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حبیب الله لطیفی Habib Latifi: A Case for Human Rights

January 7, 2011

Habib Latifi: A Case for Human Rights
By Malcolm L. Rigsby

One day after issuing a temporary administrative stay of execution against Habibollah Latifi, Iranian police have arrested the law student’s family and several of his supporters.  In Latifi’s case his family, legal team, and other supporters with cooperation of Amnesty International have spear headed a campaign to gain a stay of execution and full pardon for him.

Habibollah Latifi, a law student at the Open University of Ilam received a death sentence for membership in the outlawed Kurdish organization Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), (pronounced Pezhak) and for being at “enmity against God.”  Arrested in fall 2007 in the province of Kordestan, located in northern Iran, he was held four months in Sanandaj prison and tried in the Dadgah-ha-e-Engelab (Revolutionary Tribunal) in 2008.  The court, established after the 1979 revolution, hears all matters involving blaspheming or cases involving attempts to overthrow the Islamic Republic.  According to Amnesty International and family members he was beaten into confession; the severity of which left him hospitalized with internal bleeding.  The trial was behind closed doors and without the presence of his lawyer.  The judge denied witness’ testimonies to the effect that on the date of the crime(s) Latifi was not in the town where they occurred.  Many have supported a campaign calling for reconsideration of the verdict of guilty in this trial. You may ask why should I, an American, be that concerned over an arrest, trial, and death sentence of an Iranian citizen, especially in another country such as Iran? 

As Americans, we believe in due process of law.  Due process is bestowed upon us in our federal constitution.  Because of this, procedures help assure us that we are not charged with a crime, tried, or convicted of a crime without certain precautions.  These procedures allow lawyers to do their job more effectively, provide rules of interrogation and protection against torture, and establish fundamental protections for prosecuting suspects of crime.  If confessions are coerced they may be disallowed in evidence.  But in authoritarian states the law is often used to deter dissent.  These judges may allow coerced confessions in evidence, thus legitimizing torture.  They may conduct trial without legal defense, deny witnesses testimony arbitrarily and effectively deny attorney advocacy.  In short, facts are concealed or denied and examples are made.  News accounts are shaded to place the government in best light.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is an authoritarian theocracy.   As we know from the reports of summer 2009 many young Iranian people are not happy with the authoritarian form of government in which they abide.  The Green Movement seeks changes in the Iranian government.  Kurd’s in the north seek a land of their own and a government to represent them.  The Iranian government must deal with both of these fronts.  What better way to eliminate dissent than by using power of judicial process to bless arrests and convictions.  Habib Latifi is only one young person who has been arrested and compelled to admit a role in activities carrying a death penalty in Iran.  In such systems, the public rarely knows the truth about the individual.

After more than three years on prison, the Thursday before Christmas, Latifi’s execution was announced to take place on or before December 26.  Due to persistent family members, friends, and Amnesty International the Iranian administration has been encouraged to reconsider this case.  Sunday morning, December 26, the day of his execution, a temporary stay was issued.  But this is not the conclusion of the story.  Habib Latifi is only one case.  Human Rights Watch, an organization that tracks human rights violations has documented many cases in Iran.  Whether Latifi was involved in the crimes charged is not the point if the primary concern is to protect all citizens.  While we must condemn all armed violence against civilians we must always seek to conduct fair trials and abhor use of coercion and torture to gain evidence.  When governments make inroads which restrict or deny basic freedoms of speech and privacy and begin to limit fundamental human protections that assure civility, the citizen loses.  So, I return to my question.  Why should we care who Habibollah Latifi is, or what happens in his case?  I believe our answer lies in our value of human life and desire to always speak out and seek to preserve democracy.  But for a few fundamental legal processes that we as Americans hold dear, any one of us could find our story transmuted and similar to Habib Latifi’s story.

Malcolm L. Rigsby is a faculty member in sociology at Ouachita Baptist University, completing his Ph.D. at Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Texas.  In 1979 he received his B.A.T. from Sam Houston State University, in History and Education with a minor in Sociology.  He holds his J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law (1989) and is a licensed attorney in Arkansas and Texas.  

Ethnic minorities, execution, torture, human rights, habibollay latifi, latifi, persecution, Kurdish, iran, civility, due process

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