Iranian justice, Kafka-style

Since its publication in 1925, critics have offered numerous interpretations of Kafka's enigmatic book The Trial. They have read the novel as a prescient warning of the horrors of the 20th century, a furious indictment of modernity, an allegorical account of the futility of religious faith.

But the most compelling of these readings is also perhaps the most banal and obvious one: Kafka was simply concerned with procedural due process and the lack thereof. The novel's protagonist, Josef K, stands in for all those victimised by legal systems unresponsive to the rights of criminal defendants and unconcerned with judicial neutrality.

This reading best explains why The Trial continues to resonate with average Iranian readers all too familiar with being deprived of due process.

Take the case of Ebrahim Hamidi, an 18-year-old youth convicted as a juvenile of attempting to sexually assault another male and sentenced to death by a court in East Azerbaijan province. As in many similar cases, the authorities are refusing to adhere to even the minimal procedural safeguards afforded to criminal defendants by Iran's own laws.

According to the advocacy group Gay Middle East, Ebrahim's confession was obtained after he was beaten by police interrogators. And his accuser has admitted to lying and has withdrawn his complaint. Taking note of these procedural irregularities, Iran's supreme court has twice vacated Ebrahim's conviction and death sentence. Yet the provincial court is refusing to comply with the appeal court rulings, leaving Ebrahim on death row.

The injustice perpetuated against Ebrahim doesn't stop there. He also lacks legal representation in this life and death matter since his lawyer is also subject to an Iranian arrest warrant – a plot twist that could have been penned by Kafka himself. The lawyer's crime? Zealously representing Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the mother of two sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, whose plight moved the international community into action and forced the regime to back down.

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