Death certificates issuance
Many death certificates issued to the victims of the recent protests did not refer to the real cause of death.
In Iran “Death Certificates” and “Burial Permits” are different. In a death certificate, the physician certifies that the person has died of some cause; i.e. by using the death certificate, she announces the death of a member of the public yet this is not enough to bury the deceased: it is only by the burial permit that the deceased can be buried. In other words, the document required for burial is the burial permit and not the death certificate. In the UK for more than a century, it is the coroner who is responsible for issuing death certificates. The coroner is a judge or a physician who is tasked with dealing and issuing death certificates. In Iran the coroner system does not exist and the key responsibility of issuing death certificates is with the physicians. Based on the current law, the person issuing the death certificate is also responsible for filling the burial permit.
A section of the death certificate is dedicated to the cause of death. Based on the definition by the WHO, the “underlying cause of death” in a death certificate is the disease or injury that directly starts the events leading to death or in case of accidents and assaults, it leads to the fatal injury.
Iranian Legal Medicine Organization (ILMO) is part of the judiciary system. Responsibility of this organization is to carry out expert medical assessments in legal areas such as judicial authorities and related offices that require such work. Therefore, after referral from judicial authorities e.g. civic or criminal courts, a Legal Medicine file is opened and is sent to the designated branch. After the examination by legal medicine, the case is sent back to the judicial authorities with a report on cause and time of death, or description of the injury. If the death is suspicious or it has occurred in a hospital setting yet the evidence points to a crime, it is referred to the legal medicine and with the judiciary order, an autopsy is carried out and a detailed report is presented to the court.
Autopsy by Legal Medicine can identify the cause of death, identity of the deceased, time of death, intensity and order of the injuries and the condition of death. In the recent uprising in Iran (2022), we do not have access to many death certificates and many of the slain were buried without the knowledge of the families while the burial permit identifies gunshot injuries as the cause of death. On the other hand, Iranian regime’s approach is not consistent: in some cases it is clearly written “gunshot wound” while in others it only mentions “injuries caused by a high velocity rotating object” without any reference to the extent of the injuries or the condition of death.
The cases of breach of issuing death certificates for the victims of 2022 uprising in Iran are:
1) Not clearly defining the cause of death in cases where the cause of death has been declared as “suicide”
2) Not allowing the family/next of kin of the deceased to see the body or to bury and failing to hand over the body
3) Vague description of the kind of injuries and conditions leading to death. In numerous cases, the cause of death has been declared as “blow by a hard object” even when the families had reported signs of assault and torture. Gunshot injuries (“hit by live bullets in non-war conditions”) has been acknowledged only on very few of those who have died of gunshot bullets.