Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

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

Abdolreza Sanavati (Zergani)

About

Age: 34
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Shi'a)
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Killing: November 13, 2007
Location: Karun Prison, Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: War on God; Acting against state's security

About this Case

Mr. Abdolreza Sanavati was married and from [the city of] Ahvaz. He had an elementary school education and was a welder. He suffered from diabetes.

News of Mr. Abdolreza Sanavati(Zergani)’s execution was published by numerous sources, including the Ahwaz News Agency (January 30, 2008) and Amnesty International (February 7, 2008). Additional information was obtained from an interview conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF Inteview)  with two individuals accused in the case, which has been referred to as “the Ahvaz bombings case” by Iranian authorities, including one of his prison mates, and one from other sources.*On February 14, 2007, numerous sources had published the news of Mr. Sanavati’s execution. Subsequent additional information told of the temporary delay in the implementation of the sentence and of Mr. Reysan Savari’s execution instead.

Mr. Abdolreza Sanavati was thrity-four years old, married, and from [the city of] Ahvaz. He had an elementary school education and was a welder. Mr. Sanavati suffered from diabetes.

Mr. Sanavati was among the ethnic Arab citizens of Khuzestan Province who were executed in connection with the Ahvaz bombings of 2005-2006. The sentence and execution issued for this group of individuals prompted numerous reactions from the attorneys in the case, the Association for the Protection of Prisoners’ Rights, as well as international organizations such as Amnesty International (November 13, December 7, December 24, 2006 and January 25, 2007); Human Rights Watch (November 11, 2006); The U.N. human rights institutions (January 10, 2007); and the European Parliament (November 16, 2006). In a resolution issued on December 19, 2006, the UN General Assembly expressed grave concern about widespread human rights abuses, the use of torture and execution in Iran, and, more particularly, regarding discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. The open publication of seven of the Ahvaz bombing defendants’ attorneys resulted in their prosecution on the charge of endangering national security in Ahvaz. (ILNA, October 7, 2006). The attorneys’ trial was supported by the UN Special Rapporteurs’ objections. (UN website, January 10, 2007).

Historical Background of the Ahvaz Bombing

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

In response to the Ahvaz bombings, security forces arrested dozens of the region’s ethnic Arab individuals, charging them with participation in the bombings. They were then kept in solitary confinement cells, for months, at the Information Ministry’s Detention Center. People being held were subjected to torture, in order to confess having taken part in the bombings. According to the Ahvaz Prosecutor, ultimately a total of four cases were opened at the Revolutionary Court, Special Branch, and at least 45 individuals were charged. Dozens of these individuals were tried in closed sessions and were sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court. At least 20 of these sentences were carried out. Dozens of other Arab citizens were given long-term sentences.

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

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

Arrest and Detention

Mr. Sanavati was arrested by Information Administration agents in February 2006 (Padmaz, April 12, 2014). On March 2, 2006, the Minister of Information announced the arrest of ten individuals “who had carried out the Ahvaz bombings.” (Iran Newspaper).

There is no direct information about Mr. Sanavati’s place and his conditions of detention. Two of the defendants in the bombing cases, as well as other Arab activists who were detained by the Information Administration at the same time, testified in an interview with the Boroumand Foundation that the accused in the bombing cases were kept in solitary confinement cells at Ahvaz Information Administration’s secret detention center, and routinely and continuously underwent physical and psychological torture. There was no possibility of contact and visitation with their families. According to one of Mr. Sanavati’s prison mates, he and a number of the accused in the case were transferred to Ward 5 of Ahvaz’s Karun Prison in the middle of summer 2006.

Trial

No information is available regarding Mr. Sanavati’s trial. It is not clear which attorney represented which of the defendants in the case. According to one of the defense attorneys, however, Branch Three of Ahvaz Revolutionary Court had tried the case. (ILNA, July 25, 2006) On June 13, 2006, the Ahvaz Prosecutor announced that 22 of the individuals accused in the case would be tried “in the near future.” The trial took place in secret on July 17 (Human Rights Watch, February 14, 2007) and according to the head of the Organization for the Defense of Prisoners’ Rights, a number of the defendants had retained counsel that had been chosen for them by the Organization (Emadoddin Baqi website, July 28, 2006). In a joint statement dated January 10, 2007, three U.N. Special Rapporteurs objected to the secrecy and the unfairness of this trial.

Charges

According to Mr. Tariri, one of the defense attorneys in the case, the charge against Mr. Sanavati and 9 other individuals was “Moharebeh (“waging war against God”) and acting against national security through the establishment of ‘Katibeh Mohiuddin Al Nasser’ (the ‘Mohiuddin Al Nasser Martyrs Brigade’)” (ILNA, July 25, 2006). These individuals were accused of being involved in the 2005-2006 bombings in Ahvaz.

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

Evidence of Guilt

There is no precise information regarding evidence presented at trial. However, according to official judicial and security authorities, the defendants’ confessions constituted the basis for the court’s judgment. On the night of November 13, 2006, Khuzestan Province’s state television network broadcast the confessions of 10 of the individuals accused of the Ahvaz bombings in a program entitled “Jelvehaye Tavvahhom” (“Manifestations of Delusion”). This video-recording had many jumps, and the statements appeared to have been severely tampered with and edited. In a sequence of the film, Mr. Sanavati has made certain incriminating confessions against himself and other defendants, regarding preparation of bomb molds and participation in the bombing of the Zargan oil pipeline.

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

Defense

No information is available regarding the individual’s defense. Based on available information, however, Mr. Sanavati was not given the opportunity to present an effective defense. In an open letter to the Ahvaz Revolutionary Court, seven defense attorneys of the Ahvaz bombing cases, including some of the attorneys in this case, objected to the legal proceedings. They pointed out that they had been informed only two days prior to trial, whereas the law requires at least 5 days’ notice. Further, in spite of their request, they were not given permission to conduct a thorough study of the case file, nor were they allowed to meet with their clients. Trial sessions were conducted without the presence of the other defendants and their attorneys. (Amnesty International, January 24, 2007).

Mr. Sanavati’s and other defendants’ families criticized “the exertion of pressure on the recent Ahvaz bombings case defendants to extract confessions” and demanded an open trial that would be broadcast on state radio and television.

In a meeting with the head of the Organization for the Defense of Prisoners’ Rights, Mr. Sanavati’s and other defendants’ families criticized “the exertion of pressure on the recent Ahvaz bombings case defendants to extract confessions” and demanded an open trial that would be broadcast on state radio and television. In a letter to the country’s highest authorities, including the President, the Head of the Judiciary, the Head of the Expediency Council, the Head of the Seventh Majles (Iran’s Parliament), the Head of the Majles Commission on Principle 90, the Minister of Information, and the Islamic Human Rights Commission, the families of Mr.Sanavati, and nine other defendants demanded that the sentences not be carried out, and that a group be appointed to investigate the case. Also, the Head of the Organization for the Defense of Prisoners’ Rights criticized the lack of due process and fair trial in trying these individuals, and the haste in carrying out the sentences (ILNA, November 18, 2006).

The Head of the Organization for the Defense of Prisoners’ Rights criticized the lack of due process and fair trial in trying these individuals, and the haste in carrying out the sentences.

In an interview with Radio France and Radio Zamaneh, Mr. Baqi emphasized that most of the accused did not have a direct role in the 2005-2006 bombings, and since they had not detonated any bombs and had not spilled anyone’s blood, their execution would constitute a “clear example of a crime.” (Baqi Website, January 29, and February 15, 2006).

Three U.N. Special Rapporteurs issued a statement pointing out the unfairness of the secret proceedings, emphasizing that the defense attorneys were not permitted to meet with their clients prior to trial and that the indictments were shown to them just hours before the secret trial. The U.N. Rapporteurs also sent two letters to the Islamic Republic officials in August and November 2006, demanding clarifications regarding the Ahvaz bombing defendants’ claims (including those of Mr. Albughbish) of torture and unfair trial. They stated that the court had ridiculed the requirements of fair legal proceeding in the cases. The government did not, however, reply to these letters. (U.N. Human Rights website, January 10, 2007).

Two of the individuals accused in the Ahvaz bombing case testified, in an interview with the Boroumand Foundation, that the prison guards in bombing cases applied severe physical and psychological torture in order to elicit incriminating confessions about themselves and the other accused individuals. According to them, a team had come from Tehran for the purpose of making videotaped confessions and that the defendants had been subjected to pressure and beatings for several nights in order to show their “confessions” on film. (ABF Interview). According to the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization, all of these individuals had been forced to make false confessions under torture. (January 24, 2007).

Decision

The Ahvaz Islamic Revolutionary Court, Branch Three, sentenced Mr. Abdolreza Sanavati and nine other individuals to death. (ILNA, July 25, 2006). This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in November 2006. According to Amnesty International, Mr. Sanavati was hanged in Ahvaz’ Karun Prison on November 13, 2007.

In November 2006, prior to Mr. Sanavati’s execution, judiciary officials announced that the death sentences of ten of the defendants would be carried out on November 14, even though the defense attorneys had not yet been served with the order of implementation of the sentence. (ISNA, Interview with the Case Attorney, Mr. Alizadeh Tabatabaei, November 18, 2006). In the meantime, considerable action was taken to stop the executions, both inside and outside Iran. As a result of protests by international institutions and the passage of a resolution by the European Parliament condemning Iran, the executions were postponed. In a joint statement issued on January 10, 2007, three U.N. Special Rapporteurs asked Iran to stop the execution of 7 Khuzestani Arabs, including Mr. Sanavati.

According to his prison mate, Mr. Sanavati’s body was not turned over to his family and was buried by security agents in an abandoned cemetery in Ahvaz called La’natabad. The agents did not allow Mr. Sanavati’s family to conduct an official wake for him.

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*Sources
ISNA (November 18, 2006), ILNA (July 25, October 7, and November 18, 2006), Fars News Agency (February 14, 2007), Radio France (February 15, 2007), Radio Farda (February 14 and 15, 2007), Padmaz (April 12, 2014), Amnesty International (November 13 and December 24, 2006, January 10 and 15, 2007), Amnesty International (November 11, 2006, February 14, 2007), U.N. Human Rights website (January 10, 2007), Human Rights Watch (November 11, 2006 and February 15, 2007), Rooz Online (November 20, 2006), Ahwaz News Agency (January 24 and Jebruary 14, 2007), Amnesty International (February 15, 2007), Emadeddin Baqi Website, Iran Newspaper (March 2, 2007), and the Jomhuri Eslami Newspaper.

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

***Ahvaz Bombings in 2005 and 2006:
June 12, 2005:  Four explosions occurred in front of the Governor’s building, the Planning and Budget Organization building, the Housing and Urban Development Organization building, and in a residential neighborhood, leaving at least 8 dead and 98 injured.
September 1, 2005:  The bombing of oil installations and two pipelines in the Zargan region of Ahvaz.
October 15, 2005:  Two explosions occurred prior to Iftar, in the month of Ramadan, at two locations on Salman Farsi (Naderi) Street, leaving at least 6 dead and 100 injured.
January 24, 2006:  Bombings at Saman Bank --  in the Kianpars neighborhood of Ahvaz and at the Khuzestan Province Natural Resources General Administration building --  left at least 6 dead and 45 injured (certain reports indicating 8 or 9 dead).
February 27, 2006:  Bombings at the Governor’s buildings in the cities of Dezful and Abadan left 4 injured.
****Human Rights Watch has declared the trial date to have been June 7, 2006 (Human Rights Watch, June 26, 2006).

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