Still better to be a foreigner

30 years after the revolution, foreigners 'more equal' under Iranian law


Still better to be a foreigner
by Setareh Sabety

Worse than Shah-era Capitulation Laws
Ayatollah Khomeini, the founding father of the Islamic Republic, became a hero and the leader of the opposition to the Shah when he criticized the capitulation laws that granted U.S citizens protection from prosecution in Iran. He claimed in a legendary speech that a simple American cook could commit murder in Iran and not be tried, while an Iranian minister in America could be punished for the most minor offense.


In a bizarre twist of fate, in Khomeini's Islamic Republic three decades later, if you are a foreigner your chances of not being tortured and raped are much higher than if you are Iranian. Contrary to what this revolution was about, it is still better to be a foreigner. Hundreds of Iranians are languishing and undergoing physical and mental torture in the prisons, many for no other reason than expressing their beliefs, or letting out a little steam over the fraudulent election results.

While many of us follow reports of protests, deaths, beatings, tortures, rapes and funerals, many of us are not familiar with many of even the most prominent of our political prisoners. Amidst all the news of nuclear negotiations and international politics, there is now a risk that the world may never get to know them, or worse, forget them altogether.

I have written the following profile of Bahman Ahmadi Amouee as a first in a series of profiles on political prisoners and detainees in Iran. Amouee was jailed in the aftermath of the June 12 election. A friend who runs an NGO devoted to human rights in Iran told me that Ahmadi Amouee's case is a special one: after more than 100 days -- most of them spent in solitary confinement in Evin's notorious section 209, which is reserved for political prisoners -- there has been no report filed of his arrest. His lawyer and wife have now given interviews to Iranian websites hoping that exposure and recognition will help his case.

This 42-year-old Iranian journalist and economist, and his wife Jila Bani Yacob, were supporters of Mir Housien Mousavi, a presidential candidate thoroughly vetted by the very conservative Guardian Council. She was arrested along with her husband in the aftermath of the June 12 election. Bani Yacoub, also a journalist and women's rights activist, was freed on bail after 60 days in Evin.

Amouee and Bani Yacoub were arrested once before, during the June 2006 women's rights demonstrations in Tehran, where 40 women and 30 male sympathizers wound up in the very same section of Evin.

Like the president he so vehemently criticized in his writings, Amouee is a product of the Islamic Republic. He rose from humble tribal roots and was shaped by the education and training provided by local universities. His secularism and pragmatism is a product of this system, like many in the new generation of Iranians who have come of age after the revolution.

Bahman was born into the Bakhtiari tribe, which engaged in transhumance between the Chahar Mahal in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains and Khuzestan. He lived a tribal life until the age of six, when his family settled in Khuzestan province so that he could attend school. He went on to Babolsar University in the Caspian region up north and studied economics.

Amouee followed his studies with a brilliant career in journalism covering economic issues. He worked for many reformist newspapers and was editor of an economic publication called Sarmyeh (Capital). He authored two books, "The Political Economy of the Islamic Republic" and "How did Islamic Revolutionaries became Technocrats?"

Amouee is not a revolutionary, but a critic. One look at his work and it's apparent why the Ahmadinejad regime would see an enemy in this man. He has been a very vocal critic of the government's economic policies. In one article, "The Iranian Economy is on the brink of Collapse," Amouee criticized Ahmadinejad's complete disregard for the views of experts and economists. He questioned the government's policy of economic expansion at a time when he believed downsizing was needed. Amouee blamed the large budget deficit and the high rate of inflation on the government's continued and misguided ambition to control every aspect of the economy. He tackled the idea that Iran had lost, by many degrees, the position it held before the Islamic Revolution as the region's most developed nation, thus breaking a taboo of going public about the regressive nature of the economy.

In another article, "How Does a Nation become Corrupt?," he asks why Iran is amongst the most corrupt nations in the world, on a par with Somalia. He discussed the Iranian penchant for lying and hypocrisy, tying it to the long history of misrule and abuse of power in Iran. Amouee cites cheating and dishonesty that Ahmadinejad's petrol rationing creates as an example of how a nation becomes corrupt. And again, he blames the government's lack of respect for expert opinion for such corrupting measures. Amouee claims that these heavy-handed government policies create inflation, which in turn halt development and lead to rampant corruption. Amouee concludes that a history of repeated mistakes creates and sustains a culture of lies and corruption. To achieve change, the government's heavy and inexpert hands must be withdrawn from the economic sphere.

By the time I finished writing this article, Amouee's wife and his lawyer Farideh Ghayrat informed us that his arrest has finally been registered. Now the long and painstakingly slow bureaucratic judicial process can begin.

Amouee's arrest and imprisonment symbolize the Islamic Republic's fear of its own children. Amouee is one of many political prisoners to whom the Westernized label just does not stick. It is these ordinary Iranians who have arrived through separate paths and different fields of study to a common juncture where they question the archaic policies of an anachronistic theocracy. Until this government takes a long hard look at itself, its denials of its own shortcomings will be the biggest threat to its own power.

First published in Frontline/Tehran Bureau.


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Ali P.

Capitulation|| Diplomatic Immunity

by Ali P. on

Capitulation, or giving total and blanket legal privilege to foreign nationals, started with the Qajar dynasty. The most significant and humilating one was given to Russian citizens, under Torkamanchai contract.

This was, partly, due to our lack of a proper judiciary and a  uniform civil or criminal code. At the end of Qajar, other than Russia and Britain, more than 13 other countries, including Turkey, Spain, Belgium, France and Holland had legal immunities for their citizens in Iran.

After Ali Akbar Daavar, on the orders of Shahs father, put together first administative and civil codes of Iran - a masterpiece at the time that is still valid, three decades after the Islamic Revolution-the new King, Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1928, announced the abolition of capitulation for all foreign nationals in Iran, once and for all*.

Ayatollah Khomeini - as a way to inflame and excite the masses- was probably talking about diplomatic immunity, that is usually extended to all diplomatic personel of every embassy. So, theoritically, yes, a cook of any embassy could enjoy diplomatic immunity, even after committing a serious crime, in the host country.

A low ranking officer of the embassy of Georgia, killed an American citizen in Washington, D.C. area, while driving drunk, a few years ago. He used this privilege and went back freely to Georgia ( however, Georgian Prez Edward Shevrenaze later waived his immunity, I believe and returned him back to the States).

Ordinary foreign citizens were not protected by diplomatic immunity in Iran. A famous case, is the case of the two employees of a company belonging to Ross Perot. This was before the Revolution and the two were charged with a crime and were in an Iranian prison. The story later was made into a movie( "On the wings of the Eagle").


Ali P.

*Source: Iran and the Rise of Reza Shah by Cyrus Ghani

American Dream

ابراهیم یزدی

American Dream

The godfather of the Iranian Revolution was an American Citizen named Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi.  He travelled to foreign countries with an American passport many years before the Iranian Revolution that occurred in 1979.

Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi resigned in protest to the Iran hostage crisis.

After the June 2009 elections, Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi was arrested for 6 days.  Rumor has it that Dr. Yazdi was incarcerated in the Sheretan Hotel where he was served Chelo Kabob barg, Caspian sea caviar, and the yogurt drink "doogheh Aab Ali" chilled to the right temperature.

To this day, the significance of the American Citizen Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi is significant to Iranian society.





Great contribution. Can

by vildemose on

Great contribution. Can someone  dedicate a website to all the prisoners, prominent or otherwise,  languishing in IRI's secret prison.



by masoudA on

Great Observation Setareh Jaan -  and funny part is.....none of the people who complained about capitulation laws during the Shah era say a word these days.  


What is the problem?

by MRX1 on

No Foreigner I know (except bunch of poor and badbakht) want to go to Islamic paradise any way. The rest of those are unfortunate ones in business or politcs forced by their government or corporation to go there. (Pretty sure their first choice was not Iran!)
So they do need special protection otherwise no one will even venture there!!!!

Now if some people like the writer is so gullible to believe words of an old fart akhond or some low life’s running Iran now it seems like it’s their problem, but then again there is a sucker born every minute and mullah’s know that very well.



by Fatollah on


che khabar e

my eyes are wet

by che khabar e on

And I thought I had shed all the tears I could.  A heartwrenching story so well told by Setareh. 


Well done Setareh jan

by IRANdokht on

Your analysis of the situation in Iran was concise and infuriating! If shah was the puppet, what would this make the IRI who are not enjoying any support from the west but still treat their citizens better than its own... 

I also thank you for writing about our heroes who are being mistreated and neglected at the same time. The media and unfortunately even us with our FB and twitter accounts are more adamant about the better known-dual-citizenship prisoners...  Their names are repeated more often and petitions are written and signed for them unlike so many Iranians who are currently in jail going through a much worse treatment whose names escape us.

That also reminds me of the ones who are hanged without anyone having spoken for them... Having an organization in the west to look after certain death row prisoners allow their names to become household names and people are aware of their fate... I am sure you've seen this little piece already.

Thanks for a great article.



Excellent point, Setareh.

by sima on

You are so right. They jail and torture and murder Iranians because there is no state defending them. But they are afraid of any foreign common criminal who has a state behind him.

If Capitulation (SOFA, really) was a foreign-imposed treaty under the Shah, it is now the cowardly mentality of IRI.