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Executing Iranians: The Amnesty International Report; Khorasani Resists

by DAN GEIST

29 Mar 2011 09:58Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Iranian press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

Execution1Mehr11Mar.jpgExecution2Mehr11Mar.jpgExecution3Mehr11Mar.jpg10:00 a.m., 9 Farvardin/March 29 Amnesty International's new report on capital punishment around the world, Death Sentences and Executions in 2010, brings particular attention to bear on several countries: "A total of 31 countries abolished the death penalty in law or in practice during the last 10 years but China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the USA and Yemen remain amongst the most frequent executioners, some in direct contradiction of international human rights law."

According to official government figures, 252 people were put to death in Iran last year -- by far the highest acknowledged figure in the world, though there is evidence that China, which maintains secrecy about its execution practices, killed thousands of people in 2010. As for the true total in Iran, Amnesty International says that it has "received credible reports of more than 300 other executions which were not officially acknowledged, mostly in Vakilabad Prison, Mashhad."

The report observes that the Islamic Republic, "along with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates, ignored international prohibitions...and imposed death sentences on individuals that were below 18 years of age when the crimes were committed."

Stoning was not employed in any of the reported executions in Iran -- hanging was the universal method -- but as of the end of the year, at least ten women and four men were on death row under sentence of stoning.

Many of the executions in Iran were for drug-related offenses, though -- as in the case of Dutch Iranian Zahra Bahrami, who was arrested after participating in the 2009 post-election protests and hanged this January as a "drug smuggler" -- the validity of those drug-related charges is uncertain. In any event, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory, states, "In countries that have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes." The United Nations Human Rights Committee has explicitly identified "drug-related offenses" as among those crimes that fall outside the orbit of "most serious."

While the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has declared that the death penalty should be abolished for drug-related offenses as well as economic crimes, the application of capital punishment to drug crimes actually expanded in Iran last year, as described by Amnesty International: "In December 2010 the amended Anti-Narcotics law came into force...extending the scope of the death penalty to include additional categories of illegal drugs (for example, crystal meth), possession of which became punishable by death."

Amnesty International also identified the Islamic Republic as a signal example of a state where the death penalty is used "as a political tool to silence dissent." At least 17 members of the country's Kurdish minority were facing death sentences on political offenses at the turn of the year. After trials characterized as "unfair" by the organization, each of the 17 was convicted of moharebeh (warring against God) "for membership in banned Kurdish opposition groups, mainly the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (known by its Kurdish acronym PJAK), an armed group, and Komala, a Marxist organization." It appears that one, Hossein Khezri, was executed this January. Death sentences were also imposed and carried out against Iranians for membership -- actual or alleged -- in other opposition groups.

According to Amnesty International's overview of the criminal justice system in the Islamic Republic that yields those death sentences:

Detainees in Iran are often held for lengthy periods of time prior to trial, where they are at grave risk of being subjected to torture and other ill-treatment; political prisoners are often held incommunicado. Trials are generally unfair and detainees are systematically denied -- by law -- access to a lawyer until investigations have been completed, which can take many months. Proceedings, particularly those held outside the capital Tehran are often summary, lasting only a few minutes.

The organization also notes that attorneys who publicly challenged their client's capital sentences or executions often faced severe reprisals. At least two lawyers arrested for such actions in 2010 remained in detention at year's end, while a third was forced into exile. The family members of those killed by the state faced persecution, as well, in addition to the routine practices of being obliged to pay for the retrieval of their loved ones' corpses or being denied access to them entirely.

***

In an apparent effort at meme propagation, the semi-official Fars news agency ran a story on Monday headlined "Mideast Erhal Revolutions Growing to Europe." Erhal -- Arabic for "leave" -- was part of many chants and songs directed by the protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square against former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. According to the Fars report,

The wave of Erhal revolutions in the Middle-East and North Africa is now growing to the European continent, a prominent American analyst said, stressing that the popular uprisings in the Arab states serve as a role model for the European people who have just started protests against their corrupt leaders.

"Due to the financial corruption dominating most of the European governments and the pervasive bottlenecks and crises that have arisen in the western countries these days, it is predicted that the growing trend of such discontents will soon turn into a series of revolutions known as the Erhal Revolutions" in the Middle-East and North Africa, Dr. James Anderson said on Monday. [...]

Dr. Anderson also described the current protests and rallies in London as a prelude to Erhal revolutions in Europe, and said many European countries will soon be Erhalized and the world will soon witness that Erhalization has no boundaries.

While Fars describes Dr. Anderson as a "prominent American analyst," unfortunately it provides no hint as to his academic or institutional affiliations, if any. International cricket fans will not be surprised to learn that online research of his name turns up hundreds of thousands of references to the England fast bowler who shares it, but sadly no apparent candidates in the realm of American political science or international affairs for Fars's source with his impassioned devotion to the notion of Erhalization.

Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

KhorasaniFile.jpg
Grand Ayatollah Hossein Vahid Khorasani, the most important Shia Marja taghlid (source of emulation for the masses) living in Iran, rejected the request by members of the Society of Teachers of Seminaries of Qom (STSQ) to moderate his criticisms of the state of affairs in the country. As previously reported, the grand ayatollah has harshly criticized the fact that opposition members are jailed routinely with little or no justification and has described the main preoccupation of the regime's officials as their internal power struggles rather than the people's welfare. After he voiced his criticisms, his seminary students were sent text messages discouraging them from participating in his classes, which proved ineffective. The grand ayatollah's classes are very popular among young clerics, and after the text messages were sent, his next class was more crowded than ever.

Consequently, the STSQ, a right-wing organization that supports Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, dispatched Ayatollah Mohammad Momen, a member of both the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Discernment Council, to talk to Khorasani. Momen and his entourage pointed out to him that the target of most of his criticisms is Khamenei -- although Khorasani has never mentioned him by name -- and he should therefore reconsider his position. The grand ayatollah responded, "What I said was my thoughts, I thought about it and I believe in it, and there is no retreat. It has nothing to do with [creating] a political wave, but was to express the truth and demand people's rights." He continued, "I have much more fundamental things that I will talk about gradually in the future. My views may offend whomever you are thinking about."

In response to comments by Ayatollah Abbas Kabi, a member of the Guardian Council, Khorasani asks, "What is more important? Officials or Islam? Where is the founder of the Islamic Republic [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini]? How long will Mr. Khamenei and I be around? My warning is for what the officials are doing. Islam should not be hurt [by them], because we will all die someday, and it is the dear Islam that must survive and not be hurt." The grand ayatollah has also angered the hardliners by meeting with the families of political prisoners and expressing sympathy with them. He recently said that what the government and the political system has done in Islam's name has caused some people to convert to Christianity. In related news, Fatemeh Malaki, wife of journalist, documentary filmmaker, and Green Movement supporter Mohammad Nourizad, said on Monday that one reason her husband was returned to Evin Prison after being given a medical furlough was that he had met with Khorasani.

Majles deputy Mohammad Karami Rad, who supports the administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that the demonstrations in Syria were the result of a conspiracy by the Western powers. He also said that those demonstrations are different from those that have taken place in other Arab countries, such as Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen, because Syria is an enemy of Israel and has supported the Palestinian resistance movement. He also claimed that the demonstrations by the Green Movement on 25 Bahman/February 14 were linked with what is happening in Syria.

In an interview with CBS's Face the Nation, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked if the United States would intervene in Syria's unrest. She responded that it would not, because the factors that led to the NATO and U.S. intervention in Libya -- widespread international condemnation of Muammar Qaddafi, the Arab League's call for action, and two United Nations Security Council resolutions -- are "not going to happen" in the case of Syria. She added that both Democratic and Republican members of the U.S. Congress consider Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to be a "reformer." She also said, "What's been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning, but there's a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities [as in Libya, and] police actions which, frankly, have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see. Each of these situations is unique."

Hashmatollah Tabarzadi, secretary-general of the Democratic Front of Iran and a former university activist, has been sentenced to eight years in jail after an appeal of his original sentence -- nine years and 74 lashes. He has also been banned from any social/political activity for ten years, toward which his time in jail will be counted.

Blogger Ahmad Nour Mohammadi Abadchi has been arrested. He has been accused of having contact with political activists and calling on people to protest against the government. Meanwhile, Afshin Taheri, musician, singer, and Green Movement supporter, was released from detention after posting $200,000 bail. He was arrested on February 15.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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