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Freedom House's Report on Iran

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 10:41 pm    Post subject: Freedom House's Report on Iran Reply with quote


Full text PDF file here:

Freedom House
August 24, 2005

From "Freedom in the World--2005: IRAN" published by Freedom House, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization in Washington, DC, "working to advance the remarkable worldwide expansion of political and economic freedom."

Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Iranians cannot change their government democratically. The most powerful figure in the Iranian government is the Supreme Leader (Vali-e-Faghih), currently Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei; he is chosen for life by the Assembly of Experts, a clerics-only body whose members are elected to eight-year terms by popular vote from a government-screened list of candidates.

The Supreme Leader is commander in chief of the armed forces and appoints the leaders of the judiciary, the heads of state broadcast media, the commander of the IRGC, the Expediency Council, and half the members of the Council of Guardians. Although the president and parliament are responsible for designating cabinet ministers, the Supreme Leader exercises de facto control over appointments to the ministries of Defense, the Interior, and Intelligence.

All candidates for election to the presidency and 290-seat unicameral parliament are vetted for strict allegiance to the ruling theocracy and adherence to Islamic principles by the 12-person Council of Guardians, a body of 6 clergymen appointed by the Supreme Leader and 6 laymen selected by the head of the judiciary chief (the latter are nominally subject to parliamentary approval). The Council of Guardians also has the power to reject legislation approved by parliament (disputes between the two are arbitrated by the Expediency Council, another non-elected conservative-dominated body, currently headed by former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani).

Corruption is pervasive. The hard-line clerical establishment has grown immensely wealthy through its control of tax-exempt foundations (bonyads) that monopolize many sectors of the economy, such as cement and sugar production. Iran was ranked 87 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of expression is limited. The government directly controls all television and radio broadcasting and, since 2003, has reportedly had some success in jamming broadcasts by dissident overseas satellite stations. The Press Court has extensive procedural and jurisdictional power in prosecuting journalists, editors, and publishers for such vaguely worded offenses as “insulting Islam” and “damaging the foundations of the Islamic Republic.”

In recent years, the authorities have issued ad hoc gag orders banning media coverage of specific topics and events. Since 1997, more than 100 publications have been shut down by the judiciary and hundreds of journalists and civil society activists have been arrested, held incommunicado for extended periods of time, and convicted in closed-door trials.

As in years past, many reformist newspapers were suspended or closed by the authorities in 2004. In February, the weekly Hadith-e Kerman and the dailies Sharq and Yas-e Nau were closed down. In May, the Azeri-language daily Nedai Azarabadegan was suspended for two months and the weekly Gorgan e Emrouz was banned. The newspapers Jumhuriyat and Vaqa-yi Itifaqi-yi were closed in July. By year’s end, the few reformist newspapers that remained open had been intimidated into practicing self-censorship.

Most liberal journalists are forced to publish their work on the Internet. However, the government systematically censors Internet content. Since 2003, the government has forced Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to a list of “immoral sites and political sites that insult the country’s political and religious leaders.”

The authorities stepped up Internet censorship in 2004, blocking access to hundreds of additional Web sites. In September, the authorities launched a massive crackdown on free expression, arresting at least 25 journalists, civil society activists, and computer technicians involved in Internet publishing, on charges ranging from defamation to “acts against national security.” According to Human Rights Watch, many were coerced by interrogators to sign written confessions saying they had taken part in an “evil project” directed by “foreigners and counter-revolutionaries.”

Religious freedom is limited in Iran, which is largely Shia Muslim with a small Sunni Muslim minority. Shia clerics who dissent from the ruling establishment are frequently harassed. In May, an aide to Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri was arrested for publishing a book that described the ayatollah’s experiences under house arrest. Sunnis enjoy equal rights under the law, but there are some indications of discrimination, such as the absence of a Sunni mosque in the Iranian capital and the paucity of Sunnis in senior government offices.

The constitution recognizes Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians as religious minorities and generally allows them to worship without interference so long as they do not proselytize. However, they are barred from election to representative bodies (though a set number of parliamentary seats are reserved for them), cannot hold senior government or military positions, and face restrictions in employment, education, and property ownership.

Some 300,000 Bahais, Iran’s largest non-Muslim minority, enjoy virtually no rights under the law and are banned from practicing their faith. Hundreds of Bahais have been executed since 1979. Iranian security forces raided two major evangelical Christian religious gatherings in May and September 2004, arresting scores of people, most of whom had been released by year’s end.

Academic freedom in Iran is limited. Scholars are frequently detained for expressing political views, and students involved in organizing protests often face suspension or expulsion by university disciplinary committees. In November, members of the Basij militia reportedly assaulted and briefly detained the head of Elm-o-Sanaat University after the school hosted a lecture by a prominent dissident.

The constitution permits the establishment of political parties, professional syndicates, and other civic organizations, provided they do not violate the principles of“ freedom, sovereignty and national unity” or question the Islamic basis of the republic. In 2002, the 44-year-old Iran Freedom Movement was banned on such grounds and 33 of its leading members imprisoned. In 2004, at least four prominent human rights activists were prevented by the authorities from traveling abroad.

The 1979 constitution prohibits public demonstrations that “violate the principles of Islam,” a vague provision used to justify the heavy-handed dispersal of assemblies and marches. Hard-line vigilante organizations unofficially sanctioned by the conservative establishment, most notably the Basij and Ansar-i Hezbollah, play a major role in dispersing public demonstrations. In sharp contrast to recent years, hardly any public demonstrations took place in 2004 following the hardliners’ electoral victory in February. Because of the public’s deepening political apathy and fear of reprisals by vigilantes, even the fifth anniversary of the regime’s harsh July 1999 crackdown on students passed quietly.

Iranian law does not allow independent labor unions to exist, though workers’ councils are represented in the government-sanctioned Workers’ House, the country’s only legal labor federation. While strikes and work stoppages are not uncommon, the authorities often ban or disperse demonstrations that criticize national economic policies. In January, security forces in the village of Khatunabad in southeastern Kerman province attacked striking copper factory workers, killing at least four people and injuring many others. In May, at least 40 workers were arrested by security forces during a Labor Day march in the city of Saqez.

The judiciary is not independent. The Supreme Leader directly appoints the head of the judiciary, who in turn appoints senior judges. Civil courts provide some procedural safeguards, though judges often serve simultaneously as prosecutors during trials. Political and other sensitive cases are tried before Revolutionary Courts, where detainees are denied access to legal counsel and due process is ignored. Clerics who criticize the conservative establishment can be arrested and tried before the Special Court for the Clergy. The penal code is based on Sharia and provides for flogging, stoning, amputation, and death for a range of social and political offenses.

In February, Mohsen Mofidi died in a Tehran hospital shortly after receiving 80 lashes on charges including possession of a medicine containing alcohol, possession of a satellite dish, and aiding his sisters’ “corruption.” In July, an Iranian court acquitted a government intelligence agent on charges of beating Canadian-Iranian freelance photographer Zahra Kazemi to death in July 2003 after she was detained while taking photos of Evin prison. The court refused to call to the witness stand six senior judicial officials present during Kazemi’s interrogation.

Iranian security forces subjected hundreds of citizens to arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention in 2004. Suspected dissidents are often held in unofficial, illegal detention centers, and allegations of torture are commonplace. Although legislation banning the use of torture in interrogations was approved by parliament and the Council of Guardians in May, allegations of torture persisted throughout the year. In August, according to local human rights groups, a prisoner who had been left hanging by his wrists had to have his hands amputated.

There are few laws that discriminate against ethnic minorities, who are permitted to establish community centers and certain cultural, social, sports, and charitable associations. However, Kurdish demands for more autonomy and a greater voice in the appointment of a regional governor have not been met, and some Kurdish opposition groups are brutally suppressed. The opposition Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI) alleged that two of its members were executed in December 2003. In June 2004, security forces reportedly arrested 80 ethnic Azeris for allegedly “ spreading secessionist propaganda.”

Although women enjoy the same political rights as men and currently hold several seats in parliament and even one of Iran’s vice presidencies, they face discrimination in legal and social matters. A woman cannot obtain a passport without the permission of a male relative or her husband, and women do not enjoy equal rights under Sharia (Islamic law) statutes governing divorce, inheritance, and child custody. A woman’s testimony in court is given only half the weight of a man’s. Women must conform to strict dress codes and are segregated from men in most public places. In August, a 16-year-old girl was executed after being sentenced to death for “acts incompatible with chastity.”
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 25, 2005 9:37 am    Post subject: Iran ranks at bottom of Heritage Economic Freedom Index Reply with quote


scores of past years for Iran

* Rank:148
* Score:4.16 [5 = worst]
* Category:Repressed
* View PDF

Quick Study

* Trade Policy2.0
* Fiscal Burden3.6
* Government Intervention5.0
* Monetary Policy4.0
* Foreign Investment4.0
* Banking and Finance5.0
* Wages and Prices4.0
* Property Rights5.0
* Regulation5.0
* Informal Market 4.0

* Population: 65,540,000
* Total area: 1,648,000 sq. km
* GDP: $118 billion
* GDP growth rate: 6.7%
* GDP per capita: $1,801
* Major exports: petroleum, iron and steel, carpets
* Exports of goods and services: $24.5 billion
* Major export trading partners: Japan 19.0%, China 9.4%, Italy 7.1%, South Korea 5.4%
* Major imports: intermediate goods and industrial raw materials, foodstuffs and other consumer goods
* Imports of goods and services: $13.5 billion
* Major import trading partners: Germany 17.1%, Switzerland 9.3%, United Arab Emirates 9.1%, France 5.9%, Italy 5.8%
* Foreign direct investment (net): n/a

Iran’s economy was one of the most advanced in the Middle East before being crippled by the 1979 Islamic revolution, the 1980–1988 Iran–Iraq war, and widespread economic mismanagement. Hopes for systematic reform were raised under President Mohammed Khatami, first elected in 1997 and re-elected in June 2001, but Khatami remains hamstrung by opposition from entrenched bureaucrats in state agencies and by Islamic hard-liners in the judiciary and other state institutions who value ideological purity over economic progress. Khatami and his allies suffered a major political defeat in the February 2004 legislative elections after hard-liners opposed to reform of the radical Islamic system disqualified more than 2,000 reformist candidates and gained a stranglehold on the parliament. That defeat has severely undermined Khatami’s power and strengthened resistance to his cautious program of economic liberalization. Although Khatami’s government has made limited progress in reforming the economy, including the establishment of a unified currency regime in 2002 and the lifting of a ban on private banks, bureaucrats remain suspicious of foreign investment, and the rule of law is still precarious. High world oil prices have raised export revenues and helped to service Iran’s large foreign debt, but high unemployment, inflation, corruption, and expensive subsidies remain problems. Iran’s informal market score is 1 point better this year. As a result, its overall score is 0.1 point better this year.
Trade Policy

* Score:2.0

The World Bank reports that Iran’s weighted average tariff rate in 2000 was 3.1 percent. “Prohibited imports…include some luxury items, alcohol, pork, narcotics, guns and ammunition, aerial cameras, radio transmitters and ‘indecent’ media,” reports the Economist Intelligence Unit, and “videos or music CDs brought into Iran may be held by customs authorities for vetting or may be confiscated.” According to the World Bank, “the main instruments of commercial policy have been non-tariff barriers and the system of multiple exchange rates rather than explicit import tariffs.”
Fiscal Burden

* Score:3.6

Iran’s top income tax rate is 35 percent, down from the 54 percent reported in the 2004 Index. The top corporate tax rate is 25 percent. In 2002, government expenditures as a share of GDP increased 5.1 percentage points to 30.8 percent, compared to a 0.8 percentage point increase in 2001. On net, Iran’s fiscal burden of government score is unchanged this year.
Government Intervention

* Score:5.0

The World Bank reports that the government consumed 13.2 percent of GDP in 2002. In the same year, based on data from the International Monetary Fund, Iran received 54.24 percent of its total revenues from state-owned enterprises and government ownership of property. However, the figure for government consumption underestimates the level of state involvement in the economy. The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that “inefficient state owned enterprises (SOEs), and politically powerful individuals and institutions such as the bonyad (Islamic ‘charities’ that control large business conglomerates) have established a tight grip on much of the nonoil economy, utilising their preferential access to domestic credit, foreign-exchange, licences, and public contracts to protect their positions. These advantages have made it difficult for the private sector to compete, and as a result it remains small….” Based on the apparent unreliability of the reported figure for government consumption, 1 point has been added to Iran’s government intervention score.
Monetary Policy

* Score:4.0

From 1994 to 2003, Iran’s weighted average annual rate of inflation was 15.53 percent.
Foreign Investment

* Score:4.0

In May 2002, the government updated its foreign investment code for the first time in over 50 years by enacting the Law on the Attraction and Protection of Foreign Investment. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, “Much uncertainty remains, however, particularly over foreign property ownership and how to calculate and judge the maximum share to be allowed for foreign-owned entities (foreign market share should not exceed 25% in any one sector, or 35% in individual industries). The bureaucracy surrounding investment approval remains extensive….” The International Monetary Fund reports that most payments and transfers are subject to limitations, quantitative limits, or approval requirements. All credit operations are subject to government controls, as are most personal capital movements.
Banking and Finance

* Score:5.0

The ability of banks to charge interest is restricted under Iran’s interpretation of Islamic law. The sector is dominated by state-owned banks. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, “The bulk of commercial banks’ loan portfolio is taken up with low-return loans to state agencies and parastatals….” In April 2000, the government announced that it would permit private banks for the first time since the 1979 revolution. According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance, four private banks are operating in Iran.
Wages and Prices

* Score:4.0

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, “Iran does not regulate pricing for most commercial products with the exception of fuel (such as petrol, natural gas or diesel) and wheat for the production of bread. The government partially subsidises both of these products.” The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that Iran provides about $3 billion in subsidies to lower the price of oil. The government also affects prices through its extensive state-owned enterprises and sets minimum wages for each sector and region.
Property Rights

* Score:5.0

Property rights are not protected in Iran. “The rule of law in Iran is inconsistent and unsatisfactory,” reports the Economist Intelligence Unit. “Recourse to the courts is unwieldy and often counter-productive and rarely leads to the swift resolution of outstanding disputes…. Few foreign firms have had satisfactory experiences when seeking to bring a contract dispute before a court. The judicial system is opaque and very slow moving, and Iranian parties—both public and private—are adept at employing effective delaying tactics, substantially increasing the time and financial cost of legal action.” The EIU further reports that the government permits private investment in state land but not land ownership.

* Score:5.0

The government effectively discourages the establishment of new businesses. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, “Contract negotiations are often lengthy, prolonged by the exhaustive details demanded by state agencies, and the slow functioning bureaucracy, which often requires approval from an extensive number of higher officials before legal agreement can be concluded.” Recent attempts at reform have been largely unsuccessful. The EIU reports that corruption is a continuing problem.
Informal Market

* Score:4.0

Transparency International’s 2003 score for Iran is 3. Therefore, Iran’s informal market score is 4 this year—1 point better than last year.
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