Iran: Set Immediate Moratorium on Executions

18 Executed in One Day, 16 of Them ‘In Response’ to Border Attack
October 29, 2013

(Beirut)– Iran should issue an immediate moratorium on executions in light of continued revelations of unlawful or politically motivated executions following flawed trials.

On October 26, 2013, the government executed 16 people in what the prosecutor said was “retaliation” for the killings of more than a dozen border guards along the Iran-Pakistan border. In unrelated incidents, rights activists also reported that authorities had executed two Kurdish prisoners without warning on the same day.

“What kind of justice system hangs 16 prisoners ‘in response’ to a recent killing of security officials, with no indication that they had anything to do with these crimes,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The retaliatory execution of 16 men should sound the alarm for an immediate moratorium on the death penalty in Iran and a massive overhaul of its flawed judicial system.”

Rights groups have documented more than 400 executions in Iran so far in 2013, with at least 125 of those carried out since the election of President Hassan Rouhani on June 14 in a judicial system that is rife with due process failures.

On October 26, Mohammad Marzieh, the public prosecutor of the southeastern city of Zahedan, announced that authorities had “executed 16 bandits linked to anti-government groups in response to the martyrdom of the border guards.” The semi-official Fars News Agency reported that armed groups near the border town of Saravan in Sistan-Baluchistan province killed at least 14 members of Iran’s security forces on October 25.

In his statement to the Fars News Agency, Marzieh, Zahedan’s public prosecutor, said that the execution of the 16 men followed “previous warnings … that any action that resulted in injuries to innocent people or police and security forces would be responded to in kind.” He warned that Iran’s “judiciary would not, under any circumstances, look the other way in response to these [terrorist] actions.” Marzieh is an employee of Iran’s judiciary, which is headed by Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani. Under Iran’s constitution the head of the judiciary, who is appointed by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has the power to pardon or prevent the execution of prisoners sentenced to death.

On October 27, Ebrahim Hamidi, the head of Sistan-Baluchistan’s judiciary, revealed the names of the 16 people executed. He said that all had previously been tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. He said eight were members of the terrorist group Jundullah, while the other eight had been sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

Hamidi said in his statement that the Jundullah members had not been executed earlier in the hope that they would show remorse for their actions, but that the recent border attack “proved” that they continue their belief in an oppressive cause and the use of violence. He implied that the attackers were formed from remnants of Jundullah, which the government claims it defeated after authorities captured and executed its leader, Abdolmalek Rigi, in 2010. The “judiciary issues no ruling or decision based on emotions or a desire to take revenge,” he said, but provided no explanation as to how any of those executed were, either directly or indirectly, involved in the recent border attack.

Initial reports indicate that the attackers fled across the border into Pakistan and were members of a Sunni extremist group called Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice). On October 27, the group claimed responsibility for the attack on their website, saying that Iran’s involvement in Syria and its oppression of its Sunni minority justified the attack. Little is known about Jaish al-Adl, or its relationship, if any, to Jundullah.

Sistan-Baluchistan province and especially the border areas between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan are plagued with insecurity and violence caused by a combination of drug trafficking and attacks by armed insurgent groups. The Iranian government claims that more than 3,500 members of its security forces have been killed in clashes with armed traffickers and insurgent groups linked to extremist Sunni factions.

On the same day as Marzieh’s announcement, Human Rights Watch learned of the execution of the two Kurdish prisoners sentenced to death for their alleged links to the armed Party for Free Life of Kurdistan, or PJAK. PJAK is identified as a terrorist group by the Iranian government and several other countries. Authorities executed a prominent Kurdish political prisoner, Habibollah Golparipour, in the northwest town of Orumiyeh without notification, his lawyer told Human Rights Watch. Ehsan Mojtavi, the lawyer, told Human Rights Watch that on the morning of October 26, authorities informed Golparipour’s family that they had hanged him in Orumiyeh prison. Mojtavi said authorities had not given any notice of the execution to him or the family.

Mojtavi said the family learned that authorities had transferred Golparipour to a solitary cell on October 25, so they traveled from Sanandaj, where they live, to Orumiyeh to seek information about Golparipour’s condition and whereabouts. But in the morning of October 26, authorities informed them that they had executed Golparipour the night before and refused to hand over his body. Mojtavi said a court convicted his client in 2007 based on books and writings taken from him during his arrest and witnesses who allegedly testified about his client’s involvement with PJAK, but whom Golparipour never had a chance to challenge in court or during trial.

A letter allegedly written by Golparipour in March 2012 said that his interrogators in the Intelligence Ministry had subjected him to severe psychological and physical torture during his initial detention in Orumiyeh and Mahabad. He wrote that a court sentenced him to death after a trial that lasted no more than a few minutes. In his letter, Golparipour steadfastly denied carrying arms or otherwise supporting or calling for the use of violence. He said he had filed a complaint but that the authorities did not investigate his torture allegations. A trusted source also provided Human Rights Watch with two audio recordings said to be the voice of Golparipour, in which he vividly describes his torture at the hands of Intelligence Ministry officials, recounts various due process violations during his interrogation and trial, and notes the “injustice” of being sentenced to death “merely for distributing and publishing books.”

A copy of Golparipour’s conviction by Branch One of the Mahabad Revolutionary Court on March 15, 2010, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, indicates that the court sentenced him to death based on articles 186 and 190 of Iran’s old penal code for “corruption on earth” and “enmity against God.” The ruling states that Golparipour confessed to being a member of PJAK and “cooperating with and actively engaging on the terrorist group’s behalf.” Under those articles, anyone found guilty of taking up arms against the state, or belonging to an organization taking up arms against the government, also may be sentenced to death for “enmity against God” regardless of whether they used weapons or resorted to violence.

Iran’s new penal code, which went into effect in 2013, retains the death penalty for terrorism-related charges. In cases in which an alleged member of an armed or terrorist group is not found to have used weapons or resorted to violence, however, it calls for sentences not exceeding 15 years.

Mojtavi, the lawyer, confirmed to Human Rights Watch that Iran’s criminal law allows those convicted under the old penal code to request a review of their sentence if the new code imposes a lighter punishment. He said that about 15 to 20 days ago Golparipour’s family requested a review of his case in light of the amendments to the new penal code, hoping that the death sentence would be reduced. But the sentence was carried out before the Supreme Court could rule on the request.

Human Rights Watch has criticized both the old and new penal code’s definitions of terrorism-related crimes for being overly broad or vaguely worded.

Kurdish activists operating outside Iran informed Human Rights Watch that on October 26 authorities also executed Reza Esmaili on charges of membership in PJAK. Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm information regarding Esmaili’s case and execution.

On October 10, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards announced that its forces had clashed with armed insurgents near the Kurdish town of Baneh, along the Iran-Iraq border, which led to the deaths of five of its members. Kurdish rights activists have told Human Rights Watch that at least 40 members of Iran’s Kurdish minority are on death row, convicted on political charges, crimes not considered “most serious” under international law, or sentenced after flawed trials. They include Zaniar and Loghman Moradi, who are at imminent risk of execution.

Article 38 of the Iranian Constitution prohibits all forms of torture “for the purpose of obtaining confessions.” The Penal Code also provides for the punishment of officials who torture citizens to obtain confessions. Despite these legal and constitutional guarantees regarding confessions under duress, the government sometimes broadcasts “confessions”on television even before a trial has concluded and generally accepts them as evidence in court. Such broadcasts violate Iran’s fair trial obligations under article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a state party.

In 2012 Iran remained one of the world’s foremost executioners, with more than 500 prisoners hanged either in prisons or in public. The Iranian government has announced at least 260 executions in 2013, with rights groups alleging or documenting an additional 160 or so unannounced executions. At least 15 of these executions have been carried out in connection with terrorism-related charges such as moharebeh. The vast majority of executions carried out in Iran during the past few years are for alleged drug-related offenses including trafficking, which are crimes not considered “most serious” under international law.

On August 1, Human Rights Watch wrote a letter in which it called on Rouhani, then the president-elect, to push for a moratorium on the death penalty. Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because of its irreversible, cruel, and inhumane nature.

“Iran’s judiciary should take seriously any admission or suggestion by its employees that executions are being carried out based on arbitrary and unlawful considerations such as responding to the killing of security forces,” Whitson said. “President Rouhani’s administration can play an important role by calling for a moratorium on all executions and a thorough review of the way Iran investigates, tries, and sentences suspects.”