Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Mohsen Amir Aslani Zanjani

About

Age: 35
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Execution: September 24, 2014
Location: Karaj, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Execution: Hanging

Human rights violations in this case

The Legal Context

The Courts

 

Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 11 February 1979-1994

 

In the immediate aftermath of the 11 February 1979 Revolution, an ad hoc tribunal, initially referred to as the Extraordinary Revolutionary Tribunal, was set up to try the officials of the previous regime, for which no specific procedures were devised. In a decree dated 24 February 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, the revolutionary religious leader, appointed a cleric as Shari’a Judge and instructed him “to issue Shari’a-based rulings,” thereby establishing the foundation of a system of special courts.

 

Initially, the revolutionary courts’ jurisdiction was determined by the religious judge’s interpretation of the Shari’a (Islamic law based on the teachings of the Qur’an, the traditions of the Prophet, the 12 imams, and the teachings of Shi’a scholars. On 17 June 1979, the Revolutionary Courts and the Prosecutor’s Office Rules of Procedure, which was only selectively observed, established the latter’s jurisdiction and make-up.

 

The Courts’ jurisdiction encompassed a wide array of offenses including moharebeh (“waging war with God”), efsad e fel arz (“spreading corruption on Earth”), crimes against national and international security, economic crimes, murder, profiteering, prostitution, rape, and narcotic drugs-related crimes. The law required that two of the three principal members of the Revolutionary Courts be Shari’a judges.

 

 

Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 1994-2002

 

With the adoption of the Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 14 June 1994, and the Code of Criminal Procedure for General and Revolutionary Courts of 19 September 1999, a uniform code of procedure was applied to both revolutionary and general courts. The jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts was limited to 6 categories of offenses:

1. Crimes against national and international security,“moharebeh” (enmity with god) and “efsad e fel arz” (corruption on earth;)

2. defaming Ayatollah Khomeini and the Supreme Leader;

3. plotting against the Islamic Republic of Iran, armed action, terrorism, and sabotage;

4. espionage;

5. smuggling and drug-related crimes; 6. claims under Principle 49 (economic crimes) of the Constitution.

 6. Furthermore, pursuant to the Law on the Manner of Punishing Individuals Engaged in Unauthorized Audio and Visual Activities, Article 11, the revolutionary courts have jurisdiction over crimes that fall within the purview of said Law, including production and distribution of obscene materials and misuse and abuse thereof.

These courts continued, however, to try cases falling outside their jurisdiction, such as theft and sexual offenses. Further, the vagueness of laws regarding national security allowed the revolutionary courts to try political and media crimes whenever they wished to do so.

 

The new law eliminated the Prosecutor’s Office and gave the judges inthe Revolutionary Courts the power to perform the duties of the prosecutor, as well as their own, in any case brought before them.

 

Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 2002-Present

 

The Amended Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 2002 reinstated the Prosecutor’s Office in both revolutionary and general courts. In cases involving political and media crimes, revolutionary courts’ jurisdiction overlaps with that of Province Criminal Courts.

 

With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014, and its coming into force in June 2015, the jurisdiction of the revolutionary courts remains unchanged, with slight modifications in procedural aspects of adjudication. For instance, the new law provides that for crimes subject to the death penalty, life imprisonment, amputation, third degree, or higher, the revolutionary court shall convene with three judges, whereas, prior to the passage of this law, adjudication of all crimes within the jurisdiction of revolutionary courts took place with only a single judge.

The Appellate System of Revolutionary Courts, 1979-Present

 

From their inception until 1994, the rulings of the Revolutionary Courts were not subject to appeal. In the early 1980s a court entitled the Supreme Court of Qom was established in the city of Qom and which reviewed cases of execution and confiscation of properties, thereby forming a first tier form of appeal. The exact date of the creation of the court is not clear, but, based on available information, the court became operational in the early 1980s, even though Ayatollah Khomeini's official order for its creation is dated 1985. The court’s procedure was not systematic and did not meet the international standards for a court of appeals; there was no official record of its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Qom was dissolved in 1989.

 

The Law of 14 June 1994 subjected the Courts’ decisions to appeal. An appellate court was established at each provincial capital, called the Province Court of Appeals, composed of a three-judge panel, to review decisions made by the Revolutionary Courts. The Supreme Court was designated as the appellate authority for particular decisions, including those involving capital punishment.

 

Narcotic drugs-related crimes constitute a significant exception to the appeals process. Governed by the Anti-Narcotic Drugs Law of 1988, as Amended on 8 November 1997 and 31 July 3 2010, these crimes are within the jurisdiction of, and are adjudicated on a regular basis by, Revolutionary Courts whose decisions are final. After being handed down by the judge, death sentences are sent to the Prosecutor General or the Head of the Supreme Court as a matter of administrative approval.

 

With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 (and its coming into force in June 2015), however, drug related crimes became subject to appeal as well.

General Courts, 1979-1982

 

In cases not falling under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts, the system devised under the previous regime continued to function in parallel with new systems devised by laws passed by the Judicial Council, one of which, entitled The Legal Bill for the Establishment of General Courts of 11 September 1979, radically changed the entire structure and categorization of the courts. It divided the courts in three branches: Criminal, Civil, and Peace (a sort of arbitration court dealing with minor financial and other disputes). Specialized courts such as family courts were eliminated.

 

General Courts, 1982-1994

 

The Law of the Amendments to the Rules of Criminal Procedure of 1982 established a new criminal courts system, Criminal Courts I and II. Criminal Court I, established only in provincial capitals, had jurisdiction over more serious offenses, including those punishable by death, and Criminal Court II heard less serious crimes.

 

General Courts, 1994-2002

 

The Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 14 June 1994 established umbrella courts called General Courts, which replaced and dissolved pre-existing civil and criminal courts. The law dissolved the Prosecutor’s offices and tasked a single person with the roles of judge, prosecutor, and investigator.

 

General Courts, 2002-2015

 

In 2002, the 1994 Law was amended, reviving the role of the Prosecutor’s Office in General Courts. The prosecution offices were re-established in a gradual process over several years. The amended law also re-established specialized branches within general courts dealing separately with criminal and civil matters. In addition, this law allocated a number of branches of the Province Court of Appeals to have original jurisdiction over a number of cases including the most serious offenses, as well as political and media crimes. In these cases, the branches are called the Province Criminal Court.

 

General Courts, 2015 to Today

 

With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 and its coming into force in June 2015, general courts underwent certain changes as well. Criminal courts were divided into Criminal Court One, Criminal Court Two, Military Court, Juvenile Court, and Revolutionary Court. Criminal Court One has jurisdiction over serious crimes such as those subject to the death penalty, life imprisonment, amputation, third degree, and higher, as well as political and media crimes. Criminal Court Two has jurisdiction over other crimes. Another change consists of the establishment of juvenile courts, which adjudicates crimes committed by individuals less than 18 years of age. In cases where the individuals less than 18 commit serious crimes such as those subject to the death penalty, however, Criminal Court One will have jurisdiction, observing rules of juvenile criminal procedure.

 

The Appellate System of General Courts, 1979-Present

 

The Legal Bill for the Establishment of General Courts of 11 September 1979, abolished appeal of most criminal courts’ decisions. The law of 1982 restricted the appeal possibility even further. According to the Islamic Republic authorities’ interpretation of Islamic Law, a qualified jurist’s decisions were not subject to appeal except under special circumstances, such as when the judge realized his own mistake, or another judge advised him so, or when he did not have jurisdiction over the case. Even in such situations, the case would not go to a higher court but would be subject to review by the same judge or another judge at his level. The judges were even urged to call their verdicts “opinions,” so that the possible change in the verdict would not be “haram” (“sinful,” the highest level of prohibition in Islam, disobedience of which would result in a sin).

 

In October 1988, the Majles (Iranian parliament) passed a law regarding review of court judgments. This law provided for an appeal if the conviction was claimed to be based on invalid documentation or false testimony. The defendant could also base an appeal on a point of law or a procedural violation.

 

The appellate system was expanded in other laws in the late 1980s and in 1993. The Law for the Establishment of Criminal Courts I and II of 11 July 1989 created the Branches of the Supreme Court. Crimes of less importance, tried in Criminal Court II, were subject to review by Criminal Court I.

 

For the most important crimes involving death punishment, which were under the jurisdiction of Criminal Court I, the law allowed limited appeal to the Branches of the Supreme Court. Defendants had the right to petition the Supreme Court for appeal in certain cases involving false testimony or procedural violations, and if granted, the case would be remanded to either another criminal court or the original one.

 

Finally, the Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 1994, as amended in 2002, established an appellate court at each provincial capital, called Province Court of Appeals, composed of a three-judge panel, to review decisions made by both general and revolutionary courts. The Supreme Court was designated as the appellate authority for particular decisions, including those carrying the death penalty, as well as decisions made by the Province Criminal Court.

 

The amended law of 2002, continued the appellate procedure to the Branches of the Supreme Court established by the afore-mentioned law of 11 July 1989

 

The Supreme Court continues to be the competent authority to rule on new trials, which have been provided for in limited circumstances.

With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 and its coming into force in June 2015, the Court of Appeals shall be the competent authority to hear appeals from Criminal Court Two decisions, and the Supreme Court shall hear appeals from Criminal Court One decisions.

Special Courts for the Clergy

 

These courts are rooted in a 1979 decree, issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, which established a committee of religious and noble figures in every region to purge the clergy of anti-revolutionary elements under the supervision of the Revolutionary Courts. Between late 1981 and 1984, a special court in the city of Qom handled, though not systematically, the trial of clerics.

 

On 29 July 1987, Ayatollah Khomeini officially appointed a prosecutor and a member of the clergy as Shari’a judge for Special Courts for the Clergy. On 6 August 1990, a directive was issued regulating the conduct of these courts, the jurisdictional ambiguity of which is such that it effectively extends to “anyone where one of the parties is a cleric” and to “all matters in which the Court is designated as competent by the Supreme Leader.”

 

The court, which was not mentioned in the Islamic Republic's constitution, was mandated to try “pseudo clerics, those related to/connected with the clergy, for public and/or anti-revolutionary crimes, and violations of the prestige of the clergy,” and where the principal suspect is a member of the clergy, “any co-conspirator or assistant, whether a cleric or not.”

 

These courts are generally not open to the public and can issue sentences for all acts and omissions punishable under codified Iranian laws or Shari’a or for any other acts or omissions which can bring dishonor to the clergy or to the Islamic Revolution. Further, in certain particular cases – which have not been defined – where no punishment has been devised by either the Penal Code or even the Shari’a, the Court “can rule as it deems fit.” 

 

The Appellate System of the Special Court for the Clergy, 1979-Present

 

There is no information on any appeal process for the Special Court for the Clergy prior to the 1990 directive. Article 49 of said directive set up, however, an appeals court called Special Appellate Court for the Clergy, the head of which is appointed by the Supreme Leader, to which the decisions of the lower court can be appealed.

 

Military Courts

 

The military court system, independent from the judiciary under the previous regime, became a part of it on 1 December 1981. The Judiciary Organization of the Armed Forces, established in 1986, replaced and merged other military courts and tribunals in existence at the time, namely the pre-revolution Judiciary Organization of the Army, the Revolutionary Tribunal of the Army (established on 8 December 1979), and the Revolutionary and General Court for the Revolutionary Guards (established on 15 July 1979.) The Judiciary Organization of the Armed Forces has its own Criminal Code and follows the country’s general rules of criminal procedure.

 

The Law of the Criminal Procedure of the Armed Forces of 15 May 1985 created Military Courts I and II. Military Court I has jurisdiction over more serious offenses, including those punishable by death, and Military Court II hears less serious crimes.

 

The Appellate System of Military Courts, 1979-Present

 

The law of 8 December 1979, establishing the Revolutionary Military Court, did not provide for any appeals. The Law of 15 May 1985 created a system of appeals through the creation of a two-tier system of courts. The decisions of Military Court II were subject to review by Military Court I. This law also provided that multiple Branches of the Supreme Court be designated as the appellate court to review decisions of Military Court I.

 

The judges

 

1979-1997: Prosecutors and judges are not necessarily law graduates and jurists. Shortly after the Islamic Revolution, a five-member Committee was established to purge the judicial system of undesirable elements, pursuant to the Legal Bill for the Modification of the Judiciary and the Law for Hiring Judges of 8 March 1979. The power of the committee was absolute and its decisions, resulting in a widespread purge of the judiciary, final.

 

The Law for the Conditions of Selection of Judges of 4 May 1981 established the conditions of eligibility for judges. The latter were to be hired among men who were legitimate children and had practical commitment to Islam and allegiance to the Islamic Republic. The law, which led to the hiring of clerics and Islamic legal scholars, also allowed hiring practically anyone as a judge who could “obtain the Judicial High Council’s permission.” Moreover, Note 2 of the Amendments of 4 October 1982 to this law allowed widespread employment of seminary students “who ha[d] general knowledge equivalent to a high school diploma” as judges at prosecutor’s offices in general as well as Revolutionary Courts.  

 

By 1989, the judiciary counted about 2,000 new judges trained in theological seminaries (graduates and students) and political appointees, many having replaced judges trained in law schools.

 

1997-Present: As of this writing (2013) the Law for Hiring Judges and its amendments of 4 October 1982, 7 February 1987, and 9 May 1988 are in full force and form the basis for hiring judges. The Executive Rules of Procedure of 22 December 1997 subjected such hiring to passing an entrance examination and successful completion of an apprenticeship program, the duration of which ranges between one and two years. The law does not limit hiring to men only but does not specify in what capacity women will be functioning, other than an advisory one.

Currently, judges are selected in accordance with the Guidelines on the Recruitment, Selection, and Internship for Judicial Candidates and the Hiring of Judges.

 

Dismissal of Judges: From 1979 to 1989, the judiciary was run by the Supreme Judicial Council which was composed of the head of the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General (both of whom were appointed by the Supreme Leader), and three judges elected by the entire body of judges in the country. The Council had the power to hire and dismiss judges in accordance with the law.

 

The constitutional reforms of 1989 substituted the Supreme Judicial Council with one person, the Head of the Judiciary. The Supreme Leader, whose mandate is not subject to popular vote, appoints the Head of the Judiciary for a 5-year term. The latter has significant power to influence the dismissal of judges. Dismissal cases are referred to three types of disciplinary courts, presided over by judges appointed by the Head of the Judiciary, who has veto power over any decisions made by the relevant courts.

 

Two of these courts, established in 1991 and 2011, are charged with examining the judges’ conduct from a religious and ideological standpoint. The process does not necessarily involve the defendant and the final decision, left to the Head of the Judiciary, is not subject to appeal.

 

Human rights violations

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.

 

 

Trial rights

 

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.

 

 

 Judgment right

 

 

The right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction. ICCPR, Article 14.5.

 

The right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence.

ICCPR, Article 6.4.

 

 

Capital punishment

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.

About this Case

“I will be free only when my thoughts are set free ,” used to say Mohsen Amir Aslani, a young man whose views of Islam did away with superstitions and drew crowds . 

The news of Mr. Mohsen Amir Aslani Zanjani’s execution was published in several Persian language websites. Information regarding his arrest and execution was obtained through research and interviews conducted by the Boroumand Foundation, with individuals familiar with his case from the Supreme Court, Branch 31, Decision dated August 29, 2011, the websites of HRANA (September 23, 2011), Mizan (The Judiciary Branch News Agency), Rooz Online and Deutsche Welle (September 24, 2011), Iran Wire (October 5, 2011), Jaras (October 15, 2011), and Fars News Agency, dated August 23, 2005. Additional information was drawn from interviews by Mr. Amir Aslani’s family members and students with Persian BBC and Persian Deutsche Welle (September 24, 2011), and from VOA program Safheye Akhar (“The Last Page”) (October 3, 2011)

Mr. Mohsen Amir Aslani, son of Ezzat, was born in 1977-78 in [the city of] Abadan. He was married and had a two-year-old child. He held a bachelor’s degree in psychology and owned a psychology institute named Soroush Parsian, where he provided consultation and conducted classes in “Inner Path” (spirituality), dream analysis, and the Qur’an. In the first “Inner Path” seminar, in 2005, he provided explanations regarding his activities: “Given the rise in [certain] social ills, such as divorce, drug addiction, and depression, there is a need to devise methods to solve these problems … .In this seminar, we have tried to present new methods to get rid of tormenting thoughts and life’s bitter memories and to defeat depression, as well as to cultivate spirituality, strengthen inner forces, awaken the subconscious, and strengthen meta-sensory forces.” (Fars News Agency, August 23, 2005)

"We have tried to present new methods to get rid of tormenting thoughts and life’s bitter memories and to defeat depression, as well as to cultivate spirituality, strengthen inner forces, awaken the subconscious, and strengthen meta-sensory forces.” 

According to available information, Mr. Amir Aslani was Muslim and provided consultations based on religious tenets and interpretations. According to a person close to him, he criticized traditional beliefs and prevailing superstitions. For instance, in interpreting the Jonah Sura [in the Qur’an], he believed the Prophet Jonah had not [actually] come out of the whale and that this was an allegory. Mr. Amir Aslani encouraged his students to read the Qur’an but insisted that “the Qur’an should be read in Persian. We read the Koran to understand it, not to [simply] perform a pious deed.”

Mr. Amir Aslani’s take on the “Imam of Time” [the Twelfth Imam of Shi’a Islam, who is said to have disappeared only to return when the world is in utter chaos] was also different from the prevailing traditional beliefs. In his classes (and in his book, Yassin) he taught that every period has its own “Imam of Time,” [and that is] the one who understands the pains of a particular period’s society. His understanding of [the concept of] “Sherk” (Polytheism) also differed from that of the state religious authorities, and he considered some of the current traditions in Iran to be polytheistic. (Deutsche Welle radio, quoting one of Mr. Amir Aslani’s students; Boroumand Foundation interview)

Mr. Amir Aslani’s methods were reportedly the cause of his popularity among those who consulted with him. According to those close to him, the number of his students had gradually increased. In the [Islamic] months of Ramadan and Muharram 2005, around 400 people had attended his lectures to listen to his interpretation of Islam, a fact that brought the attention of the authorities. According to available information, he had been told to stop his activities prior to his arrest. Furthermore, certain individuals and their spouses, who had joined his group of students only a few months prior to his arrest and had lodged complaints against him after his arrest – and were instrumental in his conviction – told his students and their parents that his lectures were dangerous and that they should stop attending his classes. (Boroumand Foundation interview)

Mr. Amir Aslani’s beliefs are reflected in a number of his books, twelve volumes of which were written during more than eight years of incarceration. At his own request, some of his books are available to the public on Facebook. According to people close to him, in addition to research and writing, he played the [traditional Persian musical instrument] Kamancheh and was an athlete and a member of Tehran’s badminton team. He liked woodworking and woodcarving and continued to work out and to work with wood while in prison.

 

Arrest and Detention

Mr. Amir Aslani was arrested at his home on May 2, 2006, along with his wife and a number of his students, by plainclothes armed security agents who did not show an arrest warrant. They were having a meeting regarding his institute. The institute’s secretary described the arrest:

“Seven or eight people attacked the house … . They kept us in a corner in a very offensive way, searched the house in the worst possible manner, and destroyed everything. They turned the furniture upside down and tore the fabric under them. We really didn’t know what they were looking for. But they took whatever they wanted from the house and arrested all of us, as well. There were eight of us.” (Iran Wire)

After searching his house, security agents took Mr. Amir Aslani to the Parsian Institute and subsequently brought him back to his home and then took him to Evin Prison along with the other individuals arrested there. According to an eyewitness, the agents were especially disrespectful to Mr. Amir Aslani and beat him. They accused him of having gathered girls and boys around himself with ulterior motives, and that he was claiming to be the Twelfth Imam. . (Boroumand Foundation interview)

They were first taken to Evin Prison, Ward 209, and interrogated. They were then taken to the prosecution office in the Ershad Judicial Complex, which is responsible for fighting “social corruption” and interrogated again. According to two eyewitnesses, the interrogators at Evin belittled the students and their questions revolved around their sexual relations in Mr. Amir Aslani’s classes. At Ershad, however, the main focus was on the content of Mr. Amir Aslani’s classes and his lectures. The students were even told that authorities had made inquiries with Ayatollah Behjat and that he had declared Mr. Amir Aslani an innate apostate. (Boroumand Foundation interview; BBC)

At Ershad, however, the main focus was on the content of Mr. Amir Aslani’s classes and his lectures.

Over the course of ten days, the students were released one by one. Mr. Amir Aslani, who had been severely beaten at the time of his arrest, was kept at Evin Prison’s Ward 209 for nine months. (Boroumand Foundation research)

According to Mr. Amir Aslani’s spouse and his secretary, he was moved a number of times to various prisons during his years of incarceration. He was transferred to Qezel Hessar Prison from Ward 209, where he remained for 5-6 years. He then spent January to June, 2008, at Evin Prison, in solitary confinement but not interrogated, according to available information. He was taken back to Qezel Hessar again, after six months. According to a Prisons Organization document, he was turned over to  Rajai Shahr Prison on August 21, 2011. He was first at Unit 2 (Dar-al-Koran) and was sent to Ward 5 or 6 after three months, where ordinary (believed to be dangerous) prisoners are kept. Thereafter, he was at Ward 1, Hall 1, for about a year and a half, until his execution.

Mr. Amir Aslani did not have access to his family, nor an attorney, while undergoing interrogations. Thereafter, and until the day of his trial, he did not meet with his court-appointed lawyer. He had visitations every two weeks, where he was intermittently visited by his father and his wife and child.

Mr. Amir Aslani did not have access to an attorney, while undergoing interrogations and until the day of his trial.

Two years after his initial arrest, after the appellate court decision regarding the charges that had resulted in his arrest, and the reduction of the sentence to two-and-a-half years imprisonment and 50 lashes, his family proceeded to post bail, to secure his release, when they were told that that would not be possible, due to the existence of other charges against him. According to the co-defendant in this case, Mr. Amir Aslani had stated that he had been taken to the Sentence Implementation Bureau for the lashing sentence to be carried out. (Boroumand Foundation interview)

According to available information, Mr. Amir Aslani was under pressure to repent the entire time he was in prison.

 

Trial

Mr. Amir Aslani’s case was adjudicated in several courts. In the first instance, Tehran General Criminal Court, Branch 1084, sentenced him to a total of four years and six months imprisonment, 120 lashes, 5 million Rials monetary penalty, and return of [wrongfully] acquired property to the government. According to an eyewitness, the judge asked Mr. Amir Aslani in one court session whether he could read the Qur’an. He was given a Qur’an and told to read it in Arabic. Mr. Amir Aslani appealed Branch 1084’s decision. On March 17, 2007, Tehran Province Appellate Court, Branch 31, while upholding the lower court’s decision, reduced the sentence to two years and six months imprisonment, 50 lashes, and 400,000 Tumans monetary penalty, dispensing with the return of property.

While the above cases were being adjudicated, a new charge was brought against Mr. Amir Aslani, causing a dispute between judicial authorities, as to the manner of adjudication and the competent authority to hear the case. According to the information contained in the Supreme Court, Branch 31’s decision (August 29, 2011), after being sent to a number of different courts, the case was ultimately sent to Revolutionary Court, Branch 15. The Court sent the file back to the Prosecutor’s Office in order to have the charge of “Efsad Fel-Arz” (“spreading corruption on earth”) incorporated in the indictment. At this stage, the investigating judge dismissed the charge, which, for unknown reasons, was not heeded, and the case was sent to the Revolutionary Court, Branch 28, for an opinion.

The investigating judge dismissed the charge, which, for unknown reasons, was not heeded.

The Branch 28 judge was of the opinion that all charges, including those already and definitively adjudicated at Tehran General Criminal Court, Branch 1084, were to be aggregated and be brought within the framework of a charge of “Efsad Fel-Arz.” The judge and the deputy prosecutor forced the investigating judge to charge the defendant with “Efsad Fel Arz” and to issue a decision on that basis, adhering to Branch 28’s opinion. The assistant prosecutor, in turn, albeit with great doubt, issued an indictment on the basis of the investigating judge’s decision.

The case was sent to the Revolutionary Court, Branch 15, where, subsequent to the March 17, 2008, session, the judge again asked the prosecutor’s office to complete the indictment and to [specifically] state the instances of “Efsad Fel Arz.” Back at the prosecutor’s office, the deputy prosecutor and the assistant prosecutor were intent on aggregating the already and definitively adjudicated charges with the [new] charge of forcible rape. The case was then sent to the Revolutionary Court, Branch 15, where the judge, after two trial sessions, conducted on December 25, 2007, and January 22, 2008, issued a ruling on January 25, 2008, sentencing Mr. Amir Aslani to death for “Efsad Fel Arz” and forcible rape.

The deputy prosecutor and the assistant prosecutor were intent on aggregating the already and definitively adjudicated charges with the [new] charge.

The decision was appealed and sent to the Supreme Court, Branch 31, which overturned the Revolutionary Court decision, stating that the latter did not have jurisdiction over the charge of rape and sent the case to the Province Criminal Court. The Province Criminal Court, Branch 79, charged Mr. Amir Aslani with forcible rape, accompanied by conditions fulfilling the requirements [of adultery] while married, in a session where neither the prosecutor’s representative nor the plaintiffs were present. In another session, once again without the presence of the prosecutor’s representative, Mr. Amir Aslani’s last defense was obtained. Ultimately, in March 2010, the court sentenced him to death for committing forcible rape.

The ruling was appealed and, once again, sent to the Supreme Court, Branch 31, which overturned Branch 79’s decision, for lack of evidence, and sent the case back to Province Criminal Court, this time to Branch 72. The latter conducted a number of sessions without the presence of the prosecutor’s representative, in the last of which, the charge of forcible rape was explained to the defendant, and his last defense was obtained. (Supreme Court, Branch 31’s Decision, August 29, 2011)

According to available information, Mr. Amir Aslani’s lawyers changed in the course of the adjudication. Two of the attorneys were court-appointed, and the last one was retained. Furthermore, two of the plaintiffs were present in the first court sessions but not in later ones. The third plaintiff never came to court.

 

Charges

According to the Supreme Court, Branch 31’s Decision, (August 29, 2011),  Mr. Amir Aslani’s initial charges were “heresy to Islam, its principle and secondary tenets, and to the Shi’a religion; disparaging the Prophet Jonah; committing a Haram (“sinful”) act (playing banal music in his classroom on the day of Ashura and public mourning); engaging in the practice of medicine without the necessary legal permit; illegally acquiring property through conducting psychotherapy classes; and committing an unchaste act with his secretary.” (The charge of commission of an unchaste act with his secretary was based on her statement, when interrogated, to the effect that she had once kissed Mr. Amir Aslani’s hand out of respect.)

In the course of adjudication, the charge of forcible rape was brought, based on the complaints of three individuals, the third of which was not accepted by the court.

 

Evidence

There is no information regarding the evidence that constituted the basis for the initial charge of  heresy. According to an eyewitness, however, while Mr. Amir Aslani was in detention and undergoing interrogation, the authorities had noted that he had claimed to be the Twelfth Imam and stated that they had inquired with Ayatollah Behjat [in that regard] and that he had declared Mr. Amir Aslani an apostate. It seems that his “interpretation of the Qur’an” classes were also among the reasons for his conviction, since it had been stated in court that he did not have Qur’anic literacy and should not be teaching the Qur’an. Regarding the charge of the unchaste act, Mr. Amir Aslani’s secretary’s statement, regarding her having kissed his hand, was cited as evidence.

The students were even told that Ayatollah Behjat had declared Mr. Amir Aslani an innate apostate.

According to the Supreme Court Decision, the charge of forcible rape was based on the complaints of two individuals. Regarding these complaints, the Decision states the following:

“At this stage of the proceedings, Ms. [A.T.] has expressly stated: ‘I believe there was no penetration … .  He wanted me to get on my knees and allow him to penetrate me, which I did not do …  .  That was why he said, “You’re an idiot. I knew from the beginning that you would not reach the level you were supposed to reach!!”  I repeat, he applied pressure to my anus but I did not feel any pain, and there are no signs of scraping?!! But he ejaculated, and I left, distressed and crying. Ultimately, I saw a gynecologist and made sure that my hymen was intact; there were no signs in the anal area either!!’ (pp. 294-295) … . In the court session dated February 27, 2010, Ms. [A.T.] repeated the same complaints as before and again expressly stated: ‘Penetration did not take place completely.’ She claimed, in that session, however, that penetration of the glans penis had taken place from behind … . ‘I took my clothes off at his suggestion and was completely naked.’” (Decision, pages 4 and 5)

“Ms. [A.M.], 31 years old, was one of the other plaintiffs who, although claiming anal penetration was complete, expressly states:  ‘He took me into his office alone while other people were waiting [outside] with his secretary. He locked the door from inside and said:  “In order to be cleansed, … you must do away with your chastity and virtue, as well, and allow me to have [sexual] relations with you?!” ... . In any event, he deceived and convinced me … .’ Question: Why didn’t you resist and prevent him from committing sodomy, even though you knew he was doing with you the vile act of fornication [and adultery]?!! Answer: ‘I was afraid for my reputation, and, because there were people outside, and if I screamed, !!!, not only would I have ruined my reputation, nobody would have believed me!! I thought!! they would say that I was the one with a problem … .  The truth is he duped and deceived me! That was why I surrendered and did not make any noise?! Furthermore, in addition to penetration, he ejaculated after pulling out!!!’” (pages 300 and 301) (Decision, Page 5)

 

Defense

Mr. Amir Aslani had told individuals close to him that he had not been given the opportunity to defend himself and his thoughts in any of the trials. This is while available information regarding arrest and interrogation of detainees indicates that the authorities’ principle concern was with Mr. Amir Aslani’s thoughts [and opinions] and the content of his classes. Interrogators had pressured those arrested and told them: “You must write down that you regret participating in these classes and pledge that you will never partake in them again.” They had obtained a written pledge before releasing them. The accused [Mr. Amir Aslani] had not been present at all trial sessions and had told people close to him that, one time, they had not taken him to court, saying “the car was not running.” Another time, they had said, “We don’t have anyone to take you.”

Mr. Amir Aslani had told individuals close to him that he had not been given the opportunity to defend himself and his thoughts in any of the trials.

Mr. Amir Aslani never accepted the charges, and, according to the Supreme Court, Branch 31 Decision (page 2), he ascribed the claim of forcible rape to the plaintiffs’ “dreams and delusions.” Furthermore, he brought a complaint against two of his students, alleging that they had forced their spouses to make a [false] claim of forcible rape. The Supreme Court, Branch 31’s Decision (page 5), refers to Mr. Amir Aslani’s statements regarding one of the plaintiffs, who had been present in the courtroom in the May 27, 2009, session and had repeated her original claim:  “The accused denies her statements and her claims and says that she has dreamed those claims, making certain statements, regarding the motives for the claims … .  The plaintiff’s husband was then interrogated and hedenied the accused’s statement as to ‘the plaintiff having dreamed it.’”

The Decision makes no reference to the presence of any witnesses for the accused, or to any questioning and investigation by the court of the people who were present in Mr. Amir Aslani’s place of work at the same time as the plaintiff.

Mr. Amir Aslani’s secretary, who was also his student, believes that the interrogators were looking for ways to accuse him of illicit sexual relations and that the allegation is trumped-up. She pointed to the pressure exerted on her by the interrogators after the arrest, to obtain confessions concerning sexual relations with Mr. Amir Aslani.  She said: “Three men interrogated me. One was a cleric, but not the other two. I was a naïve and inexperienced 23-year-old girl, and they insisted expressly that I confess to having had sexual relations with Mr. Amir Aslani. I gave them detailed explanations about the classes and the Master’s lectures, but they kept repeating the same thing. They had put a pen and paper in front of me and were saying:  ‘Write.’ There was tremendous psychological pressure. I thought a lot and I wrote down the only thing that came to my mind under those circumstances:  ‘I kissed the Master’s hand as a show of respect.’

“When they took me to court, Mr. Amir Aslani was there, too. The interrogating judge took a look at my file and said [to Mr. Amir Aslani]: ‘Apparently your secretary has confessed to everything.’ ‘What has my secretary confessed to?’ he asked. And I told the investigating judge:  ‘The truth is I haven’t confessed to anything. Your agents put so much pressure on me yesterday that I had to write this sentence.’ Also, the rape plaintiffs, who appeared from who knows where only about one year later, and I, were banned from being examined by the Medical Examiner.”

Mr. Amir Aslani’s secretary continued: “A year after the Appellate Court decision, they told Mr. Amir Aslani that there were other plaintiffs, alleging forcible rape. The complaint was lodged by students who had started coming to classes about a month before the arrest. They had all been referred to by an individual who was later found out to be a mole. They claimed that they had been raped at the institute but, as God is my witness, I tell you that I was the first one to go to the institute and the last one to leave. I would very easily learn of the slightest event occurring there.” In an interview with Rooz Online, Mr. Amir Aslani’s wife stated:  “In the interrogations, they wanted the answers that they wanted. The questions were not ones we could answer. They posed the questions, and they would get from us the answers they wanted.”

In a letter addressed to judicial authorities, published in Jaras Website on October 15, 2014, Mr. Amir Aslani’s family alluded to violations of the rules of procedure and the officials’ unaccountability:

“No one gave an answer to our multitude of questions in these past eight-and-a-half years. You threw Mohsen’s father out of the courtroom and the court building numerous times. On numerous occasions, your assistants did not allow our attorneys to come and see you in your offices. You even failed to give us the judge’s decision for fear that it would be [mis-]used by the media. We do not possess the decision based on which you took away our loved one.”

The family poses numerous questions in this letter:

  • If all the charges are related to [the period] prior to his arrest, why wasn’t the charge of forcible rape brought from the beginning?
  • Why did the Tehran Criminal Prosecutor’s Office keep the case for 14 months after receiving the Supreme Court’s decision overruling [the lower court]?
  • Why does the introduction to the Revolutionary Court, Branch 15, Judge’s decision contain the lie “the AWOL soldier, expelled student, and claimant to contact with the Twelfth Imam?”
  • Why did the Criminal Court, Branch 79, which had declared itself incompetent and referred the case to the Revolutionary Court, consider itself competent after the Supreme Court had overruled [the Revolutionary Court’s] decision?

Persons close to Mr. Amir Aslani also noted a very important irregularity in the judicial process. They stated that Article 18 was applied when, the case having been sent to another lower court andno definitive ruling had yet been issued, which is clearly against the law.

 

A Summary of the Defects of Mr. Amir Aslani’s Legal Proceedings

Pursuant to Iranian laws, in order to convict an individual of a crime, it is necessary that evidence exist proving the crime. “Zena” [which encompasses a range of unlawful sexual relations, including adultery, rape, and fornication] is a crime where there are stringent evidentiary requirements. Mr. Amir Aslani’s case indicates that judges in various courts accepted the charge of forcible rape solely based on the plaintiffs’ conflicting and inconsistent claims, none of whom provided the slightest tangible evidence, and/or documentation, as proof. Even their statements are ridden with doubts and inconsistencies, the [content] of their claims having changed a number of times and been stated differently. Further, the courts and the prosecutors’ offices did not conduct thorough investigations to shed light on the events.

Judges in various courts accepted the charge of forcible rape solely based on the plaintiffs’ conflicting and inconsistent claims

Additionally, after the Province Criminal Court, Branch 72, once again sentenced Mr. Amir Aslani to death, and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, Branch 31, the latter had to recognize the ruling as one requiring that it be sent to the Supreme Court General Council, whereas it did not do so and proceeded to adjudicate the case itself.

In its Decision, not only does the Supreme Court, Branch 31, point to defects in the proceedings and the ruling, it also considers that there are serious defects concerning evidence presented in support of the charge of forcible rape, some of which are stated as follows:

  • Tehran Region 21 Prosecutor’s Office, Branch 7’s investigating judge, considered the plaintiffs’ claim of forcible rape lacking in evidence and believes in dismissing the case. The Deputy Prosecutor disagrees, and the case is sent to Revolutionary Court, Branch 15. The judge returns the case to the investigating judge, who, this time, noting that he believes that the case should be dismissed, asks the Deputy Prosecutor for his express opinion. The Deputy describes his act of bringing the case back from the Revolutionary Court as a mistake and implies that an indictment is in order (without mentioning the charge).

 

  • The Revolutionary Court, Branch 28, agrees with the Deputy Prosecutor’s opinion, without requiring legal proof and argument, and the investigating judge explains the charge of “Efsad Fel Arz” to the defendant.

 

  • A number of court sessions were carried out without the Prosecutor’s representative being present, whereas the law requires that either the Prosecutor or his representative must be present, and, if not, the court session, the proceedings, and the ruling are all in violate the law.

In overturning the Court’s ruling, the Supreme Court, Branch 31, stated in its Decision that it was sending the case back to be adjudicated by another branch, because there was not sufficient evidence for a finding of forcible rape, especially since the file did not contain a Medical Examiner’s opinion.

Another passage of the Decision states:

  • The plan to aggregate previous charges with new ones, without proper action by competent authorities, was without legal and religious merit.
  • The Tehran Province Criminal Court, Branch 79’s action of adding the new charge (forcible rape) to the defendant’s other charges [thereby creating the charge of] “Efsad Fel Arz” (corruption on earth) is without legal and religious merit, since, at the time, there was no evidence regarding forcible rape, and the charge had not been proven in any court of law.

 

Judgment

With the additional charge of forcible rape brought against him, on January 22, 2008, Revolutionary Court, Branch 15, determined Mr. Amir Aslani “Mofsed Fel Arz” (“corruptor on earth”) and sentenced him to death. In February-March 2011, with a three-member majority, the Province Criminal Court, and Branch 72 judges, sentenced him to death for forcible rape and to stoning for adultery. He was acquitted of the charge of forcible rape of the third plaintiff. Two of the judges acquitted Mr. Amir Aslani of all charges for lack of sufficient evidence.

The Supreme Court, Branch 31, ruled that there were considerable substantive and procedural defects in the proceedings from the very beginning; it further ruled Branch 72’s decision defective for numerous reasons, overruling the same and sending it back to the Province Criminal Court for a re-trial.

After the Supreme Court’s decision, and regardless of the fact that the case, which was still in the process of adjudication in the Province Criminal Court and that no definitive ruling had been issued, and contrary to the letter of the law, the Head of the Judiciary intervened in the case. Applying Article 18, he determined the Supreme Court’s decision to be against the dictates of Shari’a and the law and sent the case to the Supreme Court, Branch 13. The latter upheld the Revolutionary Court, Branch 15’s ruling, and overruled all other decisions. (Article 18, Note 1, states:  “’Contrary to the dictates of Sharia’ means the issued rulings contradict and conflict with the certainties of Islamic Law.”)

After the issuance of the ruling, Mr. Amir Aslani’s family appealed to the Pardon and Forgiveness Commission three times and asked that the Supreme Court’s ruling be taken into consideration. Their request was denied.

In an interview given hours after his last visitation with his son at Rajai Shahr Prison, Mr. Amir Aslani’s father noted the repeated violations of the rules of procedure: “The Supreme Court’s decision, which had acquitted him and asked that a new trial take place, was never observed. They said the reputation of the judges, who had issued those rulings, would be tarnished and, therefore, they couldn’t implement the Supreme Court decision. When they were told that the life of a young man was at stake, they said it had nothing to do with them, that they could not allow their colleagues’ reputation to be ruined.

And the Head of the Judiciary considered an eight-year-old judgment as a [religious] certainty and invalidated the other rulings, whereas, according to the rules of procedure, a ruling that is more than three years old is not enforceable.” (Rooz Online)

Mr. Mohsen Amir Aslani was hanged in [the city of Karaj’s] Rajai Shahr Prison on Wednesday, September 24, 2014, for “Efsad Fel Arz” (“spreading corruption on earth”).

When his family went to the prison for his body, they were told to go to [the city of] Qazvin. In Qazvin they were told to go to Tehran’s Behesht Zahra Cemetery to take delivery of the body. Mr. Amir Aslani’s body was ultimately turned over to his family at Karaj’s Behesht Sakineh Cemetery; his family buried him in Behesht Zahra.

Up until 24 hours prior to his execution, the media had not published any news regarding Mr. Mohsen Amir Aslani. According to his parents, the family had preferred not to make the case public and to try to have it resolved through legal and judicial channels. They were worried that any connection to news networks might be detrimental to him. (Rooz Online) 

 

Correct This Entry