Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

https://www.iranrights.org
Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Ali Afravi

About

Age: 18
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Shi'a)
Civil Status: Single

Case

Date of Killing: March 1, 2006
Location: Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: War on God; Murder

About this Case

Mr. Afravi was interested in history and social activities. He used to cooperate with Juornalists' Club in Ahvaz.

Information about Mr. Ali Afravi’s execution was published in numerous media, including IRNA (March 2, 2006) and Sharq Newspaper (March 2, 2006.) Mr. Afravi was the first of the accused to be executed in connection with the 2005 Ahvaz bombings, along with Mr. Mahdi Navaseri. In the following months, these executions continued, and dozens of other citizens were put to death.

Additional information was obtained from an interview conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, with a person close to Mr. Afravi and with another individual accused in the case, which has been referred to as “the Ahvaz bombings case” by Iranian authorities, as well as from other news websites including, ISNA (March 1, 2006), Radio Farda (March 2, 2006), Ahwazi Democratic Popular Front (June 28, 2011), Amnesty International (March 1 and 2, 2006), Human Rights Watch (June 26, 2006), and the Fars News Agency (March 1, 2006).

Mr. Afravi was 18 years old, single, and a resident of [the city of] Ahvaz. According to a person close to him, he was an intelligent young man, interested in studying history and engaging in social action. He spoke Arabic, Farsi, and English. He worked with the Young Reporters Club in Ahvaz, publishing some of his writings in local and national media under the name, “The Young People of Ahvaz.” For instance, in objecting to the process of the destruction of Malek Garden, one of the region’s historical sites, he had written a letter to UNESCO under that same name. In high school he had become a member of the Basij for a short time, but soon quit .

Mr. Afravi participated in [the Province of] Khuzestan’s Arab [population’s] protests and demonstrations in 2005, as well as in Koran and Arabic classes conducted at his father’s psychological services institute. At the time of his arrest, he was about to turn eighteen and was preparing for university entrance exams.

Mr. Afravi’s execution prompted the reaction of human rights institutions. Amnesty International protested by issuing bulletins, in which it considered the revolutionary court proceedings as unjust and based on confessions obtained under duress. The Ahwaz Human Rights Organization and the British Ahwazi Friendship Society also protested the execution of Arab citizens.

Hours after the executions of Mr. Afravi and Mr. Navaseri, a bomb exploded on 9th Street in Ahvaz’s Kianpars neighborhood, shattering windows and causing damage to surrounding buildings, although, according to local sources, there were no casualties.

Historical Background of the Ahvaz Bombing

Subsequent to the publication of a letter ascribed to a government official concerning systematic modification of the fabric of Khuzestan Province’s ethnic Arab population, demonstrations broke out on Friday, April 15, 2005, in [the city of] Ahvaz, and then in [the town of] Hamidideh. In quashing the demonstrations, security and police forces resorted to violence, which led to the death and injury of dozens of protestors and resulted in the protests and the unrest spreading to a number of other Khuzestan cities, continuing for at least 10 days.* These protests were the beginning of a series of incidents, including widespread arrests, multiple bombings, and successive executions in Ahvaz. For instance, a series of bombings followed on June 12 and October 15, 2005, and on January 24 and February 27, 2006, in various regions of Ahvaz, Abadan, and Dezful. These bombings were carried out in front of government buildings and in public places and left in their wake more than 20 dead and dozens injured.** According to government sources, other bombings (targeting oil pipelines and non-residential regions around Ahvaz) occurred at the end of summer and in the fall of 2005, which did not leave any casualties.

In response to the Ahvaz bombings, security forces arrested dozens of the region’s ethnic Arab individuals, charging them with participation in the bombings. They were then kept in solitary confinement cells, for months, at the Information Ministry’s Detention Center.  People being held were subjected to torture, in order to confess having taken part in the bombings. According to the Ahvaz Prosecutor, ultimately a total of four cases were opened at the Revolutionary Court, Special Branch, and at least 45 individuals were charged. Dozens of these individuals were tried in closed sessions and were sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court. At least 19 of these sentences were carried out. Dozens of other Arab citizens were given long-term sentences.

Government officials never accepted that these bombings had internal reasons which had arisen following the Khuzestan incidents. In multiple, and sometimes contradictory, statements, political and judicial authorities imputed responsibility to groups opposing [the Islamic Republic], including, “Those loyal to the previous regime and residing in England;” “Fugitive SAVAK (the Shah’s security and intelligence apparatus) members, and family members of the destroyed Monafeqin (MKO);” “Wahabis;” “secessionists;” and/or to groups affiliated with the UK and other foreign countries. The Iranian government officially accused the UK of involvement in the bombings and declared that the bombers had been trained in Iraq, in regions under British army control, where they had acquired their arms and explosives. In one such statement, then-President Mahmud Ahmadinejad spoke of the clear and obvious footprint of Iraq’s occupiers in the Khuzestan incidents. (ISNA, January 25, 2006). The British government officially denied these accusations and expressed its concern regarding such statements made by Iranian officials. (BBC, November 1, 2005).

The televised confessions of a number of those arrested were broadcast several times on local TV and on Iran’s English language, Press TV. In one of these programs, broadcast on local TV on November 13, 2006, 10 of these individuals declared themselves to be members of “Katibeh Shohadaye Mohiuddin Al Nasser,” (“Mohiuddin Al Nasser Martyrs Brigade,”) or (the military wing of the Al-Nazal movement). No group officially accepted responsibility for the Ahvaz bombings. However, a video recording was distributed in the name of Katibeh Shohadaye Mohiuddin Al Nasser and “Harakat Al-Nazal Al-Arabi Le-Tahrir Al-Ahvaz (“Ahvaz Arabic Liberation Movement”), showing some of the bombings, including the explosion in front of the Natural Resources Organization building and oil pipeline explosions. At a later time, Harakat Al-Nazal officially accepted responsibility for some of the oil pipeline explosions.

Arrest and Detention

The Ministry of information issued a communiqué announcing the arrest of five individuals between October 18, 2005, and October 28, 2005, [in connection with and] accused of Ahvaz’s Naderi Street bombing. (Kayhan [newspaper], November 1, 2005)  According to a person close to him, Mr. Afravi was arrested at his father’s home in Ahvaz by a number of armed agents of the Ahvaz Information Administration on October 27, 2005, around noon. The agents did not present an arrest warrant. His father, Mr. Udeh Afravi, had been arrested by Ahvaz Information agents three days earlier, on October 24, 2005.

 According to people close to him, Mr. Afravi did not have any telephonic or face-to-face contact with his family during the entire time of his detention.

There is no information about Mr. Afravi’s place and conditions of detention. In spite of repeated inquiries, his family has not been able to obtain any information. According to people close to him, Mr. Afravi did not have any telephonic or face-to-face contact with his family during the entire time of his detention. Two of those accused in bombing cases, as well as other Arab activists who were detained by the Information Administration at the same time, testified in an interview, with the Boroumand Foundation, that the accused in bombing cases were kept in solitary confinement cells at the Ahvaz Information Administration’s secret detention center and routinely and continuously underwent physical and psychological torture.

Trial

No information is available regarding the trial session(s), except that, according to Khuzestan Province Deputy Governor and the Judiciary’s spokesman, Mr. Afravi’s trial, as well as that of the other accused in the case, took place at Ahvaz Islamic Revolutionary Court Special Branch, after January 29, 2006. (Iran Newspaper, October 24, 2005, January 29, 2006)  According to official sources, the judicial proceedings, from trial to the court decision and to the implementation thereof, were conducted in extreme haste, in less than a month, and without observing judicial formalities and due process.

According to people close to Mr. Afravi, the entire process of investigation and trial was conducted in secret and the court did not allow him to retain counsel.

According to people close to Mr. Afravi, the entire process of investigation and trial was conducted in secret and the court did not allow him to retain counsel.

Charges

According to [Iran’s] Prosecutor General and the Judiciary’s spokesman, the charges against Mr. Ali Afravi were “Moharebeh (“waging war against God”) and murder,” in connection with Ahvaz’s Salman Farsi (Naderi) Street bombing on October 15, 2005. (ISNA, March 1, 2006) Furthermore, the Khuzestan Province Deputy Governor stated, in a news conference, that those [executed] individuals had Wahabi and Salafi tendencies and that their objective was to aggravate ethnic conflicts and to disrupt national unity. (IRNA, March 1, 2006) 

The validity of the criminal charges brought against this defendant cannot be ascertained in the absence of the basic guarantees of a fair trial.

Evidence of Guilt

There is no precise information regarding evidence presented at trial. However, according to official judicial and security authorities, the defendants’ confessions constituted the basis for the court’s judgment. On the night prior to the executions, Khuzestan Province’s state television network broadcast the confessions of seven of the individuals accused of the Ahvaz bombings. In the video-recording [of the confessions], which appeared to have been severely tampered with and edited, a number of the accused, including Mr. Afravi, confessed to certain acts incriminating themselves and other accused individuals of contacting certain Arab activists outside the country, and participating in the Naderi Street bombing.

The Ministry of Information’s communiqué of November 1, 2005, alluded to the discovery of an operational bomb, [various] arms and hand grenades secretly placed in different locations, as evidence of [the existence of] a grouplet. (Kayhan, November 1, 2005). Khuzestan Province’s Deputy Governor further announced, in his news conference, that a large number of books and tapes promoting Wahabism had been seized in the course of searches that had been conducted. (ISNA, March 1, 2006)

Defense 

No information is available regarding the accused’s defense. From the time of arrest until the implementation of the court’s judgment, security and judicial officials did not allow the accused to contact his family and/or meet with and retain an attorney. According to testimony given by other individuals accused in the Ahvaz bombing case, the proceedings had been conducted in secret and without observing legal standards. The accused did not have the right to speak and were not given an opportunity to defend themselves.

From the time of arrest until the implementation of the court’s judgment, security and judicial officials did not allow the accused to contact his family and/or meet with and retain an attorney.

Two of the individuals accused in the Ahvaz bombing case testified in an interview with the Boroumand Foundation that those accused in bombing cases underwent severe physical and psychological torture, which made more incriminating the confessions about themselves and the other accused individuals. According to these persons, a team had come from Tehran to make the videotaped confessions and that they had been subjected to pressure and beatings for several nights before their confessions on film.

International human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for its systematic use of severe torture and solitary confinement to obtain confessions from detainees and have questioned the authenticity of confessions obtained under duress. In the case of political detainees, these confessions are, at times, televised. State Television broadcasts confessions, during which prisoners plead guilty to vague and false charges, repent and renounce their political beliefs, and/or implicate others. Human rights organizations have also pointed to the pattern of retracted confessions by prisoners who were later freed.

A Summary of the Legal Defects in the Adjudication of Mr. Ali Afravi’s Case

The Ahvaz bombing case resulted in the arrest and execution of a considerable number of individuals. Dozens of people among the city of Ahvaz’ ethnic Arabs were arrested on the pretense of the bombings. Some were executed and others were handed prison sentences. Ali Afravi was one of the individuals who were executed. In this brief analysis, we will consider the adjudication of the late Mr. Afravi’s case from the standpoint of principles of fair trial.

1- Based on available information, the adjudication of Mr. Afravi’s case was done hastily and in complete secrecy. The secrecy in his case is such that even the adjudicating authority as well as the charges lodged against him are not clear. The court’s ruling is not available. The evidence indicates that judicial and security officials tried their utmost to keep the adjudication of the case secret. The late Mr. Afravi was not even allowed to visit with or make a phone call to anyone. Additionally, judicial and security officials unilaterally announced in the media that Mr. Afravi was a principal actor in the bombing and that his charge was “Moharebeh” (“waging war against God”). The officials’ secrecy on the one hand, and publication of one-sided information on the other, shows that Mr. Afravi’s trial lacked the requisite transparency, and the public was not given an opportunity to judge for itself. In other words, the authorities refused and prevented the impartial publication of information regarding the bombing, despite the fact that it was necessary for the public at large to be informed of the details of the bombing and of the details of the case against the defendants. Furthermore, the trial of Mr. Afravi and the other defendants in the case was carried out in secret and no official provided any information regarding it thereafter. All of this shows that the case was adjudicated away from the public eye and with a complete lack of transparency. This certainly affected the defendants’ rights to a defense and a fair trial. The hasty adjudication of the case is also cause for reflection. Whereas adjudication of the least serious, most ordinary cases can take years in Iran, this very important case was adjudicated expeditiously and a sentence was issued very quickly.

2- Based on available information, and according to the late Mr. Afravi’s relatives, he was granted no, or severely limited, access to an attorney during trial. Pursuant to Iranian laws, anyone accused of a crime can retain the services of and be accompanied by an attorney at all stages of judicial proceedings; Mr. Afravi, however, was strictly prohibited from having a lawyer during detention at the Information Ministry detention center, and was prevented from having access to one at the Prosecutor’s Office and in court. This is completely against the law, since the crime of Moharebeh and murder, with which Mr. Afravi was charged, requires the presence of an attorney. Pursuant to the Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure for General and Revolutionary Courts, Note 1 to Article 186, “If in crimes for which the law has mandated the punishments of Qesas of life, execution, stoning, and life imprisonment, the defendant does not personally introduce an attorney, it is mandatory that a court-appointed attorney be designated.” Therefore presence of an attorney is a necessity in adjudicating the crime of Moharebeh and murder, the punishment for which is death. If this condition is not satisfied, the trial and the court decision will be invalid. The court’s action in this regard was illegal, rendering the ruling null and without legal validity.

3- The sentence issued in Mr. Afravi’s case was solely based on he and his friends’ confessions. These confessions, which were also broadcast on Iranian state television, were obtained under torture and duress, even though under Iranian law torture and duress of the defendant is illegal and considered a crime, and confessions obtained in this manner are without credence and legal value. Principle 38 of the Iranian Constitution, as well as certain domestic laws and international instruments to which Iran is a signatory, specifically state this, and go as far as to consider obtaining a confession through torture a crime and the perpetrators, criminals. Therefore, not only was the late Mr. Afravi’s torture at the hands of security agents in violation of the law, but the court’s reliance on a confession obtained under torture and duress was in complete violation of the law as well. Furthermore, it is not clear whether the defendants in the case accepted these confessions in court, before the trial judge issuing the ruling in the case, since a confession can be relied upon for the issuance of a sentence only when it is made before the trial judge. Issuance of the court’s ruling based solely on the confessions indicates that security officials had no other documentation or evidence proving that the bombing was carried out by Mr. Afravi; it is not logical for a bombing in one of the most crowded places in the city not to leave the least bit of trace or clue. In other words, it seems that judicial and security officials had found no proof of Mr. Afravi having committed the crime and had therefore resorted to extracting a forced confession from him.

Decision

The Ahvaz Islamic Revolutionary Court sentenced Mr. Ali Afravi to death. This decision was upheld by Supreme Court Branch 32.

On March 1, 2006, ISNA, quoting the Prosecutor General, wrote that the case had certain flaws and defects and that it was under consideration by the Supreme Court. The substance of these defects was not clear, and it appears that not much consideration was done, as the execution of Mr. Afravi, as well as another one of the accused in the case, was carried out in public that same day (March 1, 2006) in the city of Ahvaz.

On March 1, 2006, ISNA, quoting the Prosecutor General, wrote that the case had certain flaws and defects and that it was under consideration by the Supreme Court. The substance of these defects was not clear, and it appears that not much consideration was done, as the execution of Mr. Afravi, as well as another one of the accused in the case, was carried out in public that same day (March 1, 2006) in the city of Ahvaz.

According to Amnesty International, the execution was carried out in public on Naderi Bridge, near the location of the bombing and 45 minutes prior to the announced time. The rope was first placed around the necks of the accused, and then the crane raised them slowly from the ground (this mode of execution is, in effect, suffocation, more painful, and, obviously, more prolonged), contrary to what is customary in these cases.

Mr. Afravi’s family was informed on television about the death sentence and the time of execution of their son. His father, who was one of the defendants in the same case during the execution of his son, was detained in the detention center, and a few weeks later he was informed of his son's execution. Security officials returned neither Mr. Afravi’s body, nor his belongings, to his family. Furthermore, they declined to tell the family where they had buried him. The family was warned by the Ahvaz Department of Information against having a wake or any other type of memorial for him. After a while, and subsequent to inquiries made at the city’s mortuaries, the family concluded that the security agents had buried Mr. Afravi in a remote cemetery at a place called Borumi, outside of Ahvaz.

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*A Summary of the Khuzestan Protests on April 2005
Subsequent to the publication of a letter dated July 24, 1998, ascribed to then-President Khatami’s Chief of Staff, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, demonstrations protesting the letter broke out on Friday, April 15, 2005, first in [the city of] Ahvaz, and then in other cities, such as Mahshahr and Hamidideh, and continued for several days. The letter emphasized the modification of Khuzestan Province’s ethnic Arab population through promotion and encouragement of the migration of non-native populations to the province, [thus] reducing Khuzestan’s Arab population to one third of the total population of the province. Although the government’s spokesperson officially denied [the existence of] this letter on Saturday, April 16, the demonstrations that had been called for by the “Coordination Committee for Popular Protests in Ahvaz” continued extensively in the coming days. In calling for demonstrations, [the organizers] highlighted various factors, including “the central government’s policies in expropriating Arab farmers’ lands for various projects such as sugar cane development,” and “marginalization of, as well as profound discontent among, Khuzestan’s Arab [population], as a result of the regime’s efforts to obliterate Arab identity.”
The demonstrations that had started in Kui-e Alavi (Shelangabad /Da’ereh), one of [the city of] Ahvaz’s poor neighborhoods, quickly spread to the center of Ahvaz and to the cities of Mahshahr and Hamidieh. Citing Ahvaz News (a regional news organization) and eyewitnesses at the scene, the Ahvaz Human Rights Organization’s bulletin, dated April 15, 2005, stated, “Around three thousand Arab people of Ahvaz have gathered together and started extensive but peaceful demonstrations in Kordovani Street and Square, along with thousands of others in neighborhoods such as Shelangabad, Malashieh, Ameri, and Kut Abdollah, among others. Security forces are attacking the demonstrators, first with tear gas, and are subsequently firing on them in Da’ereh and Malashieh neighborhoods.” The degree of violence resorted to by security and police forces in quashing the demonstrations was such that it led to the death of a number of protestors. Dozens more were injured. Subsequent to these deaths, the intensity and magnitude of the protests increased. In a number of towns, demonstrators proceeded to cut off roads and to occupy government buildings and police posts. These protests continued for ten days in many Arab regions of Khuzestan. Protestors demanded a government apology to the region’s Arabs. Official government sources, quoting the Islamic Republic’s Defense Minister, announced the death toll as standing at three or four. (ISNA, April 19, 2005) Civil society activists, however, declared the number of people killed during these events to be between 50 and 60. Amnesty International stated the number as 29; Human Rights Watch, 50; and the Ahvaz Human Rights Organization, 160. Dozens of others were injured. The Ahvaz General and Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office announced the arrest and arraignment of 447 individuals. (IRNA, April 25, 2005) Local sources, however, announced the number as being greater than 1200. A number of intellectuals and ethnic leaders were among those arrested. Although the demonstrations subsided after ten days, widespread arrests, multiple bombings, successive executions, and popular protests continued on various occasions, including the anniversary of the events.
**Ahvaz Bombings in 2005 and 2006:
June 12, 2005:  Four explosions occurred in front of the Governor’s building, the Planning and Budget Organization building, the Housing and Urban Development Organization building, and in a residential neighborhood, leaving at least 8 dead and 98 injured.
September 1, 2005:  The bombing of oil installations and two pipelines in the Zargan region of Ahvaz.
October 15, 2005:  Two explosions occurred prior to Iftar, in the month of Ramadan, at two locations on Salman Farsi (Naderi) Street, leaving at least 6 dead and 100 injured.
January 24, 2006:  Bombings at Saman Bank --  in the Kianpars neighborhood of Ahvaz and at the Khuzestan Province Natural Resources General Administration building --  left at least 6 dead and 45 injured (certain reports indicating 8 or 9 dead).
February 27, 2006:  Bombings at the Governor’s buildings in the cities of Dezful and Abadan left 4 injured.

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