Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

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

Keyvan Zandkarimi


Age: 24
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Sunni)
Civil Status: Married


Date of Killing: December 27, 2012
Location of Killing: Qezelhesar Prison, Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: War on God

About this Case

Keyvan Zandkarimi was a Sunni Kurd, who lived in Sanandaj. His interests were serving his friends and Muslims, always reciting and memorizing the Qur’an.

News of the execution of Mr. Kayvan Zandkarimi was published on Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) and Roozonline websites on December 30, 2012. Additional information about this case was drawn from research carried out by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF), with interviews from ABF with several persons close to Mr. Zandkarimi and his cellmates;  a published letter by his cellmates (HRANA April 25, 2014); a letter by Sunni clergies to authorities (Jaras on September 18, 2013, and Roozonline on September 23, 2013), and several other resources, including the Centre for Supporters of Human Rights on May 4, 2014; the website and Facebook page of the International Campaign to Support Sunni Prisoners; Al Arabiya on September 19, 2013; Sunni News; and YouTube.

Mr. Kayvan Zandkarimi, 24, was a high school graduate and a welder in a shed-building company. He was a Sunni Kurd who lived in Sanandaj. His family was religious, and his father a worker. He was married recently, but his wife was divorced after his arrest. 

Mr. Zandkarimi was a calm person who faced difficulties patiently. He was compassionate and confidential toward people close to him. His concerns were serving his friends and Muslims and always recited and memorized the Qur’an. (Interview with ABF) 

According to his cellmates, Mr. Zandkarimi was not an affiliate of any group or organization. He believed in the Shafei religion and had memorized eight sections of the Qur’an. He and other Sunni prisoners, who were condemned to death, performed their religious activities in their mosques and quarters. Among these activities were to distribute pamphlets and CD’s regarding Shi’a authorities insults of Sunni beliefs. They promoted Shafe’i beliefs among Sunnis and tried to avoid taking advantage of the religion. (Centre for Supporters of Human Rights on May 04, 2014)

Human rights organizations have protested the death sentences against these Sunni activists and due process violations in their cases. Nineteen human rights organizations issued statements objecting to these sentences and demanding their annulment. (June 20, 2014) Sunni religious leaders, such as Molavi Abdolhamid, Friday Emam of Zahedan, and Hassan Amini, Director of the Emam Bokhara religious school in Sanandaj, issued open letters to the Supreme Leader and heads of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the Islamic Republic of Iran, calling for the annulment of the death penalty for Sunni prisoners. (Al Arabiya, September 19, 2013)

Arrest and detention

Mr. Kayvan Zandkarimi was arrested at Sanandaj Terminal and transferred to the detention center of Information Administration in Sanandaj on July 18, 2009. He spent nineteen months in solitary confinement at the Information Ministry detention centers in Sanandaj, Hamedan, and Tehran. He was frequently tortured physically and psychologically during his detention period. According to his cellmates, his interrogators used electric shocks, applied lashing, and threat in order to get him to confess to having links to extremist groups whose goal was to overthrow the regime. (ABF research)

Mr. Zandkarimi had no access to an attorney, nor any visitation with his family during his interrogation. Except for a few times, they did not allow him to call his family either. In February of 2012, he and other Sunni prisoners were transferred to Raja’ishahr Prison and later to Qezelhesar Prison on November 13, 2012.


Branch 28 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran tried Mr. Zandkarimi and nine other co-defendants in a closed session on February 12, 2011. Based on the testimony of four defendants, they were not allowed to choose their defense attorneys. Each met the attorney assigned to him less than half an hour before the trial was to sign his engagement letter. The defendants were taken to court and tried while handcuffed, shackled, and blindfolded. The session lasted only 10 minutes. (A letter sent by four cellmates of Mr. Zandkarimi to the international community and the website of Sunni Prisoners) According to several defendants, the judge did not question defendants and had a vulgar and insulting behavior toward them. (A defendant’s will - ABF research)


Based on the testimony of four defendants, Mr. Kayvan Zandkarimi and his co-defendants were accused of “waging war against God,” through “links to Salafi mini-groups” and “propaganda against the regime, through participating in ideological and political classes and possessing, selling, and buying books and CDs of speeches related to Sunni beliefs.” (Letter to Ban Ki-moon, September 2012 - ABF research)

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

Evidence of guilt

No information is available regarding the evidence provided against Mr. Zandkarimi. However, according to the testimony of the defendants, the confessions coerced during interrogations were used as evidence against them. In addition, according to the existing reports, the interrogators saw the promotion of his religious beliefs as an effort to overthrow the regime. The representative of the Sunni prisoners and several other defendants had confirmed that they were tortured and coerced into making false confessions.

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, broadcast. State television broadcasts confessions, during which prisoners plead guilty to vague and false charges, repent and renounce their political beliefs, and/or implicate others. Human rights organizations have also pointed to the pattern of retracted confessions by those prisoners who are freed.


The security agents and judicial authorities did not allow Mr. Zandkarimi to visit his families or to choose and visit his legal counsel until his trial. According to testimonies of several other defendants, the trial took place without compliance with legal standards. The court did not allow the defendants an opportunity to defend themselves or even speak. They note that the only reason for accepting the charges on their trial day was the false promises of their court-assigned lawyer of transfer to Sanandaj and leniency. They note that, at the time, following months of interrogations and solitary confinement, they were mentally disoriented and weak and gave in with the hope of seeing their family and benefiting from the court’s leniency. (ABF research)

The defendants consider themselves as followers of the Shafe’i religion. They deny the charge of being linked to Salafi groups or any other extremist group. In his video will, recorded in prison, Mr. Bahram Ahmadi, another defendant of this case, rejects all the charges against him and the co-defendants and states: “All the charges that the government claimed through its media are lies, and we deny them. If our Sunni brothers, or we, said anything, it was due to pressure and torture.” He points to the disrespectful and insulting behavior of the judge during the trial and stated that the judge did not even allow the defendants to speak.

In his own defense, Mr. Ahmadi explained that his other defendants became active in promoting their religious beliefs “after two clerics, Bijan Daneshmand and Juybari, gravely insulted the mother of believers [Ayesheh] ... and other companions of the prophet and insulted Sunni beliefs and sanctities … . Because we defended these sanctities, we have been in prison for the past four years, and [the authorities] have convicted us, instead of putting those clerics on trial for their insults.” (Video will of Mr. Ahmadi)


Branch 28 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran condemned Mr. Kayvan Zandkarimi and nine other co-defendants to death on the day of their trial on February 12, 2011. The ruling was confirmed by the Supreme Court. Mr. Zandkarimi was executed secretly, along with five co-defendants, in violation of the protocol in place for executions in the Qezelhesar Prison on December 28, 2012. According to his cellmates, the family was not informed, and Mr. Zandkarimi was not allowed a last visit with them. His parents heard about his execution from Sanandaj’s parliamentary representative. The judicial and security authorities did not give the body to Mr. Zandkarimi’s family and buried him at the section for those executed in the Behesht-e Sakineh cemetery in Karaj. They did not inform the family of the exact location of his grave. 

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