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

Juvenile offender on death row is in danger of more torture

Posted on: July 11th, 2013

HRANA News Agency – Juvenile offender Baha’uddin Ghasemzadeh has been transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department in Urmia to be interrogated more.  His family fears for his safety as he might be tortured once again.  Despite his initial confession taken at age 15, Ghasemzadeh denied committing the murder at the trial, and the case against him appears to have many problems such as lack of motive.

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Corrections – The case of the eight-year-old juvenile offender

Posted on: July 6th, 2013

HRANA News Agency – On July 4, 2013, Shargh Newspaper published a short news story inviting its readers to attend the debut of a play to save the life of an innocent child who was to be executed the following week.  The story appeared on page 16 of the issue numbered 1773 and identified the name of the play, the Blue Sensation of Death, as well as the location and time of the debut.  The news story indicated that the proceeds from the play was to be used towards the retribution demanded by the family of a victim who was killed by the child.

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A juvenile offender will be hanged next week

Posted on: July 4th, 2013

HRANA News Agency – A juvenile offender who has spent 10 years in prison for a crime committed at the age of eight will be hanged next week in Tehran.

According to a report by Shargh Newspaper, the plaintiff has demanded approximately $500,000 in reparation before giving the required consent for the sentence to be commuted.  Iranian criminal law allows death penalty for children, but the sentence can be carried out only after the child reaches 18 . (more…)