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Amnesty International: “TV confessions” and the death penalty in Iran

Posted on: 11th April, 2013
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HRANA News Agency – Amnesty International has warned about TV confessions and death penalties in Iran.

“Suspects are forced to appear on national or local television to admit to alleged crimes – often before their court proceedings have even started. These “confessions” are then accepted as evidence in court, seriously undermining any prospect of a fair trial” says the Amnety International In a statement on April 11, 2013.

It was called “Terror Club” – an hour-long “documentary” that aired on Iranian state TV in
August 2012. The 12 individuals – seven men and five women – featured in the show,
appeared, one by one, in front of a camera, “confessing” to their involvement in the killing of
Iranian nuclear scientists over the past year.

Beyond their starring role on television, no clear details about the arrest and detention of these
12 people are known. It is not known if any of them have been charged or tried – despite the
recent announcement that 18 unnamed people will shortly go on trial for these murders. But it
is known that all 12 could face the death penalty if they are found guilty of the alleged
killings.

Televised confessions

This type of televised “confession” is far from uncommon in Iran.
Suspects are forced to appear on national or local television to admit to alleged crimes – often
before their court proceedings have even started. These “confessions” are then accepted as
evidence in court, seriously undermining any prospect of a fair trial.

Many defendants have later retracted their “TV confessions”, stating that they were coerced
into making them, sometimes under torture.
But these TV “confessions” are part of an overwhelmingly unjust trial system in Iran. The
accused frequently face extended pre-trial detention which far exceeds limits provided for in
Iranian law. In this time, they are routinely denied access to a lawyer or their family for weeks
or months while the “investigation phase” is concluded, during which many are tortured or
otherwise ill-treated. In such circumstances, the trial itself – often cloaked in secrecy – is
inevitably unfair.

Shocking figures
In Amnesty International’s report on death penalty statistics across the globe in 2012, the
section on Iran once again makes for grim reading. The country is the second highest
executioner in the world, only behind China.

At least 314 executions were officially acknowledged by the authorities in 2012, but the real
number is almost certainly much higher. More than 200 additional executions were reported to
Amnesty International by reliable sources.
One highly illustrative example of the use of the death penalty in Iran that features in the
Amnesty International report is that of five Ahwazi Arab men who are currently on death row,
some of whom were forced to confess on television to “crimes” they later retracted.

The five men – Mohammad Ali Amouri, Sayed Jaber Alboshoka, his brother Sayed Mokhtar
Alboshoka, and teachers Hashem Sha’bani Amouri and Hadi Rashidi – are activists for Iran’s
minority Arabic-speaking Ahwazi population, which faces discrimination by the central
government. In the early 2000s, the men started an organization called al-Hiwar (“Dialogue”
in Arabic) to promote Arab culture in the province of Khuzestan in south west Iran.

But after violent protests broke out in Khuzestan in April 2005, the authorities responded with
a crackdown on Ahwazis, and revoked the permit of al-Hiwar. Forced underground, the five
men reportedly started collecting information on human rights abuses against Ahwazis and
spreading it outside of Iran.
After years of harassment by the security services, the five men were finally arrested in early
2011, a few months before the anniversary of the April 2005 protests, when tensions often
run high in Khuzestan.

They were initially held in an unspecified location without access to lawyers or contact with
their family members. There are reports that several of them were tortured in custody.
Two of the men – Hashem Sha’bani Amouri and Hadi Rashidi – then appeared on the Iranian
state TV channel PressTV in December 2011 and were seen “confessing” to national security
“offences” including – in the case of Hadi Rashidi – participation in an attack on four officials.
But it was more than another six months before they faced trial. All five were sentenced to
death after convictions of “enmity against God” and “corruption on earth”.

Kamil Alboshoka, 29, grew up with the five men, two of whom are his cousins and the other
three close friends. In 2006, he fled Iran for London where he has become an outspoken
campaigner for the right of Ahwazis.
“It was very difficult to see Hashem and Hadi on TV, confessing to something I know they did
not do. I know that the authorities in Iran use the death penalty against Ahwazi Arabs to
suppress us,” he said.

Mockery of justice
In Iran, death row inmates can be executed at short notice, and there is no need for the
authorities to inform the families prior to the execution. Kamil has been badly affected by the
stress of knowing that his friends and cousins – handed death sentences in July 2012 – could
be killed any day.
“I have not had a balanced life since July. I have had problems sleeping and I can’t
concentrate. I even had to postpone my university exams because I wasn’t able to study,” he
said.

“But I know that it is even worse for the families who still live in Iran. Some of their parents
have suffered heart attacks. Mohammad Ali’s father can barely speak anymore.”
In March 2013 the five men started a hunger strike in protest against their death sentences,
as well as against the torture they say they have been subjected to in custody.
“Making someone ‘confess’ to their crimes on national television before their trial has even
started makes a mockery of international fair trial standards,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty
International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The trial of these five men was grossly unfair. We and other human rights organizations have
been campaigning for their death sentences to be overturned and for them to be granted a
retrial which complies fully with international fair trial standards.”
“And allegations of torture – sadly an all too common occurrence in Iran – must be
investigated independently with anyone found responsible for abuses brought to justice.”

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