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How Iranian police publicly shame suspected criminals

Iranian police expose suspected criminals in public and humiliate them. (Screengrab of videos shared by eyewitnesses.)
Iranian police expose suspected criminals in public and humiliate them. (Screengrab of videos shared by eyewitnesses.)
8 min

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In a video posted online on October 7, Iranian police humiliate suspected criminals in the middle of the street, forcing them to yell out, “Forgive me! I won’t do it again”, and repeat insulting statements about themselves in front of a crowd. The growing number of public shamings are just one example of how the Iranian police are flexing their muscles, to the detriment of human rights, and acting outside the judicial system. 

This video shows armed men in ski masks beating up five men in the back of a pick-up truck as hundreds of people watch. The masked men are Iranian police officers and the men they are publicly humiliating were arrested on suspicion of committing violent crimes. The scene took place on Jomhouri Avenue, one of the main streets in Tehran. 

Eyewitnesses filmed the scene and posted it on Twitter. The footage shows a large crowd watching what happens from the side of the street, many of them filming with their cellphones.

According to Tehran police, these five men were accused of having entered a mall, armed with knives, and robbing and assaulting several shoppers as well as carrying out muggings in the same neighborhood where the public shaming took place. 

Tehran’s Chief of Police, General Hamid Hadavand told media outlet Farsnews that this shaming would be "a lesson for other [criminals], to show them that they have no power, that they are nothing".

Violent criminals and ex-convicts are classified as “Arazel” by the Iranian police and judicial system. Most are members of small neighborhood gangs that smuggle drugs or alcohol, carry out robberies or are responsible for sexual assaults. On October 2, Madjid Mirahmadi, the deputy head of intelligence and security for the Iranian armed forces announced that special police forces meant to target these Arazel had been created in each province and had been operating since August 10.

"False hegemony," wrote this social media user, sharing a video of the public shaming carried out by Iranian police.

The Iranian police often carry out this type of public shaming before the suspects even see a judge, with support from at least a part of the population, who are horrified by the insecurity gripping the country. Back in 2013, police shamed one suspected criminal by parading him around, dressed up as a woman.

>> Read on the Observers: Outcry in Iran after police punish man by dressing him like a woman

"Dignity and human rights don’t mean anything for certain Iranian officials"

Though no one in the crowd seems to have opposed the public shaming while it was happening, there was an outcry when videos of the incident were posted online, especially because the men being shamed hadn’t even been convicted of a crime.

"This display shows us that, for certain Iranian officials, dignity and human rights don’t mean anything. When you see what they are doing in public, only God knows what they do to them behind closed doors".

Some activists compared the public shaming carried out by Iranian police with those carried out by the Islamic State terrorist organization in Iraq or Syria. 

"Comparison between a public shaming carried out by the Islamic State organization in Iraq (March 2015) and the Islamic regime in Iran (Octobre 2020)," tweeted one commentator with irony.

According to Iranian criminal law, which is based on the sharia, judges can condemn criminals to this kind of public shaming, known as "Tasshir", which means "make known [the suspected criminal]". But this practice is criticized by Iranian lawyers, who say it is illegal. Human rights activists have also criticized this type of punishment.

This method has been used since the very beginning of the Islamic Republic in 1979, especially against political prisoners, then against so-called “violent criminals.” There’s been an uptick in usage of late. In the past two weeks alone, the police have organized at least three public shamings in Tehran as well as in Rasht, in the north of the country.

Ex-cons used to quell protests or on the front lines in Syria?

While Iranian authorities claim to have waged war on the "Arazel ", it’s not rare for convicted criminals to be solicited by the security forces.

In just one example, in October 2015, General Hamedani, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran, confirmed that they had employed three battalions of ex-convicts to clamp down on protestors taking part in the 2009 Green Movement. According to certain Iranian media outlets, there is also proof that some Azarel have been deployed to the front lines in Syria to fight alongside forces loyal to the Syrian regime. 

Even so, the public shamings of suspected criminals continue in Iran. Marzieh Mousavi, an Iranian photojournalist, documented one of these public shamings in Moshirieh, a neighborhood in Tehran on October 6. She posted photos of this incident on her Instagram account and commented that she had already photographed one of the men being publicly shamed nine years earlier in the same neighborhood.  

“I’m still thinking about it… Good education, punishment… After nine years, the same man, same neighborhood, same story,” wrote Mousavi in this post on Instagram.

Mousavi said, in her post, "according to police, the man has become more dangerous and violent than he was nine years ago”. 

Mousavi’s observation and post raise the question if these ongoing public shamings are any kind of deterrent to crime. 

Article by Ershad Alijani

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