Concerns Over Draft Bill That Would Loosen Limits On Use Of Firearms By Iranian Law Enforcement
By Golnaz Esfandiari June 16, 2022
Iran has been hit by months of anti-government protests by pensioners and workers angered at soaring living costs in the Islamic republic.
In response, the authorities have disrupted the Internet, arrested demonstrators, and deployed additional security forces. In some cases, riot police have used tear gas and fired warning shots to disperse protesters on the streets of major cities.
Now, hard-line lawmakers have drafted a bill that would make it easier for law enforcement officers to use firearms. The proposed legislation would also allow more government security personnel to carry and use firearms.
Critics say the proposed legislation is an attempt to intimidate demonstrators who have taken to the streets in recent months to express anger over an economy that has been crippled by U.S. sanctions and years of mismanagement. As inflation has soared, unemployment and poverty have spread.
Supporters of the bill argue that law enforcement needs to be given more powers to deal with "thugs."
Iranian authorities have a record of using lethal force during anti-government protests. In November 2019, security forces killed over 300 protesters and bystanders, including children, during violent street demonstrations sparked by a sudden rise in the price of gasoline.
Many of those killed had been shot in the head or torso, suggesting that security forces were shooting to kill, Amnesty International has said. State media claimed that some of those killed were "rioters" who had attacked government forces.
Parliament is expected to vote on the bill in the coming days after it was approved by a parliamentary committee.
Under the existing law, "officers of the armed forces," including the national police force, are permitted to use firearms in urgent cases, including during "illegal demonstrations," riots, and unrest.
But the proposed legislation would loosen the conditions under which firearms can be used, although it is not clear how. Under the draft bill, the right to carry and use firearms would be broadened to include all "security officers." No further details have been provided.
The full text of the draft bill has not been made public. Iranian media have reported on some of the details of the proposed legislation.
"Do you really think that such a shameful bill will prevent people from protesting over high prices, inflation, unemployment...?" reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former Interior Ministry official who was jailed for several years, asked on Twitter on June 13.
Lawyer Nemat Ahmadi warned that the draft bill will create a sense of "insecurity" in Iranian society. "People will think that the protests will become more widespread and that security forces will no longer be able to control them and this is the reason why [authorities] have decided to arm unarmed forces," Ahmadi told the news site Didbaniran, without elaborating.
Ahmadi warned that the broader use of firearms by government security personnel would aggravate public discontent.
Earlier this week, the spokesman of the parliamentary National Security Committee, Mahmud Abbaszaeh Meshkini, dismissed as "lies" reports that the proposed bill would allow plainclothes agents who are often deployed to break up protests to be armed.
"Anyone who is allowed to use a weapon must abide by the law and use a weapon in accordance with the law," Meshkini said in a June 14 interview with the semiofficial ISNA news agency. "The amendment does not state that the police can shoot for any reason."
Meshkini said police officers will be allowed to use firearms when faced with an "obvious crime." But he maintained that there were still limits on when and how police officers could use firearms. He said several conditions had to be met before an officer was permitted to fire. Even then, the officer should not fire with the intention to kill, he said.
Earlier this year, parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf called for an amendment to the law on the use of firearms by law enforcement to be submitted to parliament "as soon as possible."
Qalibaf made the call on Twitter in February following the death of a police officer from injuries he sustained in a confrontation with a group of "thugs" who had attacked him with a machete. State media reported that the police officer had refrained from using his firearm in order "to protect people" and not violate the law.
A police spokesman said at the time that when using firearms, officers must meet "16 or 18 conditions" before using them, adding that it reduced the "operational power" of officers during confrontations.
Supporters of the amendment say that over the past three years, around 50 law enforcement officers have been reprimanded for using firearms. They say that some judges, citing the law, determined that they had used their firearms unlawfully.
Recently, there was public outrage after a couple with their 11-month-old daughter were pepper-sprayed by police. The husband was shot in the leg and in the stomach, leaving him hospitalized, the couple told the reformist Shargh daily.
Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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