 19, 20 and 107 of the Constitution, it is stipulated that: “The people of Iran, from every tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights, and color, race, language and such, do not bestow any privileges. The Supreme Leader in front of the law is equal to everyone else.” Every exception in this principle needs legal clarification. The Special Court for the Clergy is completely contrary to these principles. The point is that, according to the constitution, as the country’s highest legal document, except for cases involving military courts, all offences should be investigated in the judiciary. Also, in Article 110 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, no reference has been made to such courts regarding the duties and authority of the Supreme Leader.
The Special Clerical Court is an institution to address the charges against mullahs and clerics who are involved in cases where their main offender is a cleric. The court was established, according to Article I of the bylaw on Special Clerical Courts and procuracy, in order to “prevent the influence of corrupt and criminal individuals in the seminaries, preserve the dignity of clergy, and punish the cleric offenders.” But following its establishment, it has been used against the opposing and critical clerics. The Special Court is a court that when we speak with some clerics who have been trialed in it, we can tell that they are afraid of this court more than any ordinary or even revolutionary courts. This has no other reason but the attitude of this court, lack of transparency and the freedom of the system to do as wish in this court. A court that, create a fear that makes the opposing clerics to not allow themselves to criticize or do anything that might lead them to this court.