The Tragic Tale of a Juvenile Offender Hanged

Posted on: August 28th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – The following feature is sourced from a report given to state-run news agency Ghanoon Daily and translated to English by HRANA.

I. The Boy Who Took the Fall

Clad in black from head to toe, Simin sits silently in her humble home at the end of an alley on the outskirts of Qom, central Iran. In a corner of the room sits her 50-year-old husband, whose hair has turned fully white. Against the far wall sits their son Mohammad.

Their demure is sparsely decorated: an old TV set and a brown wooden cabinet, on which sits a photo of her son Abolfazl Chezani. His picture overlooks a room muted by grief. It has been 38 days since Abolfazl, 18, was hanged for murder.

As is customary among the Shiites, the family is preparing a ceremony in observance of the 40-day mourning period following his death.

Once in a while, a deep sigh from Simin breaks the silence. As she lowers drinking glasses and a pitcher of cold water to the floor, she draws a breath and remembers aloud the events of one day, four years ago, that would change their lives for the worse forever.

“Abolfazl was working in a Sohan[1] baking factory. That afternoon, he came home late from work and asked me to make him a cheese sandwich…”, she said, pointing to a spot on the carpet. “Abolfazl was standing right there in front of me. He was looking at himself in the mirror…then his friend Ali came by on a motorcycle and buzzed the door to ask if Abolfazl would join him. I didn’t know where they were going….he left home, and never came back.”

She recoils in pain, silenced for a moment by grief; her hands wring together, and she bursts into tears, eyes still fixated to the spot on the carpet where she last saw her son. The rest of her words are choked — the lump in her throat lets out halting, unintelligible sounds. Fat tears flow down the wrinkles of her face, rolling down her skirt to the carpet.

Abolfazl’s father and his brother Mohammad pick up where Simin left off: their home was raided by the police that day, they say, who left when they realized Abolfazl wasn’t home and was only a child. Upon his return, Abolfazl’s father stopped him at the threshold of their home, to escort him to the station to turn him in to the police.

His father and brother went off to visit the assault victim: 20-year-old Morteza, who was in critical condition suffering from stabs to the heart. Ali, who was Morteza and Abolfazl’s mutual friend, was also arrested. During Ali and Abolfazl’s detainment, Ali convinced Abolfazl to take the blame because he was the younger one. “In a few days, Morteza will recover, and then they’ll let you go,” Ali told him. So Abolfazl told police that he was the sole one responsible for Morteza’s assault. Ali was released three days later; eleven days after that, Morteza died of his injuries. Abolfazl had confessed to a murder.

II. Lack of Due Process

Abolfazl’s brother Mohammad explains that Ali had fought with Morteza two weeks prior to the stabbing incident. “Ali was in our alley that day, looking for another guy named Hamid to take him to fight Morteza again,” he said. “Since he couldn’t find Hamid, he took Abolfazl.”

Morteza’s family requested to file a complaint against Ali, who they believe instigated the brawl that ended in his murder. Mohammad continues: “during the trial, [the judge] didn’t even permit testimonies from witnesses who saw Ali pick up Abolfazl that day. We went to the court with the neighborhood elders to push the complaint against Ali, but to no avail.”

Simin goes to a drawer and takes out a red shirt. “He bought this to wear at his brother’s wedding”, she said, caressing the shirt as her tears flow. Abolfazl’s father explains that he tried to persuade the family of the victim to pardon Abolfazl[2] by going to their home, but he was ignored. “We sent many people to mediate and convince them to forgive, but they wouldn’t even allow them inside the home. I personally went to their family’s elder and pleaded with him to spare my son’s life. I told them I would give whatever blood money they asked. I would sell my house. I would take up a collection. But they stayed silent. We really wanted to meet with the victim’s family during the trial, but the judge wouldn’t allow it. We asked for help from the prison social worker, who went to Morteza’s family only once.

On the day of Albofazl’s execution, they waited outside the prison. Simin threw a copy of the Quran at their family car, crying and begging them for forgiveness before they entered the prison, but they just sat in their car and stared out at me.”

When confronted after the execution by some of Abolfazl’s relatives, Morteza’s mother said: “My son died. So did hers.”

Mohammad recalls the details of the trial. “My brother’s case had two judges. Months after the case was handed to the second judge, he was executed. We were still in the middle of the second legal process. Had they seen the process through, perhaps we could have found a recourse; maybe the family of the victim would have decided to pardon him. What’s the rush in carrying out the execution? The victim’s father, who pulled the stool out from under Abolfazl’s feet at the hanging, is in an awful emotional state. Taking a life with your own hands isn’t easy to forget, especially my brother’s, who was only 14 at the time of the murder, and when executing a child is forbidden all over the world.”

III. Four Trips to the Gallows

During the four years and six months of his imprisonment, and before finally being executed, Abolfazl Chezani was taken three times to the prison quarantine, where condemned inmates spend the eve of their executions. Those three times, his execution was stalled. “In his childish mind,” Mohammad says, “he didn’t understand that quarantine means he could be executed the next day. He never thought the world could be so cruel as to throw a rope around his neck and take his life.”

IV. A Portrait of Kindness and Optimism

What happened on the night of the murder is unclear. Abolfazl’s conduct and spirit in prison showed no indication that he was capable of such violence. His family collected testimonials from neighbors who noted that Abolfazl had never before engaged in fights or brawls.

He observed Ramadan in prison, fasting until his eyes hurt. He had observed Ashura [3] since childhood and would organize the memorial procession himself. In prison, he took to memorizing the passages of the Quran. He earned a “good behaviour” designation in the Juvenile Rehabilitation and Education Centre.

Simin shares that her son “stopped studying in the seventh grade. He quit school to work, and would give me his salary.”

Mohammad explains how his family’s suffering during the ordeal made Albolfazl feel ashamed. “I’d try to console him, and he would just hang his head without uttering a word. It’s as if we all died on the day he was executed.”

Abolfazl always comforted his family, they say, right down to their last visit. Simin remembers her telling him, with eyes full of hope, “Don’t fret mom, nothing will happen!” To the prison social worker who brought him a copy of the Quran and told him not to be afraid on the eve of his death, he responded with a laugh. “They won’t execute me. I’ll be pardoned.”

Amnesty International had previously issued a statement asking Iranian authorities to stop the execution proceedings of Abolfazl Chezani, who was a minor at the time the offense was committed.

After Abolfazl’s execution, Amnesty International criticized the compliance of Iranian courts, parliamentarians, and doctors in “compliance with assault on the rights of children.” Amnesty referred specifically to a court-affiliated doctor who, by providing “maturity” assessments on convicts with death sentences, “effectively facilitate the execution of those who were children at the time of their crimes.” A report of this kind was used to justify the death sentence of Abolfazl Chezani.

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[1] Sohan is a brittle Iranian sweet made with saffron and rosewater. The city of Qom is known for its Sohans.

[2] Qesas, an “eye-for-an-eye” punishment encoded in Iran’s Islamic penal code, which grants the family of murder victims to either seek the death penalty or accept dieh — “blood money” — in return for sparing the life of the accused.

[3] Ashura is a Shiite ceremony commemorating the death of Hussain, the 3rd Imam and Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, who was killed in a battle in 7th century A.D. Many Iranians and Iraqis observe days of mourning and large processions in remembrance of his death.

“In The Name of the Non-Existent Justice” A letter from alleged juvenile offender after 21 years in prison

Posted on: August 20th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Verya Saed Moochashmi has been detained in Karaj’s notorious Rajai Shahr Prison since he was 17. Convicted of aiding and abetting murder in 1998, he was sentenced to the death penalty and 80 lashes. This marks his 21st year behind bars.

In a letter obtained by HRANA, Mr Moochashmi remembers the incident that led to his conviction, stating that the murder was the unintended escalation of a clash initiated by an individual by the name of Shahram Jalali. Per an agreement with the victim’s family to pay damages (known as “blood money”) in exchange for a death row pardon, Mr Jalili had already paid half of the requested sum when he was executed in 2002. Esmaeil Hosseini, the other co-defendant, was released after serving three years and six months of his ten-year prison sentence.

The full text of Mr Moochashmi’s letter is below, translated into English:

In The Name of Non-Existent Justice

Behind prison bars from the age of 17 to now, the age of 40…Where is the justice?

I, Verya Saed Moochashmi, am a prisoner in Karaj’s Rajai Shahr Prison. When I was 14, to help my ageing father and my family, I left behind my city, my studies, and my home and came to Tehran. In 1998, I had been working as a laborer in Imam Khomeini International Airport for three years and I was about to turn 17 when I was convicted of aiding and abetting murder and sentenced to death and 80 lashes.

Yet in the skirmish that led to the murder of Mohammad Emami (the victim), the fighting and the killing were the work of Shahram Jalali — son of Jamal, born in Rabat Karim — and also another individual named Esmaeil Hosseini, who was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison but was freed after three years and six months. The principal defendant, Shahram Jalali, was executed in 2002 with the consent of the victim’s guardians, after having paid half of the blood money commensurate with the murder of a Muslim. I was innocent from the beginning, young and naive, illiterate, subject to the testimonies of my co-defendants which were totally baseless. The judge knows it, and yet I have been left in prison for 21 years.

Meanwhile not only have I lost my youth and my family, but I’ve also attempted suicide multiple times, documentation of which can be found in Imam Khomeini hospital.

All the while, the victim’s family has neglected the case and my situation in prison. Based on my requests and pursuant to Article 429, they’ve been repeatedly summoned but have refused to answer. Finally, in 2017, the assistant prosecutor, Mr Allahyari, summoned my family and me to post a bail of 2.2 billion rials [about $21,000 USD].

My family (of which only my brother remains) have done all they can to gather the money and post the bail. But a different assistant prosecutor has been named in the meantime, and the woman who now heads the department takes issue with Mr Allahyari’s terms and insulted my brother, calling him “backwards and worthless to society.” She said the process for the posting of bail and its payment now have to start anew.

A year has passed since then, and it’s now been 21 years since I’ve been in prison. Based on a law passed in 2013, minors can’t be sentenced to death, but I keep being punished and my case keeps getting ignored. As I approach 40, I am left with only one choice: declare a hunger strike to restore my rights and defend them until death. I want word to spread of the injustice that has been done to me; and for everyone to see their negligence of my case and the inconsiderate attitude of the new assistant prosecutor of the Branch 1, and how she has obstructed the process.

Is Article 429 not the law of the land? Have I not tried to have it followed four different times? How can a change of judge and assistant prosecutor (who get transferred among branches) mean a change in law? Where is the justice?

Who is going to be responsible for the waste of 21 years of my life? Is all this talk of justice a mere propaganda campaign, designed to deceive the media and public opinion?

Does the “principle of justice” serve merely to disparage and verbally abuse prisoners’ families, and for judges levelling insults at them, enforcing arbitrary sentences at their whim?

Verya Saed Moochashmi
Karaj’s Rajai Shahr Prison
August 17, 2018

Iran: Suicide rate up 5% in 2017 compared to previous Year

Posted on: August 6th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – According to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics in 2017, nearly “800 000 people die due to suicide every year”.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports the rate of attempted suicide higher among women than men; however, four times as many men die due to suicide than women.

Iran’s Suicide Rate: Iran, the state-run newspaper, reports that between five to seven people per every 100,000 commit suicide in Iran.

According to the Iranian National Coroner Office, the suicide rate in Iran increased by 5% between *March 2017 and March 2018 compared to the twelve months before that period. A rise of such magnitude may not seem alarming, but once the statistics are assessed in more detail, the figures are shocking.

Despite no recorded or accurate statistics on adolescence suicide in Iran, multiple reports in recent years indicate that suicide is not exclusive to adults (18+ years old). An increasing number of children and teenagers as young as 10, 12, and 15 years of age are committing suicide as a result of feeling hopeless about resolving their emotional distress and other issues in their lives.

Iran Newspaper reports that the increase in suicide among children and teenagers in Iran is alarming. Women, men, adolescents and children commit suicide for a variety of reasons, most of which have economic roots. Other reasons include heartache caused by a romantic relationship, academic failure, inability to contain and control emotions and feelings, psychological problems, substance abuse, domestic violence and genetic predisposition.

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* The rates cited in this article correspond to the Iranian solar calendar which starts on March 21st (or the first day of spring) and follows the Zodiac months.

Hamze Noorzehi; Death Row Juvenile Offender in Zahedan Prison

Posted on: February 8th, 2018

HRANA News Agency – Two Afghan juvenile offenders who were born and grew up in Iran, were tried for drug possession while they were under the age of 18 and eventually one of them was sentenced to death in Zahedan. They claim that they have been tortured and the officers hung them from the ceiling using the rope, took their clothes off and plundered them with wood and cable for the purpose of obtaining untrue confessions.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), Hamze Noorzehi, juvenile offender from Afghanistan was arrested by security forces when was 17 years old and was sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court of Zahedan. (more…)

Ma’ed Shabani Nejad Released on the Bail

Posted on: January 31st, 2018

HRANA News Agency – Ma’ed Shabani Nejad, 15-year-old girl from Abadan who was arrested by intelligence forces, was released on the bail after about 12 days on October 29, 2017.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), the intelligence Office of Abadan detained a girl named “Ma’ed Shabani Nejad (Amouri)”, born in 2002, on October 18, 2017. (more…)

15-Year-Old Girl Arrested by the Intelligence Office of Abadan

Posted on: January 26th, 2018

HRANA News Agency – A 15-year-old girl in Abadan was arrested by intelligence forces at her high school and transferred to the detention center of Ahvaz intelligence ministry.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), the intelligence Office of Abadan detained a student named Ma’ed Shabani Nejad (Amouri), born in 2002, on October 18, 2017. (more…)

Amanj Weisi Saved from Execution after 11 Years

Posted on: January 23rd, 2018

HRANA News Agency – Amanaj Weisi, juvenile offender who was arrested on charge of murder when was 15 years old and sentenced to death, was finally saved from execution after 11 years in jail and legal struggle by the help of his lawyer and Supreme Court’s verdict, and sentenced to 3 years imprisonment.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), Amanaj Weisi, born in 1991, was arrested on charge of murder of his cousin when was 15 years old and sentenced to death. He spent 11 years waiting for the execution in prison. (more…)

A Juvenile Offender on Death Row in Ardabil Prison

Posted on: October 10th, 2017

HRANA News Agency – Mehrab Eyvazi, juvenile offender from Ardabil was arrested at the age of 17 with nine other defendants. Mr. Eyvazi was accused of participation in kidnapping and rape. He was severely beaten at the police station and was threatened with rape by the police officer while he was naked in front of the camera. Mr. Eyvazi was sentenced to death, despite his young age. He believes that the verdict has been issued just based on his confessions which have been obtained while he was denied to access his family and lawyer and was subjected to torture and ill-treatment.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency in Iran (HRANA), according to two relevant incidents, a case with 10 defendants was opened in the judicial district in Ardabil, in addition to the plaintiff, at least 4 defendants were under the age of 18 years. (more…)

A Juvenile Offender on Death Row since 11 Years Ago

Posted on: September 10th, 2017

HRANA News Agency – Yahya Firouzi is involved in a murder case with his older brother when he was 17 years old. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and then to death. He is still being kept in an undecided condition and the complaints in the case has changed their address and are not willing to follow-up this case.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency in Iran (HRANA), Yahya Firouzi was born on April 29, 1998 in Sagan-Oulia village in Gilan-e-Gharb territory. He committed a murder in December 2006 when he was 17 years old, along with his brother Lotfollah, who was 27 at the time. (more…)

Alireza Tajiki, Juvenile Offender Executed in Shiraz

Posted on: August 30th, 2017

HRANA News Agency – Alireza Tajiki who had been kept in Adelabad prison in Shiraz on charge of murder since the age of 15, was executed on August 10, 2017, despite repeated requests from human rights organizations and ambiguities in the case.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency in Iran (HRANA), Ehsan Neisari, 16, was killed in the city of Fasa in 2011. A 15-year-old teenager namely Alireza Tajiki was arrested on charge of this murder. After a while, the death sentence was issued for the teenager on charge of rape and murder. (more…)