Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Three Kurdish political prisoners now lay buried in an undisclosed location after being executed in secret on September 8th on murder charges never proven in Tehran criminal court, sparking outrage from their families, attorneys, and the human rights community at large.
Without notifying their lawyers or loved ones, prison authorities hanged to death Zanyar Moradi, Loghman Moradi, and Ramin Hossein Panahi, contravening [both Iranian and international law] by seizing and interring their bodies in a location yet unknown to their families, who were put on guard by the Ministry of Intelligence not to speak up about the incident. Hossein Panahi’s brother Amjad confirmed this to HRANA.
While initial reports by Iranian official sources indicated the executions took place in Rajai Shahr (Gohardasht) Prison in Karaj–the capital of Alborz province about 30 miles west of Tehran, where Hossein Panahi and the Moradis were last known to be held–the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office recently indicated in a statement that they were executed “in Tehran,” accusing the deceased men of violent crimes while withholding further details about their deaths or remains.
Hossein Panahi’s lawyer Hossein Ahmadiniaz stated that the execution of the three young men was not only abrupt– it was also unlawful on several counts.
“Based on an amendment to section 478 of Criminal Procedure Law, once a request for retrial has been submitted on behalf of defendants charged with offenses punishable by death, the execution of the sentence must be stayed. Moreover, once a request for clemency is registered with the Clemency & Forgiveness Commission, the execution must be immediately stayed.”
According to Ahmadiniaz, the transfer of the prisoners from Sanandaj [300 miles west of Tehran] to Karaj [on the western outskirts of Tehran], preventing Hossein Panahi’s legal team from conferencing with him, was enough in itself to establish authorities’ disregard of the law. Ahmadiniaz’s statements are backed by Saleh Nikbakht, the lawyer representing Zanyar and Loghman Moradi, who has published documents (pictured) demonstrating that the judiciary’s investigation into his client’s murder charges was far from complete.
Ahmadiniaz went on, “As Ramin’s Hossein Panahi’s legal team, we declare his innocence, and the unlawful and irreligious nature of the verdict and sentence against him […]. Panahi was subjected to an unfair procedure devoid of due process. He was the victim of a political trial. My heart goes out to Hossein Panahi’s family, and I offer them my condolences. I consider the execution of Ramin Hossein Panahi a firebrand of hatred and calamity, and condemn it in the strongest sense of the word.”
The families of Panahi and the Moradis had been abruptly called in for a visit with their imprisoned loved ones on September 7th, raising the specter of their imminent execution. That night, Nikbakht explains, he went to [Rajai Shahr Prison] where he stood guard from midnight to 6 a.m. alongside Loghman’s father, a number of other Moradi family members, and group of civil activists.
“The agents there first told us that [the prisoners] had been handed to Ministry of Intelligence authorities, and gave us no further information about their fate,” Ahmadiniaz related to HRANA. “We followed up on their indications by heading to the Alborz Intelligence Office, where we were told over an intercom that the Moradis were not there, and that we should go back to [Rajai Shahr]. Finally, a prison official emerged at around 4:30 a.m. to say that the prison isn’t the sentence executioner, and that they were unaware of the prisoners’ whereabouts as of their transfer to the Intelligence Ministry. With confidence, he told us that the execution had not taken place in that prison.”
Nikbakht also bemoaned misinformation being disseminated about his clients’ ordeal. “A news agency announced today [Saturday, September 8th] at 2:51 p.m. that these executions were carried out in the presence of the lawyers. This claim, at least in case of [the Moradis], is fundamentally false. I am their lawyer[…] and neither their families nor I had any knowledge of how or where the execution took place.”
An excerpt of Nikbakht’s defense statement, translated into English by HRANA, is below.
My clients had two cases–one on a charge of Moharebeh (enmity against God), for which a death sentence was handed down and confirmed [by the Supreme Court]. Their lawyer in this case was from Marivan [of Kurdistan Province in western Iran]. The second case involved the assassination of three Salafis in Marivan, which was being investigated in Branch 4 of Tehran Criminal Court. I took over the case in March 2013. In the first day of trial on July 23rd, 2014, I raised objections to the claim that my clients were responsible for the three murders in question. Some of my objections were as follows:
· Lack of a report detailing reconstruction of the crime scene
· Lack of evidence of their involvement in the murder
· Lack of a murder weapon
· Lack of efforts on the part of authorities to locate the murder weapon
In my clients’ case file, they were quoted as saying that they disposed of the murder weapon in Marivan lake. This section of the lake in question is 2 to 5 meters deep, a depth at which even a cursory search would have recovered the murder weapon. The only evidence against my clients was their confession. The defendants have protested the veracity of this confession. Specifically, after they were transferred from solitary confinement in Sanandaj and Evin prisons to Rajai Shahr’s [general ward], they wrote a detailed letter to the Head of the Judiciary explaining how their confessions had been extracted. There was no evidence to prove they had committed the murder. Branch 4 of Tehran Criminal Court (Previously Branch 74) sent the case to Branch 27 of Tehran Criminal Investigation, which, in turn, sent the case to Marivan Court, who were to complete the investigation. Following a few back and forths, I was told that neither new evidence nor the murder weapon had been found, and that they ultimately sent the case back to Tehran without addressing the flaws in the case.
There has been no new hearing since the discovery of flaws in the case during the first court session, and the charge of murdering three Salafis was never substantiated. On the day of the murder, Loghman, who was fingered as an accomplice, was working on a crane on a construction site in Sarvabad, 35 km [20 miles] from Marivan. He only returned to Marivan an hour and half after the murder occurred.
[…] What’s more, the right of the murder victims’ family supersedes that of God (and the state) in religious law. It was unlawful to execute them for “Moharebeh,” a crime against God [and state], before first addressing the death sentence for murder. The documents below are from the Judiciary’s electronic information center, and show the murder charges were still pending investigation and trial.”
Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, released a statement in response to the executions of Zanyar Moradi, Loghman Moradi, and Ramin Hossein Panahi. The full text of his statement is below.
“We are horrified by the news that the Iranian authorities have executed these men, despite widespread condemnation of their death sentences, and calls from UN human rights experts and other bodies to halt their executions.
The trials of all three men were grossly unfair. All were denied access to their lawyers and families after their arrest, and all said they were tortured into making “confessions”. In sentencing them to death despite these massive failings in due process, the Iranian authorities have once again demonstrated their brazen disregard for the right to life. We call on the international community to strongly condemn these executions and urge the Iranian authorities to respect their obligations under international law. The Iranian authorities must take steps to ensure that everyone has a fair trial, that torture and other ill-treatment are absolutely prohibited, and that the practice of forced ‘confessions’ is stopped once and for all. They must also immediately impose an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.”