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

Mohammad Zaher Bahmani

About

Age: 23
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Sunni)
Civil Status: Single

Case

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

About this Case

Mr. Bahmani had lost his father during childhood and had worked at a turnery [workshop] in Marivan. He was a seminary student in Sanandaj and had memorized all of the Qur’an.

News of the execution of Mr. Mohammad Zaher Bahmani was published in the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) and Roozonline website 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. Bahmani and his cellmates; his published will; 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. Bahmani, 23, was single, a high school graduate, and a Sunni Kurd who lived in Sanandaj. He had lost his father during childhood and worked at his brother’s turnery workshop in Marivan. He memorized the Qur’an, was a seminary student, and was a religious activist in Sanandaj. According to his cellmates, he managed religious classes at the Qoba Mosque. Additionally, he managed to hold some secret religious classes -- without state supervision -- in defense of Sunni beliefs among the workers in the area. Promotion and distribution of the book, “Sireh-ie Sahabeh,” was also one of his activities.

According to his cellmates, Mr. Bahmani was not an affiliate of any group or organization. He was steady, generous, and self-contained. He spent most of his time in prison reading Qur’an and religious books, having memorized the Qur’an during his detention period of a year and a half. Wishing to fulfill his mother’s desires, he was compassionate and confidential toward people close to him and faced difficulties with patience in such a way that others were impressed. (Interview with ABF)

Mr. Bahmani 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. Mohammad Zaher Bahmani was arrested by agents of the Information Ministry while returning from his brother’s house in Sanandaj on November 11, 2009. He was transferred to the detention center of Information Administration in Sanandaj. He spent fifteen months in solitary confinement at the Information Ministry detention centers in Sanandaj, Hamedan, and Tehran. According to his will, Mr. Bahmani was frequently tortured, physically and psychologically, during his detention period. In addition, his family suffered the pressure imposed by the interrogators. According to one cellmate, Mr. Bahmani was so severely tortured because he was an active religious student. His interrogators beat him up, insulted him, used electric shocks, applied lashing, and keeping his hands and feet cuffed to his cell, in order to get him to confess to having links to extremist groups, whose goal was to overthrow the regime. (ABF research)

Mr. Bahmani had no access to an attorney, nor any visitation with his family during his interrogation. In February of 2012, he and other Sunni prisoners were transferred to Raja’ishahr Prison and, later, to Qezelhesar Prison on November 13, 2012.

Trial

Branch 28 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran tried Mr. Mohammad Zaher Bahmani 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. Mr. Bahmani and other 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. Bahmani 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)

Charges

Based on the testimony of four defendants, Mr. Mohammad Zaher Bahmani 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 CD’s of speeches related to Sunni beliefs.”  (Letter to Ban Ki-moon, September 2012 - ABF research) In his will, Mr. Bahmani stated his charges as, “defending the mother of believers, Ayesheh, defending the Moslem Khalifa Omar-ben-Khatab, and defending and promoting monotheism.” (YouTube, October 23, 2013)

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. Bahmani. 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. Mr. Bahmani and the representative of the Sunni prisoners 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.

Defense

The security agents and judicial authorities did not allow Mr. Bahmani to visit his families or to choose and visit his legal counsel until his trial. According to his will, the trial took place without compliance with legal standards. The court did not allow him or other defendants an opportunity to defend themselves or even speak. According to Mr. Bahmani, the judge was “a fanatic clergy and an interrogator of the Intelligence Ministry” who did not allow the attorney to see the case. “We were not allowed to speak nor defend ourselves during the trial. Even the attorney could not come close to our case. He did not respond to all the insults made by mullah Bijan Daneshmand, mullah Juybari, and Sabz Magazine no. 13, published by Hatamikia. (Audio will of Mr. Bahmani; You Tube on October 23, 2013)

Mr. Bahmani and his co-defendant 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)

A Summary of the Legal Defects in the Adjudication of Mr. Mohammad Zaher Bahmani’s Case

According to available information, Mr. Bahmani was tried, convicted, and executed on the charge of Moharebeh (“waging war against God”) and Efsad fel-Arz (“spreading corruption on Earth”), for engaging in activities promoting and proselytizing the Sunni branch of Islam, as well as protesting the regime’s discriminatory policies and practices. According to Iranian law, however, the crime of Moharebeh consists of acts where an individual or a group take up arms and engage in armed activities in order to fight the regime or to deprive a large segment of the populace of their safety and security. In other words, armed activities are the main component of the crime of Moharebeh, whereas Mr. Mohammad Zaher Bahmani’s activities were peaceful. According to published information, his activities consisted of conducting religious classes and distributing written materials and CD’s which directed the people’s attention to insults leveled against the beliefs of the adherents of the Sunni faith by Shi’a religious authorities, but he was not a member of any group or organization. Mr. Bahmani promoted the beliefs and teachings of Imam Shafe’I, and his efforts also consisted of preventing [the regime from] taking advantage of the people in the name of religion. Not only have any of these activities not been criminalized in any law, but the [Iranian] constitution emphasizes respect for the various branches of the Sunni religion. Principle 12 of the Constitution provides: “The official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver Jafari [school of Shi’a] religion. This Principle shall remain eternally unchangeable. Other Islamic schools of thought, such as the Hanafi, Shafe’i, Maleki, Hanbali, and Zaydi, are deserving of total respect and their followers are free to perform their own religious practices, religious education, and personal matters. They may practice their religious education, personal status, (marriage, divorce, inheritance, and bequest), in accordance with their own jurisprudence. The dispute over these matters is recognized in the courts. In any area where followers of these schools of thought are in the majority, local regulations, within the domain of the council’s jurisdictions, are set according to that school of thought so long as the rights of the followers of other schools of religion are maintained.” On that basis, all Mr. Bahmani had done was exercise a right provided for in the law.

According to available information, it seems that Mr. Bahmani’s death sentence was issued based on his confession made in the interrogation phase. According to statements made by him and by persons with knowledge of the case, these confessions were made under torture and duress. In his statements, Mr. Bahmani alluded to the interrogators belittling and insulting him and his beliefs. Pursuant to Iranian law, torture and duress of the defendant is illegal and considered a crime. Furthermore, admissions and confessions obtained in this manner are without legal credence and value. Principle 38 of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution, as well as other Iranian laws and international instruments to which the Iranian government is a signatory, so state expressly and even consider a confession obtained through torture to be a crime and those who engage in such activities, criminals. Therefore, in addition to the illegality of security agents torturing Mr. Bahmani, the court’s reliance on a confession that was made under torture and duress was also completely illegal. Furthermore, it is not clear whether or not the Defendant accepted these confessions as accurate before the trial judge; a confession can be cited as the basis of a ruling only if it is made before the trial judge.

According to available information, Mr. Mohammad Zaher Bahmani did not have access to an attorney during interrogations and preliminary investigations, and his access to a lawyer at trial was through a court-appointed one [not one of his own choosing] and even that was severely hampered. Pursuant to Iranian law, every defendant is entitled to retain an attorney and to use their services in all phases of adjudication. Mr. Bahmani, however, was strictly denied access to a lawyer during detention at the security detention center and at the preliminary investigations stage at the Prosecutor’s Office. Furthermore, he was prohibited from retaining an attorney of his own choosing at trial, and a court-appointed attorney, who did not have an effective defense, was imposed on him. This was completely against the law. Pursuant to Note 1 to Article 186 of the Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure for General and Revolutionary Courts, “If in crimes for which the law has mandated the punishments of Qesas of life, execution, stoning, and life imprisonment, the defendant does not personally introduce an attorney, it is mandatory that a court-appointed attorney be designated for him.” Not taking this provision into account would undoubtedly render the trial and the court’s decision null and void. The court’s action was entirely illegal and rendered the ruling, regardless of its substance, completely defective and without legal validity.

The manner in which Mr. Bahmani was executed was also contrary to regulations and to what is customary. The authorities did not allow him to have a last visit with his family. The execution took place in secret and the body was not turned over to the family, and was buried in an undetermined location.

Judgement

Branch 28 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran condemned Mr. Bahmani 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. Bahmani 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. Bahmani 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. Bahmani’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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