By Roghayeh Rezaei
November 20, 2021
On November 9 the Iranian parliament announced receipt of a bill that, if approved and implemented, would change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Iran. The so-called “Bill for the Protection of Public Rights Against Harmful and Dangerous Animals” would see the Islamic Penal Code changed to ban the importation, sale and keeping of a variety of animals.
Keeping animals designated “unclean” as pets or walking them would be punishable by a heavy fine of 10 to 30 times the minimum wage. The owners of vehicles in which animals are spotted would also be subject to a fine. But the list of “wild, unconventional, harmful and dangerous” creatures includes crocodiles and monkeys, but cats, dogs, mice, rabbits, lizards, snakes and turtles. The bill also includes provisions for their confiscation.
This is not the first time Tehran’s conservatives have sought to impose restrictions on citizens keeping pets. Tehran is already subject to a dog-walking ban, with dog owners subjected to harassment and even violence from police on the streets.
This new bill also has activists worried, because of the confiscation clause. Saman Golnari, of the Animal Rights Campaign in Iran, told IranWire that in addition: “Unfortunately it states that organizations such as the Red Crescent, laboratories, pharmacists and vaccine makers who test on animals, and the Department of Environment and Veterinary Organizations, which is active in importing and breeding wild animals like crocodiles, are exempt from the ban.”
In September this year it emerged that the Department of Environment had given a license to an importer to breed crocodiles and sell their skin. Some 80 crocodiles had thus arrived in Mashhad from Malaysia. “Crocodile skin is very valuable on the global market, and the skin trade is a lucrative industry,” Turaj Hemmati, Khorasan Razavi’s director general of the environment, told ISNA at the time. He added that tourists might like to visit the tannery.
Saman Golnari also notes that elsewhere in the bill, people who want to keep a pet are obliged to apply with the prosecutor’s office. In each city, committees consisting of local justices, health and environmental officials and a representative of the governor will decide on licenses on a case-by-case basis. Apart from violating people’s civil rights to an unacceptable degree, Golnari says, “Some activists believe that if the bill is approved, there will be a trade in licenses for sale, generating revenue for government agencies.”
The activist believes that approval of the bill would be a violation of animal rights. “Pets are not harmful in principle,” he told IranWire. “If they were harmful and dangerous, they would have no place in people’s homes in a world of eight billion people. It seems the purpose of this bill is to prevent the keeping of pets such as cats, dogs, and rabbits, rather than just crocodiles and snakes. I believe the signatories included [dangerous] wild animals only to justify it.”
The transportation of pets – including if they are sick – will also be outlawed under the bill, as will the buying and selling of the animals listed. “Though we are opposed to buying and selling and breeding animals,” Golnari said, “many people, including veterinarians and breeders, have invested their lives in this. The approval of this bill will put them in an unknown situation.”
He added: “Our other concern is that with the approval of this bill, we will again see the sad scenes of the killing of stray dogs and cats. Especially since the animals are to be confiscated.”
Bahram, a citizen of Tehran, began a new career as a dog carer after he lost his old job due to an illness that led to disability. “I started a kennel to help people who are travelling or emigrating,” he said. “I keep their dogs in a safe and kind environment. With the new bill, it’s not clear what will happen to me.”
He went on: “There are many people like me who both love animals and know how to care for them. This is good for us and for the animals. Now that some say having a pet is a cultural invasion, they’ll have to find the root of the problem, because animals have always been loved by people.”