Civil status Single
Education college education
Occupation university student
Date of execution July 2009
Location Tehran, Iran
Mode of execution death in custody
Charges Unknown charge
About this Case
Information about Mr. Mohsen Ruholamini’s death in detention was gathered from the following websites: HRANA (Human Rights Activists News Agency) on July 24, 26, and 27, 2009; the Association of Combatant Clerics on July 24; Khabar Online on July 26; Tabnak on July 29; the Jomhuri Eslami newspaper on July 30; and the Ebtekar and Khorasan newspapers on August 5 and September 1, 2009. Additional information was taken from an interview with an eyewitness who was a cellmate of Mr. Ruholamini in the Kahrizak detention center.
Mr. Mohsen Ruholamini was an information technology student at the School of Engineering of Tehran University, who was arrested in July 2009 and died in custody a few days later. He was the son of Dr. Ruholamini, former head of the Pasteur Institute of Iran, Secretary General of the Justice and Development Party, and an advisor to Mr. Mohsen Reza’i, a presidential candidate. Dr. Ruholamini described his son as, “Pure, kind, and with no attachment to this world. He… was always in search of the truth with great curiosity. He was not easily convinced, unlike other members of the new generation… He was not satisfied with the cliché responses that we offer our youth” (Jomhuri Eslami, July 30, 2009).
The killing of the son of a prominent official of the Islamic Republic was national news and led to an open discussion among the ruling elite. After reports of violence and torture in the Kahrizak detention center leading to the death of at least three men were widely publicized, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamene’i, ordered the closure of the Kahrizak detention center and spoke of Mr. Ruholamini’s death at a gathering of university employees, which his father attended (Khorasan, September 1, 2009).
Arrest and detention
Mr. Ruholamini was arrested during a demonstration on July 9, 2009. He was transferred to the Kahrizak detention center where he was beaten and severely tortured. Mohsen’s father explained the arrest and death of his son as the following: “On July 9, Mohsen was arrested by plain-clothes individuals and transferred to the headquarters of the Tehran Metropolitan Police Department located on Kargar Street near Enqelab Square, along with other detainees. On the morning of July 10, they were transferred in two buses to the Evin prison or the Kahrizak detention center.”
During an interview with the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, an eye-witness confirmed the information above and described the torture of prisoners in detention as follows:
“[When entering Kahrizak], they searched us, and then we entered the courtyard. They took our names and made us take all our clothes off. We were all naked. They forced us to throw our clothes in a garbage bin. After keeping us naked for 30 minutes in the courtyard, they started beating us. They had thick hoses and batons… It hurt a lot. Around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m., they took us to Qaran [Ward] 1. We were able to grab a piece of clothing, anything we could put our hands on, and put it around our waists. There were already people there. Some of them looked like people [who had starved in] Biafra. They were thin and hungry. There were so many of us. The place was [meant for about] 20 people, but we were about 160. So we couldn’t sit down. We had to sleep standing up. Half of us sat, and half of us stood. We were not allowed to go to the toilet. Each of us passed out numerous times. It was very hot. There was a very small air vent, and at night the smell of gasoline came in. There were no windows. We banged on the door to get air, and instead, we had gasoline through the vent… Detainees asked for water, but we only got one or two glasses of water a day… We got a little piece of bread and less than a quarter of a potato, once each day. During the time we were in Kahrizak, they would storm in sometimes at 4:00 a.m. and push us into the courtyard and beat us with the hoses… The third or fourth day [July 13th or 14th], around 12:00 p.m., they took us to the courtyard. They made half of us crawl on our hands and knees around the courtyard while carrying the other prisoners on our backs. We had to carry them in a circle around the courtyard. The ground was so hot, we were burning. After five minutes, I only saw blood on the ground from other people’s knees and hands… We circled the courtyard maybe twenty or twenty five times. If we stopped, they beat us. Everyone had fractured bones and injuries in different parts of their bodies. The environment was so dirty and hot that any injury got infected immediately. Everyone had infections. [The guards] had to use masks because of the smell… In Kahrizak, several people were unconscious. Officials
Mr. Mohsen Ruholamini’s cellmate – who has since left Iran after being released – spoke about the grave condition of Mr. Ruholamini in prison. The cellmate said: “Mohsen Ruholamini was also with us. He was dizzy. He had been severely beaten on the head. He said that he was arrested during the demonstration, but he did not understand why he was there. He was tortured so much that his back was infected and flared up. I could see his back. We were all more or less naked. The skin on his back was infected and broken. Mohsen was arrested on the street. We were all beaten, but Mohsen had been beaten significantly more at the time of his arrest. It looked like he had several broken bones. Mohsen told me who he was. I thought he was teasing me. We were all in the courtyard. He did not know if he should tell them about who he was. I told him that I did not know if he should tell them or not. I do not know if he told them. But sometimes they called him out. Others were also called and beaten. He was among those who were called more often. The last time I saw him was when they took us to Evin. They took all of us because everyone was in bad shape… Mohsen died when we got to Evin. When he got out of the bus, he vomited a lot. The head of the prison sent him back to Kahrizak. He died in the Evin courtyard. We checked. He was very thirsty and we kept asking for water but we did not get any.”
Family of Mr. Ruholamini went to numerous the official departments for information about his whereabouts. Officials at Evin prison told his family that he would be released soon; however, a few days later, they informed the family that they should retrieve their son’s body.
Mr. Mohsen Ruholamini’s father confirmed the death of his son as due to torture. After studying the medical file on his son, Mr. Ruholamini’s father stated: “They had sealed off his death location. It was apparent that he had not received any medical attention after being injured. His blood was infected, his temperature went over 40 degrees centigrade, and he got meningitis. He was taken, as an unknown person, to the Tajrish Hospital on Wednesday [July 22] at 3:30 p. m. and his body was taken to the morgue on Thursday morning.”
There was no trial for Mr. Mohsen Ruholamini. He was never tried in a court of law.
The charges against Mr. Mohsen Ruholamini are not known. According to an inmate, officials gave detainees forms, which contained the same charges against all detainees. The form also included questions about their jobs, tattoos on their bodies, and travel or intention to travel outside the country.
Evidence of guilt
No specific and incriminating evidence was provided against defendants who were arrested during the protest on July 9, 2009 and the charges against them were the same. According to information available, the same charges were brought against detainees who were arrested for reasons unrelated to the protest on July 9. The investigating judge and police agents beat detainees and forced them to accept the pre-typed charges and fingerprint the form.
No trial took place to investigate the charges brought against Mr. Mohsen Ruholamini and he was denied the right to defend himself. Mr. Abdolhossein Ruholamini stated in his son’s defense, “Mohsen did not accept dishonesty… I am certain that he answered any question with honesty. They [state officials] probably could not tolerate his honesty, so they beat him up, and killed him under torture” (HRANA, July 26, 2009). He added that similar to many other young men and women, Mohsen had questions that cannot be answered through brutality.
No official ruling was issued against Mr. Ruholamini. According to his father, he was severely beaten and his mouth was broken.
Considering the fact that Mr. Ruholamini’s father was a prominent state figure, authorities allowed the burial take place. However, they imposed certain limitations and conditions including the prohibition of chanting slogans during the ceremony. Additionally, the family was prohibited from filing any complaint. According to the Tabnak website, Mr. Mohsen Ruholamini’s memorial ceremony took place at Mohsen Reza’i’s house in presence of the Deputy Head of the Islamic Republic Parliament, some representatives of the parliament, ex-military commanders, university professors, and scientists, on August 28, 2009. According to HRANA on August 26, 2009, “No family of recent victims could get permit for a mourning ceremony at any mosque.”
The transfer of prisoners to the Kahrizak detention center – during which many prisoners died because of abuse, torture, heat, and poor health conditions during recent years – indicated that judicial and security officials essentially condemned Mr. Ruholamini and other detainees without interrogation or trial, and deliberately exposed them to serious danger, including death. Officials’ treatment of detainees at the time of arrival; statements made by judicial and security officials in regard to the Kahrizak detention center; the lack of serious judicial investigation; and the fact that the person in charge of transferring detainees to Kahrizak still holds his judicial position, all confirm the officials’ decision to deal with protesters decisively. According to Mr. Ruholamini’s cellmate, when detainees that were being held in relation to the July 9 demonstration entered the detention center, a Kahrizak official reminded them that
“This place is called Kahrizak. Kahrizak means the end of the world. Here, bestiality will soon become for you a second nature. No one leaves this place alive.”
Mr. Ruholamini’s cellmate emphasized that sending detainees to Kahrizak had not been a result of a mistake: “They didn’t say anything about taking students to Evin Prison. Someone came with a list and read some names. It was a soldier. He called a number of people. A minibus took them to Evin Prison. They didn’t ask whether or not we were students, but some had already mentioned that they were students on the forms that wehad filled out. I don’t know how they selected people.”
Some officials characterized the transfer of protesters, especially students, to Kahrizak as a mistake and the Islamic Republic Leader ultimately ordered the closure of the detention facility. Officials talked on television about “offering sympathy” and paying compensation to those who were sent to Kahrizak, and the Judicial Organization of the Armed Forces encouraged detainees to file complaints against Kahrizak officials. A parliamentary special committee issued a report about this issue. In a letter to the Head of the Parliament on January 16, 2010, Judge Sa’id Mortazavi, the Revolutionary and Public Prosecutor of Tehran at the time, confirmed the transfer of detainees to Kahrizak and rejected any wrongdoing by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Months before these statements, security officials intimidated those who –encouraged by the Armed Forces Judicial Organization – had filed complaints against the prison officials by threatening re-arrest, and sometimes using violence. Security officials made most of them withdraw their complaints.
Nevertheless, after widespread deliberation about the crimes committed in Kahrizak, for the first time on August 5, 2009, judicial authorities in Iran announced that several agents from this prison were prosecuted. The first session of this trial opened with the plaintiffs’ statements behind closed doors on March 8, 2010. No detailed information is available regarding what happened during trial sessions because they were all behind closed doors and those present at the sessions were ordered not to publicize the proceedings. The last trial session took place on June 7, 2010. On June 30, 2010, the court condemned 11 defendants and acquitted one. According to the ruling, two defendants were condemned to death (qesas) for murdering Mohsen Ruholamini and Mohammad Kamrani. The other nine defendants were condemned to imprisonment, the payment of blood money (diyeh), a fine, temporary discharge from service, and flogging for various charges (ILNA, June 30, 2010).
The father of Mr. Mohammad Kamrani, another victim of Kahrizak, was another plaintiff. During an interview with Rooz after the trial, he spoke about testimonies of those who were tortured in Kahrizak. He said that the defendants on trial were only the agents and not those who ordered the crimes: “I personally consider those who manage the country and created such situations as the responsible parties” (Rooz, June 18, 2010).
Election returns from Iran’s June 12th, 2009, presidential election declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected with 62.63 percent of the vote. Following the announcement, citizens disputing these official results demonstrated in the streets. Text messaging services were disrupted starting at 11:00 p.m. on the night before the election and remained unavailable for nearly three weeks, until July 1st. On Election Day, the deputy chief of Iranian police announced a ban on any gathering of presidential candidates’ supporters throughout the country. The same evening, security forces made a “show of strength,” increasing their presence in Tehran’s public squares to “reinforce security at polling stations.” Officials at election headquarters began reporting results soon after midnight, despite a statement from the Minister of the Interior that the first returns would not be announced until after the morning prayer (around 4:00 a.m.).
Many supporters of other presidential candidates came out into the streets on June 13th, once the results were made public, to protest what they believed to be a fraudulent election. Candidates Mir Hossein Musavi, Mehdi Karubi, and Mohsen Reza’i, Ahmadinejad’s competitors in the race, contested the election, alleging many instances of fraud. They filed complaints with the Council of Guardians, the constitutional body charged with vetting candidates before elections take place and approving the results afterwards, requesting an annulment and calling for a new election. Before the Council of Guardians could review their claims, however, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, congratulated Ahmadinejad on his re-election. In the meantime, many people active in Karubi’s and Musavi’s campaigns were arrested.
On June 15th, unprecedented demonstrations filled the streets of central Tehran, in which an estimated three million protestors participated, according to statements attributed to the mayor of Tehran. As the demonstrations were ending, paramilitary forces attacked the marchers, injuring and killing several people. To prevent such news from being broadcast, the Iranian government expelled foreign journalists from the country and banned news agencies from reporting on the events. Over the next three days, protesters took part in peaceful demonstrations in Tehran. The repression entered a new phase on June 19th after Ayatollah Khamenei’s Friday sermon, in which he announced his support for Ahmadinejad and threatened protestors. Amnesty International stated that the speech gave “legitimacy to police brutality.” The next day and thereafter, police and plainclothes paramilitary groups attacked the protesters. Public gatherings of any kind were declared illegal, and police, motorcycle-riding special units wearing black uniforms and helmets, and plainclothes agents brutally enforced this restriction.
Individuals in civilian clothing, commonly referred to as plainclothes forces, are used in the Islamic Republic to disrupt political and trade union activities, student events and gatherings, electoral initiatives, and protests. Armed with sticks and clubs, and sometimes with chains, knives, batons, or firearms, they emerge when the state decides to suppress dissent. These plainclothes forces move about freely, violently beating protesters and arresting them, while the police passively look on or actively cooperate with them.
There is little information on the command structure and organization of such groups, whose members wear ordinary clothing rather than official uniforms and may be affiliated with the ministry of information, influential political groups, or the armed forces. Following the post-election demonstrations in June 2009, pictures of some plainclothes agents were posted on internet websites. Internet users helped to identify some of them and provided evidence that these individuals were affiliated with the Basij paramilitary groups, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and state intelligence forces. On September 16, 2009, a deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps of the Province of Tehran confirmed the active and decisive role of Basij forces in the repression of the demonstrations, saying, “Basijis, through their presence in recent events, have blinded the eyes of the conspirators, and they should be appreciated… The enemies of Islam wanted to make the air dusty and to exploit the recent events, but thank God, through the enlightenment of the Honorable Leader we were victorious against this conspiracy.” He also emphasized, “The zealous youth of [the] Basij, believers in the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent, are the second and third generations of the Revolution. They have been successful in this stage and victorious on this battlefield.”
When personal property was damaged during the protests, government authorities and state-run radio and television programs accused the demonstrators of vandalism and justified the repression. At the same time, however, footage posted online showed security forces destroying and damaging property on side streets and in uncongested areas away from the protests. Moreover, in a public gathering in Tehran on October 20th, the chief of Iranian police conceded that police had destroyed and damaged property and accepted responsibility for it.
The precise number of citizens injured, killed, or disappeared in the post-election violence is not known. According to various reports, there were hundreds of victims in demonstrations throughout the country. It is said that officials have threatened victims’ family members, demanding their silence and that they refrain from giving interviews. Reports also allege that returning a victim’s body to a family has been made conditional upon their agreement to change the cause of death listed on the coroner’s certificate to that of a heart attack or some other natural cause — thus foregoing the right to file a complaint — as well as the family's agreement not to hold memorial services for the loved one.
According to government statements, more than 4,000 people were arrested throughout Iran in the weeks following June 12th. Many have been held at the Kahrizak Detention Center, where prisoners’ rights and minimum hygiene standards were typically ignored. Numerous reports of violence, including the torture and rape of detainees, have been published. State reports and testimonies confirm that a number of detainees at Kahrizak died in custody due to beatings, difficult and unbearable prison conditions, and torture.
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.
Based on the available information, some or all of the following human rights may 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 or 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 peaceful assembly.
UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 21.
The right to due process
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 legal aid and the right to meet with one’s attorney in confidence
ICCPR, 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; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 8
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 or punishment.
UDHR, Article 5; 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 9.3, Article 14.1, Article 14.3.c.
The right to examine, or have examined the witnesses against one and to obtain the attendance and examination of defense witnesses under the same conditions as witnesses for the prosecution.
ICCPR, 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.