CRIMINOLOGY, the study of the causation, prevention, and correction of crime. In Persia before the Constitutional movement in the early 20th century (see constitutional revolution i) and again since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1358 Š./1979 the concept of crime has been closely linked with that of sin; it is viewed and treated in accordance with Islamic principles of punishment. In the intervening decades, which were characterized by modernization and westernization of Persian law and other social institutions, the prevailing concepts of crime and pun­ishment were borrowed from the French penal code; in fact, the Persian penal code of 1304 Š./1925 resembled its French prototype very closely in structure and underlying principles (see judicial system).

According to Islamic principles, crime is a moral transgression, a willful disregard of rules set forth in the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet Moḥammad, and punishment is based on retribution, designed to reinforce the norms of proper behavior within the community. The penal code of the Islamic Republic (qeṣāṣ) thus requires that any offense committed con­sciously must be punished according to the prescrip­tions in those sources, for example, death by stoning (rajm), exile from one’s home town (nafy-e balad), and maiming. Only in instances of self-defense, insan­ity, and similar circumstances in which the criminal behavior is not deliberate and conscious are such punishments mitigated. By contrast, the penal code of 1304 Š./1925 required the judge to take into account various mitigating circumstances that may have at­tended the criminal act in determining the proper punishment (Saney, 1362 Š./1983).

In order to reach useful conclusions about the social causes and effects of crime a basic working theory, usually drawn from the study of biology, sociology, or social psychology, and knowledge of statistics are indispensable, in order to make valid scientific com­parisons of crime in different periods and settings. Individual case studies, though useful, can be only suggestive. Furthermore, a well-formulated and test­able theory of criminal behavior must guide the gath­ering of statistics, which might otherwise produce simply sterile and inconsequential numbers. Valid statistics, on the other hand, help to refine the theory.

The social sciences in general, as a Western aca­demic discipline, are relatively new in Persia, and there have as yet been no theories of criminality linked to the specifics of Persian culture and society. Those who have worked in the field of criminology have relied instead on concepts and theories derived from foreign settings. Examples include attempts to explain the effects of poverty or unemployment on criminality in Persia, where no proper evidence has yet been adduced that these factors are explanatory.

Furthermore, official statistics published annually by the Persian government do not provide an accurate picture. For example, in the Sāl-nāma-ye āmārī-e kešvar (Statistical yearbook) for 1347 Š./1968 the total numbers of those “accused” and “convicted” in criminal courts are provided; the figures are then broken down according to type of offense and literacy and marital status of the offenders (pp. 7-10). On the other hand, in the Sāl-nāma for 1350 Š./1971 the statistics do not include the number of cases decided in criminal courts; rather, offenses reported to police stations around the country have been counted (p. 251). Furthermore, the types of offenses listed are different from those listed in previous years and do not include murder, assault and battery, and simple theft, though armed robbery is included. The fact that different bases were used for compiling criminal statistics in those two years thus renders valid comparison impos­sible.

A number of offenses included for the first time in the statistics for 1350 Š./1971 reflected a new interest in the rights and position of women and children, as well as concern about increasingly violent attacks on the regime from opposition groups. On one hand, there­fore, there are entries for crimes against children, kidnapping, abortion, harassment of married and un­married women, and abandonment of children by parents. Political crimes included strikes, crowding and conspiracy, riots and rebellion, arson and destruction, distribution of “harmful” papers, armed robbery, op­position to monarchy and professing communism, and insulting public officials and members of parliament. Although most of these offenses were already covered in the Persian penal code, their incidence was defined in the annual official statistics for the first time in that year.

The new classification was used again in the Sāl-­nāma of 1355 Š./1976, and a table comparing numbers of crimes committed between 1349 Š./1970 and 1354 Š./1975 was also included (p. 200). An examination of these figures, especially with the benefit of hindsight, suggests that the incidence of certain political offenses must have been much higher than reported. In the late 1970s open opposition to the shah’s regime was already widespread, and political activity of all sorts quite noticeable, yet the statistics given for “distributing harmful papers and harmful activities” are respec­tively 27, 34, 37, 56, 45, and 47 for the six years covered. For “opposition to monarchy and being a communist” 2, 17, 0, 9, 4, and 2 incidents were counted in the same period. The Islamic Republic published its first statistical calendar in 1360 Š./1981. The list of offenses used in compiling the tables is exactly the same as those used by the previous regime, with the addition of “retail sale (pīāla forūšī) of alcohol in restaurants” and the deletion of “crimes against mon­archy and being a communist.”

The dichotomy between crimes reported to police stations and those adjudicated in criminal courts per­sists in the statistics compiled by the Islamic Republic. Statistics for the years 1360 Š./1981 and 1361 Š./1982 include crimes handled by police stations around the country; those for 1363 Š./1984 and 1365 Š./1986, on the other hand, were based on cases decided in crimi­nal courts. There is additional confusion about jurisdiction. Under the penal code of the Islamic Republic there are two levels of criminal court, the first dealing with more serious offenses, involving severe penalties like the death penalty and long prison sentences, the second dealing with traffic violations, public insults, and other less serious offenses. From the official statistics, however, the more serious offenses seem to have been decided in both types of criminal court (Sāl-nāma, 1363 Š./1984, p. 253, 1365 Š./1986, p. 280). Although the list of crimes enumerated is shorter than before, it includes two new crimes that reflect specific concerns of the Islamic regime: “drinking alcohol” and a traditional Islamic offense called qaḏf, falsely accus­ing another person of immoral sexual acts.

Persian official statistics are thus too inconsistent to be useful in the scientific study of criminal behavior, but they nevertheless reveal patterns and fluctuations that are significant in the larger social context. For example, from the statistics on cases decided in the lower level of criminal courts in the years 1363 Š./ 1984, 1364 Š./1985, and 1365 Š./1986 several general conclusions can be drawn. The most frequent category of crime seems to have been “assault and injury,” followed by “theft” (a term applied to many types of offense), “forcible occupation of someone else’s land,” and “issuing bad checks” (i.e., overdrawing one’s account), in that order. The number of murders was very small, having dropped from about .05 percent of assaults and injuries in 1323 Š./1944-45 to less than .01 per cent in the mid-1980s. Nevertheless, between 1363 Š./1984 and 1364 Š./1985 there was a sharp decline in the number of adjudicated crimes of assault and injury, from 51,333 to 25,139, although the causes are not known. In 1365 Š./1986-87 there was a further drop to 24,544. Statistics for theft also dropped from 20,147 in 1363 Š./1984-85 to 15,351 in 1364 Š./1985-86 but rose again to 17,536 in the following year. Crimes involving forcible occupation of land declined from 17,421 in 1363 Š./1984-85 to 9,160 in 1364 Š./1985-86 and 8,980 in 1365 Š./1986-87. Issuing bad checks, on the other hand, showed a reverse trend, rising from 15,529 in 1363 Š./1984-85 to 16,914 in 1364 Š./1985-86 and 24,400 in 1365 Š./1986-87 (Sāl-­nāma, 1365 Š./1986, p. 280).

It should be stressed that, however suggestive these apparent trends may be, in the absence of reliable statistical studies on the social factors affecting crime it is impossible to draw meaningful conclusions about causes, prevention, and remediation of crime in Persia.



ʿA.-Ḥ. ʿAlīābādī, Ḥoqūq-e jenāʾī, Tehran, 1334 Š./1955.

D. J. Champion, Research Methods for Criminal Justice and Criminology, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1993.

Ḥ. Eyman, Defāʿ-e jāmeʿa dar moqābel-e jorm wa mojrem, Tehran, 1343 Š./1964.

S. Ḥekmat, Ṭebb-e qānūnī, Tehran, 1356 Š./1977.

A. Hūman, Zendān wa zendānīhā yā režīm-e penītānsīr, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960.

R. Martin, R. Mutchnik, and W. T. Austin, Criminological Thought. Pioneers Past and Present, New York, 1990.

R. Maẓlūmān, Jormšenāsī, 2 vols., Tehran, 1353-55 Š./1974-76.

P. Ṣāneʿī (Saney), Ḥoqūq-e jazā-ye ʿomūmī, Tehran, 2535 = 1355 Š./1976a.

Idem, Ḥoqūq wa ejtemāʿ dar rābeṭa-ye ḥoqūq bā ʿawāmel-­e ejtemāʿī wa ravānī, Tehran, 2535 = 1355 Š./1976b.

Idem, “Iran,” in E. H. Johnson, ed., International Developments in Criminology II, Westport, Conn., 1983, pp. 357-69.

(Parviz Saney)

Originally Published: December 15, 1993

Last Updated: November 2, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 4, pp. 399-400