|Fully Authoritarian Regime|
|Restrictions must be provided by law|
|Law must be formulated with sufficient precision|
|a) Rights of others OR   |
|b) National security, public order, public health or morals|
|Necessary for a legitimate purpose (see legitimate grounds)|
|Only way to achieve protection|
|Restriction on expression should not be overbroad|
|Least intrusive instrument amongst those which might achieve their protective function|
|Proportionate to interest to be protected|
|Intent to incite discrimination, hostility, or violence|
|Direct & immediate connection between expression & threat|
Facts – Narges Mohammadi is an Iranian human rights activist and the vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Center. Due to her work as an activist and her campaign against the death penalty, she was charged for “propagating against the state,” under Article 500 of the Islamic Criminal law. She was sentenced to 16 years in prison under Article 500 and other charges. An appeal court affirmed the sentencing.
Issue – Were the arrest, conviction, and sentencing of the defendant under the laws of the Iran compliant with international incitement law standards?
Rule – Under the Universal Standard of the ICCPR, incitement laws must not stifle freedom of expression. The test is six-prong.
The first prong (legality) requires that the restrictions on freedom of expression are provided by law and must be formulated with sufficient precision.
The second prong requires legitimate grounds – grounds include rights of others, or national security, public order, public health, or morals.
The third prong (necessity) requires that the restrictions must be necessary for a legitimate purpose, and must be the only way to achieve protection.
The fourth prong (proportionality) – restrictions must not be overbroad, must be the least intrusive instrument necessary to achieve the protective function, and must be proportionate to the interest being protected.
The fifth prong (intent) requires the existence of intent, specifically, the intent to incite discrimination, hostility, or violence.
The sixth prong (causation) requires causation between the expression and threat.
First prong: (1) Legality – The Iranian incitement law is codified under the country's Islamic Criminal Law under Article 500. The charge officially punishes anyone who "propagates in whatever manner against the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran," but the language is sufficiently similar to incitement law to put the provision under the purview of the international standard on incitement. While the law under which the defendant was charged is formalized, the law does not articulate prohibited behavior with sufficient precision to allow individuals, including the defendant, to conform their behavior. The law is extremely vague and overbroad, and aims to outlaw any action that has the potential to challenge the government as evident in Mohammadi's case. This prong fails.
Second prong: (2) Legitimate grounds – Article 500 appears to protect public order and national security. However, the application of the law by the Iranian government in this case did not comport with legitimate grounds for restricting expression. Most political expressions seek to encourage social change, but do not necessarily infringe on the rights of others or jeopardize national security, public order, public health, or morals. Indeed, in this case there is no indication that the defendant’s peaceful activism was a threat to any of these interests. Therefore, this prong fails.
Third prong: (3) Necessity – The arrest, conviction and sentencing of the defendant was not based on legitimate grounds, therefore it follows that the actions of the Iranian government could not have been necessary. International law requires that their incitement laws only employ restrictive measures necessary for legitimate purposes, and that they be the only way to achieve the protective function. There is no legitimate interest, and therefore there is no necessity to enforce the interest. This prong fails.
Fourth prong: (4) Proportionality – The arrest, conviction and sentencing of the defendant was not based on legitimate grounds, nor was it necessary, therefore it follows that the actions of the Iranian government could not have been proportional. The defendant was sentenced to 16 years in prison simply for participating in peaceful activism. International law calls for states to employ the least restrictive measures when restricting expression. Stripping the defendant of her liberty for such a prolonged period of time based on mere opinion and criticism of government policies is overly intrusive to the defendant's human rights and freedoms. Therefore, this prong fails.
Fifth prong: (5) Intent – The intent requirement, namely the intent to incite discrimination, hostility, or violence requirement, is absent from Iranian incitement law. In Mohammadi's case, there is no indication that any of those intentions existed. Therefore, this prong fails.
Sixth prong: (6) Causation – In this case, the defendant was charged and convicted simply for her peaceful activism. The Iranian government failed to demonstrate any causation between her act and any threat of violence to anyone or a threat to public order. Therefore, this prong fails.
Conclusion – The Iranian incitement law is overbroad and was drafted with the purpose to suppress any free speech that threatened the government's power. Mohammadi's prison sentence was unreasonably heavy, and imposed too great of a restriction on the freedom of expression. Iran is not compliant with the international standard of incitement.
If you have a freedom of expression related case you would like to submit to the Human Rights Foundation, please fill out this form.