Iran: Eight Baluchi and Ahwazi Arab prisoners at risk amid alarming rise in executions


Iranian authorities must immediately halt any plans to execute four Baluchi and four Ahwazi Arab men amid an alarming rise in executions of ethnic minority prisoners in the past two months, Amnesty International said today. The international community, including UN human rights bodies and the EU must urgently intervene to save their lives.

“The recent escalation in executions of Baluchis and Ahwazi Arabs raises serious concerns that the authorities are using the death penalty to sow fear among disadvantaged ethnic minorities, as well as the wider population. The disproportionate use of the death penalty against Iran’s ethnic minorities epitomizes the entrenched discrimination and repression they have faced for decades,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“Amnesty International calls for concerted action by the international community to stop the Iranian authorities from carrying out executions after flagrantly unfair trials marred by torture-tainted ‘confessions’.”

The Baluchi prisoners on death row in Zahedan prison, Sistan and Baluchestan province, and in Dastgerd prison in Esfahan province – Hamed Rigi, Mehran Naru’i and two others whose names are being withheld for security reasons – have all been subjected to a catalogue of human rights violations, including enforced disappearance and torture to extract “confessions” used to convict them in unfair trials.

Three Ahwazi Arab death row prisoners – Ali Khasraji, Hossein Silawi and Jassem Heidari – have sewn their lips together and have been on hunger strike since 23 January 2021 in Sheiban prison in Ahvaz, Khuzestan province, in protest at their prison conditions, denial of family visits, and the ongoing threat of execution. The fourth Ahwazi Arab prisoner, Naser Khafajian, has been forcibly disappeared since April 2020, putting him at risk of torture and secret execution.

Alarming execution rates of ethnic minorities

According to figures obtained from Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, since 1 December 2020, the Iranian authorities have executed at least 49 people, over a third of them Baluchis. Since 19 December 2020, at least 19 Baluchis and one Ahwazi Arab have been executed.

They include Baluchi prisoner, Javid Dehghan, who was executed on 30 January 2021 despite serious due process violations in his case by the Revolutionary Guards, prosecution authorities, the Revolutionary Court and the Supreme Court.

Ahwazi Arab prisoner Ali Motairi was on hunger strike when he was executed on 28 January 2021. He was also sentenced to death despite serious due process violations, including allegations of torture and forced “confessions”. Ali Motairi’s family were not notified or granted the right to visit him for the last time as stipulated under Iranian law.

Baluchi prisoners at risk of execution

Hamed Rigi, held in Zahedan prison, was sentenced to death in relation to his involvement in an armed clash with anti-narcotics security forces in 2018 in Sistan and Baluchestan province in which several members of the security forces were killed. His two brothers and co-defendants Behnam Rigi and Shoaib Rigi were executed on 19 December 2020, raising fears that he may also be executed soon.

Mehran Naru’i, on death row in Dastgerd prison, was sentenced to death about four years ago for drug-related offences and was denied access to a lawyer during his pre-trial detention and trial. Another Baluchi prisoner, Anvar Naru’i, who was sentenced to death in the same case, was executed on 28 January 2021, raising fears that the execution of Mehran Naru’i may be imminent.

Two other Baluchi prisoners whose names Amnesty International is withholding for security reasons are also at risk of execution in Zahedan prison. They were convicted of “armed insurrection” (baghi) following a grossly unfair trial before a Revolutionary Court in Zahedan. Following their arrests in November 2015, they were held for months in solitary confinement where they have said they were tortured by ministry of intelligence agents. They were denied access to a lawyer, whom they were forced to choose from a list approved by the head of the judiciary, until days before their trial.

Forced “confessions” made by all four Baluchi prisoners were unlawfully admitted as evidence by the judges presiding over the criminal proceedings, even though the men retracted them in court, saying they had been made under torture.

Ahwazi Arab prisoners at risk of execution

According to a 14 January 2021 statement by the judiciary spokesperson, Hossein Silawi, Ali Khasraji and Naser Khafajian were sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court in Ahvaz in connection with an armed attack on a police station in Ahvaz on 14 May 2017 that resulted in the death of two law enforcement officials.

They were held for months in solitary confinement in a ministry of intelligence detention centre in Ahvaz without access to their families and lawyers. According to informed sources, they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, resulting in their ribs or hands being broken. Security and intelligence officials repeatedly coerced them under torture to make self-incriminating statements, which were broadcast shortly after their arrests in May 2017 and then used by the court to convict them. The men were not allowed to appoint a lawyer of their choosing. In April 2020, they were forcibly disappeared after being transferred to an undisclosed location. Hossein Silawi and Ali Khasraji were returned to Sheiban prison around November 2020. Naser Khafajian continues to be subjected to enforced disappearance and his family’s queries to the authorities about his fate and whereabouts have remained unanswered.

Jassem Heidari was convicted of “armed insurrection” (baghi) by a Revolutionary Court in Ahvaz and sentenced to death in connection with his alleged collaboration with groups opposed to the Islamic Republic. The Supreme Court upheld the verdict in November 2020. According to informed sources, following his arrest in December 2017, he was held for months in solitary confinement without access to his family or lawyer and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.

“It is appalling that Iran’s Supreme Court has repeatedly rubber-stamped convictions and death sentences issued after grossly unfair trials. This has effectively left victims of the country’s flawed criminal justice system with nowhere to turn and granted perpetrators of human rights violations absolute impunity,” said Diana Eltahawy.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.