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Human rights groups welcome Iran's move to ban torture

TEHRAN, 3 May 2004 (IRIN) - Rights groups have cautiously welcomed a decision last week by Iran's hardline judiciary to ban the torturing of detainees. In a 15-point directive to the judiciary, police and intelligence officials, reported by news agencies, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi instructed officials that "blindfolding, restraining, pestering and insulting detainees must be avoided during arrest, interrogation and investigation".

Shahroudi also stressed that all detainees have a right to a lawyer, that all confessions must be written and verified by the accused and that unnecessary detentions must be avoided. "Any torture to extract confession is banned and the confessions extracted through torture are not legitimate and legal," he said.

Shahroudi, Iran's highest-ranking jurist, also asked for a ban on the use of stoning. Many human rights groups view his latest statement as an admission of the use of torture.

"As a human rights activists, we welcome this move. But we have to wait and see what it means. What are the practical results? Will the next parliament ratify a convention on this?" Arash Guitoo, head of the international relations department of the Organisation for Defending Victims of Violence, told IRIN.

But Guitoo says the government needs to take further steps in order to comply with international human rights standards. "The government must now recognise torture in all its forms. We need a clear definition of what torture is. We have no definition of torture in our law. And it's important to know that this is a regulation, not the law," he said.

"Amnesty International certainly welcomes the reported statement that Iran will now seek to adhere to its own laws regarding torture. They have to start implementing their own laws which already ban torture," a spokeswoman said. "But it remains to be seen if the judicial officials or the security officials in the Revolutionary Guard will ... put this into practice," she added.

Iran's reformist-led parliament has made several attempts to pass a bill banning torture, but it has been blocked by the deeply religious Guardian Council - a religious watchdog consisting of 12 clerics. The use of torture is forbidden in Iran's constitution, but rights groups say this is routinely ignored in jails, police stations and detention centres.

"This statement could change the face of human rights in Iran. The government has been trying to have a more open atmosphere and they have even accepted many points of Ligabo's [UN High Commissioner on human rights] statement," said Guitoo.

Shahrudi's announcement came in the same week that President Mohammad Khatami reportedly admitted that Iran imprisons people for their political beliefs. Iran has long denied having political prisoners or using torture. "Absolutely, we do have political prisoners. There are those who are in prison for their beliefs," Reuters quoted Khatami as saying in the Iran daily newspaper.

There was no clear reason for the announcement's timing. Iran's rights record is routinely criticised by Western governments. But last month Tehran escaped a censure motion by the UN's Human Rights Commission for a second year running. A move to scrutinise Iran's human-rights record failed to make it to the floor.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

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