Religion Presumed Muslim
Civil status —
Education university diploma
Affiliation revolutionary leftist
Date of execution July 24, 1980
Location Tehran, Iran
Mode of execution shooting
Charges Membership of anti-regime guerilla group; Murder
About this Case
The execution of Mr. Mohammad Taqi Shahram and 19 others was reported in the Jomhuri Eslami daily (July 24, 1980). The Jomhuri Eslami and Kayhan dailies published several reports concerning Mr. Shahram’s arrest and trial throughout the month of July. These reports present Mr. Shahram as a key leader in the People’s Mojahedin Organization who had played a significant role in shifting the Organization’s ideological orientation from Islamist to Marxist during the years 1973 to 1975.
Additional information was sent to Omid via an electronic form, according to which Mr. Shahram held a masters degree in Mathematics from Tehran University.
Arrest and detention
The Jomhuri Eslami daily quoted a communiqué of the Central Revolutionary Committee in which Mr. Shahram was reported to have been arrested on a Tehran street on the night of July 3, 1980. Following the arrest by the Central Revolutionary Committee guards stationed at the Police Station # 8, the defendant was transferred to the headquarters of the Central Revolutionary Committee and immediately from there to the Qasr Prison.
Mr. Shahram’s trial started in the evening of Monday, July 14, at the Special Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal in Tehran. Based on the Jomhuri Eslami report (July 15, 1980), media reporters, some of the families of the alleged victims, and the defendant’s family were present at the trial. A July 14 communiqué by the public relations office of the Chief Revolutionary Prosecutor of the Center (Tehran) encouraged the members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization to attend the trial “as spectators, plaintiffs, or witnesses.” However, the members of the named organization announced that they were prevented from attending the trial by the Revolutionary Tribunal and the management of the Evin Prison. The presiding judge refuted the claim of the Organization members.
Mr. Shahram originally refused to attend his trial. He questioned the legitimacy of the trial and told the reporters that he demanded to be tried at an ordinary court as opposed to the Special Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal. The latter, he contended, was supposed to examine the cases of those who had cooperated with the former regime or been active against the Islamic Revolution and was, therefore, lacked competence with regards to his case. The presiding religious judge addressed the issue and explained that “since the defendant’s crime has not been without ideological, political, and social motivations, it is not possible to try him at a court for ordinary crimes.” He added:
“The defendant is an Anti-Revolutionary. Not for his membership in Peykar and other Third Party organizations [referring to the Marxist groups that branched out of the original People’s Mojahedin Organization], of course, and not for issuing declarations such as the one in 1975 regarding the ideological shift of the People’s Mojahedin Organization in which opposition to Islam and to the Islamic movement is apparent. Not even because of his apostasy, although all of these could sufficiently prove his anti-revolutionary nature. This trial is held not to examine these issues, however. The defendant is an Anti-Revolutionary because he has ordered the murder of those who had combated the Arrogant Pahlavi regime in the path of Islam. The defendant and many of his likeminded leftist and deviant comrades are attempting to reduce the notion of the Anti-Revolutionary to those who have directly cooperated with the previous regimes, whereas in the eyes of the Revolutionary Prosecution all those who have gone against the Islamic nature of the Revolution directly or indirectly are considered Anti-Revolutionary, even if they have fought against the former regime.”
After meeting with the media reporters during the recess and receiving a written warning from the presiding judge stating that the trial would be held in absentia, Mr. Shahram attended the second half of the trial. Once the indictment was read, he expressed his objection to the nature of the trial again. In response, the presiding judge said that the trial was approved by the people and, therefore, no further justification was needed for its legitimacy. Calling it “forced”, the defendant left the Tribunal in objection and did not attend the rest of the trial.
The second session of the trial, in which neither the defendant nor his family were present, was held three days later, on July 16. Based on the Jomhuri Eslami report (July 17, 1980), before the prosecution began a letter, previously submitted to the presiding judge by the defendant’s sister, was read. In this letter, the defendant’s family had stated, as their reason for not attending the trial, the fact that it was not neutral and, therefore, not legal. The presiding judge, who was a Hezb e Jomhuri Eslami (Islamic Republic Party) candidate for the upcoming parliamentary elections at the time, refuted their statement on the basis that it was impossible to have an impartial judge after the Revolution: “The Revolutionary Tribunal is by nature on the side of the Islamic Revolution, and you cannot find a single religious judge who will not side with the Islamic Revolution. Imagine if you could find an impartial person with regards to the trials of Nasiri and Hoveida [former regime's prime ministers who were executed by the revolutionary authorities], someone who would not side with the Islamic Revolution against former regime officials. Such a person cannot be found in the Islamic Republic.”
The tribunal started deliberation on July 21. Based on the Jomhuri Eslami report (July 22, 1980), the presiding religious judge announced at the beginning of this session that he had started his terms as a parliamentarian and a member of the Guardian Council the day before. He added that he was, therefore, unable to combine functions and would stop his work as a judge.
The defendant’s charges were divided into two parts according to the indictment read by the representative of the Chief Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor (Jomhuri Eslami, July 15, 1980),:
“1) Fundamental responsibility in changing the nature and ideology of the People’s Mojahedin Organization from religious to Marxist (1971-1975)”
“2) Involvement in ordering the murder of Majid Sharifvaqefi, Morteza Samadieh Labbaf, Mohammad Yaqini, Ali Mirza Ja’farollah, Javad Sa’idi, Fatemeh Fartukzadeh, and Farhad Fathi. Based on what we know, the mentioned individuals had refused to follow the un-Islamic positions of the Organization’s leadership and had taken it upon themselves to create secret networking with other Muslim members and reveal the new nature of the Organization to unaware members and sympathizers.”
The representative of the Prosecutor further emphasized: “Considered independently of ideological, political, and social motives, the crime is simply committing several murders, and for that there are personal plaintiffs who insistently demand an investigation. Whereas if we examine the charge within the scope of its ideological, political, and social dimensions, we will be dealing with the fact that this was an order just for murder but for the murder of a number of Muslim brothers who were against the Arrogant regime of the former Shah.”
Evidence of guilt
Based on the Jomhuri Eslami report (July 15, 1980), the evidences presented against the defendant in the indictment were as follows:
“A) In the 1975 declaration regarding the ideological shift in the People’s Mojahedin Organization, it has been confessed that nearly 50% of the Organization’s membership, at the time living underground, were purged and thus exposed to the former regime police and political police [SAVAK] forces who subjected them to attacks.”
“B) On pages 77, 78, and 79 of the defendant’s file, covering the communiqué of the Marxist-Leninist faction of the People’s Mojahedin Organization regarding the pseudo-leftist opportunists, the leadership of the Organization is held responsible for the suppression and execution of the opposing members.”
“C) Confessions of Morteza Samadieh Labbaf on pages 59 and 60 of the file” [This individual was arrested, tried, and executed in 1975 by the former regime, following a clash allegedly with Taqi Shahram or his supporters that resulted in his (Labbaf's) injury.]
“D) Confessions of Vahid Afrakhteh on page 199, Mohsen Khamushi on page 240, and Manizheh Ashrafzadeh Kermani on page 249 of the file” [There is no information available in the reports about the content of these confessions.]
None of the attorneys of the defendant’s choice were approved by the tribunal. Based on the Jomhuri Eslami report (July 15, 1980), one of the two attorneys refused to take a test to prove his proficiency in Islamic jurisprudence to the tribunal; he considered his regular law degree and license enough for the job. Regarding the second attorney, the representative of the Prosecutor said: “Once tested, it became clear that he was not versed in terms of the Islamic Penal Code and, therefore, he was not approved by the Prosecutor.” (Jomhuri Eslami, 22 July 1980) Nevertheless, in a letter read at the Tribunal, this attorney referred to documents that could affect the decision of the tribunal if added to the file. Included in these documents was a letter by one of the alleged victims in which he had considered himself guilty and demanded punishment. The Prosecutor disapproved these documents on the basis that they were presented to the tribunal after the deadline.
The defendant refused to defend himself, stating that in his opinion the tribunal was held not to try an individual for his crimes but to criminalize a political organization: “This is a political conflict amongst the different revolutionary forces of a society and, as such, it needs to be discussed within the society at large. The interlocutor should be not a member of the organization but a group consisting, at least, of several of its key officials.” The defendant added that the charges referred back to “certain internal matters of the Organization that I am not permitted to discuss.” Based on the Jomhuri Eslami report (July 15, 1980), the defendant explained his main role in the mentioned organization to be conceptualizing and drafting declarations and manifestos.
In addition, a letter was submitted by the family of one of the alleged victims in which they had emphasized that they held no complaints against the defendant.
Since those allegedly murdered were announced Muslim and against the former regime, Mr. Shahram was found guilty on the charge of “uprising against Muslim combatants.” The Special Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal concluded that no ideological or political motivation could justify ordering a murder, unless the defendant could prove that those murdered had served the former regime. “Only in that case,” continued the Tribunal “would we not examine the case, just as we did not pursue the case of the murder of the American officers in 1974 and 1975.” Mr. Shahram was sentenced to death, and the sentence was carried out at 1:30 a.m.
Human rights violations in this case
The legal context
Read about the courts, the judges, and the procedure.
Special courts, known as the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunals, were set up after the February 1979 revolution. Their jurisdiction encompasses a wide array of offences ranging from association with or support of the former regime, promotion of foreign influence, and enmity with the revolution to possession, use or sales of narcotic drugs, murder, and profiteering. In the 1980s, a penal court, presided over by one judge, was created to handle some of the offenses punishable by death, such as theft or adultery. These tribunals’ decisions must be confirmed by a chamber of the Supreme Judicial Council.
Prosecutors and judges are not necessarily jurists. By 1981, the judiciary was purged of judges trained in law schools. They were replaced by seminary graduates and students, as well as by political appointees (an estimated 2000 by 1989). Since by law judges are only required to have a high school diploma and must be faithful to the Islamic Republic’s tenets, new recruits often have little formal training in the law and are chosen because of their political affiliation.
The procedures of these ecclesiastical tribunals fail to meet the minimum guarantees for fair trial as established by international human rights instruments and by sha’ria (the Islamic system of law). In addition to executions ordered by revolutionary tribunals, extra-judicial executions are carried out, targeting dissidents and opposition leaders. In some cases, both inside and outside of Iran, these executions have been traced back to Iranian officials. It is, however, not known if in these particular cases trials are held in absentia.
Sources (Among others): Amnesty International, Law and Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, February 1980; Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, The Justice System of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1992; E/CN.4/1989/26 p.14; UNCHR, Resolution 1984/54 , Abolition of Torture - Iran - 1; 28 November 1984; Report on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran by the Special Representative of the Commission, Mr. Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, 28 January 1987. Amnesty International, A SHOCKED WORLD WATCHES IN DISBELIEF, VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS, 1987-1990. Memoirs of Ayatollah Khalkhali, religious judge and former head of revolutionary tribunals (2001), and Ayatollah Montazeri, dismissed successor to Ayatollah Khomeini (2001). UNCH, E/CN.4/1994/50, Final report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran prepared by the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, pursuant to Commission resolution 1993/62 of 10 March 1993 and Economic and Social Council decision 1993/273. E/CN.4/1994/50, 2 February 1994.
Detentions, interrogations, and trials: 1979-1980
Read about the conditions in which individuals were detained, tried and sentenced.
The charges upon which the accused were arraigned were often extremely broad. Defendants generally had no access to legal counsel nor to their file and the evidence against them prior to the trial.
Witnesses might be called, or the statement of persons with relevant information read into the court’s record. Accusation witnesses could come forward the day of the trial to give evidence against the accused, but in most cases, defense witnesses were not allowed in court. There was no automatic right of a defendant to cross-examine witnesses or to know the source of the evidence against him. The defendant had an opportunity to state his side of the matter and attempt to refute what was said against him, but the final decision was solely up to the discretion of the religious judge.
The judgments of the Revolutionary Courts were not subject to appeal. The convicts were generally executed within a few hours of the judgment.
Based on the available information, the following human rights have been violated in this case:
The right to liberty and security of the person. The right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 9.1.
The right to due process
The right to be presumed innocent until found guilty by a competent and impartial tribunal in accordance with law.
ICCPR, Article 14.1 and Article 14.2.
Pre-trial detention rights
The right to know promptly and in detail the nature and cause of the charges against one.
UDHR, Article 9(2); ICCPR, Article 9.2 and Article 14.3.a
The right to counsel of one’s own choosing or the right to legal aid. The right to communicate with one’s attorney in confidence
ICCPR, Article 14.3.b and Article 14.3.d; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 1, Article 2, Article 5, Article 6, and Article 8.
The right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense case.
ICCPR, Article 14.3.b.
The right not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess to guilt.
ICCPR, Article 14.3.g.
The right not to be subjected to torture and to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.
The right to a fair and public trial without undue delay.
ICCPR, Article 14.1, Article 14.3.c.
The right to defense through an attorney or legal aid. The right to examine, or have examined, the witnesses against one, and the right to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on one’s behalf under the same conditions as prosecution witnesses.
ICCPR, Article 14.3.d and Article 14.3.e.
The right to have the decision rendered in public.
ICCPR, Article 14.1.
The right not to be tried or punished again for an offence for which one has already been convicted or acquitted.
ICCPR, Article 14.7.
The inherent right to life, of which no one shall be arbitrarily deprived.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6.1; Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, Article 1.1, Article 1.2.
The right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.