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

Mehrollah Rigi Mahernia

About

Age: 22
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Sunni)
Civil Status: Single

Case

Date of Killing: October 26, 2013
Location: Zahedan Prison, Zahedan, Sistan Va Baluchestan Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: War on God; Sympathizing with anti-regime guerilla groups
Age at time of offense: 17

About this Case

Mehrollah Rigi was 17 years old at the time of arrest. According to the Attorney General of Zahedan, he was executed as retaliation for "Jaish ul-Adl" operation.

News of the execution of Mr. Mehrolla Rigi (Mahernia) and 15 other people was reported by several sources including the Ministry of Justice of Sistan and Baluchistan Province (October 27, 2013), Fars News Agency (October 26, 2013), Central News Agency (October 26, 2013), and HRANA (December 11, 2013). Additional information was obtained from an interview conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation with one of Mr. Rigi’s relatives (ABF interview), Mr. Rigi’s voice message from Zahedan prison addressed to United Nations special rapporteur (voice message), and other resources.

Mr. Rigi was an unmarried teenager from Zahedan. He was a Sunni Baluchi from the Rigi tribe.

Mr. Rigi was 17 at the time of his arrest.

International law has strictly prohibited the death penalty for people who commit a crime while they are under 18 years old. Iran, as a member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, has undertaken not to execute anyone for the crimes they committed when they were a child.

Background

Following the armed attack by Jaish ul-Adl* on a border station in Sarvan, Sistan and Baluchistan (Friday night, October 25, 2013), as a result of which at least 14 border guards were killed and seven injured, the Ministry of Justice of the province reported the execution of 16 prisoners on Saturday, October 26. The Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor of Zahedan referred to the execution of the 16 “villains connected to enemy groups” as “retaliation”. According to the Chief Justice of Sistan and Baluchistan, the execution of these convicts had been “postponed due to Islamic compassion” but due to Jaish ul-Adl’s assault on provincial border guards and “continued cowardly terrorist attacks”, the sentences were at last carried out (Asrehamoon, Fars News Agency). The convicts had been arrested during the few preceding years and were not connected to Jaish ul-Adl’s armed attack, which took place only a few hours before their execution. They faced various charges across different cases: according to provincial judicial authorities, eight of them had been accused of drug dealing (Ministry of Justice of Sistan and Baluchistan).

The Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor of Zahedan referred to the execution of the 16 “villains connected to enemy groups” as “retaliation”. 

Human rights organizations and activists called this mass summary execution a “reprisal” and protested against the execution of the prisoners who were not directly connected to the armed attack. Ahmad Shahid, United Nations Special rapporteur on the Human Rights situation in Iran, called the execution of these people a kind of retaliation in-kind and an illegal act according to international human rights laws. Shirin Ebadi, lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch expert, also considered the execution of the 16 prisoners in retaliation for border guards’ killing as a violation of legal norms and an example of the lack of independence of Iran’s judiciary. Both experts condemned the executions. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, human rights activists, and the International Federation for Human Rights also issued announcements protesting the reprisal.

Arrest and detention

Ministry of Intelligence agents arrested Mr. Rigi on November 1, 2010 in Kashan. He was first sent to ward 209 of Evin prison. After some time, he was transferred to the Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Zahedan. He was mentally and physically tortured for 10 months in solitary confinement in detention centers at Tehran and Zahedan. Mr. Rigi was deprived of the right to call and meet with his family and lawyer during this time. Agents of the Ministry of Intelligence allowed him to call his family for three minutes after five months; after six months, he met his family for the first time. According to Mr. Rigi, he was constantly tortured mentally and physically by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence during his detention in solitary confinement for a span of 10 months. He explained the details of this torture in a voice message from prison:

“I was tortured in different ways: for example, there was something called the “miracle bed” where they would lay us prone with our arms and legs tied down and hit us on our feet with a heavy object…after my stay in solitary confinement was over, the most painful torture I suffered was that I was allowed to go to the yard very infrequently and just before being let out, they would say, “The last person to come out gets beaten.” I would let everyone else go out of the cell first and took the beating myself because I was the youngest. They kicked and punched me and beat me with a pipe. They insulted me and treated me like an animal.”

Mr. Rigi was pressured by the interrogator to make a confession on TV. He explained the details of his media confession as follows: “During the time I was in the Ministry of Intelligence, I was filmed (made to appear in front of a camera) twice. Once they filmed me inside the Ministry of Intelligence and the other time outside of it in the Ministry of Intelligence News Agency. As for the video they made of me inside the Ministry of Intelligence office, they told me, “Repeat everything we say.” I didn’t accept it. They undressed me and said, “We’ll connect electric wires to your testicles and rape you.” That’s how they filmed me there. For the second video they made in the news agency, they told me that the video was for Press TV and before they came, the agents told me, “You should repeat whatever we tell you now in front of the camera when you are asked the questions.” When the questions were asked, I didn’t give the answers they had told me to and for this reason, I was insulted and tortured brutally twice.”

“I was tortured in different ways: for example, there was something called the “miracle bed” where they would lay us prone with our arms and legs tied down and hit us on our feet with a heavy object

Mr. Rigi was interrogated twice by the interrogator of Branch 6 of the Ministry of Justice in Zahedan during his detention in the Ministry of Intelligence. According to him, he was blindfolded at the time of the interrogation and didn’t see the face of the interrogator. During the interrogation, the interrogator communicated something to the investigator and in the end Mr. Rigi was only asked to fingerprint the papers (voice message).

After ten months, Mr. Rigi was transferred to quarantine in Zahedan. He spent four months in a quarantine room with 27 other inmates in difficult conditions without having the right to go to the yard or call his family. After that, he was transferred to the youth ward in Zahedan prison. In May 2012, after the protest of Zahedan prisoners against the offensive behavior of the prison staff which ended violently with the interference of the special guard, Mr. Rigi was exiled to Semnan prison. After an interval of time was sent back to Zahedan prison once more (HRANA, September 13, 2012).

Trial

Branch 1 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Zahedan tried Mr. Rigi in secret in summer 2011. The trial took place 10 months after his arrest. The judge in the case, three agents of the Ministry of Intelligence, the prosecutor’s representative, and Mr. Rigi’s lawyer were present for the session. According to Mr. Rigi, the session took only a few minutes and the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence treated him harshly during and after the trial (voice message).

According to Mr. Rigi, the session took only a few minutes and the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence treated him harshly during and after the trial.

Charges

The court sentenced Mr. Rigi on charges of Moharebeh [waging war against God] (voice message). Based on the announcement of the Ministry of justice of Sistan and Baluchistan, Mr. Rigi and seven other prisoners were found guilty on charges of “Moharebeh, corruption on earth [Efsad fel-Arz] through membership of and cooperation with the Jundalsheytan group, and effective participation in the terrorist incidents in the province during recent years” (the Ministry of Justice of Sistan and Baluchistan, October 27, 2013).

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

Evidence of guilt

According to Mr. Rigi, the sentences of the convicts were based on their forced confessions. The report of this execution does not contain information regarding the evidence provided against the defendant.

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. 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

Based on Mr. Rigi’s statements in his voice message from prison, the court didn’t allow him and his lawyer to mount an effective defense. During trial, Mr. Rigi’s lawyer stated that the court lacked standing in the case in reference to the fact that Mr. Rigi was a minor. He requested that the trial take place in another court, but the judge said that he should not be concerned with the age of the defendant (voice message).

According to Mr. Rigi, three agents of the Ministry of Intelligence sat beside him in court who had threatened him before the trial, forcing him to repeat everything he had said in interrogation. He had protested the charge of Moharebeh at trial but said that “The agents of the Ministry (of Intelligence) pressed my arm and told me not to say anything”. The second time that Mr. Rigi wanted to defend himself, an agent again threatened him, saying “You can’t do everything you want here”. The trial took only a few minutes, in response to which Mr. Rigi asked of the judge before leaving the courtroom, “Is that it?” The judge said, “Yes” (voice message). According to Mr. Rigi, he was blindfolded during his interrogation sessions in the Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Zahedan and was made to fingerprint the interrogation papers without seeing them.

Mr. Rigi reports that as he was being transferred to Zahedan prison someone counted his teeth and noted that one of his wisdom teeth had emerged, likely in order to prove his mental maturity. Mr. Rigi himself said that his wisdom tooth had come through only while he was in custody of the Ministry of Intelligence. Mr. Rigi was sent to a forensic expert ten days after trial but reports that no examination took place (voice message).

During trial, Mr. Rigi’s lawyer stated that the court lacked standing in the case in reference to the fact that Mr. Rigi was a minor. He requested that the trial take place in another court, but the judge said that he should not be concerned with the age of the defendant.

The families of some of the executed prisoners addressed a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei. Referring to the statement of the Deputy Prosecutor of Zahedan in his meeting with the families, they wrote “You killed 16 of us, so we will kill 16 of you, too”. They protested the violation of the rights of the defendants and asked for “a special team to be sent to investigate the issue, to talk to the prisoners about their torture and to the families of the executed prisoners and find out why their children had been executed.” They believed that the execution of their children was related to ethnic and religious discrimination in Sistan and Baluchistan and stated, “They don’t care about people’s complaints; as soon as people complain, any investigation is linked with religion and ethnicity and is therefore terminated. Cruelty, tyranny, and torture will increase and everybody accepts that they should not complain, that they should be prepared to be arrested, tortured, imprisoned, and executed and think they deserve it… [in our province] articles 19, 32, 36, and 39 of the Constitution have been replaced by the principles of arrest, torture in prison, and execution. People don’t have a voice and if they speak out…they are members of Abdolmalek’s group and have helped the enemies, so the complaint would be halted right away.” (HRANA, December 11, 2011)

A Summary of the Defects of Mr. Mehrollah Rigi Mehrnia’s Legal Proceedings

1- The most important issue in Mehrollah Rigi’s case is that the sentence was issued without any legal evidence. According to information published by the Boroumand Center in this case, Mr. Rigi’s death sentence was issued based on confessions made while undergoing interrogations by security institutions and the Prosecutor’s Office. Later, Mr. Rigi retracted all of his confessions on multiple occasions and expressly stated that these confessions were made under duress and torture. This can show the illegality of the sentence from several perspectives, as follows:

a)     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 and other Iranian laws so state expressly (1) and even considers a confession obtained through torture to be a crime and those who engage in such activities, criminals. (2) Therefore, the court’s reliance on a confession that was made under torture and duress was completely illegal. It was necessary for the court to conduct investigations in that regard before citing the confession as the basis of its ruling.

b)     Pursuant to Iranian law, including the Islamic Penal Code and the Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure for General and Revolutionary Courts, admissions and confessions are valid and have legal credence, especially in cases of crimes that carry Hadd punishments, only when made before the judge issuing the sentence in the case. (3). In other words, even though admission before anyone other than the judge can be considered as a type of circumstantial evidence, in order for such admission or confession to become a basis for the judge’s ruling, the judge must hear that confession first hand. Therefore, confessions made to the investigating judge or law enforcement personnel cannot be the basis of the judge’s ruling. In other words, the law only considers an admission valid, especially in crimes that carry Hadd punishments, if it is made before the judge issuing the ruling in the case, regardless of whether such confession is made under torture or not. Therefore, even assuming that Mr. Rigi was not tortured, it was necessary for the court to question him once again, whereas the trial was very short and the judge did not conduct any questioning or investigations of the defendant regarding his confession in the interrogation phase.

c)     Since Mr. Mehrollah Rigi was tried and executed on the charge of Moharebeh (“waging war with God”) and Efsad fel-Arz (“spreading corruption on Earth”), it must be noted that admissions and confession to crimes that carry Hadd punishments have certain requirements which the Revolutionary Court has disregarded. In accordance with Islamic jurisprudence as well as the Islamic Penal Code, in the event that a person confesses to a Hadd crime the punishment for which is death, and subsequently retracts his/her confession for any reason, the death penalty cannot be implemented. (4). Therefore, given that Mr. Rigi was tried for the crime of Moharebeh, the punishment for which is death, and given that the court cited his confession as the basis of its ruling when he actually denied the charge in court, the judge could not have sentenced him to death. Denial of the charge and retracting the confession was sufficient to prevent the court from convicting him of Moharebeh.

2- Given the above and given that Mehrollah Rigi’s admission and confession could [legally] not have constituted the basis of the court’s ruling, it was therefore necessary that other evidence in the case be considered. There were no eyewitnesses in Mehrollah Rigi’s case that would testify that he and his friends committed Moharebeh and engaged in armed activities. There is no other evidence or documentation in this regard. Therefore, the judge could not have issued a sentence of death based on his own knowledge because the “judge’s knowledge” must be based on certainty and the available evidence. It may be that Mr. Rigi’s case file contains reports by the Information Ministry wherein certain activities have been attributed to him, or that Mr. Rigi had even engaged in armed activities. It must be stressed that the Information Ministry’s reports must have been well-documented and the evidence for the allegations must have been such as to create certainty in the judge’s mind. These types of reports are valid only when they are well-documented and reliable; in Mehrollah Rigi’s case, however, it seems that the reports were solely based on confessions extracted from him under torture.

3- According to available information, the way in which Mehrollah Rigi’s trial was conducted, as well as the way the sentence was implemented, was in violation of the principles of fair trial. For instance, the trial was conducted in closed door sessions and was very short, and neither he nor his attorney was given an opportunity to mount a defense. Even though a judge may decide in certain cases that the trial be closed to the public, the rule is, however, that trials must be open; a trial can be closed only if an open trial would result in a breach of security. As far as Mehrollah Rigi’s case is concerned, his confessions extracted under torture had already been broadcast on state television; therefore, conducting a closed door trial made no logical sense, and it did not seem as though an open trial would jeopardize national security. Mehrollah Rigi’s execution occurred immediately after an armed attack by the “Jeish al-Adl” organization on a border post. Judicial authorities announced that the execution of Mehrollah Rigi and 15 others was in response to said attack. This shows, in and of itself, that Mehrollah Rigi’s execution was not done within a legal framework, but was done purely for revenge.

4- According to available reports, Mehrollah Rigi was 17 years old at the time of his arrest. Although the age of criminal responsibility in Iranian law is the age where an individual reaches puberty, and Mr. Rigi had reached puberty at the time of the [arrest], the change in the Islamic Penal Code in 2013, provides individuals under the age of 18 with the possibility of being exempt from the death penalty. Pursuant to Article 91 of said Law, “In crimes requiring Hadd or Qesas, if the individuals under the age of 18 who have attained puberty cannot comprehend the nature of the crime or the prohibition thereof, or if there is doubt as to their mental development [and capacity] and maturity, they will be sentenced to the punishments prescribed in this chapter on a case by case basis. In order to ascertain mental development and maturity, the court may obtain the medical examiner’s opinion, or utilize any other method it deems appropriate.” Although the alleged crimes occurred prior to the passage of said Law, the Law does, however, apply retroactively, and covers final judgments issued prior to the passage of the Law. According to a Supreme Court General Council Uniform Procedure Decision, “Whereas Article 10(b) of the Islamic Penal Code of April 21, 2013 provides for exemption from crimes requiring Hadd and Qesas punishments in said Article’s opening provision, and whereas the powers prescribed for the sentence implementation judge in amending a sentence and/or the convicted individual’s right to ask the court for a reduced sentence as provided for in said paragraph is not in conflict with the Law on General and Revolutionary Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure Article 272, Paragraph 7, and does not nullify the same, therefore, in the event that individuals sentenced to Qesas, who were under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the crime and the final sentences in their cases were issued prior to the Islamic Penal Code of April 21, 2013, coming into force, claim the applicability of Article 91, since the modification and reduction of the sentence as provided for in said article ultimately constitutes a reduced sentence and a more favorable punishment, they may ask for de novo adjudication pursuant to Article 272(7) of the aforementioned Rules of Procedure...” (Uniform Procedure Decision number 737, December 2, 2014, Supreme Court General Council). In the present case, it appears that judicial authorities did not believe that Mehrollah Rigi was not mentally developed and mature at the time of the commission of the alleged crime and they therefore, did not conduct any examinations related to his mental development and maturity. Furthermore, pursuant to Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iran became a signatory in 1993, issuance of a death sentence for individuals who were under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the crime is prohibited. Additionally, according to Article 6(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it is prohibited to issue a sentence of death for individuals under the age of 18. Even though the Iranian government made certain reservations when becoming a party to both of these conventions, violation of these conventions constitutes, however, a breach of its obligations and of international laws and regulations.

Judgment

Branch 1 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Zahedan found Mr. Mehrolla Rigi guilty of Moharebeh and sentenced him to death. The sentence was handed down while Rigi was in prison 15 days after trial (voice message). The Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor of Zahedan reported the confirmation of the execution sentence by judicial authorities without presenting further details (the Ministry of Justice of Sistan and Baluchistan).

Mr. Rigi was executed along with 15 other prisoners in the central prison of Zahedan on October 26, 2013. His execution was carried out abruptly and without due process of law: his lawyer was not informed and arrangements were not made for a final family visit. Mr. Rigi’s body was not delivered to his family. In response to the families’ subsequent inquiries, the Zahedan Ministry of Intelligence disclosed that the bodies of eight of those executed had been interred in a remote part of the region which they were unable to specify (ABF interview).

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*Sources: Human Rights Activists for Democracy in Iran (September 14, 2013), Asrehamoon (October 26, 2013), Jaish ul-Adl weblog (October 26, 2013), ISNA (October 26, 2013), HRANA (September 13, 2012; October 27, 2013), Radio Farda (October 27, 2013), Deutsche Welle (October 30, 2013)
** The Popular Resistance Movement of Iran, known as Jondollah, was established in 2003. This group declared its goal as the struggle for achieving the religious and national rights of Baluch and Sunni people in Sistan Va Baluchestan province in Iran and emphasized that it is not a separatist group. In 2005, this group began a series of military operations against Islamic Republic forces during which dozens of the regime’s forces were captured or killed. In response, the Islamic Republic arrested and executed dozens of members of this group; military operations continue in Sistan Va Baluchestan. In an interview with the media outside of Iran, the leader of this group, Abdolmalek Rigi, rejected the government’s labels of “terrorist” and “foreign agent” and claimed that they began their struggle against the Islamic Republic to replace it with “a popular regime that recognizes the rights of all humans.” The news of this arrest was published by the Intelligence Ministry of Iran on February 23, 2010, and the circumstance of his arrest is yet unknown. Abdolmalek Rigi was hanged in the Evin prison on June 20, 2010. In early 2011 a number of Jondollah’s members under the leadership of Sallahudin Farroughi established the Jaish ul-Adl organization, implementing organizational and structural changes and reconsidering some of their former methods. Jaish ul-Adl describes itself as a Sunni group emphasizing “federalism for Iran and self-rule for Baluchistan” as well as “armed struggle against the Islamic Republic.”

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(1) Principle 38 of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution provides: “All forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information are forbidden. Compulsion of individuals to testify, confess, or take an oath is not permissible; and any testimony, confession, or oath obtained under duress is devoid of value and credence. Violators of this article shall be punished in accordance with the law.”
Like the Constitution, the law for Respecting Legitimate Freedoms and Safeguarding Citizens Rights of 2004-05, Paragraph 9, also provides: “All forms of torture of the defendant for the purpose of extracting confession or forcing him/her to do other acts are forbidden and confessions obtained in this way are devoid of legal and religious credence.” Article 169 of the Islamic Penal Code of 2013 also provides: “A confession obtained under duress, force, torture, and/or physical or psychological harm and persecution has no validity, and the court shall re-initiate the questioning of the defendant.”
(2) Pursuant to Article 578 of the Islamic Penal Code (Section on Ta’zirat), “any government employee and judicial or non-judicial official that engages in physical harm of a defendant in order to force him/her to make a confession, shall, in addition to Qesas or payment of Diah (“blood money”), be sentenced to six months to three years in prison, as the case may require. In the event that someone has issued an order to that effect, only the one who has issued the order shall be sentenced to prison time. In the event that the defendant dies due to the harm, the one who has committed the act shall be sentenced to the punishment reserved for a murderer, and the one who has ordered the act shall be sentenced to the punishment reserved for murder.”
(3) The Note to Article 59 of the Law on the General and Revolutionary Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure provides: “In cases where the defendant’s confession and/or the testimony of a witness and/or the testimony on the testimony of a witness, constitutes the basis for the court’s ruling, it is mandatory for the judge issuing the ruling in the case to hear it first-hand.” Furthermore, the Note to Article 218 of the Islamic Penal Code provides: “A confession is valid from the point of view of Islamic jurisprudence only if made before the judge at trial.”
(4) Article 173 of the Islamic Penal Code provides: “Denial of a confession after it has been made will not be a bar to punishment except in the case of a confession to a crime the punishment for which is stoning or the Hadd punishment for murder, in which case said punishment shall be barred regardless of the stage of the adjudication, including implementation, and instead, in cases of adultery and sodomy, the punishment shall be 100 lashes, and in other cases, fifth degree imprisonment.”

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