The images are shocking to the Iranian civil society and one becomes speechless how to comment on that. A student of political science (MA course) of Tehran university, Mr Peyman Aref, received 74 lashes for insulting Ahmadynejad. In an interview with Rahesabz online news he said that he has been sentenced to lashes because he wrote an open letter to Ahmadinejad reminding him of what he did to the universities, but as he refused to begin his letter with the formal greeting "Salam" it was perceived as a sign of political protest by the revolutionary court. The security based-judiciary apparently has taken this type of political dissent as offensive as serious crimes like offenses against public security and obviously wants to demonstrate that the judiciary is also ready to react by inflicting humiliating punishments. Interestingly Aref has been in jail for one year before the whipping. Also two weeks ago another young female activist, Mrs Somayyes Towhidlou, was whipped the same way. Based on the formal Iranian judiciary newspress this female Iranian Blogger and campaigner for former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, was just sentenced to a "symbolic" lashing.
In order to see what precedes such practice let’s look at some scholarly activities of the Islamic criminal justice system which started recently. Last August (24th) I saw an announcement from the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg that Dr Mohsen Borhani will give a lecture on Islamic criminal law. Reportedly Mr Borhani who is on scientific board and teaching criminal law at Faculty of Law and Political Sciences of University of Tehran, the same faculty of Aref, came to Freiburg unexpectedly. Just from the first days of his short stay in the Freiburger Institute he insisted to hold a special lecture on "Islamic Punishments: Treatment or Retribution" in English for the audience who were international legal experts largely gathered at the MPICC forum during summer vacation. Regardless of some obvious fallacies on the content of Islamic Penal Code used in his presentation, Mr Borhani- while strongly defending harsh and cruel Islamic punishments under the absolute rule of Vali-e Faghih like stoning, hanging and whipping, concluded that "this system of punishment is symbolic". When asked what you mean by "symbolic punishment" he just referred to some rhetorical Shiite texts pointing that "these punishments are symbolic due to a combination of difficulties in proving as well as the ultra severity of sanction which automatically reduces the possibility of its implementation". Apparently he just could imagine one side of the symbolism by focusing on this sentence that “these punishments are all showing how serious the Islamic legislature perceives the social affairs”. But this is a very simplistic understating of symbolism in criminal law because in modern society and in an era of mass communication this is also the role of interconnected individuals who assign meaning and interpret such punishments. Hence it is important to see how the middle class in Iran reacts to punishments like Aref’s lashing and whether they understand it the same way as the head of Iranian Judiciary and his scholarly advocates in academic centers.
Right now looking at these inhuman and cruel images of Islamic punishments on the back of Peyman Aref one can easily get the full picture of attempts of the Islamic criminal justice of Iran under the current regime. It is easy to trace the tracks of how the Islamic Republic is working on the both fields of theory and practice, domistically and internationally, together. This is called "offensive foreign policy" particularly in the formal language of the Iranian leader. It is deliberative and planned policy since when Ahmadaynejad became the president.
So the “symbolic” punishment has been exhibited not only in Tehran's Evin jail but also by those well-paid lecturers and scholars who devoted their time and skills to find modern justifications for such a cruel, medieval and degrading criminal justice system.
Yes these lashes are symbolic because it exposes the realities of an inhumane justice system perfectly as it deeply hurts Iranian human rights activists. This system of punishments discloses many accumulated layers of violence and destruction placed at the center of theory of Islamic Republic both symbolically and factually.
For an insightful analysis of such unthinkable sentences and their impact on Iran's future, read this article by Abbas Abdi