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

Behnud Shoja'i

About

Age: 21
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Presumed Muslim
Civil Status: Single

Case

Date of Killing: October 11, 2009
Location: Evin Prison, Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: Murder
Age at time of offense: 17

About this Case

News of Mr. Behnud Shoja’i’s execution was published by Fars News Agency (October 11, 2009), Mohammad Mostafa’i’s weblog (October 11 and 22, 2009), and Iska News (October 11, 2009)*

Mr. Shoja’i was 21 years old. He was the family’s only child and had lost his mother at the age of 14; he lived with his grandmother. His case was about a group fight at Tehran’s Vanak Park on August 18, 2005, which resulted in the murder of a 17-year-old youth. At the time of the murder, Mr. Shoja’i was 17.

One of Behnud’s prison mates says that he was calm in prison and did not cry. He prayed. In contrast to many other youths who become addicted to drugs and learn numerous other crimes, [not only did] Behnud [not care about that], he didn’t care about anything, and was constantly calling to God. He had a yellow prayer book. He was very shy and quiet, and everyone liked him very much.

After Mr. Shoja’i’s death sentence was announced on September 26, 2006, news media inside Iran, civil society activists, athletes, famous movie stars, and even [the city of] Kerman Mosque’s board of trustees, made numerous efforts to stop [the implementation of] the sentence and to raise public awareness of it. Journalists and civil society activists also issued bulletins and declarations to stay the execution, pointing to Mr. Shoja’i’s young age at the time of the fight, and asking the authorities to stop his death sentence.

Because of the defendant’s young age, this case attracted public opinion outside the country as well. In May-June 2008, the European Union issued a declaration against the pronouncement of death sentences for defendants who were under the legal age of 18 at the time of the commission of the crime, accusing Iran of breaching its international obligations, and demanding the revocation of Mr. Shoja’i’s death sentence. Furthermore, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights cautioned Iran that, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, issuance of a death sentence is prohibited for defendants who were under the age of 18 when they committed the crime. Amnesty International also issued a bulletin condemning Mr. Shoja’i’s death sentence.

Arrest and detention

Subsequent to the fight that occurred on August 18, 2005 in Vanak Park, Behnud’s father turned him in to judicial authorities in order [for them] to investigate the fight and for justice to be carried out. (Oliae’ifard interview with Rooz Online). The date of his arrest is not known. He was 17 at the time and spent nearly 10 months at Kanun-e Eslah va Tarbiat-e Tehran (“Tehran Correction and Education Center”) until he reached 18, and was then transferred to Gohardasht Prison where he was incarcerated until the time the sentence was carried out. He spent four and a half years in jail after his arrest. According to his father, he had visitations and was allowed to talk to his family for 20 minutes from behind the glass window, and was allowed face to face visitation every 45 days. One of Mr. Shoja’i’s prison mates described the prison conditions as hell: The prisoner is facing the danger of contracting a multitude of illnesses including AIDS, drug addiction, and depression. Also, weaker kids are subjected to all kinds of harassments. Mr. Shoja’i had also talked about awful prison conditions. (Behnud Shoja’i Interview with Saba Vassefi).

Trial

Mr. Shoja’i’s first trial session took place on February 15, 2006 at Tehran Province Criminal Court, Branch 74, presided by the Branch’s chief judge. The Prosecutor’s representative and the victim’s parents were also present. The Prosecutor’s representative first read the indictment, and in closing, asked for the harshest punishment, given the next of kin’s complaint and the Medical Examiner’s opinion. Then the victim’s parents asked that the defendant be hanged in public. Mr. Shoja’i was then allowed to present his defense. Finally, at the end of the trial session, the presiding judge and the four other judges started consultations [among themselves]. (Iska News, February 15, 2006). Mr. Shoja’i had an attorney. (Rooz Online, October 13, 2009)

Mr. Shoja’i’s last trial session took place on Tuesday, September 26, 2006, again at Branch 74. The presiding judge was the same person. The Prosecutor’s representative first described the indictment; the victim’s parents still wanted the death penalty for their son’s murderer. Behnud was also allowed to defend himself. Mr. Shoja’i’s attorney was also present at the session and presented a defense on his behalf. There were also two witnesses who gave testimony. At the end of the session, the judges started consultations. (Iska News, January 23, 2007).

Since Mr. Shoja’i was deprived of legal representation after the sentence was upheld at the Court of Appeals (his attorney resigned after the issuance and approval of the sentence at the Criminal Court), on August 1, 2008, he himself submitted a written request to the Province Criminal Court Branch 74 for the implementation of Article 18, which provides for re-opening the case and a re-trial. At the bottom of his request, the chief judge issued an order for the implementation of Article 18, which meant that, pursuant to this Article, the case was to be sent to the competent authority, that is, the Prosecutor General’s Office. Mr. Shoja’i’s lawful request was overlooked, however, and his right to a re-trial and re-opening the adjudication process was denied.

Charges

The Sentence Implementation Office judge for Tehran Prosecutor’s Office for Criminal Matters declared Mr. Behnud Shoja’i’s charge to be “Intentional Murder.” (Fars News Agency, December 22, 2007)

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

Evidence against Mr. Shoja’i consisted of “the police report,” “the victim’s parents’ complaint,” “the defendant’s confession,” “eyewitness testimony,” and “the Medical Examiner’s report.” Two of the witnesses stated that the defendant was the one who perpetrated the murder.

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.

Defense

Mr. Shoja’i defended himself in both trial sessions, denying the charge of intentional murder, and stating that he had resorted to the broken soft drink bottle in self defense. His goal had been to scare the other person, not killing anyone. The victim had insulted his dead mother, making him angry; and he had inflicted one blow to the deceased. His attorney stated in his defense that all the participants in the fight were armed with knives that day, and asked that the court hear the testimony of the eyewitnesses. (Iska News, October 11, 2009)

About two years after the issuance of the sentence and its upholding by the Court of Appeals, two other lawyers took on Mr. Shoja’i’s defense in April-May 2008. (Mr. Oliae’ifard’s interview with Rooz Online), (Mohammad Mostafa’i’s weblog)

Both of Mr. Shoja’i’s attorneys stated in his defense, that there were defects and ambiguities in his case, and that the judges had not paid any attention to the two briefs they had submitted in this regard to the Head of the Judiciary and the Supreme Court. (Rooz Online)

Not only did [the attorneys] question the intentional aspect of the murder, but, pointing to the deficiencies in the court’s investigations, they also emphasized that Mr. Shoja’i should not be executed due to his young age, in addition to the fact that he was deprived of sufficient facilities to defend himself.

The first issue that had been raised in these briefs was that the murder had not been premeditated, and that the eyewitnesses had testified in court that one blow had been inflicted by Behnud to the victim’s lower left torso. This is while the third paragraph of the Medical Examiner’s Report states that two blows were inflicted to the victim with different distances. Consequently, given that the victim was killed in a group fight, and that the defendant had fled the scene after inflicting the first blow, it is possible that two murder weapons were used in killing the victim, and that there can be another person who had also perpetrated a blow. No investigation whatsoever was conducted, however, by Tehran Province Criminal Court, Branch 74, and by Supreme Court Branch 33, in spite of this report regarding the second blow, confirmed by the Medical Examiner. The other issue that negates the defendants’ or the criminals’ criminal responsibility, is self defense, which was not investigated at all by the investigating authorities of this case, whereas, one of the judicial authorities’ responsibilities is to collect any evidence in support or to the detriment of the defendant’s position. There is much evidence in the file that shows that he acted in self defense and that he had inflicted a blow with a knife, even though he regretted what he had done and had asked the victim’s parents to pardon and forgive him. (Mohammad Mostafa’i’s weblog)

Another element in his defense was that Mr. Shoja’i was a young man of 17, lacking mature thought and [full] intellectual development, that he basically did not even know the victim, and had no prior intention to commit murder; the murder was purely an accident and the element of intent, which is an essential element in any crime, was not present in this case. Mr. Shoja’i had stated in his own defense in court that he had not gone there with prior intent and that the incident had occurred when the victim had insulted his dead mother, making him angry, resulting in his actions. Also, in a letter to the victim’s mother, he stated that he was not the main cause of the fight and what had happened was an accident, that he was not a professional killer and had not done planned out the act; he asked her to forgive him and not carry out Qesas.

Citing Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which Iran is a signatory, having ratified both treaties in its [parliament], Majless) which prohibit the death penalty for individuals who were under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the crime, as well as Article 9 of the [Iranian] Civil Code [pursuant to which international treaties to which Iran is a signatory are considered domestic law and therefore legally binding], the attorneys stated that Mr. Shoja’i was 17 at the time of the fight, and therefore, breach of these laws is a violation of the law. (Etemad Melli newpaper)

The ambiguities and defects the attorneys pointed out in their brief submitted to the Supreme Court, were based on the General and Revolutionary Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure Article 272 (“Instances where, after a final decision has been rendered by a court of law, a re-trial can take place are the following, regardless of whether the sentence has been implemented or not:”) Paragraph (5) (“If other events occur or are discovered, or new evidence is presented which proves the innocence of the accused;”) and Paragraph (6) (“Where the sentence issued is not proportionate to the crime, due to the judge’s mistake”). Further, in a letter/brief submitted to the Head of the Judiciary, they requested that he act in his capacity of Mojtahed (a clergyman who has reached the highest level of expertise in Islamic jurisprudence) and order a re-trial of Mr. Shoja’i’s case, or in the alternative, given the victim’s parents’ implied readiness to accept Dieh (monetary compensation in lieu of Qesas”), refer the case to a Conflict Resolution Council. (Mohammad Oliae’ifard with Fereshteh Qazi)

Judgment

On October 2, 2006, Tehran province Criminal Court, Branch 74 sentenced Mr. Behnud Shoja’i to death. The sentence was upheld by Supreme Court Branch 33 on June 30, 2007. At 5:30 in the morning of October 11, 2009, in the presence of the victim’s father, mother, brother, and sister, the defendant’s two attorneys, and a number of prison officials, Behnud Shoja’i was hanged in Tehran’s Evin Prison, Hall 4. More than 200 people had gathered outside the prison waiting for a stay of execution. The victim’s mother had said that [they] would take forgiveness into consideration until after they had put the noose around the defendant’s neck. But not only did they not forgive, they participated in Mr. Shoja’i’s hanging.

In an interview with Voice of America, one of Mr. Shoja’i’s attorneys stated that it was not the victim’s family that had executed his client; they were just a means to execute Behnud. It was the Iranian Judiciary and the reactionary [and backward] domestic laws of Iran that had executed Behnud.

In published interviews and letters, Mr. Shoja’i talks about the difficulties and hardships he endured in prison, as well as about the days he had been transferred to solitary confinement awaiting execution and the pressure he had withstood. He writes about his mental condition in a letter: “That night, I thought about everything until dawn (the last dawn of my life); you have no idea what I went through and what I endured until dawn.” He continues: “When they called me for execution, I performed my prayer, my last prayer, and then I was on my way. The sound of the chains; I had to die with my hands tied. How hard it is.” And addressing the victim’s parents, he writes: “Now you have time to do some research and find out how those who insisted on Qesas, felt after the execution. If I committed that act due to ignorance, and at an age when I did not know right from wrong, then what about you? You only want to [take my life] to take revenge.” (Behnud Shoja’i’s last unpublished letter in Mohammad Mostafa’i’s weblog). According to Mr. Shoja’i himself, he had gone to the gallows three times, and 14 people were hanged in front of him. More than five times, he was informed of a stay of execution one day prior, when he was quarantined in Evin Prison’s cells, waiting to be hanged. (Behnud Shoja’i interview with Saba Vassefi). In his last interview, he was asked whether he would like the execution to be postponed again, to which he responded: “No, no. I truly no longer want it to be postponed. But I want Ehsan’s mother to be a mother to me. I know they’ve lost their loved one, I know it’s a major suffering but I would like them to think a little bit. I absolutely had no prior intention.” He continues: “I’ve been in jail since the age of 17.  I haven’t had a mother since childhood, I’ve suffered a lot. I have spent four and a half years of my life in jail among a bunch of criminals, since I was 17. I swear to God, the punishment I have suffered is enough to last lifetime. I pray to God that even [my] worst enemy doesn’t end up in a place like this. I beg the next of kin to think what his/her heart would want done if the situation were reversed; let them do that. I want to tell them from the bottom of my heart that I will be [their] slave for the rest of my life. I know I’m asking a lot, it’s a great thing I’m asking of them. I know forgiving is a very difficult thing to do in these circumstances but in here, whoever has done Qesas (retribution) has regretted it [afterward]. If any plaintiff stays in jail for just one week, not only will he/she forgive, but will get all the plaintiffs to forgive as well.” (Behnud Shoja’i interview with Saba Vassefi).

Numerous efforts were made to stop Mr. Shoja’i’s execution, and although they delayed the implementation of the sentence multiple times, they were ultimately not successful in preventing it. Among those that contacted the victim’s parents in order to obtain their forgiveness, were three filmmakers, who wrote a letter to the Head of the Judiciary, signed by 200 Iranian journalists, requesting that he stop the execution. After obtaining the parents’ agreement to forgive [Mr. Shoja’i] and to accept Dieh, this group of people that came to be known as the Peace and Compromise Group, opened a bank account asking the public to donate money to collect the Dieh. After a while, however, Tehran’s Criminal Affairs Prosecutor summoned the three filmmakers to court, with Tehran’s special criminal investigating judge stating that the victim’s family had lodged a complaint, asserting that they had not asked for Dieh and they wished Qesas to be carried out. The special investigating judge further stated that the account had been clocked pursuant to a court order, and asked the public not to deposit money any more. In a documentary that was made about Mr. Shoja’i’s case after his execution, the victim’s brother stated in an interview that, by calling on the public and collecting money, the aforementioned group had played with their honor and dignity. (“Ajir”, a documentary film made by the Islamic Republic Network One Documentary Group)

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*News of Mr. Shoja’i’s arrest and trial were published by Iska News (February 15, 2006, September 26, 2006, December 21, 2007, January 27, 2008), Fars News Agency (December 21, 2007, May 7, 2007, June 28, 2008), European Union Declaration (May 4, 2008), Etemad Melli newspaper (May 5, 2008, May 30, 2008, June 1, 2008, September 1, 2008), Etemad newspaper ( January 28, 2008, May 5, 2008, June 10, 2008, June 20, 2008, November 25, 2008, August 18, 2009), ISNA June 10, 2008, August 21, 2008, August 19, 2009, October 7, 2009, October 10, 2009), Jam-e Jam (June 29, 2008), Kargozaran (July 22, 2008), BBC (August 19, 2008), Rooz Online (December 24, 2008, October 13, 2009, October 29, 2009), Asr-e Iran (August 18, 2009, April 5, 2010), Mohammad Mostafa’i’s weblog (August 18, 2009), Aftab-e Yazd (October 8, 2009), and the documentary film “Ajir” made by the Islamic Republic Network One Documentary Group (2009-2010).  Several interviews with Mr. Shoja’i’s prison mates were also published in news media.

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