Alcohol Charges Evolve into Death Sentence for Urmia Political Prisoner

Posted on: September 24th, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – Forty-two-year-old political prisoner Mohyeddin Ebrahimi has been convicted of cooperating with a Kurdish opposition party and sentenced to death by Judge Ali Sheikhloo in Branch 2 of Urmia’s Revolutionary Court. He is currently being held in Section 12 of Urmia Prison in northwestern Iran.

A close source told HRANA that Ebrahimi has been recovering from three gunshot wounds for the better part of a year in the Urmia Prison clinic. He was shot during his arrest on October 23, 2017, at the Iran-Iraq border, where he was found to be carrying a walkie-talkie and accused of alcohol possession.

HRANA’s source indicated the court was flippant in its verdict on Ebrahimi’s case, verbally presenting the charge of “cooperating with a Kurdish opposition party” — punishable by death — while skipping over portions of the judicial process provisioned by law, e.g. formal questioning, providing him with a hard copy of his charge sheet, or the hearing of any statements in his defense.

Ebrahimi’s record shows a history of alcohol charges: a 2010 arrest for which he spent 11 months in Urmia prison before being acquitted, and a 2014 charge that was eventually dropped due to lack of evidence.

According to Amnesty International’s annual report, Iran ranks first in the world in executions per capita.

Mohyeddin Ebrahimi is from the village Alkaw, near the city of Oshnavieh, West Azerbaijan Province.

Political Prisoner’s Brother Fights to Save Him from a Legal Crisis, or Worse

Posted on: September 23rd, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – Iranian citizens continue to speak out on behalf of their imprisoned loved ones and compatriots, and Hejar Alipour’s voice is the most recent to join the throng of support. In an open letter, Alipour defends the rights to family visitation, family contact, and attorney consultation for Mohammad Ostadghader and his own brother Houshmand Alipour, both of whom are imprisoned on charges of “membership in Kurdish Anti-regime Parties” and–if the fears of human rights organizations prove true–may be on track to the death penalty.

Four days after the August 3rd arrest of Alipour and Ostadghader by the Ministry of Intelligence, Iranian National Television broadcasted a recording of the two men confessing involvement in an attack on a Saghez security base. Both have been barred from contacting their families since the day of their arrest, with the exception of a short phone call from Alipour to his family September 1st, in which he said he had been coerced to confess under threat of torture.

Amnesty International recently published a press release expressing grave concern about the imprisonment and forced confessions of the two men: “Mohammad Ostadghader was shot and injured during the arrest but has been denied medical care,” the press release stated, adding that the prisoners have been held in an unknown location, out of reach from their families or lawyers. “[We are] concerned that the nature of the accusations against them and their forced televised confessions may be a precursor to charges that incur the death penalty.”

In defense of the rights of prisoners like his brother Houshmand, Hejar Alipour pleads their case to the international human rights community in the letter below, translated into English by HRANA:

“It has been two months since my brother Houshmand Alipour and his friend Mohammad Ostadghader were trapped by intelligence officers of the Islamic Republic at the Keh Li Khan Mountain Pass near the city of Baneh. Since then, we have had no news of or contact from my brother Houshmand, other than a few-minute-long phone call from him during which he told us that he is detained at the Intelligence Office of Sananadaj. The Intelligence officers lied to him, promising that they will allow him contact and visits with his family. Yet he continues to be banned from having visitors and has not had permission to contact the family. We retained two attorneys for Houshmand who went to the prison, the Judicial Office, and the Intelligence Office of Kurdistan province in order to make arrangements to represent him. However, the intelligence and security officers of the regime refused the meeting and turned them away.

The lives of Houshmand and Mohammad are in serious danger. Under torture, they have been forced to falsely implicate themselves, thus validating national security charges being levied against them. The Islamic Republic is bound to Islamic Penal Code, Shari’a law, and its own provisions, i.e. criminals’ and accused citizens’ rights to a fair trial, an attorney, and official legal visitation, at least within a number of days of arrest. In the case of Houshmand and Mohammad, the Islamic republic is not only violating its own principles and Islamic judicial proceedings but also denying defendants’ most basic rights by treating them inhumanely and employing physical violence and torture. The extraction of confessions under violent torture, the broadcasting of those confessions on August 7, 2017, the refusal to allow contact with attorneys or families, and denying visitation, are all violations of the basic rights of any prisoner, be they political or criminal; of rights set forth by the Islamic Republic […]

By international human rights standards, and even by the standards of the Islamic Republic, any mistreatment, or forced confession under torture, is an inhumane and criminal act. The Islamic Republic is not holding itself accountable to any principle of morality or humanity[…]. Considering the circumstances, and as the family of political prisoner Houshmand Alipour, we are concerned about the physical conditions of Houshmand and Mohammad, and of their restricted access to medical care. We hold the intelligence and judicial officials of the Islamic Republic responsible for any physical outcomes of the dangers they currently face.

We have announced the Campaign to Save the Life of Houshmand Alipour and ask all freedom-loving, humanitarian people of the world to join our campaign so that we can prevent the slow death or execution of these two prisoners by the Islamic Republic. On September 11, 2018, Amnesty International announced an urgent and accelerated campaign to save the lives of Houshmand and Mohammad, expressing its concern and demanding that authorities address the appalling state of deprivation that these two prisoners are in. This campaign was circulated to all international human right organizations, the European Union, the United Nations, and other institutions defending Human rights. In Canada, we were able to spread the word about my brother Houshmand’s case with the help of Amnesty International and Center for Victims of Torture, as well as through contacts with Canadian parliament and ministers. We ask the Canadian Government to immediately condemn the Islamic Republic’s violation of the most basic rights of these two prisoners, i.e. to visitation with the attorney and the family. Please join the Campaign to Save the Life of Houshmand Alipour, to save Houshmand and Mohammad’s lives. Help us lift their voices to the level of governments and human rights institutions. We thank all those who have already expressed their support and concern for the life of my brother.”

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.