Iran’s new Islamic Penal Code provisions: Tools for further repression
In the following legal analysis, Iran: New Penal Code provisions as tools for further attacks on the rights to freedom of expression, religion, and belief, ARTICLE 19 reviews the compliance of two supplementary Articles (Article 499 bis and 500 bis) to Book Five of the Islamic Penal Code (on Ta’zirat and Deterrent Punishments) with international human rights law and standards on freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief.
ARTICLE 19’s analysis highlights three critical problems with these provisions:
- First, the provisions impose broad restrictions on freedom of expression that go beyond what is permitted under international human rights law. In particular, they seek to protect religions and beliefs that do not enjoy protection under international law. Article 499 bis effectively criminalises many forms of expression that are protected under international law.
- Second, and in breach of international law, the provisions impose broad and vaguely worded restrictions on the right to freedom of religion and belief.
- Third, the provisions run contrary to the growing global consensus among States and UN human rights bodies, which have agreed that prohibitions of defamation ofreligions and protection of religions and beliefs are not only contrary to guarantees of freedom of expression but also counterproductive and prone to being abused against the religious and ethnic minorities they purport to protect.
- ARTICLE 19 believes that these provisions pose a major threat to the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief in the country and will further diminish the already shrunken space for dissenting voices. They are also likely to disproportionately impact individuals belonging to ethnic and religious minorities, who have faced systematic discrimination and persecution over the past decades while failing to protect them against incitement to hatred and discrimination.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Iranian authorities to urgently repeal Articles 499 bis and 500 bis and to take immediate action to amend the country’s laws including the Islamic Penal Code to ensure that the rights to freedom of expression, religion, and belief are fully guaranteed, in line with international law and standards.
Based on the foregoing, ARTICLE 19 calls on the Iranian authorities to:
- Immediately repeal Articles 400 bis and 500 bis of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code;
- Conduct a full and substantial review and reform of all domestic legislation with a view to bringing them into conformity with international law including by repealing or substantially amending vaguely worded and broadly defined provisions of the Islamic Penal Code that unduly restrict the rights to freedom of expression, such as Articles 262, 500, 513, 514, 609, 610, 638, 698, and 700;
- Amend the Constitution, including its Articles 13 and 24, to guarantee the rights to freedom of expression, thought, religion, and belief in line with international human rights law and standards;
- Repeal all provisions in legislation that prohibit and criminalise defamation of religions and/or blasphemy as well as apostasy;
- Ensure only advocacy of discriminatory hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility, discrimination, or violence is prohibited, in line with Article 19(3) and Article 20(2) of the ICCPR, establishing a high threshold for limitations on free expression (as set out in the Rabat Plan of Action); and
- Adopt a comprehensive plan on the implementation of the Rabat Plan of Action, including plans for training law-enforcement authorities, the judiciary, and those involved in the administration of justice on issues concerning the prohibition of incitement to hatred and ‘hate speech’.Read the analysis