Civil status Married
Education university diploma
Affiliation armed group, Islamic revolutionary
Affiliation state owned institution
Date of execution October 17, 1982
Location Bandar-e Abbas, Iran
Mode of execution shooting
Charges Armed rebellion against the Islamic Republic; Living in safe houses; Possession of arms; War on God, God's Prophet and the deputy of the Twelfth Imam
Information regarding Ms. Fattaneh Zarei’s case is drawn from her father, Mr. Aziz Zarei’s Memoir (Memoir) and an electronic from (E-form), which was sent to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF) by a person close to Ms. Zarei on 11 September 2010.
Ms. Fattaneh Zarei was born in Gachsaran. She studied accounting and worked as an accountant at the National Oil Company (ABF E-form). According to her father, she was a very studious and smart student. She was always smiling and was popular among people at her own age. She was a Mojahedin Khalq Organization’s (MKO) sympathizer. She used to lead MKO’s activities like distributing leaflets, writing slogans on the walls, etc in Gachsaran (Memoir, Pages 4 and 37).
The Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) was founded in 1965. This organization adapted the principles of Islam as its ideological guideline. However, its members’ interpretation of Islam was revolutionary and they believed in armed struggle against the Shah’s regime. They valued Marxism as a progressive method for economic and social analysis but considered Islam as their source of inspiration, culture, and ideology. In the 1970s, the MKO was weakened when many of its members were imprisoned and executed. In 1975, following a deep ideological crisis, the organization refuted Islam as its ideology and, after a few of its members were killed and other Muslim members purged, the organization proclaimed Marxism as its ideology. This move led to split of the Marxist-Leninist Section of the MKO in 1977. In January 1979, the imprisoned Muslim leaders of the MKO were released along with other political prisoners. They began to re-organize the MKO and recruit new members based on Islamic ideology. After the 1979 Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the MKO accepted the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini and supported the Revolution. Active participation in the political scene and infiltration of governmental institutions were foremost on the organization’s agenda. During the first two years after the Revolution, the MKO succeeded in recruiting numerous sympathizers, especially in high schools and universities; but its efforts to gain political power, either by appointment or election, were strongly opposed by the Islamic Republic leaders.
The exclusion of MKO members from government offices and the closure of their centers and publishing houses, in conjunction with to the Islamic Republic authorities’ different interpretation of Islam, widened the gap between the two. Authorities of the new regime referred to the Mojahedin as “Hypocrites” and the Hezbollahi supporters of the regime attacked the Mojahedin sympathizers regularly during demonstrations and while distributing publications, leading to the death of several MKO supporters. On 20 June 1981, the MKO called for a demonstration protesting their treatment by governmental officials and the government officials’ efforts to impeach their ally, President Abolhassan Banisadr. Despite the fact that the regime called this demonstration illegal, thousands came to the streets, some of whom confronted the Revolutionary Guardsmen and Hezbollahis. The number of casualties that resulted from this demonstration is unknown but a large number of demonstrators were arrested and executed in the following days and weeks. The day after the demonstration, the Islamic Republic regime started a repressive campaign – unprecedented in modern Iranian history. Thousands of MKO members and sympathizers were arrested or executed. On 21 June 1981, the MKO announced an armed struggle against the Islamic Republic and assassinated a number of high-ranking officials and supporters of the Islamic regime (1).
Ms. Zarei declared her candidacy in the first election for the first term of the parliament in March 1981 as the MKO candidate in Gachsaran. She earned numerous votes (Memoir, page 4).
Ms. Zarei was first being watched because of her husband’s activities and his subsequent escape. Ms. Zarei was wanted since the spring of 1982. A group of the Revolutionary Guards came to arrest her at her office but she successfully escaped to Bandar Abbas and joined her husband there (Memoir, page 8).
After Ms. Zarei’s escape, the Revolutionary Guards confiscated all her belongings including her furniture. Afterwards, her 13-year-old brother–in-law was arrested on his way home from his school. He was interrogated about Ms. Zarei’s and her husband’s whereabouts. He was killed under torture (Memoir, page 9 and 10).
Arrest and Detention
Ms. Zarei was arrested on 26 March 1982 on a bus from Bandar Abbas to Mashhad around 6 p.m. She was pregnant at the time of her arrest. The Revolutionary Guards raided the house which she was sharing with her husband and two others. Her husband was killed. Ms. Zarei and another lady escaped. They tried to go to Shiraz on a bus but they were arrested at a road police station (Memoir, page 34, ABF E-From). Immediately after her arrest, Ms. Zarei tried to commit suicide by taking a cyanide pill but the Revolutionary Guards found out in time, took her to a hospital in Shiraz and prevented her death (ABF E-form). Afterwards, two trucks of the Revolutionary Guards took all of their belongings from their house in Bandar Abbas. They forced Ms. Zarei to go to her family in Shiraz and to give them the “good news”. But she did not have the heart to do so. She was transferred to Adel Abad Prison in Shiraz and then to the Revolutionary Guards’ Headquarter in Bandar Abbas (Memoir, Pages 17 and 18).
Ms. Zarei was kept in detention for 8 months and 19 days during which she was subjected to torture, cruel, degrading and inhumane acts. She told her father on 4 April 1982 that she received 30 lashes on the first day of her arrest as Ta’zir even though she was pregnant (Ta’zir is a form of Islamic punishment which is completely under the religious judges’ discretion). Her interrogator also told her father that these lashes were Ta’zir, so they were necessary under religion. Thus they could not decrease or pardon it (Memoir, pages 21 and 22). (2)
One of Ms. Zarei’s cellmates told her family: “In the prison, I was with Fattaneh all the time. Three interrogators used to interrogate her 24 hour a day for four month. Sometimes they kept her until after midnight. Other times they took her at around 1 a.m. for interrogation…” She also told the Zarei’s that the constant pressures on her created some problems in her pregnancy and led to her hospitalization several times (Memoir, page 34).
In late July or early August 1982, Ms. Zarei was transferred to a prison in Gachsaran (Memoir, page 22 and ABF E-from). Her cell was a plate container which was kept in sunlight, therefore the temperature within it could reach 52 centigrade. According to her father: “when she came out of the cell, she was so wet of sweat as if she had been in a pool.” (Memoirs, page 23, ABF E-form)
Before returning to Bandar Abbas, the Revolutionary Guards drove her around in a convertible yelling through a loud speaker that Fattaneh Zarei, who managed to escape from Revolutionary Guards, had been arrested. A group of people were following the car, chanting slogans and asking for her execution (Memoir, page 25).
Ms. Zarei was under intense pressure to repent, however, she did not accept to do so. According to Ms. Zarei, she was subject to show executions at least three times. She told her father about this: “They have taken me for show execution three times already, even though I am pregnant. I endured two show executions but I fainted the third time. Unfortunately, I am still alive. I am not worried about being executed; I am only concerned about my baby...” (ABF E-form, Memoir, page 26).
Ms. Zarei’s trial was held in Bandar Abbas, but there are no further details about this trial. She already knew her verdict on 4 April and because she was arrested around 26 March, her trial was summarily held and she did not have any right to appeal. It can be interpreted from Ms. Zarei’s conversation with her father and it is also confirmed in the ABF E-form that Ms. Zarei could not enjoy her rights to an effective defense which included access to the legal assistance of an attorney (Memoir, ABF E-form).
Ms. Zarei’s charges were: living in a safe house, possessing fire arm, having false identification documents and potassium cyanide and armed struggle (ABF E-form).
According to Ms. Zarei’s cellmate, her interrogators used to ask her how she could possibly have votes without illegitimate foreign support (Memoir, page 33).
Evidence of Guilt
Ms. Zarei’s interrogator told her father that they discovered fire arms at her place including one colt, one M-1 rifle, and some bullets (Memoir, page 21).
There is no information regarding Ms. Zarei’s defense. According to her cellmate, she denied getting help from foreigners to succeed in the parliament election. She reiterated that she was popular among people and dedicated her life to the revolution which was the reason she got votes (Memoirs, page 33).
Ms. Zarei was condemned to death for “waging war on God” and “corruption of youth” (ABF E-form). There is no information regarding this verdict, its date, or other details. Ms. Zarei informed her family on 5 April 1982 that she was told that her verdict was plainly obvious and she was on death row, but her execution date was not clear because from the viewpoint of religion–a pregnant woman cannot be executed until she delivers and breastfeed the baby for two years (Memoirs, page 21 and 22).
Ms. Zarei was executed at 10 p.m. on 17 October 1982 by the repenters and the Revolutionary Guards (ABF E-form). The family was not informed about the execution. Ms. Zarei called her family at 10 p.m. on 15 October 1982 but she did not mention anything about her execution. She told her sister to bring clothes and dippers because she was about to deliver. Ms. Zarei’s sister asked her if they were going to execute her but she answered negatively. The family went to visit her out of worrisome but they did not find Ms. Zarei’s name in any list in different prison in Bandar Abbas. Finally, on 18 October, they received Ms. Zarei’s belongings such as her sack, hand watch and wedding ring in Shahrak Prison, 20 kilometers away from Bandar Abbas. Despite this, the prison officials refused to give more details or an explanation (ABF E-form, Memoir, pages 27 and 28).
At the same day, the family retrieved the body from the Revolutionary Tribunal of Bandar Abbas. There was no death certificate whatsoever for Ms. Zarei. The ambulance driver who was transporting the cadaver told Ms. Zarei’s family that he witnessed her execution accidentally. He said: “It was 10 p.m. and a large group of women prisoners were in the prison yard along with the guards. They were saying loudly that God was great and Khomeini was the leader. A few guards and I were looking on from the duty guard’s office. We were surprised at what was going on in those hours of the night. Quite a few of the prisoners had made a circle and a few armed Revolutionary Guards were walking around them. Then a woman stepped out of the circle. First, she laid down a large piece of plastic and started praying. Then, she recited some verses of Quran. After this, she laid down on the plastic. A woman who was standing out of the circle started yelling “Death to Monafeq!” (a degrading name for MKO sympathizers). She went and stood where the woman’s head was. Suddenly, there was a gunshot. Of course we were moved by the sound of the gunshot, but we did not think that anything bad had happened… We had never seen an execution like that. After we heard “God was great and Khomeini is the leader,” they called me. I went forward and a few Revolutionary Guards grabbed the plastic by the sides and put her into the car. Along with those two Revolutionary Guards, we took her to the freezer. “You were lucky that you arrived in time because the Revolutionary Guards were going to bury her in the afternoon. The morgue’s freezer motor broke earlier today” (Memoirs, page 31).
The family does not know what happened to Ms. Zarei’s child. Her cellmate told her family that they said there had been a gas leak in the prison cell, and she lost her baby. This person did not witness the incident herself. Also, the family was not allowed to see the body as it will follow. So probably, Ms. Zarei was 8 months’ pregnant when she was executed (ABF E-form).
The Zareis buried their daughter’s body in Al-Rahmeh Cemetery in Bandar Abbas at 5 p.m. on 18 October 1982. The officials at the cemetery did not allow them to see the body or mourn. They washed the body themselves and wrapped it up in a shroud (Memoirs, page 33).
As it was mentioned before, the Zareis were not given any death certificate. The family tried to get it in 1982-1983 but they were not given one. Finally in 2009-2010 after numerous efforts, the court in Bandar Abbas issued a death certificate for her which mentioned that the cause of death was a hemorrhage.
In recent years, the part of the cemetery in which Ms. Zarei is buried–and for many executees at the beginning of the Islamic Revolution–is being destroyed and made into a road. The Zareis tried to repatriate Ms. Zarei’s body or at least her grave stone in January 2010 but they were not allowed to do neither. Ms. Zarei’s grave will be hidden under pavement or the lawn near the road (ABF E-form).
(1) In the summer of 1981, the leader of the MKO and the impeached President (Banisadr) fled Iran to reside in France, where they founded the National Council of Resistance. After the MKO leaders and many of its members were expelled from France, they went to Iraq and founded the National Liberation Army of Iran in 1987, which entered Iranian territory a few times during the Iran-Iraq war. They were defeated in July 1988 during their last operation, the
Forugh Javidan Operation. A few days after this operation, thousands of imprisoned Mojahedin supporters were killed during the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988. Ever since the summer of 1981, the MKO has continued its activities outside of Iran. No information is available regarding members and activities of the MKO inside the country.
(2) According to Islamic Shari’ah, a pregnant woman cannot be flogged.
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: 1981-1988
Read about the conditions in which individuals were detained, tried and sentenced.
The accused were held, sometimes without being charged, for months or years in overcrowded prisons. During their detention, prisoners of conscience, and in particular supporters of political opposition groups or members of religious or ethnic minorities, were routinely subject to physical and psychological torture. Interrogators used torture, authorized by the post-revolutionary law of Ta’zir (Discretionary Punishment Law), to obtain confessions of guilt or to induce repentance. The line between trial and interrogation was often blurred by the fact that the same individual would function as prosecutor, interrogator and judge.
Executed detainees may or may not have been tried formally. Prisoners of conscience were often tried through a summary process that might have lasted only a few minutes. When disclosed, charges facing the defendants were often vague or based on coerced confessions. Defendants had no access to attorneys, and they might not have been allowed to defend themselves.
Convicts could not appeal their sentence and were often executed shortly after their conviction. Their execution was not necessarily announced.
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 freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to change and manifest one’s religion or belief.
UDHR, Article 18; ICCPR, Article 18.1, ICCPR, Article 18.2; Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Article 1 and Article 6.
In its general comment 22 (48) of 20 July 1993, the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee observed that the freedom to "have or to adopt" a religion or belief necessarily entailed the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one’s current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views, as well as the right to retain one’s religion or belief. Article 18, paragraph 2, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert.
The right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.
UDHR, Article 19; ICCPR, Article 19.1 and ICCPR, Article 19.2.
The right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of one’s interests.
UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 22.1.
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 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.