The Legal Argument: Why Iran is Obligated to Free Pastor Saeed | American Center for Law and Justice
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Iran is Obligated to Free Pastor Saeed

By Skip Ash1359568727000

Editor’s note: In the course of fighting for Pastor Saeed’s freedom, a number of individuals have responded with words like, “He was in Iran, what could he expect?” While it is true that Iran is a radical Islamic regime, it is also true that the nation has voluntarily and willingly signed a number of international agreements that prohibit its actions here and is even violating its own constitution.

In short, Iran is not only violating Pastor Saeed’s human rights, it is violating its own laws.

On Sunday, January 27, 2013, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison by Judge Pir-Abassi in Tehran. Pastor Abedini had been thrown into one of Iran’s most brutal prisons, Evin Prison, on September 26, 2012, after he was pulled from a bus by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Officially, Pastor Abedini had been charged with evangelizing and building up house churches within Iran. Both these activities are seen as threats to the national security of Iran by its governmental officials. Since then, the Iranian governmental officials have alternatively promised to release him, to shoot him, and to jail him.

The actions taken by Iranian governmental officials have violated various international agreements to which Iran is a signatory, including: the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Moreover, the actions taken by Iran’s governmental officials have also violated Iran’s own Constitution.

The UN Charter

  • The Preamble reaffirms “faith in the fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person”
  • Article 1(3): “The purposes of the United Nations are . . . [t]o achieve international cooperation . . . in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to . . . religion
  • Article 55: “[T]he United Nations shall promote . . . universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to . . . religion.”
  • Article 56 emphasizes the significance of Article 55, stating that: “[a]ll Members pledge themselves to take joint and separate action in cooperation with the [UN] for the achievement of the purposes set forth in Article 55.”

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights

  • Article 2: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as . . . religion
  • Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person”
  • Article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”
  • Article 7: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law” 
  • Article 9: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”
  • Article 10: “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him”
  • Article 11(1): “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence”
  • Article 18: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public and private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”
  • Article 19: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression” [which includes the freedom of religious expression]
  • Article 20: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association” [which includes the freedoms of religious assembly and association]
  • Article 26(2): “Education shall . . . promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace”

The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam

Note that, while the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam speaks to many rights held by humans, it is also careful to define these same rights within the Islamic religion and Shari’ah. For example, articles 24 and 25 are clear that “[a]ll the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah,” and “[t]he Islamic Shari’ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.” Yet, Shari’ah law is applied differently in different Islamic countries (e.g., in Saudi Arabia, Sharia is understood to require that women be covered from head to toe in public and that they be accompanied by a male relative when leaving the home, whereas in Pakistan, a woman is capable of being elected prime minister). As such, Shari’ah is a subjective standard.

  • Article 1(a): “All men are equal in terms of basic human dignity and basic obligations and responsibilities, without any discrimination on the grounds of . . . religious belief
  • Article 2: “Safety from bodily harm is a guaranteed right. It is the duty of the state to safeguard against it”
  • Article 9(b): “Every human being has the right to receive both religious and worldly education
  • Article 18(a): “Everyone shall have the right to live in security for himself, his religion 
  • Article 19: “All individuals are equal before the law, without distinction between the ruler and the ruled. . . . A defendant is innocent until his guilt is proven in a fair trial in which he shall be given all the guarantees of defence”
  • Article 20: “It is not permitted to subject [an individual] to physical or psychological torture or to any form of humiliation, cruelty or indignity”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

  • Article 2(1): “Each State Party . . . undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals . . . the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as . . . religion
  • Article 5(2): “There shall be no restriction upon or derogation from any of the fundamental human rights recognized or existing in any State Party . . . pursuant to law, conventions, regulations or custom on the pretext that the present Covenant does not recognize such rights or that it recognizes them to a lesser extent”
  • Article 6: “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life”
  • Article 7: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”
  • Article 9: “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. . . . Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him”
  • Article 14: “All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law. . . . Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, everyone shall be entitled to the following minimum guarantees, in full equality: (a) To be informed promptly and in detail in a language which he understands of the nature and cause of the charge against him; (b) To have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing; (c) To be tried without undue delay; (d) To be tried in his presence, and to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing; to be informed, if he does not have legal assistance, of this right; and to have legal assistance assigned to him, in any case where the interests of justice so require, and without payment by him in any such case if he does not have sufficient means to pay for it; (e) To examine, or have examined, the witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him” 
  • Article 18: “Everyone shall have the right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. . . . Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others”
  • Article 19: “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference,” and “[e]veryone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds” [both of which certainly include religious opinions, information, and ideas]
  • Article 21: “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of nationals security or public safety”
  • Article 22: “Everyone shall have the right of freedom of association with others”
  • Article 26: “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as . . . religion”
  • Article 27: “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language”

Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran

General Principles

  • Further, Article 3 states that “the government of . . . Iran has the duty of directing all its resources to the following goals:

    . . .

    14) securing the multifarious rights of all citizens, both women and men, and providing legal protection for all, as well as the equality of-all before the law”
  • Following the declaration of the official religion, Article 13 states that “Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are the only recognized religious minorities, who, within the limits of the law, are free to perform their religious rites and ceremonies, and to act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education”
  • Article 14 states that the “government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and all Muslims are duty-bound to treat non-Muslims in conformity with ethical norms and the principles of Islamic justice and equity, and to respect their human rights”

The Rights of the People

  • Article 19 begins to outline the rights of the people: “All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; and color, race, language, and the like”
  • Article 22 states that “the dignity, life, property, rights, residence, and occupation of the individual are inviolate, except in cases sanctioned by law”
  • Article 23 states that the investigation of individual’s beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief
  • Article 26 states that “[p]olitical parties, societies, political and craft associations, and Islamic or recognized minority religious associations may be freely brought into being, provided that no violation is involved of the principles of independence, freedom, national unity, Islamic standards, and the foundations of the Islamic Republic”
  • Article 32 states that “[n]o person may be arrested except according to and in the manner laid down in the law. If someone is detained, the subject matter of the charge, with reasons (for bringing it), must immediately be communicated and explained in writing to the accused. Within at most 24 hours the file on the case and preliminary documentation must be referred to the competent legal authority”
  • Article 37 states that “[i]nnocence is the basic principle. No person is considered legally guilty, except in cases where his guilt is established in a competent court”
  • Article 38 states that “[a]ny kind of torture used to extract an admission of guilt or to obtain information is forbidden. Compelling people to give evidence, or confess or take an oath is not allowed. Such evidence or confession or oath is null and void
  • Article 41 states that “[c]itizenship of Iran is the unquestioned right of all Iranians. The Government may not deprive any Iranian of his citizenship, except at their own request, or if they take up citizenship of another country

The Judiciary

  • Article 165 states that “[t]rials are to be held openly and members of the public may attend without any restriction; unless the court determines that an open trial would be detrimental to public morality or discipline, or if in case of private disputes, both parties request not to hold open hearing”
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