Background Briefing

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III.  Human Rights Violations

Iran is a party to the International Convention on the Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 25 of ICCPR requires that “every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.” Iran’s election laws and the role of the Guardian Council in disqualifying candidates restrict the majority of its citizens’ right to be elected, thus violating the ICCPR. The various aspects of this violation are discussed below.

Gender Discrimination

According to Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution, a presidential candidate must be from among “the well-known religious and political personalities [rejal].” Rejal is originally Arabic and means men. Since Farsi is a gender-neutral language, it is not clear whether this phrase is intended to restrict presidential candidates to males or to encompass both male and female candidates.

In practice, the Guardian Council has interpreted rejal to refer solely to male candidates. The Council’s spokesman, Gholamhussein Ilham, on October 23, 2004, stated this interpretation publicly.31 The Council has consistently rejected all female candidates who registered to compete in previous presidential elections. During the 1997 presidential elections, Azam Taleghani, a well-known political and social activist, was disqualified from becoming a candidate. In the presidential elections of 2001, forty-seven women registered, but were all disqualified by the Guardian Council.

For the upcoming presidential election of June 2005, eighty-nine women, including Taleghani, registered their candidacy. None of them were approved by the Guardian Council.

Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Noble Peace Prize winner, considers this interpretation as fundamentally flawed. “To deprive half of the country’s population from obtaining the important post of the presidency is a sign of unjust discrimination,” she said.32


Hamideh Edalat was the leader of the Women’s Caucus [fraction zanan] in the sixth parliament, from 2001 to 2004. She believes excluding women from seeking the presidency is unacceptable:

Such an interpretation questions many social values and meanings because it automatically eliminates half of the society from the political arena. It will make women wonder if part of the government is just using their votes as a tool if they can so easily take away the women’s right to assume  high positions. Presently, there are women in our society who can become presidential candidates and the system [haakemiat] should allow the people to decide if they want their president to be a man or a woman. With this [Guardian Council] interpretation of the word rejal, women have been deprived of their indisputable right.33


Discrimination Based on Political Opinion and Belief

Iranian election laws explicitly discriminate against candidates who do not hold the beliefs and opinions of those currently holding power. Article 28 of the Parliamentary Election Law requires the candidates to have “practical belief in the Islamic faith and the sacred order of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”34 The same article demands of the candidates a “declaration of loyalty to the progressive principle of the absolute rule of the Jurisconsult and to the Constitution.” The Guardian Council has used both of these requirements to disqualify candidates.

Mehrangiz Kar told Human Rights Watch:

Provisions of Article 28 prevent people from having their candidates compete in elections. The right to become a candidate is restricted to those who hold political viewpoints similar to those of the Guardian Council. How can we talk about the people’s right to self-governance when people holding viewpoints critical of the government [digarandishan] are excluded from participating in the executive and legislative decision-making process?35

Saeed Razavi Faqih, a prominent reformist, experienced this forms of discrimination during his four attempts to compete in parliamentary elections. He told Human Rights Watch:

I first registered for the fifth parliamentary elections in 1996, from Dorud district in Lorestan Province. The local executive committee disqualified me from the electoral competition. I lodged a protest with them and it was referred to the executive committee at the provincial level. They also rejected my application. I attempted to become a candidate again for the sixth parliamentary elections in 2000, from the same district. This time the local executive committees qualified me, although with much difficulty. The mayor of Dorud personally told me that it was difficult to approve of my candidacy. He said since objections against my candidacy were baseless, the local executive committee decided to qualify me. But the Guardian Council sent a letter to the local executive committee disqualifying me. According to this letter the reasons given for my disqualification included association with opposition groups, lacking belief in absolute rule of the Jurisconsult, and lack of belief in the Constitution. I tried again during the mid-term elections in 2001, and the Guardian Council rejected my candidacy for the same reasons. I tried yet again during the seventh parliamentary elections in 2004. Again the Guardian Council disqualified me, and gave an additional reason: “Lack of practical belief in Islam and having ill repute.”36

Razavi Faqih said that the Guardian Council’s real reasons were his political opinions and beliefs:

The Guardian Council has never used any legal benchmarks for making its decisions. Its decisions are rather based on reports and files on the candidate’s political speeches, writings, and opinions. I am certain that its decisions are completely of political nature.37

Mohsen Sazegara registered as a candidate in the presidential election of 2001, but was disqualified by the Guardian Council. He also believes that his disqualification was stemmed solely from his political opinions and beliefs. He told Human Rights Watch:

My candidacy fulfilled all of the requirements stated in the presidential election law. Yet the Guardian Council disqualified me. In general, any candidate whose political positions, speeches, and writings are not congruent with the wishes of the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader will be disqualified. This was the reason for my own disqualification.38

The Guardian Council’s discriminatory and arbitrary disqualification of candidates was on stark display during the parliamentary elections of 2004. During these elections, Karim Abedi, director of elections bureau in Eastern Azarbaijan province, said that:

The Guardian Council’s supervision committees, in a calculated move that was completely political and factional, resorted to mass disqualification of candidates. These mass disqualifications indicate that the Guardian Council’s supervision committees have no belief in people’s votes and are willing to reject the popular vote by using disqualification of candidates. The decisions of the supervision committees are completely of a political nature and are designed to allow only candidates belonging to a particular faction to stand in elections.39

Abedi said that 176 people, representing forty-five percent of registered candidates in his province, were disqualified due to their supposed “lack of practical belief in Islam and the system” and due to their association with various organizations and groups.

Mehrangiz Kar compared the Guardian Council’s disqualification of candidates to a modern Inquisition.40 This view was widely held in Iran during the seventh parliamentary elections. In defense of its policies, Mohammad Jahromi, the spokesperson for the central Supervision Committee, said that “this method is not an Inquisition, but a rational decision on who is qualified to be trusted with important tasks.”41

Ahmad Nateq Nuri, deputy leader of the Conservative faction in the sixth parliament, justified the majority of disqualifications during the seventh parliamentary elections in 2004 as necessary to prevent the formation of a secular government.42

Discrimination Based on Religious Belief

Iranian election laws require that the candidates for the parliament declare their loyalty to the religious doctrine of the absolute rule of the Jurisconsult [velayat faqih motlaqeh], a Shi`a doctrine that underpins Iran’s system of government. It espouses a system of governance in which a religious leader [faqih] is the highest authority, the Supreme Leader.

Presidential candidates are required to demonstrate “convinced belief in the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the official religion of the country.”

These laws discriminate against candidates based on religious beliefs. They discriminate against non-Muslims and Sunni Muslims, as well as many Shi`a who do not accept this doctrine. Mohsen Sazegara told Human Rights Watch:

If you are a follower of Ayatollah Sistani or of the deceased Ayatollah Khoei, then you are discriminated against. Indeed, the majority of Shi`a clerical leaders do not espouse the doctrine of velayat faqih. There are very few of them who approve of this doctrine.43

Mohsen Kadivar, an Iranian Shi`a scholar and cleric, conducted extensive research into the history of velayat faqih doctrine. He discussed nine variations of the theory of government among the Shi`a scholars—the absolutist version of velayat faqih favored by Iran’s rulers being just one of them.44

[31] “Need for a new interpretation of political rejal,” BBC Persian,  October 24, 2004.

[32] Iranian Labor News Agency, January 3, 2005.

[33] Iranian Students News Agency, October 25, 2004.

[34] Available from the Interior Ministry website:

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with Mehrangiz Kar, April 11, 2005.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with Saeed Razavi Faqih, April 13, 2005.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohsen Sazegara, April 11, 2005.

[39] “Political Deputy of Eastern Azarbaijan says 176 candidates have been disqualified,” Tabriz News, January 16, 2004.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with Mehrangiz Kar, April 11, 2005.

[41] “So far 2033 candidates disqualified,” Iranian Students News Agency, January 11, 2004.

[42] “Ahmad Nateq Nuri says disqualifications are to prevent secular government,” Iranian Labor News Agency, January 18, 2004.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohsen Sazegara, April 11, 2004.

[44] Mohsen Kadivar, Nazariehay-e Dowlat dar Fiqh Shi`a.  Tehran: Nashr Ney, 2001.

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