Criminalizing animal abuse

Killing of a female bear in front of her cubs, injecting stray dogs with acid and burning a donkey alive are but a few examples of animal abuse that have been reported in Iran in recent months.

More frequent reports of animal abuse have emerged recently, mainly thanks to the fact that people have greater access to social media and rapidly share such harrowing accounts of torturing defenseless animals to death.

“Legislators must remedy the problem as soon as possible,” said Bahman Keshavarz, president of the National Union of Bar Associations, known by its Persian acronym SCODA, ISNA reported.

Jurists are of the opinion that the prevalence of animal cruelty in Iran has two main drivers: a legal vacuum and lack of acculturation.

According to articles 679 and 680 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code–Book Five, abusing and killing halal-meat animals (animals whose meat is allowed to be consumed) and hunting protected animals is illegal and punishable by jail time and a meager fine of 18 million rials ($520).

Astute readers will realize that the existing laws do not protect other animals, such as cats and dogs, from cruel individuals, and that needs to change.

In addition to filling the legal vacuum by passing an appropriate law, Keshavarz is adamant that measures should be taken to teach children from a young age to respect and be kind to animals.

“We have to start teaching kids from kindergarten. In the long run, this will help reduce violent incidents in the society and promote good behavior among its members. It can only be beneficial,” he said.

Seyyed Mehdi Hojjati, a lawyer and academic, agrees.

“Passing a law to criminalize animal abuse won’t necessarily help address the matter on its own; there needs to be a culture of intolerance toward animal cruelty,” he said.

Hojjati said current laws only address cruelty toward certain animals and there is no legislation to encompass all animals.

“This legal void enables disturbed individuals to abuse animals not protected by the law. Animal cruelty only serves to hurt a society,” he said.

Jarring photos of skinned cats nailed to doors and walls, and pictures of pregnant dogs kicked to death leave lasting impressions on people and can only have negative impacts on the psyche.

“Considering an animal to be ‘najes’ (unclean, according to Islamic jurisprudence) does not justify cruel and abusive behavior toward the defenseless creature, which is also a creation of God,” Keshavarz said. “Some even believe certain animals are vessels for Satan and we need to address this.”

Filling the Gap

The legal gap has not deterred judges from stepping up their game and using existing laws to prosecute animal torturers. Iranian judges have started to sentence animal abusers more frequently in recent months, much to the satisfaction of activists and the general population.

“Judges with a firm grasp of the law use Article 638 of Islamic Penal Code, which states committing ‘haram’ (sinful) acts in public is a crime, to bring people who abuse animals to justice,” Hojjati said, adding that passing a law to protect all animals would simplify matters.

This is not to say that animal rights activists and environment officials have not tried to rectify the problem. During the sixth Majlis (2000-04), the Iran Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals prepared a draft legislation following extensive studies of similar laws in other countries, but the bill failed to even make it to the parliament floor.

“Lawmakers said our society was not ready for a law like that,” Hojjati said. “But the Department of Environment has now drawn up a draft bill for a single-article law, which is being reviewed by the administration.

“It will be a while before the bill is passed–if it’s passed–but once it is, it’ll help fill the legal vacuum,” he said.

By Financial Tribune