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

Mehdi Qasemzadeh

About

Age: 27
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Other
Civil Status: Single

Case

Date of Execution: February 28, 2009
Location: Orumieh Prison, Orumieh, Azarbaijan-e Gharbi, 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, 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 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 peaceful assembly.

 

UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 21.

 

·         The right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade union for the protection of one’s interests.

 

UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 22.1.

 

·         The right, as a member of a religious or ethnic minority, to enjoy one’s own culture or to profess and practice one’s own religion.

 

UDHR, Article 18; ICCPR, Article 27.

 

·         The right to equality before the law and the right to equal protection of the law.

 

UDHR, Article 7; ICCPR, Article 26.

 

The right to due process

 

·         The right to be presumed innocent until found guilty by a competent and impartial tribunal in accordance with law.

 

UDHR, Article 11.1; 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 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.

 

Trial rights

 

·         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.

 

Judgment rights

 ·         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.

·         The right of a person not to be subjected to the capital punishment for an offence committed before the age of eighteen. The right not to be deprived of life while pregnant.

 

 ICCPR, Article 6.5; Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 37.a.

About this Case

To Ayatollah Khamenei from inside prison:

“Your tyranny is like leprosy that slowly gnaws at - and eats away - the flesh. You are like an extreme heat that evaporates [and destroys] everything this nation possesses: its life, sources of life, religion, integrity, principles, mercy, and fairness.”

News of Mr. Mehdi Qasemzadeh’s execution was published in numerous sources, including the Yarsan Website (February 28, 2009); and Human Rights Activists in Iran (February 28, 2009); the Fars News Agency published the news of the execution of an Ahl-e Haq prisoner without mentioning a name (March 1, 2009), quoting the chief of the West Azarbaijan Province Police Force Information Center. Additional information was obtained from an interview with Mr. Qasemzadeh’s sister and one of his co-defendants with Gunaz TV; (Prosecutor General’s website):  Summary of Insistent Criminal Case number 11/86. The report: “Belief-based Genocide:  Miandoab Qushachai [Region’s] Ahl-e Haq Qizilbashan [People],” published on the Yurd.net website (October 29, 2014), as well as from other sources.*

Mr. Mehdi Qasemzadeh was a single, 27-year-old high school graduate. He was an [ethnic] Turk from Miandoab’s village of Uchtappeh, who worked at a cattle farming complex owned by Mr. Soltanali Mohammadi. Mr. Qasemzadeh was a follower of the Atashbeigi Branch of Ahl-e Haq. (Qizilbashan tribe’s of Azerbaijanies Alavi)

Ahl-e Haq

Ahl-e Haq is an internal, mystical faith, founded in the 14thcentury by Sulta Eshaq. It is established upon deeply felt spiritual and religious premises. Although Ali Ibn Abitaleb, the first Shi’a Imam, holds an important and pivotal place in Ahl-e Haq beliefs, this creed is not, however, solely an Islamic sect; it encompasses a collection of Zoroastrian, Manichaeist, Christian, and Jewish beliefs. Ahl-e Haq believes in resurrection (the continuation of life after death in another body) and in unity (God entering a body, object, or place), but does not believe in judgment day (heaven and hell). Purity, truth, nonexistence (degenerating desires to reach to or toward God), and reda (sacrificing oneself and providing services to help human beings) are the four pillars of Ahl-e Haq. “Kalam-e Saranjam” is their central holy book. “Jamkhaneh” is their place of worship and collective prayer, which, in most regions, is accompanied by the musical instrument, the tanbur. Ahl-e Haq adherents live in Iran in parts of the provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Azarbaijan, Zanjan, Hamedan, and Lorestan, as well as in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Albania, and Afghanistan. Sultan Eshaq divides the Ahl-e Haq into seven main Families, to which four other Families were added in the 18th and 19th centuries, among them the Atashbeigi Family. The leader of the Atashbeigi Family is Nezamoddin Mosha’shai. The Atashbeigi live in the regions of Lorestan, Hersin in Kermanshah, and Ilkhchi in Azarbaijan.

Summary of Events

The commanding officers’ insistence that one of the Ahl-e Haq soldiers shave his mustache, and his refusal to do so, caused the latter to run from the military base where he was serving in July and August 2000. His father, Soltanali Mohammadi, and a number of the residents of Miandoab’s Uchtappeh village wrote letters to local and state authorities, including the Ministry of the Interior, the Majles (Iranian Parliament) Commission on Principle 90 [of the Constitution], and the Leader of the Islamic Republic, asking that Ahl-e Haq’s beliefs be respected, and that military base [residents] and other administration [personnel] refrain from insulting and offending them. They also objected to employment discrimination and early retirement of Ahl-e Haq followers because of their beliefs. Uchtappeh residents’ follow-ups and open letters in the years 2001 to 2003 bore no fruit and at times provoked the security forces to react and exert further pressure.

In 2002-03, Mr. Soltanali Mohammadi’s action in publishing a book on Ahl-e Haq’s beliefs and in installing signs at the entrance to his cattle farming complex bearing Ahl-e Haq themes, caused local authorities to react to and prevent the same, as well as to summon and temporarily arrest a number of Ahl-e Haq followers. The Town [of Miandoab’s] Security Council’s Resolution to remove the signs, and a group of Ahl-e Haq followers’ insistence on their religious beliefs, ultimately resulted in two armed clashes in September and October 2004 at Uchtappeh’s cattle complex.

The first clash began when a large contingent of the police force conducted a widespread attack against the cattle farming complex on September 22 and occupied it, using semi-heavy military equipment. The second clash consisted of a counter-attack to take back the complex on September 28. These two clashes resulted in the death of six villagers and three police officers, and the wounding of twenty others. The commander of Miandoab’s police force, as well as Soltanali Mohammadi and his son, were among the dead. Mr. Mehdi Qasemzadeh’s brother, Behrooz, was killed on September 28, during the second clash. Subsequent to these armed clashes, the cattle farming complex’s equipment, a pasteurized milk production factory and related farmland, were destroyed by the government, and a number of villagers were arrested. At least three Ahl-e Haq Dervishes surrendered themselves to security forces on the orders of the Chief of the Atashbeigi Family. Those arrested were tried and condemned to different sentences, including death and long prison terms.

Mr. Qasemzadeh published numerous open letters from prison, addressed to the country’s high-ranking officials, emphasizing the rights of Ahl-e Haq followers and enumerating the discriminations. In one such letter, he asked that the individuals attacking the homes of Ahl-e Haq followers be identified and punished for their actions, stressing that young Ahl-e Haq followers are banned from pursuing higher education at universities, because of their beliefs and their mustaches, and cannot obtain government employment. He also asked for high-ranking government authorities’ official apologies, the return of Ahl-e Haq followers’ religious signs, [the right] to hang the signs up at the entrances to their homes, and for the enactment of a law officially recognizing Ahl-e Haq.

In another letter, Mr. Qasemzadeh and the other defendants in the case address Ayatollah Khamenei, whom they consider to be the one who orders the police force attacks against Ahl-e Haq followers, for having their beliefs, as well as to burn and pillage their property, and to conduct genocide against them, and states:  “Your tyranny is like leprosy that slowly gnaws at, and eats away, the flesh. You are like an extreme heat that evaporates [and destroys] everything this nation possesses:  its life, sources of life, religion, integrity, principles, mercy, and fairness.” (Yurd.net, October 29, 2014).

On April 27, 2009, Amnesty International issued a bulletin declaring Mr. Qasemzadeh’s execution to have been against freedom of religion and belief and contrary to the tenets of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. On June 18, 2010, in his report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Philip Alston, pointed to letters sent to Iran’s judicial authorities requesting explanations concerning Mr. Qasemzadeh’s trial and execution. The UN Special Rapporteur expressed concern that Mr. Qasemzadeh was sentenced to death contrary to international norms and without having committed a serious crime. He asked that the Iranian authorities explain their definition of “Mohareb,” and the incompatibility of Mr. Qasemzadeh’s sentence, and those of other Ahl-e Haq defendants in the case, with Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Iranian authorities did not respond to the Special Rapporteur’s letters. (UN website, June 18, 2010)

Arrest and Detention

Mr. Mehdi Qasemzadeh was injured and arrested on September 22, 2004, in the course of the police force attack on Miandoab’s village of Uchtappeh’s cattle farm. His 75-year-old father was arrested that same day at home, and his brother Abdollah was arrested during the September 28 clash. His father was released on bail on December 25, 2004, but the Qasemzadeh brothers remained in detention.

According to Mr. Qasemzadeh’s memoirs, his leg was injured at the time of his arrest. Police officers subjected him to physical and psychological torture from the moment of his arrest. The torture continued, while en route from the site of the clash [to the hospital], inside the Mahabad emergency room, and then at [the city of] Orumieh’s Motahari Hospital. In his memoirs, Mr. Qasemzadeh provides a detailed account of the torture, while in custody and in front of hospital personnel, and even in the presence of the Mahabad Friday Prayer Imam:

“My uvula was torn from the force exerted by the rifle, and I passed out. I regained consciousness by being kicked and hit with a Kalashnikov on the chest. When they had thrown me down, my leg bones had broken [so severely] that they were disconnected; I heard a sound that resembled the sound of wooden sticks breaking, but it was the sound of my bones hitting each other. They had rendered my arms useless. I could not put my hands on my eyes to cover them. They threw my leg toward my head from the place it was broken and my leg was lying on my chest. [I knew] I could never fix my leg. They were throwing it around like a piece of cloth. This torture was accompanied by curse words and insults to my religion, my honor, my dignity and my integrity … . They put me on a bed in the emergency room and proceeded with torture and insults. Whoever showed up would kick me and punch me in the leg and in the head and would spit in my face. I couldn’t see anymore. My entire body was bleeding, so much so that, in the course of 22 hours of torture, they bandaged me 33 times.” (Yurd.net website, October 29, 2014)

On September 28, he was operated on in Orumieh’s Motahari Hospital, where platinum rods were placed in his leg. On October 5, he was taken to the police force’s Information Protection Detention Center (known as the “9 Steps” detention center). He spent 85 days in solitary confinement at the detention center and was interrogated at the Orumieh Information Administration. Thereafter, he was transferred to the Orumieh Central Prison. He and the other defendants in the case went on a hunger strike in prison in March and October 2008, protesting “the ruling regime’s excessive corruption, the lack of freedom of expression - which is our natural right - as is defending the trampled-upon rights of Ahl-e Haq adherents.” (Mehdi Qasemzadeh’s letter from prison, October 19, 2007)

According to Mr. Qasemzadeh, Ahl-e Haq followers were continuously subjected to pressure, ridicule, and insults for their beliefs by prison officials, warden, and guards. For instance, they forced them to shave their mustaches. One prison official had told other prisoners that Ahl-e Haq prisoners were infidels and that one should not even shake their hand. Emphasizing that the regime was “tyrannical and despotic,” Ahl-e Haq prisoners considered prison food Haram (“forbidden by religion”) and refused it. They ate what their families brought them to prison. After the prisoners’ letter to the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the officials did not allow them to receive food from the outside. (Mehdi Qasemzadeh’s letter from inside prison, October 19, 2007)

Trial

There are no details regarding Mr. Mehdi Qasemzadeh’s trial. The Mahabad Islamic Revolutionary Court, Branch Two, tried him and nine other defendants in the fall of 2004 in two sessions. Mr. Beyrami was Mr. Qasemzadeh’s court-appointed attorney in this case. (Court Decision, January 11, 2005) The Mahabad Islamic Revolutionary Court, Branch Two, had initially declared itself not competent to hear the case. Supreme Court Branch 33, however, declared the Revolutionary Court competent and assigned the case to that Branch. (Public Prosecutor’s website:  Summary of Insistent Criminal Case Number 11/86).

Charges

According to the Case Summary, Mr. Qasemzadeh’s charges were: “1. Participation in procuring and installing offensive signs, reading ‘Owner of Time, Excellency Aqa Nezam, the World is Awaiting Your Public Appearance’ at the entrance to his and others’ homes. 2. Instigating and encouraging village residents to install the aforementioned signs at their homes. 3. Armed resistance to the law and law enforcement and disobeying the orders of police and judicial authorities. 4. Procuring and keeping illegal weapons and war ammunitions. 5. Active participation in clashes with, armed attack against, and shooting the police force, resulting in the martyrdom of the Miandoab Police Commander, another police officer, and seven other individuals. 6. Participation in the armed attack of the Police Force Special Unit station at the cattle farm, which resulted in the martyrdom of one and injury to eleven individuals. 7. Insistence on heretical positions (considering Nezamoddin Moshashai as God, and that he will appear as the Imam of Time.” (Prosecutor General’s website, Summary of Insistent Criminal Case Number 11/86)

In the decision issued by the Islamic Revolutionary Court, Mr. Qasemzadeh’s charges were stated to be, “armed uprising against the Islamic Republic and the illegal carrying of war weaponry.” Additionally, said decision alludes to Mr. Qasemzadeh’s role in, “publishing and distributing leaflets against the regime and the Supreme Leader of the Revolution.” (Court Decision, January 11, 2005) West Azarbaijan Province’s Chief of the Police Force Information Center declared that Mr. Qasemzadeh was the person responsible for “the martyrdom of two of the region’s commanders.” (Fars News Agency, March 2, 2008)

Evidence

The Prosecutor General has declared “the region’s information officials’ statements and their written report,” “the [town’s] Security Council resolutions,” “the discovery of more than 10 weapons of war,” and “equipping Miandoab region villages with weapons and ammunitions without any legal or religious permits,” as evidence “indicating a premeditated plan to confront and resist the regime.”

In a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the country’s Prosecutor General declares “the defendants’ actions against the orders of executive and judicial authorities; confronting agents in multiple phases; having misguided, superstitious, and heretical beliefs; taking action as an organized group under a command, installing guards at the cattle farm building, and the fact that they had stated that they would wage war in their meeting,” as evidence of the defendants’ guilt. He has also stated that “the aforementioned individuals’ actions that are characterized as ‘Moharebeh’(“waging war against God”), frightening the population, distributing arms, disobeying the Imam [and Leader], as well as heresy, corruption, and endangering public order and security are undoubtedly clear instances of confrontation and fighting the regime, and ‘Moharebeh.’” (Prosecutor General’s website: Summary of Instant Criminal Case Number 11/86).

Defense

There is no detailed information regarding Mr. Qasemzadeh’s defense at trial. He was deprived of the right to hire an attorney and was represented by a court-appointed lawyer to conduct his defense. The text of his bill of objection to the charges brought against him has, however, been published.

In that bill, Mr. Qasemzadeh refers to the court decision as “unfounded and nonsensical,” calling the charge of armed uprising and carrying weapons “ridiculous.” He states: “I was wounded inside and outside the Mohammadi cattle farm, without any weapons whatsoever, and was taken prisoner by the police force and taken to the hospital. After that, I was taken to Orumieh Hospital and from there to solitary confinement, and I have been in jail ever since. How has this charge been brought against me?” In denying the charge of armed uprising he states: “This was not an uprising. We have simply defended our beliefs and this is very clear from your attack on our cattle farm. What gave you the right to attack the cattle farm?” (Bill of Objection, Yurd.net, October 29, 2014)

Four of the other defendants in the case who were present at the site of the clash gave a written affidavit to the court, stating that Mr. Qasemzadeh was exiting the cattle farm and had not shot anything when he was targeted and wounded by the agents and that he was not responsible for other people shooting, [and that the latter were] individuals “who had been forced to defend their life, property, and belief, influenced by the prevailing circumstances.” (Text of the Affidavit attached to the Bill of Objection)

In his Bill of Objection, Mr. Qasemzadeh alludes to the fact that he was under “torture and physical and psychological pressure” while in detention and considers the judge in his case to be “influenced by the [statements and] orders of the police force and, perhaps, other institutions.” He considers the police force reports and minutes of meetings as lies made up by senior police officers, who are trying to cover up their illegal actions [and the fact] that they have forced their underlings to sign [those documents]. He also states that no crime was ever proven to have been committed by him in interrogations conducted at the Information Administration.

In its initial consideration of the case, the Mahabad Islamic Revolutionary Court, Branch Two, declared itself not competent to hear the case regarding the defendants’ apostasy, disobeying the police force, murder, and intentional assault and battery, stating that “the defendants’ actions in confronting the police force were to prevent enforcement of an arrest warrant, and their armed resistance against police officers cannot be considered armed conflict against the regime, and they cannot be characterized as ‘Mohareb’ (“waging war against God”).” (Prosecutor General’s website: Summary of Insistent Criminal Case Number 11/86). In the Supreme Court General Council session that met to determine the fate of the other defendants in the case, the Prosecutor General’s First Deputy expressly stated: “Simple possession of weapons, and even using the same in resisting police officers, is not evidence of Moharebeh and uprising against the regime.” (Prosecutor General’s website: Summary of Insistent Criminal Case Number 11/86).

Judgment

On January 11, 2005, the Mahabad Islamic Revolutionary Court, Branch Two, sentenced Mr. Mehdi Qasemzadeh to death for “armed uprising against the Islamic Republic regime,” in accordance with the Islamic Penal Code Articles 186**and 190***. The Supreme Court, Branch 27, upheld the Revolutionary Court’s decision for only two of the defendants in the case, including Mr. Qasemzadeh. The same Branch, however, in considering the charges against the other defendants, did not consider their actions as amounting to armed uprising against the regime and characterized it as “simply rioting and disobeying the orders of government agents, mixed with superstitious religious beliefs.” Branch 27’s decision states that “the initial source of the conflict was instigations by certain officers,” which went against the defendants’ “superstitious beliefs,” (such as clipping their mustaches) and that the reason for the occurrence of the second clash “was to take the cattle farm back, not to overthrow the regime; they’re not big enough to even think of such a thing.” (Prosecutor General’s website: Summary of Insistent Criminal Case Number 11/86).

Mr. Qasemzadeh was hanged in Orumieh Prison on the morning of March 1, 2009. According to his sister, neither she, nor her family, knew of the implementation of the sentence. In the afternoon of the day before his execution, prison phones were disconnected, and he was transferred to solitary confinement. According to his sister, Mr. Qasemzadeh had not had any visitations with his family since five months prior to his hanging.

Mr. Qasemzadeh’s body was not turned over to his family, nor were they told of where he was buried. According to his sister, the family’s efforts to obtain the body bore no fruit. Security forces have told them, “If we give you his body, you will turn his grave into a shrine. (YouTube interview with Gunaz TV, May-June 2014).

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*Other sources:

Advar News (July 12, 2006), Savalan Sesi (March 1, 2009), Amnesty International (April 27, 2009), UN Special Rapporteur on an Extrajudicial Executions Report (June 18, 2010), Human Rights Activists in Iran (February 28, 2009), Rooz Online (October 22, 2008), Committee for the Defense of Azarbaijan Political Prisoners (March 4, 2008), Hamshahri Online (October 11, 2004), Yarsan Website (February, 28, 2009), Gunaz TV Website ( July 7, 2012), Oyenci news (September 26, 2008),  Jamali Website, Ahl-e Haq Weblog, YouTube

 ** Article 186 :All members and supporters of any group or association that resorts to armed uprising against Islamic Rule, who know of the group or association’s position, and who take effective actions and efforts in the advancement of their goals in any way, are considered Mohareb, even if they do not participate in the military branch thereof, so long as the central [organization of such group or association] remains in existence.

***Article 190: The Hadd (“Islamic punishment”) for Moharebeh and Efsad Fel Arz is one of four things: 1. Murder; 2. Hanging; 3. First cutting off the right hand then the left foot; 4. Exile.

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