What Happened to Ehsan Fattahian?
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
15 Nov 2009 14:41
Fattahian had been arrested on July 20, 2008, in Kamyaran in Kurdistan and charged with "working with armed opposition groups." He was put on trial by the Revolutionary Court in Sanandaj. Like most political trials in Iran, the entire proceedings were behind closed doors and without an independent jury, in direct violation of Article 168 of Iran's Constitution. He was also denied an attorney, another violation of law. Fattahian rejected all charges against him. His family also stated that he had done nothing illegal.
The Revolutionary Court sentenced Fattahian to 10 years in prison, to be served in exile in Ramhormoz, a city in Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran. Both Fattahian and the prosecutor appealed the verdict. In January 2009, the Appeals Court overturned the initial verdict. But instead of reducing the sentence or ordering a new trial, the Appeals Court sentenced Fattahian to death on the charge of Moharebeh, or enmity against God.
The new sentence also represented a violation of Iran's laws. Article 285 of the law, which pertains to the Appeal Courts, states that a sentence can be increased by the Appeals Court only if the initial sentence given to the convicted is less than the minimum sentence for the offense. In Fattahian's case, the minimum sentence for the offense with which he had been charged was one year in jail, but he had been given a sentence of 10 years in exile. Therefore, in handing down a death sentence, the Appeal Court grossly violated the relevant law.
In addition, a death sentence can usually be appealed. But, in Fattahian's case, the death sentence was never subject to an appeal, in violation of both Iranian and international laws. Moreover, given that Fattahian was a political prisoner, giving him a death sentence for a purely political offense, even if all the charges against him were completely true, was highly unusual and inappropriate according to the basic human rights standards.
All appeals made to the Islamic Republic by international organizations, as well as his family, not to execute the young man, were ignored. As international pressure mounted, the government appeared to suspend the execution. But it now appears that that was only a tactic to lessen pressure.
Before he was executed, Fattahian and several other Kurdish political prisoners went on a hunger strike for several days. Fattahian never accepted the charges against him, even though there were reports that he had been tortured to confess. He was transferred to solitary confinement on November 10, and was not even allowed to see his family one last time before being executed, which is neither Islamic nor humane.
The circumstances surrounding Fattahian's execution are suspicious. Not only was his family not allowed to see him one last time before the execution, his body was never returned to his family, despite an official announcement to the contrary. He had been buried in a cemetery in Kermanshah, his hometown in western Iran, after which his family was informed of his burial site. His family was ordered to have a "quiet" memorial for him.
Human rights advocate Shirin Ebadi, a lawyer who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, winner, has called the circumstances of Fattahian's execution and burial unusual. In an interview with BBC Persian radio, Ebadi called the execution of Fattahian "rushed" and "unprecedented." She said she found it highly objectionable that his family was not allowed to meet with him before his execution. Ebadi said the haste to bury Fattahian was another reason for "further suspicion." It is very unusual that they [the government] want to execute someone in such a rush that they do not let his family meet him on his last night," she said. "This is a very unusual approach that raises more suspicion about the real cause of death."
Ebadi reiterated, "I do not want to prejudge... but because of the inappropriate treatment in Iran's prisons, and especially [the treatment of] political prisoners, which unfortunately has become the norm, it is only fair to doubt Ehsan's cause of death."
"I suggest to the family of the late Fattahian to have his body examined by a trusted medical doctor, to make sure that he did not pass away in jail under difficult conditions," Ebadi was quoted in an interview with Rooz, the online daily. "It is not very likely that this may have happened, but it is better not to reject it outright either."
As Ebadi said, the probability that Fattahian passed away in jail, before he was hanged is small, if that actually did happen, it would not be the first time that a political prisoner passed away in an Iranian jail under suspicious circumstances. Ali Akbar Saidi Sirjani, a well-known writer died in prison in November 1994. It is widely believed that he was murdered by the agents of Ministry of Intelligence. Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist, died in custody in Evin Prison in June 2003. Medical examination of her body indicated that she had died from a fractured skull, and had been beaten and possibly raped.
Akbar Mohammadi, a student activist, passed away in the Evin on July 30, 2006. He had been arrested for participating in the university student demonstrations of July 1999 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Dr. Zahra Bani Yaghoub, a 27-year-old physician, died in October 2007 while in custody in Hamedan, in western Iran. Ebrahim Lotfallahi died in a detention center in Sanandaj around January 15, 2008. His parents were informed on January 15 that their son had been buried in a local cemetery. Abdolreza Rajabi, a member of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization, passed away suddenly on October 30, 2008. It is not even clear where he died, because he had been transferred from Evin prison to Rajaei Shahr prison near Karaj before his death was officially announced.
Valiollah Faez Mahdavi died in prison after a hunger strike, but the official cause of his death was suicide. On March 6, 2009, Amir Hossein Heshmat Saran passed away in jail after 5 years in prison. He had been imprisoned for founding a political group, the United National Front. Omid-Reza Mir Sayafi, a blogger, passed away in Evin prison on March 18, 2009, about six weeks after starting a 30-month sentence.
Fattahian was not the only Kurdish activist on death row. Twelve others are on death row: Zeynab Jalalian, Habib Latifi, Shirkouh Moarefi, Ramezan Ahmad, Farha Chalesh, Rostam Arkia, Fazih Yasamini, Rashid Akhkandi, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Hossein Khazari, and Farzad Kamangar. Of these, Moarefi, 24, has apparently been transferred to solitary confinement, a move which usually precedes execution. He was arrested last year in Saghez in Kurdistan and was convicted and sentenced to death.
Amnesty International and Moarefi's parents have called on the government not to execute him. "The Iranian authorities must halt the imminent execution of Shirkouh Moarefi, a Kurdish man convicted of 'enmity against God' over his alleged membership of a proscribed Kurdish organization," Amnesty said in its statement. "We demand all international forums and human rights groups... to enter into negotiation with the Islamic Republic in connection to his execution." Amnesty International has listed Iran as the world's second most prolific executioner in 2008, only after China. By its estimate, Iran put to death at least 346 people last year.
Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau