Relief for Detainees of Small-Time Financial Crimes

There will be no relief for those detained on charges of unpaid 'mahr' numbering about 2,120 people
People imprisoned for bounced checks comprise most of the unintentional criminal acts.People imprisoned for bounced checks comprise most of the unintentional criminal acts.

The National Diyyeh Headquarters of Iran (NDHI) announced on Wednesday that it would exonerate those in custody for charges of unintentional money-related crimes and debts under 220 million rials ($5,800), by the end of the current fiscal year in March.

"As per the latest decision by the NDHI board of directors, those detained on charges of diyye (blood money) or unintentional debts under $5,800 will be pardoned on the occasion of the 38th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution," said a statement from its public relations office.

Right now, 10,510 people are in custody for unintentional money-related crimes and are in detention centers across the country. It is estimated that 20% of them will be released by the yearend.

However, there will be no relief for those detained on charges of unpaid 'mahr' numbering about 2,120 people in the 31 provinces.

Mahr, (also mehrieh or mahriyeh), is a traditionally mandatory payment in Islamic law, in the form of money or possession paid or promised by the groom to the bride at the time of marriage that legally becomes her property. While the mahr is often money, it can also be anything agreed upon by the bride such as gold coins as is customary in Iran. 

As mahr is typically specified in the marriage contract, it alone accounts for nearly 2,000 of convicted fellows serving time in prison. 

"Financial charges make up the majority of cases against those behind bars," says Seyyed Asadollah Joulaei, head of the NDHI.

He said people imprisoned for bounced checks comprise most of the unintentional criminal acts numbering 6,845 in all. Fars, Gilan, and Isfahan provinces have the highest number with 650, 538, and 445 people respectively in custody in this regard.

Fars Province also ranks first in ‘mahrieh’ indictments and less than 500 have been jailed for failing to pay ‘nafaqah’ - the Islamic legal term for alimony, a type of financial support which a husband must provide for his wife. 

"Most of these people due to negligence, ignorance and lack of information committed the offenses," Joulaei noted.

  Social Ramifications

More than $160 million is required to release those languishing in prison for inadvertent or unintentional crimes, the official had said in 2014.

Given that “these prisoners are not really criminals or swindlers,” keeping them in prisons can have adverse psychological impact; also their families face severe financial problems. People’s charity is essential for their freedom.

From July 1990 to August 2014, more than 85,000 people held in prisons “for involuntary or unintentional crimes,” were released with the help of philanthropists.

In August 2016, Tehran prosecutor general Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said there were 21,000 prisoners in Tehran Province jails.

"About 3% are women, and nearly 580 of them for involuntary or unintentional crime and most have been sentenced to pay a cash fine of less than $2,900 (100 million rials) to be released,” he was quoted by Alef News Agency as saying. 

He urged judges to address their cases by suggesting alternative sentences if they can’t pay cash penalties, particularly since it has been shown that prisoners are ten times more likely to end back in prison for another stint if they do not find employment opportunities after release.

The ‘third party auto insurance’ which has relieved thousands of people from going to prison was passed into law largely through the efforts of NDHI and Iran Prisoners’ Support Organization (IPSO). 

Third party insurance is a liability insurance purchased by an insured (the first party) from an insurer (the second party) for protection against the claims of another (the third) party. The insurance covers blood money in the event of an accident.

IPSO is a charity institution that works towards the release of men and women jailed for ‘unintentional crimes’ like those held responsible in fatal car accidents or road injuries. It received official status in 1997 with the mission to "plant rays of hope in the hearts of decent people who are serving terms for less serious crimes such as long pending financial debts.’’ 

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