Open Letter from Prisoners to UN Envoy: Death Penalty is a “Weapon of Terror”

Posted on: October 8th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- On Wednesday, October 3, 2018, a letter was published to the attention of Javaid Rehman, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran. Its authors were reaching out from the walls of Rajai Shahr Prison of Karaj, on the western outskirts of Tehran, to raise the specter of rising execution numbers and public hangings that still mar the face of the country.

The full text of their letter, translated into English by HRANA, is below:

Javaid Rehman
Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Dear Mr. Rehman,

The death penalty is not simply a social predicament for us Iranians; it is a living nightmare. We live it and re-live it in the faces of children who witness public hangings, and in the faces of prisoners on death row. In the past few weeks alone, our fellow prisoners Mohammad Salas, Zanyar Moradi, Loghman Moradi, and Ramin Hossein Panahi were executed. Our families used to see each other during weekly visits. This time around, the visit was transformed to a day of mourning – further proof that the death penalty, a medieval legacy of human societies, is a collective punishment. With all of the shock and mental anguish that their executions put our families through, one can only imagine how the families of the victims are feeling.

[The aftereffects of] the death penalty are not the lot of political prisoners alone; every death-row prisoner feels them. The whole of society bears their cruelty.  The efforts of Special Human Rights Rapporteurs, particularly the late Asma Jilani Jahangir [Rapporteur between 2016 and 2018], who helped abolish the death penalty for drug-related offenses, are admirable. However, the widespread nature of executions calls for more drastic and concrete measures. Especially in today’s Iran, capital punishment is not simply a legal apparatus, but also a political weapon of terror used to suppress citizens expressing discontent with Iran’s economic, political, and social conditions.

We political prisoners believe that Iranian people will not be freed from this inhumane punishment without a serious international intervention. In our view, the economic and diplomatic needs of the Iranian regime are the ideal starting place for negotiations with authorities to put an end to capital punishment. We beseech you, as the Special Rapporteur, to ask the international community to make their dealings and diplomatic ties with the Iranian regime contingent on abolishing the death penalty and respecting human rights principles in Ian.

We thank you, in advance, for your efforts.

Sincerely,

1- Mohammad Amirkhizi
2- Majid Asadi
3. Payam Shakiba
4- Hassan Sadeghi
5- Arash Sadeghi
6. Abul Qassim Pulat
7- Abraham Firoozi
8- Mohammad Ali Mansouri
9- Saeed Masoori

CC: World Coalition against the Death Penalty (www.worldcoalition.org)

Open Letter: Hundreds of Doctors and Publishers Plead for the Release of Farhad Meysami

Posted on: September 30th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Hundreds of medical doctors, publishers, bookshop owners, and university graduates wrote an open letter September 28th to raise their concerns about Farhad Meysami, a civil rights activist detained in Evin Prison who is in dire medical condition on this 57th day of his hunger strike. The letter pleads for Meysami’s release.

Meysami started his hunger strike one day after his July 31st arrest, in protest to authorities’ refusal to appoint the attorney of his choice.

He was taken to the prison clinic by violent force on September 26th, raising suspicions with close sources that authorities are deliberately isolating him from contacts with the outside.

Previously, Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi and Esmaeil Abdi, two teachers imprisoned in Evin, asked for Meysami’s transfer to a hospital in their own open letter to judicial authorities.

The most recent open letter, representing the will of 1,400 doctors, publishers, bookshop owners, and university graduates, reflects the same concern for Meysami’s well-being.

“We know Dr. Farhmad Meysami’s character, disposition, and reputation of accountability, and we believe that he doesn’t belong in prison,” the letter says.

Meysami is noted in the letter as founder and manager of Andisheh Sazan, a publishing house in Iran.

“Meysami raised his criticisms in peaceful and non-violent ways,” the letter goes on. “Some of us don’t necessarily agree with him, but we don’t think this is a way to treat any dissident in this country, let alone a doctor and a publisher.”

The letter specifically implores the support of Culture Minister Abbas Salehi, Health Minister Hassan Ghazizade Hashemi, Parliamentary Health Committee Head Hosseinali Shahriari and Parliamentary Culture Committee Head Ahmad Mazani.

Their letter concludes with a verse from the Qur’an: “He who gives life to anyone has given life to all.”

Open Letter: Zahedan Political Prisoners Ask UN General Assembly to Convey Message to Iran’s President

Posted on: September 30th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – A group of political prisoners in Zahedan Central Prison have written an open letter to the UN General Assembly, asking them to lift the voice of Iran’s prisoners.

The full text of their letter, translated into English by HRANA, is below:

Dear Members of Iranian Delegates,

Sitting next to each other in the UN General Assembly, you are looking for a way to guarantee human rights among peoples, and to resolve issues, such as scarcity of resources and climate change, which have had a grave impact on human beings’ lives.

There is a group of your fellow human beings who are forgotten behind bars, their voices choked out and their rights quashed. These “domestic charity cases*” look to you for a solution. [*A translation of a saying often used in protests, with the approximate literal meaning, “A light that could burn at home is unholy if burned in the mosque.” It is an outcry against misappropriated resources, or excessive attention being placed beyond the borders when the country’s own needs are great].

Why is it that Iranian officials don’t spend as much time addressing prisoners’ rights as they do for the rights of free people? It would be nice if they could be as vocal on this topic as they have been in their discussions of global issues.

Is the reality what they’re telling us it is? How close to reality are the movies and documentaries produced to further their arguments?

To answer these questions it would suffice to briefly point out some of the sufferings of the prisoners being held across Iran, particularly in Zahedan central prison:

1. Legal Limbo: The number of individuals trapped in legal limbo has reached a crisis level. There are prisoners who have spent two, even ten years behind bars on a pending case. Their requests for clemency, conditional release, or sentence reduction go unanswered. The delay can be attributed both to a high backlog of cases and to hefty bail amounts. Bails typically exceed 5 billion tomans (approximately $300,000 USD) but can even peak as high as 12 billion tomans (approximately $7,000,000 USD) or 300 billion tomans (approximately $18,000,000 USD). Judiciaries stack multiple charges onto defendants so that even when a prisoner’s case is resolved, the next charge against them is only beginning. Even in cases where a defendant is acquitted, the judiciary will hit them with new charges, hitting reset on the cycle of legal limbo.

2. Prison Population: Heavy caseloads (or deliberate delay in trying cases), paired with defendants’ economic [inability to post bail], have led to a burgeoning prison population. The prisoners are so cramped that they have to contort themselves into alternate sleeping arrangements, some laying in front of the washrooms, other on staircases. In prisons like those in Esfahan and Mashhad [the 3rd and 2nd largest cities in Iran, respectively], prisoners even sleep on the roof of the bathrooms and showers. Scant space has devolved into additional problems: a tiny prayer room, a shortage of washroom facilities, cramped outdoor recreation space, lack of amenities, and low-quality, small-portioned meals after which many a prisoner goes to bed hungry.

3. Political Prisoner Legal Limbo: Political prisoners spend several years in limbo prior to their trials, and after conviction spend even more time in suspense on various judicial pretexts. Despite having spent 5 or 10 years of their sentences and being eligible for furlough and conditional release, they are denied such privileges. Political prisoners are neglected deliberately. They even face additional restrictions on their rights to family visitation.

4. Prisoners on the Death Row: The prisoners on death row spend years and even decades waiting for their cases to be resolved. Somehow, they fall through the cracks. While a memorandum has been issued commuting the death sentences of a number of prisoners convicted on drug-related charges, many of the eligible prisoners’ names have been left off the list due to prison overcrowding. Many of these prisoners are routinely given the run-around by authorities who refuse to provide any answers about their fate.

5. Torture: In all institutions, and at the Intelligence Ministry and Intelligence Unit of the IRGC in particular, torture remains a common practice. Prisoners–especially political prisoners–are subject to the most severe and cruel forms of torment. Even if a defendant is innocent, they will confess under duress and torture. Various torture techniques are used in Iran, but no authorities will speak of them. Despite speaking out against the torture and its widespread use, we have yet to see change.

6. Obstruction of Defendants’ Rights: Interference from individuals who are not officials of the Judiciary is a challenge hindering many defendants. Families of prisoners receive threats from people calling themselves “interrogator,” “expert,” and “prosecution representative,” who heckle and dissuade them from inquiring into their loved ones’ cases. Even lawyers are a target. Families are insulted and barred from entering the courtroom.

When a lawyer is not allowed in the courtroom, how is he to protect the defendant’s interests? The defendants have no opportunity to defend themselves, their lawyers are strong-armed from doing their jobs, and the lawyers already blocked from case inquiries receive threats of their own.

So how is a prisoner convicted?

Nobody sees or recognizes the supervisor judges. The supervisor judge visits the prison twice, during which he spends a total of only four hours. Families of prisoners who have been lining up along the prison wall to meet the judge since 3 a.m. bring to mind lines of families waiting on their allotment of bread and gas. Despite the long wait, 90% will not obtain an audience with the supervisor judge.

The director general of Sistan & Baluchestan prisons visits penitentiaries perhaps once a year, during which most prisoners do not even recognize him. These problems are not specific to Zahedan prison: they are mirrored in Birjan, Esfahan, Yazd, Mashhad, Kerman, Ahwaz, etc.

7. Courts: The problems cited above have their root in the courts. Each passing mention of our courts is tinged with despair and disappointment. They beget a panoply of problems, from excessively long temporary detentions and the growing list of legal limbo hostages to the harsh sentences doled out to defendants.

Other points of note are the slow pace of the legal process in which an appeal can last more than five years; the gaps in subsequent appeals which can be as long as three years; and authorities’ disregard of the torturous conditions under which confessions and comments are extracted from defendants.

For those who conduct trials, defense lawyers are an afterthought, especially for political and security-related cases. Guilty and innocent are sent to the gallows. Then they will publish false and misleading statistics, portraying themselves as watchdogs of human rights.

8. Furlough and Open-Sentence Hurdles: The prisoners who are eligible for furlough have to endure a long, laborious process, investing time and money to obtain the right to an open sentence [in which they can leave prison at designated intervals while continuing their sentence]. Their situation is deplorable. We outlined some of their problems in an earlier letter, but the fact is that these prisoners are a source of income for authorities.

These prisoners, especially those from impoverished and neglected areas such as Kurdistan or Sistan and Baluchestan, perform all sorts of drudgeries for authorities. There are more than a thousand of them indentured to these circumstances for anywhere between five and 20 years. They are not eligible for privileges like clemency or conditional release. Their remuneration is trivial, although they work full-time and have to return to prison by 6 PM. Imagine a prisoner who works in the village but is incarcerated in the city: the commute costs 20,000 tomans (approximately $1.10 USD) each way, but is paid at 200 to 300,000 tomans (approximately 15 dollars USD). Their salary will barely cover 10 days of roundtrip commuting, let alone other expenses. You may refer to our previous letters on the matter.

The points discussed in this letter are real violations of prisoner rights. Prisoners have no way of voicing their grievances to top-ranking authorities and have no hope that their concerns will be paid any mind.

We ask the United Nations and international associations to help lift our voice–which echoes the voice of all prisoners across Iran–to Mr. Rouhani [Iranian president], Zarif [Foreign Affairs minister], and all Iranian authorities who are so occupied with the current conflicts of the world, the middle east tensions, the oil, the nuclear proliferation, the sanctions and the pressure tactics.

Please ask this of Messrs. Rouhani and Zarif: “You speak of human rights and proclaim to be defenders of human rights. You claim that Iran doesn’t have any human rights problems. Do you not consider these afflicted prisoners as human beings? What rights do you envision for them? Why don’t you send an independent investigator to the prisons, to speak directly to prisoners and corroborate our written claims?”

Political Prisoners of Zahedan, on behalf of all Iranian prisoners
Nour al-Din Kashani, Abdul Rashid Kuhi, Mohammad Saleh Shabadzadeh, Abdol Wahid Hut, Abed Bampouri, Ishaq Kolkli, Abdolkhaleq J Affadar Shahussei, Bashir Ahmad Hossein Zahi, Zubir Hoot, Ata Allah Hoot, Abdol Amir Kayazi, Abdolsam Hoot, Abu Bakr Rostami, Sajjad Baluch, Hamzeh Chakri.
September 26th, 2018

Open Letter: the Lesson of Imprisoned Teachers

Posted on: September 29th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – The September 23rd kickoff to this new Iranian school year underlines the absence of a number of Iranian teachers from the classroom, who instead of welcoming a new cohort of students are waiting for their judicial reckoning in prison.

Teachers across the country are serving long sentences or getting lashings for their political and union activism, case developments of which were previously reported by HRANA.

In an open letter titled “The Sound of Freedom,” political prisoner Majid Asadi of Ward 10 in Rajai Shahr Prison, located in Karaj, a northwest suburb of Tehran, pays tribute to these educators, taking from their plight a lesson for the country at large.

The full text of Asadi’s letter is below, translated into English by HRANA:

The Sound of Freedom

The bell rings on September 23rd, announcing the first day of classes. It resonates over empty classroom benches. Sara and Fatemeh are selling flowers at the crossroads. A week ago, they saw Ali and Kamran selling fortunes at the park. The class is quiet. No word from the teacher. The teacher is absent.

“Where is Narges?” somebody asks.

“Her father is in prison, so she won’t come to school this year,” a friend responds.

What proper class can go on without its teacher and students?

“Kids belong in the classroom; nothing should stop them from attending school,” the teacher used to say. When those kids couldn’t afford books and supplies: “They didn’t decide to stop coming one day. No, they didn’t choose poverty and misfortune.” That’s what the teachers would say, back then.

The bell rings on September 24th, the second day of classes. The bell summons kids to a class with no teacher. He has not yet returned. He never will. He won’t be teaching a single class period, because this year, the school bell rings in prison. The teacher transforms his cell into a classroom. He did not want the classroom benches to be empty. He will despair when he learns that Narges, Sara, and Fatemeh aren’t coming to school this year. He will be tormented when he understands that Ali and Kamran can no longer attend.

He will be upset to hear that his colleague nods off in his classes each day, because he stays up late working as the night janitor. Talk of his imprisoned fellow teachers upsets him even further.

“With the teacher in prison and the students wandering the streets, what of learning, of lessons, of school?”

The teachers and students ask these questions of each other.

A third bell rings. The sound of freedom: its reverberations bring the classroom to a frenzy.

Why is the teacher in prison? Why aren’t the students at school? Who put the teacher in jail? Could it be that they imprisoned the teacher so that the students wouldn’t come to school?

If that’s the case, maybe they should imprison the students too; or convert the school into a prison so that the students are not left without a teacher, and so they won’t have to fret over the cost of school supplies.

Neither the teacher nor the student chose poverty; neither the teacher nor the student chose prison.

The hand that wants to erect a prison in the place of a school — the one ready to exchange education and happiness for poverty — must be cut. And the teacher who set out to do so never returned. In that moment, he gave us a lesson.

The teacher told the students, “We shouldn’t have to live in fear all the time. Once we set about our mission, our fear will leave us.”

And so the teacher set about his mission — so that his fear would leave him, he left to put an end to poverty and prison, to set the school free. The homework for all classes this year is freedom.

This is the lesson the teacher has taught.

Majid Asadi
Gohardasht [Rajai Shahr] Prison
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

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.”