Jump to content

Human Rights violations under Sharia - Iran Vs Saudi


Recommended Posts

paper is posted at DigitalCommons@Pace.

http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/honorscollege theses/13

Human Rights violations under Sharia

Comparative study of Saudi Arabia and Iran

A closed, backward society where stoning, flogging and

limb amputations are rampant and women’s rights a forbidden

concept. This is the image of Saudi Arabia that human

rights groups and media reports often present. At the

heart of this “medieval†society lies the notorious

Sharia'a, causing the human rights violations we have grown

so accustomed to associating the country with. However,

there is little recognition attributed to another country

in the Middle East, whose government also imposes strict

Islamic Law on its citizens: Iran. Rarely are its stoning

incidents or executions mentioned yet they occur with

higher frequency and severity than those of the Desert


Human rights itself is a new legal concept; “the

placing of legal constraints on the power of the modern

nation stateâ€1and officially defined only fifty-seven years

ago. It still requires many adjustments in an age where

the still-undefined act of terrorism, infringes closely on

its territory. Much like the Western legal system has

recently been accommodating to human rights as enforceable

justice, Islamic Law too has transcended far from its

1 Mayer, Elizabeth Ann. Islam & Human Rights: Tradition and Politics.

Westview Press, Inc. Colorado: 1991.

traditionally tribal foundations. The clash between

civilizations is most reflective in this matter where one

society’s advancement is seen as prompting another to

abandon its culture and traditional way of life. In fact,

an important argument regarding the universality of human

rights was made by Iran’s UN representative, Sai Rajaie-

Khorassani when he defended his country’s human rights

violations. Khorassani paraphrased statement read, “…apart

from Islamic law…conventions, declarations and resolutions

or decisions of international organizations, which were

contrary to Islam, had no validity in the Islamic Republic

of Iran…The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),

which represented secular understanding of the Judeo-

Christian tradition, could not be implemented by Muslims

and did not accord with the system of values recognized by

the Islamic Republic of Iran; his country would therefore

not hesitate to violate its provisions.â€2 This argument

parallels those made by Saudi Arabia during the drafting of

the UDHR. According to the Kingdom’s representative, it

reflected Western culture and was “at variance with

2 United Nations General Assembly. Thirty-Ninth Session. Third Committee. 65th meeting, held on

Friday, 7 December 1984 at 3 p.m. New York. A/C.3/39/SR.65.

patterns of culture of Eastern States†and due to the

provisions for religious liberty violating Islamic law.3

The cultural-relativism argument as applied to the Middle

East is extraneous after the 1981 formulation of the

Islamic Declaration of Human Rights (claimed to be based on

the Qur’an), which attests that human rights standards

developed in the United Nations are compatible with Islamic

Law. The Declaration’s fundamental guarantees include the

right to “due process of the Law,†under all provisions of

Article V. Article III.a states that, “All persons are

equal before the Law and are entitled to equal

opportunities and protection of the Law,†and “entitled to

equal wages†(III.B). The Declaration prohibits torture

(Article VII), provides the right to asylum (Article IX),

and allows for rights of minorities with freedom of own

laws in a Muslim country (Article X.B). Further, the

Declaration allows for the right to freedom of belief,

thought and speech (Article XII), religion (Article XIV),

protection of property (Article XVI), education (Article

XXI), and freedom of movement and residence (Article

XXIII). With exception to the Qur’an-ic and Muslim

3 John Kelsay, “Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,†in Human Rights

and the Conflict of Cultures: Western and Islamic Perspectives on Religious Liberty, David Little, John

Kelsay, and Abdulaziz Sachedina, eds. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988), 35-35.

references, one can easily see that the Islamic Declaration

of Human Rights has little to contrast with the Universal

Declaration of Human Rights. Although Saudi Arabia had

sponsored the drafting of this Declaration, fifty-seven

states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference have

not yet ratified it.

In this study, I will attempt to disqualify the common

perception of Saudi Arabia as the worst human rights

violator in forms the region due to governance under

standard Islamic Law, while comparing it to Iran; the

world’s other most infamous advocates of Islamic


Origins of the Sharia'a

Islam originated in Saudi Arabia as a religion, but

the administration of Sharia'a was formally initiated c.

1927 with aims of unifying the kingdom’s existing three

judicial systems. As the country where Islam was founded

and where its prophet Muhammad received his revelations

that would later form the basics of Islamic jurisprudence,

Saudi Arabia has the closest ties to it. However, a Middle

Eastern, Muslim country ruled by religious clerics also has

claim to it, more so than perhaps the institution of

Sharia'a in Canada (according to the Canadian Law Times,

recent changes in the Canadian Arbitration Act provide for

courts to enforce agreements conceded with the application

of Sharia'a). While not in its present condition, a form

of Islamic rule in Saudi Arabia dates back to the life of

Muhammad, while in Iran, its strictest form was not

initiated until the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini and his

suspension of all un-Islamic laws. The Sharia’a is

politically ingrained in both societies where the Saudi

government claims its constitution is the Qur’an and Iran’s

1979 constitution explicitly provides in Article 4 for

political, military, cultural, administrative, economic,

financial, penal, civil and any other laws to be based on

Islamic criteria. Additionally, both governments declare

the official state religion to be Islam.

The schools of the Sharia

The word Sharia’a has romantic meanings in Arabic such

as “the right path†and “the path to water.†It is the

traditional law as derived and interpreted by scholars of

the Qur’an (the word of God given to Muhammad) as well as

Muhammad’s sayings and traditions as recorded in the

Hadith. No detailed legal code exists. There is merely an

existence of basic moral standards that humans should

conduct themselves by.

What many fail to realize about the Sharia’a, is that

it is a legal system applied mainly through four distinctly

different schools of interpretation (madhab). Each one has

evolved through hundreds of years of scholarly debate and

analysis, dominating a particular region. These particular

versions are named after the revolutionary scholars who led

the foundations of Islamic legal interpretation (ijtihad).

They were each other’s contemporaries, yet their ideas did

not intervene with each other. They enriched each others’

studies and remained in peaceful coexistence serving a

common purpose of justice. After all, one of the

fundamental principles of the Sharia’a is the concept of

consensus (ijima). The legal scholars include Abu Hanifa

(d. 767) a Persian whose determinations and subsequent

‘Hanifa school’ were most prominent in the Levant and

Iraq’s Kufa region; Malik B. Anas (d. 796) of the ‘Maliki

school’ centered in Medina and now dominant in North-West

and Central Africa; Muhammad ibn Idris al Shafi (d. 820) of

the ‘Shafi school’ dominant in East Africa and parts of

Saudi Arabia; and Ahmad B. Hanbal (d. 855) founder of the

Hanbali school of Saudi Arabia.

It is important to note however, that although these

schools of Sharia’a are considered the most legitimate and

widely accepted ones within the dominant Sunni sect of

Islam, various others remain popular within Shia dominated

countries. In Iran, the predominant school of Sharia

interpretation (madhab) is the Jafari (aka Twelvers, Ithna

Asharia) sect of the Shia with a small minority belonging

to the Hanafi school. The Shia Twelvers abide by two main

schools of thought, the Usuli and the Akhbari with the

first being dominant and more liberal in application and


Vast differences occur within the Sunni and Jafari

madhabs with the Jafari school being much more literal in

its interpretation of the Qur’an. This is surprising since

the Sunni Hanafi and Maliki schools of thought were

students under Imam Jafar Sadiq. The differences result

mainly from alternate interpretations of the Qur’an and

Hadith (and the veracity of several Hadith) but also due to

the Shia’s non-acceptance of verdicts presented by the

first three Caliphs, Abu Bakr, Omar and Uthman. In Sharia,

the resulting differences can be as dramatic as the

legality of temporary marriage. The Jafari interpretation

allows for this concept (known as mu’ta) but the Sunni

strongly oppose it (due to the verdicts of Omar). Muta

does not require a divorce to terminate it and can be for a

limited amount of time as short as one evening. The

offspring of such a marriage would be considered as

legitimate heirs. Another difference is the acceptance of

the dissimulation of faith, taqqiya, when faced with

danger. While a Jafari may deny his faith and even assume

a false one, such an act is inconceivable to a Sunni. An

important difference in jurisprudence lies in the Shia

division between divine justice and an individual’s

responsibility for his actions. The Sunni however, believe

man’s exercise of free will is limited by God. For these

differences as well as several others (such as prayer

form), the Jafari are sometimes referred to by the Sunni as

rafidi, meaning rejecters. They reject important beliefs

and therefore are heretics.

On most issues, the four Sunni schools of the Sharia

agree with each other especially in modern times where they

have disappeared most distinguishable boundaries. Yet

although the schools have mostly combined, it has been done

in different ways throughout the region, with influences

such as the 18th century Wahhabi interpretation and

customary tribal law in Arabia. However, traditional

Sharia madhab had certain differences in issues of

marriage, divorce and bequethment that were fundamental.

(Due to the influence of Hanbali thought in Saudi Arabian

and Hanafi on Iran, I will focus solely on their


In traditional Islam (as well as even in modern times

of the Western world) the intent of crime and morality is

of great concern with implications on sentencing. The

schools of the Sharia diverge on the importance they place

in criminal intent with priority given to civil injury and

concern about repayment (blood money) to the injured party.

One moralistic approach (by Hanbali law) believes that a

criminal act of an individual is dependant upon his

intended motives. The second formalist approach dominates

Hanafi law and it claims that it is not the law’s

responsibility to intrude into the human mind and decipher

what someone was thinking. It takes actions at face value.

In regards to marriage, all Sunni schools claim that

the contract is a lifelong commitment and therefore

statures indicating it to be temporary, are a nullity.

Hanbali law goes further and claims marriage to be annulled

if there is no indication of a time limit but evidence

attests to parties’ intent of a temporary union. Whereas

in Hanafi law, the irrelevance of intention leads such a

contract (if stipulated in accordance with the law) to be

perfectly valid.

Another important difference due to the debated

relevance of intention arises in the law of bequests.

Under traditional Sharia, a bequest made for an illegal

purpose such as a distillery or brothel is considered null

and void. Under specifically Hanbali law, a bequest

inspired by an improper motive is also invalid. Payment

for the construction of a brother or the services of a

liquor supplier would be void and punishable due to the

payer’s intentions and rewarding of illegal conduct.

Various loopholes (hiyal) had evolved in the strict

confines of traditional Islamic jurisprudence, which defy

the fundamental principle of Sharia, which is to serve

toward the purpose of what God ultimate intention. This

can be illustrated in the following examples: According to

Islamic law, the charging of interest on a capital loan is

illegal. One could get around this by performing a double

sale. If a loan was made for $100 for one year with an

interest rate of 20 percent, two transactions would be made

in its place. The first would involve a sale of an object

for $120 to the borrower, payable within one year. The

next immediate transaction would be the sale of the object

back to the moneylender for $100 cash, leaving the borrower

with $100 in cash and a legal obligation to repay $120

within one year.

Another example of hiyal can be found in family law.

After a husband divorces his wife by repudiation three

times for whatever reason, he is unable to remarry her.

The former wife can only become “available†once she

remarries, consummates the marriage, and is divorced

through due process. To avoid such wait and humiliation

after an unthoughtful repudiation made in anger, the

practice of tahlil arose. Tahlil is the process of making

the wife legal again through a trick marriage involving a

hired third party (often below the age of puberty), known

as a muhallil. Such shams of hiyal are condemned by the

Hanbali and Maliki schools but widely accepted by the very

literal Hanafi and Shafi.

Traditionally in Arabia, courts were provided for

whichever school an individual belonged to. One could even

change his allegiance to a school depending on his stance

on a particular issue. Often this caused problems when

done in convenience with leniency in applicable punishment.

Freedom to a Fair Trial

The Saudi Arabian Committee for the Promotion of

Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (better known as the

mutawwa’in) is infamous for incidents such as the one that

occurred on March 11, 2002 in Mecca. Fourteen young girls

died after being beaten and chased back to their burning

school building due to displaying improper attire in

public. These incidents increase during Ramadan, when they

believe they possess special authority to enforce

conservativeness. Their headquarters are located in a

group of building s called as-Sa'ah Square, an area that

also houses in the infamous “Chop Chop Square.†The square

is known as such due to the beheadings that are carried out

within it, for public display of revolutionary justice. As

extremist as their measures may be, traditional Islam had

in fact provided for a special public office to ensure

public observance of moral and religious standards. In

accordance with the Qur’an the Muhtasib’s mission was,

“Urging to the good and dissuading from the badâ€(al-amr

bi’l-ma’ruf wa’l-nahy ‘an al-munkar). Their authority on

punishment was limited.

Iran has its own version of the Saudi mutawaiin,

recently expanded with an additional morality police

referred to as the “special police†(yegan ha-ye vizhe).

Its goal is “Enjoining the Good and Prohibiting the

Forbidden†(Amr be Ma’ruf va Nahi as Monkar). There have

been several reports of the force beating individuals for

listening to music and the wearing of makeup or immodest

apparel. As with Saudi Arabia, the month of Ramadan allows

for additional restriction. This is exemplified by the

November 11, 2004 incident in Sanandaj, where a 14-year old

Kurdish boy was caught breaking fast. He died after

receiving 85 lashes, as ordered by a judge.

The role of today’s Islamic enforcement police is as a

semiautonomous agency aimed at ensuring public adherence to

morality (conservative Islam) and apprehending those that

disobey. In Saudi Arabia they can detain their captive for

up to twenty-four hours after executing an arrest only with

the presence of a police officer. Once apprehended an

individual is imprisoned within the hierarchical Saudi

court system, which is comprised of the Expeditious courts,

the Sharia’a courts and the Commission on Judicial

Supervision. In certain regions of Arabia, the Shia are

provided with their own courts for domestic disputes and

inheritance. However, only two judges are available for

the Shia-dominated Eastern province. The Expeditious

Courts handle simple and civilian cases divided among Saudi

nationals/non-nationals and nomads. The Sharia’a courts’

jurisdiction includes everything else. Within them, the

Supreme Judicial Council is responsible for reviewing cases

involving stoning, amputation and death sentences. The

Judicial Supervision ensures that justice within the court

system is maintained and it reviews the judges. An

important role is also played by the Council of Senior

Religious Scholars (Ulama), an autonomous body of 20

religious jurists, including the Minister of Justice who

influences society aspects such as the judicial system, all

levels of religious education, notaries public, preaching

of Islam abroad, supervision of girls’ education and

implementation of the rules of the Sharia’a. They interpret

the Sharia’a for the lower courts.

The Iranian court structure includes seventy branches

of the Revolutionary Courts; Public Courts consisting of

Civil (205), Special Civil (99), 1st Class Criminal (86) and

2nd Class Criminal (156); Courts of Peace, which include

Ordinary (124), Independent Courts of Peace (125), and

Supreme Courts of Cassation (22). The Guardian Council

(GC) is the highest legislative body appointed by the

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution (similar in nature

and responsibility to the Saudi Ulama.)

Iran’s vast array of court categories allows for the

activity of many human rights lawyers, several of them

famed throughout the Western World, such as Shireen Ebadi

who often calls for Iran to abandon its harsh prison

practices. With much restriction, Iran allows certain NGOs

to function such as the Iranian Jurists Association for the

Defense of Human Rights and the Association for the Defense

of Prisoners’ Rights.

Saudi Arabia’s first human rights NGO formally

permitted to operate within the country has recently been

launched. The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR),

includes three women on its board. Its affiliation with

the government is questionable due to the chairman being a

member of the government-appointed Shura council. The

organization began by addressing prison conditions and

extensive detentions. Their December 2004 report confirmed

the existence of prolonged detention of expatriates often

due to sponsor’s refusal to issue travel tickets.

Human rights organizations often report on the use of

torture in prisons as well as for extraction of confession.

Although the Criminal Procedure section of Saudi Arabia’s

Basic Law formally prohibits torture and it is prohibited

to accept a forced confession by the Sharia itself, these

incidents still occur. They are most frequent in the very

conservative central region especially in the city of

Riyadh, while rare in the East and West regions. In both

Iran and Saudi Arabia, Non-Arabic speakers often suffer

most when presented with a document termed as their release

papers. They later find out the document they signed was

actually a confession.

Trial Process

A public trial is provided for by Islamic Law, however

this is seldom observed. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran rarely

provide for media presence or even lawyers inside of a

courtroom. Although there are is no provision for juries

within Sharia since it is up to the judge to survey the

presented evidence and make a decision, the defendant does

have a right of appeal to higher courts.

Although human rights lawyers practice in both

countries, their presence does not necessarily provide for

completely fair trials or treatment of prisoners. Saudi

Basic Law prohibits arbitrary arrest or a detention period

exceeding five days without charges being filed. There is

an exception regarding persons openly criticizing the

government or attempting to destabilize it. A usual

detention lasts two months followed by a trial or

deportation. The Kingdom follows a tradition of releasing

prisoners during the holy months of Ramadan. Minor crimes

allow for the practice of bail, which can even be omitted

in certain cases for release on recognizance by patron or

sponsor. International standards are generally met by the

prisons, with inmates residing in air conditioned cells

with good nutrition, required exercise regiment and guard

patrols for safety. These conditions account for the

current overcrowding in jails due to inmates’ refusal to

leave after sentence completion. Human Rights Watch

estimates eighty percent of inmates to be non-Saudi. The

Shia also comprise a considerable portion of the population

due to the Hanbali interpretation, in which judges can

discount their testimony on account of them being “non-


Iranian prison conditions are incomparable to the

Saudi system. In addition to extensive solitary

confinement, inmates suffer from poor nutrition and lack of

medical care. The prison population is believed to be

extremely overcrowded reaching an estimated 133,658

prisoners in spaces capable of holding a maximum of 65,000.

The United Nations 7th Survey results published in the World

Prison Population List (4th Edition) report Iran’s inmate

record to total 163,526 (229 per 100,000 people) in 2004

compared to Saudi Arabia’s total of 23,720 (110 per

100,000) in 2000. However, these numbers are still

shadowed under the country with the highest prison

population in the world; the United States with a

staggering 1.96 million inmates (686 per 100,000).

In Saudi Arabia and Iran, prisoners have been reported

by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (among many

others) to be held incommunicado for extensive amounts of

time. Torture as a method of extracting confessions,

information and as a form of recreation by prison guards,

is frequently employed in both countries. Iran has adopted

in May of 2004 the Law on Respect of Lawful Liberties and

Protection of Citizenship Rights and Saudi Arabia ratified

in 1997 the Convention against Torture and other Cruel,

Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention

against Torture). In Iran, “Unofficial†secret prisons

outside the national prison system are common, such as

“Prison 5†and “Amaken.†Their captives report of being

held in prolonged solitary confinement with complete

sensory deprivation, threatened with execution, burned, and

suffering death and blindness as a result of extreme

beatings. Surprisingly, medical leave from prison is

allowable in Iran, especially if the government is unable

to treat a medical condition on premises.

Throughout the country there have been several

Committees for Collection of Donations for Impoverished

Prisoners that raise funds, since an inmate remains

imprisoned until his fine is paid. This mainly applies to

civil cases and traffic accidents since more serious crimes

require more serious punishment such as flogging where

lashes usually are incurred in the amount of a few dozen to

a few hundred, often to be administered at 50 lashes every

two weeks. The highest amount of lashes recorded by

Amnesty International was 4,000 imposed on Egyptian

national, Muhammad ‘Ali al-Sayyid convicted of robbery in

1990. Considerably, Saudi Arabia’s courts provide a

physician to ensure an individual’s physical condition can

withstand the designated amount.

Judgments in Saudi Arabia include punishments of

fines, prison terms, flogging, amputation and/or execution.

Amputations occur after repeated incidents of thievery,

usually after the third time. Criminal punishments in Iran

are executed in a similar manner. The country imposes the

death penalty for murder, armed robbery, rape, blasphemy

and smuggling drugs if the quantity held is in excess of 11

pounds of opium. In 2003 the country sentenced to death

by stoning at least four prisoners (guilty of rape and

adultery), at least 197 were to be flogged and 11 for

amputation of fingers and limbs.

Under Islamic Law, judgments for crimes causing injury

or death to another individual may be avoided by the

injured party’s (or their family’s) acceptance of blood

money (diyeh), an ancient tribal custom. However, amounts

awarded change with the nationality, religion, sex and age

of the victim. A Muslim male receives 100% of the

requested compensation amount; a male Jew/Christian

receives 50%; all others (even Hindus, which Sharia’a

considers to be polytheists) receive 1/16th. Women are

entitled to 50% of each category of religious affiliation.

Iran’s Expediency Council, with its power to finalize

legislation, concluded provisions for equalizing diyeh

compensation among non-Muslim victims.

When diyeh for a murder or rape is unacceptable, the

perpetrator is executed by hanging, stoning, or beheading.

There are only 120 countries in the world today that have

formally abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

And although neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran are part of this

list, Saudi Arabia surprisingly is not the highest

contender. According to Amnesty International, in 2004,

first place was received by China with a minimum of 3,400

executions, Iran came second with over 159 (at least 108 in

2003), followed by Vietnam with over 64, USA with 59

(together accounting for 97% of the world’s executions) and

finally Saudi Arabia with an estimated 33, including one

woman. Executions were for severe crimes such as murder,

narcotics-related charges, rape and armed robbery. In

Saudi Arabia, before the sentences can actually be carried

out, permission in the form of a Royal Decree issued by the

King is necessary.

Women are not exempt from execution and are even

targeted if presumed indecent. In August of 2004, the

Iranian media reported the public hanging of a mentally

incompetent 16-year old Atequeh Rajabi after she was

charged with “actions incompatible with chastity.†Her

male accomplice was released after receiving 100 lashes.

Under the Sharia adultery or incompatibility with chastity

must be proved by four witnesses of good character. As is

often the case, it is questionable if these witnesses were

produced for Rajabi’s trial.

Rights of Women

In a perfect society all of human kind has equal

rights indeterminate of sex, ethnicity or religious

affiliation. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran can be deemed

as perfect societies since in both, half of an entire

population is restricted from basic freedoms. In Arabia

women have always suffered severely (by Western standards)

due to ancient tribal customs still prevalent today and

reflected in the country’s predominant madhab. However,

Iran has been closely catching up with its restrictions

since the Islamic Revolution.

According to Sharia’a, women are prohibited from

marrying non-Muslims, however men are allowed to due to

religion being passed on from the patriarch.

Travel in both countries for women is restricted

unless they provide authorization by a make relative,

husband or sponsor. This is applicable also to foreign

women married to Saudi nationals. Strides have been made

towards women’s citizenship rights with the allowance of

their obtaining own identity cards from male relatives or

guardians beginning in 2001. For Saudi women, travel

within the country is also limited to the necessity of a

male driver. A convoy of women demonstrated against this

prohibition on November 6, 1990 when they drove on a

highway in Riyadh. After their husbands signed to have

them released from arrest by promising they would not

violate the ban, the customary rule became explicitly


A quiet yet serious problem for women in the Kingdom

has been domestic abuse. This issue receives little

attention due to the government’s lack of keeping

statistics on it. Hospitals report it is a frequent

occurrence and suspicious injuries now require reporting to

the authorities. This issue gained international attention

when a prominent Saudi reporter, Rania al Baz, made

headlines after allowing photos to be taken of her

drastically bruised face.


Freedom of Press and Religion

Saudi Arabia’s freedom of the press is limited due to the

Ministry of Information’s power to appoint and remove any

and all editors-in-chief and the strict enforcement of

censoring all “immoral†images and references. All media

entering the Kingdom is channeled through a college of

theology located in northern Riyadh known as the Imam

Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University. It was formed in

order to solve the youth unemployment problem. Journalism

has gained freedom recently when in February of 2003, the

Saudi Government granted a charter to a professional

journalists’ association, which includes both men and


Criticism of the government is forbidden under Article

12 of the Saudi Basic Law under prevention of “anything

that may lead to disunity, sedition, and separation.†The

Saudi government continuously censors all media references

to politics, non-Islamic religions, pork or pigs, alcohol

and sex. These precautions have little effect of a society

facing the ‘Al-Jazeera Effect’ due to the numerous

satellite dishes throughout the kingdom.

Satellite dishes are banned in Iran and the government

also is on a continuous crusade to control public morality

by enforcing strict media censorship. Punishment for the

ownership of a satellite dish can consist of a four month

prison sentence in addition to 80 lashes, as was the case

of Mohsen Mofidi in 2004. Mofidi died in the hospital upon

his release. In Saudi Arabia, Satellite dishes are

forbidden in theory but this is seldom enforced. Due to

the advent of the internet, both countries have had to take

extra measures to contain the information and websites

flowing in. Saudi Arabia’s precautions include the

connection of all ISP’s to the outside world through a bank

of servers in the King Abdul Aziz City of Science and

Technology. Satellite links for connectors are a strategy

often employed to get around this system.



Article 12 of the Iranian constitution provides for

schools of law and religion in addition to Sharia’a, to be

granted complete respect and freedom of practice, including

matters of personal status. Such statements contradict the

reported abuses of religious minorities in Iran that

include Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews and the Baha'is.

However, it is the Baha’i minority that has suffered the


The persecution of the Baha’i minority in Iran was

occurring even a century before the 1979 Revolution and the

ascent to power by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The religion’s

origins date back to 1863 and so does its persecution. The

Baha’i were seen as conspirators against the Islamic

Republic, aiding what would later be termed, “The Great

Satan†– the United States. Often they were denied the use

of any communication such as radio, television, newspapers,

films, literature or newspapers through which they could

voice concerns of their treatment to the outside world.

With the onset of the Revolution and rule by the Sharia,

religious minorities (Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews)

were considered “protected†under the law, but not equal

The 1979 Constitution makes a reference to “equal rightsâ€

being enjoyed by all citizens, clauses specifically list

the above referenced selected minorities only. The Baha’i

did not enjoy this privilege and the Shia clergy of Iran

stated, “Under even the old Constitution, the Baha’is

should have had no civil rights; the limited freedom they

had to exercise civil functions, therefore, was proof that

they had enjoyed a privileged position.†They began to be

persecuted more than ever. They suffered expulsion from

businesses, torched homes, physical abuse and mosque

propaganda claiming them to be “enemies of Islam,†“corrupt

on earth,†and persons “whose blood deserves to be shed.â€

The most serious of persecutions against the Baha’i

occurred through the government’s legislature. Their

marriages were considered null and void with martial life

being considered as prostitution (for which punishment is

execution). Children of a Baha’i marriage were considered

illegitimate and had no rights to inheritance and were

often expelled from school due to their religious

affiliation. The Baha’i religion dictates complete

submission to government and therefore did not rebel

against their persecutors. The religion’s founder

established the belief among his followers that “it is

better to be killed than to kill.â€

Continuing persecution was claimed to result from the

Baha’i community’s association with the “Westernization†of

Iran. Such accusations arose from the Baha’i belief system

that promotes the equality of women, democracy, and

scientific investigation. Refusal to recant the Baha’i

faith can result in death, as experienced by ten Baha’i

women who were hung on June 18, 1983. Three days prior,

six men related to the victims, were executed as well. The

following August, the Baha’i religion was formally banned

in Iran. In compliance with the government, the Baha’i

National Spiritual Assembly and all locals were dissolved.

A letter to the Iranian government stated the community’s

complete submission and expressed hope of allowance to

worship in private. Prompt arrests of the members were

carried out.

Several investigations of the Baha’i persecutions by

the United Nations Commission on Human Rights have been

undertaken since 1986. The Commission reported as recently

as 1993 that executions for affiliation with the Baha’i

religion were still occurring. On March 10, 1993 during

the 49th Session of the Commission, a resolution was passed

stating, “there was no appreciable progress in the Islamic

Republic of Iran towards improving compliance with human

rights standards in conformity with international

instruments.†Viewed as a “false religion†that poses a

threat to pure Islamic life, the Baha’i are still

persecuted throughout the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As a Sunni dominated country, Saudi Arabia has its own

targeted minority; the Shia. However, unlike in Iran, this

persecuted minority is allowed to travel freely outside of

the country in order to worship and participate in

religious celebrations, such as Ashura (which recently was

even celebrated within the Kingdom). Restrictions such as

banning of Shia books still do occur. The Ismaili

(Seveners) sect of Shia Islam is particularly suffering

human rights violations due to their interpretation of

Islam, which includes practices that may be considered as

performing “sorcery.†The Saudi interpretation of the

Sharia considers religions of the occult such as black

magic, witchcraft and voodoo to be considered “sorcery†and

the worst form of polytheism, punishable with death. In

extreme cases, the Saudi government has even not recognized

the Shia as Muslims at all. Therefore, in a court of Sharia

law, their testimony is inadmissible.

Freedom of religion for minorities (Christians and

Jews[if allowed into the Kingdom])is limited to private

worship (with an undefined distinction between private and

public) but the boundary is drawn with conversion.

Converting from Islam to another religion is considered

apostasy, a crime under Sharia, and punishable with death

in both Iran and Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia does not

allow for public practice of religions outside of Islam,

they have allowed for Shia mosques to be constructed. This

offer was declined due to the exception of displaying

motifs, a Shia practice forbidden by Sunni Islam. The Sunni

of Iran have recently been able to voice criticism over the

lack of a Sunni mosque in Tehran, where their population

reaches one million.


Iran has adopted in May of 2004 the Law on Respect of

Lawful Liberties and Protection of Citizenship Rights. A

parliamentary bill for its accession to the UN Convention

against Torture and the UN Women’s Convention was rejected

by the GC in August of 2003.

In January of 1996, Saudi Arabia had ratified the

Convention on the Rights of the Child. It has also

ratified the International Convention for the Elimination

of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on

the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against

Women and the Convention against Torture. There is further

consideration of ratifying the International Covenants on

Human Rights (ICCPR and ICESCR). There has been little

indication that any of these conventions have had an

influence on the Kingdom’s human rights practices.

Beginning in February of 2005 municipal elections were

held throughout the Saudi Kingdom with only half the 178

seats being appointed for the four-year terms. Although

prisoners were allowed to vote, women and members of the

armed forces were not. While focusing on the negative

aspect of prohibiting women from voting this year due to

logistical issues of separation, many fail to notice that

these are actually the second municipal elections in Saudi

Arabia. Saudi municipal elections were held as early as

1954 and continued through the early 1960s under the reign

of King Saud ibn Abdul Aziz. Little is known about the

reasons for their introduction or conclusion, but they did


Saudi Arabia has taken many other improvements in the

field of human rights. In the city of Qatif the February

2004 celebrations of the Shia holy day of Ashura proceeded

with no governmental harassment. This is particularly

important since this holy day commemorates the martyrdom of

Hussein ibn Ali at the 10th of Muharram (Ashura).

For the first time in 2003, the Jeddah Economic Forum

devoted an entire day to the discussion of women in

domestic and international business.

In October of 2004 the Saudi government amended a

naturalization law allowing for citizenship of foreign

long-term residents.

Many question the effects on a society of imposition

and strict interpretation of Sharia. As in another region,

this can be judged by deterrence from criminal activity.

Simply, if the punishments are harsh enough to deter

criminals from pursuing their illegal activities, then the

justice system is working (of course as long as the system

has no negative implications on the innocent). Both Saudi

Arabia and Iran are closed societies that do not make their

governmental records official. The Transparency

International CPI Score in 2004 for Saudi Arabia was 3.4

(O- highly corrupt, 10-highly clean). The country was in

company with China and Syria as number 71. As for Iran,

its score was 2.9 and it was ranked number 87 along with

the Dominican Republic and Romania.

Due to the corruption and lack of transparency within

these governments, it is most difficult to obtain official

and correct data pertaining to any negative aspect of their

societies. However, it is claimed by visitors, citizens

and residents of the Kingdom (interviewed by me) that the

criminal activity is practically nonexistent. This may be

explained by the necessity of depositing your passport with

a pre-approved sponsor upon entering the Kingdom in

addition to the necessity of an “exit visaâ€. Since an

estimated seven million of the country’s current estimated

population of 27 million is foreigners, any crime on their

behalf is a risk with unattractive consequences. The

country claims that their justice system has had a

deterrent effect. A year after instating the death penalty

for drug-related crimes (usage and sale), the country’s

drug usage has decreased by a rate of 26% and subsequently

lowering the addiction rate by almost 60%. Additionally,

the Kingdom reports in 2000 to have had 616 murder cases.

With the population at an estimated 22 million in that

year, this would provide a murder rate of 2.8 per 100,000

(half the rate of the United States).

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may have a dramatically

negative image in the area of human rights. Its legal

system calls for just trials and punishments under the

presumption of fair judges acting in accordance with the

presets of the Qur’an. In comparison to Iran, the

kingdom’s violations are not exceptional and even less

severe in certain cases. It’s image perhaps arises from

its violations occurring simply more outright than those of

the Western World, which itself has participated in

genocide, slavery, racism, religious persecution, torture,

colonialism, and the ignoring of inhabitants’ rights.

While prison torture in the West (i.e. the Abu Ghraib

prison scandal) is a hidden concept from the public,

beheadings in Saudi Arabia are a spectator event for the

public held weekly on Friday’s at “Chop Chop Square.â€

Perhaps it is the shamelessness of these violations that

gives it the negative image the Kingdom and not the acts



Mayer, Ann Elizabeth. Islam & Human Rights: Tradition and

Politics. Colorado: Westview Press, Inc. 1991

Center for the Study of the Modern Arab World. Islamic Law

And Change in Arab Society 1976. CEMAM Reports.

Beirut, Lebanon: Dar El-Mashreq Publishers. 1978

Coulson, J. Noel. Conflicts and Tensions in Islamic

Jurisprudence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Al Farsy, Fouad. The Saudi Equation: Modernity and

Tradition. United Kingdom: Knight Communications.


Emory Law School Library Database. Iran, Islamic

Republic of. 20 Feb. 2005


Lippman, Thomas. “Saudi Arabian Elections.†Saudi-US

Relations Information Service. 20 Feb. 2005



Human Rights Watch. Saudi Arabia: Religious Police Role in

School Fire Criticized. 20 Feb. 2005


Transparency International. Transparency International

Corruption Perceptions Index 2004. 27 Feb. 2005



MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute). Saudi

Religious Police Launch Website. Special Dispatch

Series – No. 504. 27 Feb. 2005



Amnesty International. Saudi Arabia: End Secrecy, End

Suffering – an Amnesty International Briefing.

27 Feb. 2005



The Baha’is: The International Website for the Baha'i


The Case of the Baha’i Minority in Iran. 27 Feb. 2005


Auster, Lawrence. “Sharia to Be Enforced By Canadian

Courts.†Free Republic – The Premier Conservative

News Forum. 27 Feb. 2005


European Parliament. Note on Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.

DG External Policies of the Union; Directorate B.

December 2004: 27 Feb. 2005





Hanover College Database. Iranian Constitution.

27 Feb. 2005



Al Hewar Center: The Center for Arab Culture and Dialogue.

Islamic Declaration of Human Rights. 20 Feb. 2005


Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Punishment for

Non-Marital Sex in Islam: Sharia Law As Applied in

Some Countries. 27 Feb. 2005


Al-Khamis, Abdulaziz. A Critical Appraisal of Press

Institutions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Speech

To the APFW Annual Conference: May 2002. 27 Feb 2005



Persian Journal. Iranian Youngster Criminals Fear Execution

Day in Iran. Dec. 9, 2004: 27 Feb. 2005


Chanen, Jill Schachner. Beheading and Blood Money: Islamic

Legal system fair despite peculiarities, scholars say.

84 A.B.A.J. 34 American Bar Association: 1998.

27 Feb. 2005


Constitutional Rights Foundation. Islamic Issues: The

Origins of Islamic Law. Winter 1998: 27 Feb. 2005


Amnesty International. Death Penalty: New Report Shows

World Executions at Second-Highest level in 25 years.

Amnesty International Press Release. 27 Feb. 2005


Amnesty International. Saudi Arabia - Behind Closed Doors:

Unfair Trials in Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Report.

27 Feb. 2005


Amnesty International. Islamic Republic of Iran – Country

Report, 2004. 27 Feb. 2005



Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Iran:

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2004.

Released February 28, 2005: 13 Mar. 2005


Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Saudi

Arabia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices –

2004. Released February 28, 2005: 13 Mar. 2005


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You are posting as a guest. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...