Furlough under Iranian Law: A Privilege, Not a Right

By Anicée Van Engeland

The aim of this blog entry is to clarify how compassionate leaves are granted in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

A neglected but crucial issue is understanding how Iranian prison and judiciary authorities allow individuals to meet with their loved ones in circumstances that include sickness and death.A specific case to consider is that of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s.  Her conviction for five years in January 2017 by the appeal Court provides a way to understand this specific aspect of Iranian law.

The use of furloughs, as opposed to prisoners meeting with family members while in prison, seems to be understood differently by officials. Here are a number of cases that illustrate this point. In September 2016, Maryam Naghash Zargaran, a convert to Christianity, was allowed a compassionate leave on medical grounds but returned to prison late and as a result her sentence was extended. Two political prisoners, Arash Sadeghi and his wife Golrok Ebrahimi, were allowed to meet in January 2017 but only after providing a form of bail. Yet, in February 2017, Khaled Hardani, a political prisoner, was denied a furlough to attend his daughter’s wedding.

The rationale to grant furlough to prisoners is to ensure the cohesion of the family and the rehabilitation of the offender as well as to prepare the return of the prisoner to society. Article 213 of the 11 December 2005 Regulatory Code Governing the Prisons Organization and Security and Corrective Measures states that prisoners may be granted a compassionate leave under some circumstances such as marriage, death or the serious illness of a relative.[1] Besides these areas, detainees can ask for a compassionate leave on health grounds in order to spend a period of time in treatment or for surgery.

The application for compassionate leave can be made by the prisoner’s lawyer, at the request of the prisoner or her/his family. It is also possible for an individual and the family to be self-represented and to apply for a compassionate leave themselves. Self-representation is a widespread phenomenon in Iran and the law has been amended to enhance access to justice for self-represented individuals. After submitting a request, the requestor, such as the family, will then be asked to bring evidence to justify the request for a compassionate leave (for example, a death certificate in case of a funeral or a doctor’s note in case of a sick relative). Evidence is submitted to the Revolutionary Court’s judge in charge of the case. The compassionate leave will be granted or denied by the prosecutor of the chief judge of the judicial district, as per Article 226 of the 2005 Code. Some compassionate leaves have even been requested by non-governmental associations, yet these organizations are not entitled to submit such requests.

Once the compassionate leave has been granted, the process for its implementation is rather fast. The individual will be escorted to the prisons’ gates at a set date and time and are allowed to remove all their belongings from their cell if they like. The return to prison by the prisoner post-leave is just as fast and is planned ahead of time. To ensure that an individual comes back to prison, some compassionate leaves are made public, with TV crews filming the exit and entry of the individual from prison. In other cases, the judiciary can ask for bail bonds. The compassionate leave can also be granted without conditions if the prisoner does not have a public profile.

The 2005 Prisons Regulations were amended in May 2010.[2] Before 2010, anyone applying for a compassionate leave would be granted one, unless he/she was convicted of a crime against national security, armed robbery, espionage, running brothels, abduction, gang crimes, economic crimes, etc. At the time, the authorities sometimes granted compassionate leave as well to individuals who fell under the categories described above. There is now a points system in place rather than simply the discretion of authorities. Prisoners need to abide by expectations to have points that will allow them to ask for a compassionate leave. According to Article 213, “Granting furlough to prisoners is not considered a right and access to it is subject to the prisoner’s compliance with the prison rules and earning the required points.” The main yardstick for allocating points is good conduct. A prisoner needs to accumulate 1000 points for a request for compassionate leave to be considered.[3] Only 150 points are required for elderly, women who have children under the age of 10 years old, women who are head of households, war veterans, and political prisoners. Points are accumulated by performing certain tasks, such as cleaning the prison or attending religious prayers.

The granting of compassionate leave is not universal.  It is not granted to anyone condemned for a crime of national security (Article 221). Many prisoners of conscience are often accused and convicted of crimes against national security or espionage, making it impossible for them to benefit from compassionate leave. This explains why some individuals were denied the right to be with their sick children or wife or attend a funeral. For example, in 2016, the request of Professor Hossein Rafiee, prisoner of conscience, was rejected despite the fact that his wife was undergoing surgery. Zeynab Jalalian, a Kurdish political prisoner, was also refused her request to leave her prison for a hospital treatment. Only the prosecutor or the chief judge of the judicial district may grant a furlough to these prisoners. The limitation on furlough extends to convictions associated with armed robbery, economic crimes, espionage, kidnapping, drug offences, selling alcohol, prostitution or smuggling but also to anyone condemned for qiṣāṣ.

The outcome of the 2010 reform has been the fear that compassionate leave could be used as leverage against prisoners. Indeed, Article 175 stipulates: “Permissible punishment includes suspension of a maximum of three visitation rights, denial of furlough for up to three months, denial of recommendation for conditional pardon or release for up to six months, and solitary confinement for no more than 20 days.” The new Procedure Code also states that penalties include “transfer from centers for vocational training and employment to semi-closed or closed prisons, deprivation of visits on up to three occasions, deprivation of prison leave for up to three months, and exclusion of being considered for release on probation for up to 20 days (Article 524 of the Code of Penal Procedure).”

Benefiting from compassionate leave when imprisoned in Iran is therefore a complex process, and is not a right. This explains why there is a difference of treatment between the individuals applying for compassionate leave.


[1] The 11 December 2005 Regulatory Code Governing the Prisons Organization and Security and Corrective Measures is available at http://www.prisons.ir/index.php?Module=SMMPageMaster&SMMOp=View&PageId=27

[2] Amendment of 11 May 2011 available at http://www.jcl.ir/ay89.

[3] Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, Rights Disregarded: Prisons in the Islamic Republic of Iran, 18 March 2015, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/reports/1000000574-rights-disregarded-prisons-in-the-islamic-republic-of-iran.html#3.2.4.

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