Iran: Shirin Ebadi criticizes new penal code

Nobel Peace Laureate Shrin Ebadi on Wednesday criticised Iran's new Islamic penal code, saying it remains unfair to women and uses an "incorrect" interpretation of Islam.
Iran's parliament in September adopted the outlines of the new Islamic penal code submitted by the judiciary, which is a modified version of the Sharia-based law implemented in Iran since 1982.
"After 25 years we are still repeating mistakes of the first day," Ebadi told a meeting and news conference staged by her rights group on the subject.

"The criminal laws adopted after the revolution unfortunately took away a woman's human identity and turned her into a second-class being who is incapable and mentally-deranged," she said.

Ebadi, who became Iran's first female judge before the 1979 Islamic revolution, deplored the fact that the new law still considers a woman's life and her testimony worth half a man's.

"Why doesn't the court accept my testimony? Is it because men have four eyes and women only two?" asked Ebadi, who is an outspoken critic of the situation of human rights in Iran. "These are incorrect interpretations of Islam stemming from a patriarchal culture."

The new Islamic penal code, whose details are yet to be debated by parliament, has been criticised for an increased imposition of harsh punishments such as flogging and execution for a variety of crimes. Critics also complain about the unchanged age of legal responsibility, which deems a boy punishable from the age of 15 and a girl from the age of nine. The judiciary maintains that the bill has been drawn up with a focus on "correcting the offender, humanitarian policies, preserving citizens' rights and the use of fair punishments" among other concerns. Legal experts admit that some positive changes have been incorporated in the new code such as the possibility of suspending or commuting sentences and conditional release in certain crimes such as financial offences. But they say the law remains inflexible in terms of crimes whose punishment has been defined by Islamic law such as stealing, drinking alcohol, adultery and apostasy which are respectively punishable by amputation, flogging, stoning and execution. On the other hand, the new law recommends that certain harsh punishments not be carried out if they are deemed as "weakening to Islam." "If something cannot be implemented why are you putting it in law then?" university professor and legal expert Reza Nour-Bahar asked the conference. Some critics say punishments ordered by Sharia 14 centuries ago cannot be applied to modern times, arguing that harsh punishments have not led to reduced crime. "There is not an explicit religious reason to apply Sharia laws for early Muslims to all other Muslims," said Sedigheh Vasmaghi, a professor of Islamic law and jurisprudence at prestigious Tehran University. Certain laws "today do not guarantee order and justice as our situation is different from them (early Muslims)," she said.

5 November 2008

Source: AFP