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

Samad Zahabi

About

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

Case

Date of Killing: October 5, 2015
Location of Killing: Central Prison (Dizelabad), Kermanshah, Kermanshah Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: Murder
Age at time of offense: 17

About this Case

News of the execution of Mr. Samad Zahabi along with one other person was published by Radio Farda (October 16 and 20, 2015,) the Human Rights Activists News Agency (October 19 and 22, 2015,) and Amnesty International (October 14, 2015.) Additional information was taken from an interview conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation with a person close to Zahabi on June 24, 2016. Mr. Zahabi was born in Karambast Village in Kermanshah and attended primary school there. However, due to financial difficulties, he had to leave school and start work alongside his father tending livestock on a farm. He was a quiet and shy boy who loved wrestling. His case was related to the killing of a young man who accompanied him to check sheep in the mountains around his village in the fall of 2011. He was 17 at the time of the incident.

In a statement published on October 9, 2015, United Nations’ human rights officials condemned the execution of Mr. Zahabi and another juvenile and demanded that the Iranian government halt executions generally, especially in cases of defendants being tried for crimes allegedly committed under the age of 18. The Secretary General of the UN expressed regret about the execution of these two juveniles. In addition, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran made reference to the executions as a painful example of the increase in capital punishment in Iran. Amnesty International also objected to the execution of these two individuals in a statement published on October 14, 2015.

International laws strictly prohibit capital punishment against those under the age of 18 at the time of committing a crime. As a party to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran is bound to abstain from capital punishment in the cases of such juvenile offenders.

Arrest and detention

When officers from the local police station went to his village a day after the incident, Mr. Zahabi surrendered himself. He was first taken to the station and then to the Intelligence Police Office in Kermanshah. Because of his age, he was later transferred to the Rehabilitation and Correction Center in Kermanshah where he was detained for two years. After his eighteenth birthday, he was transferred to Dizelabad Prison in Kermanshah where he was detained for another two years. He had weekly visitations on Tuesdays, mostly in a booth behind glass panels and only rarely in-person. However, his visitations in the Rehabilitation and Correction Center were conducted in-person and on a weekly basis. His last visitation took place a week before his execution. (ABF interview)

Trial

The Criminal Court of Kermanshah tried Mr. Zahabi. However, no information is available concerning his trial.

Charges

The charge brought against Mr. Zahabi was announced as “murder.”  

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

The evidence presented against Mr. Zahabi was “his confession, the testimony of several villagers, recovery of the victim’s body, and the reconstruction of the crime scene.”

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. Zahabi was younger than 18 at the time of the incident. His family had to use a public defender due to financial difficulties; they chose an attorney for themselves after the time of trial, however. During his defense, Mr. Zahabi stated that the shooting was accidental and he did not intend to kill the victim. He claimed that during the course of a fight, the full load of a shotgun shell struck the victim’s chest owing to the close proximity of Zahabi and the victim. Afterwards, Mr. Zahabi voluntarily surrendered himself to the police. He had taken the gun with him to the mountain to protect his sheep from wolves (most shepherds arm themselves for the same reason.) After his objection to the ruling, his case was referred to the Appeals Court.

A Summary of the Legal Defects in Mr. Samad Zahabi’s Case

In this case, Mr. Zahabi and the victim were friends. They worked together herding sheep. There were no issues between them or their respective families. Immediately after the incident, Mr. Zahabi recounted the event to several of the villagers and ultimately surrendered himself the next day and told of what had happened. There is no premeditation or prior intent in this case and it is clear that the murder had taken place following an argument and in the heat of the moment. According to the statements of individuals close to him, Mr. Zahabi had no intention of shooting and the murder was an accident. According to Iranian law, a murder is considered intentional when the murderer either intends to kill the victim, or, if there is no intention, when the criminal act is committed with knowledge and awareness and the murder instrument used is of a lethal nature. Given that a firearm was used in this case, it is clear that the murder instrument was lethal. On the other hand, one can suppose that the murderer did not act with prior intent since he recounted the event to others and surrendered himself. Additionally, he had no motive for the killing. The only matter remaining is that of firing at the victim with knowledge and awareness. In other words, it seems that the court has found Samad Zahabi guilty of intentional murder based on the lethal nature of the murder weapon and intentional use thereof. It is not clear what evidence the Kermanshah Province Criminal Court has presented for this reasoning. Legally, however, it is necessary to conduct the requisite investigations into the intentional use of the weapon and take into account the defendant’s statements as to the accidental nature of the murder.

The other issue is that Mr. Zahabi was under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the murder. He was executed in September-October 2015 and the penal law changed between the time of the murder and his execution. Revisions to the Islamic Penal Code were enacted and came into force in April 2013. Pursuant to the previous Islamic Penal Code which was in force at the time of the commission of the crime, the punishment for young adults (boys who had reached the age of 15) was no different than the one for adults. The Islamic Penal Code was changed, however, on April 21, 2013, and prescribed different rules for crimes committed by individuals under the age of 18. Under the old Islamic Penal Code, the punishment for murder for adults (those who had reached puberty, i.e., the age of 15 for boys) was Qesas; the new Code, however, displaying more flexibility, provides for the possibility of dispensing with Qesas for criminals under the age of 18. Although the new Code provides the same punishment for crimes that are subject to Hadd and Qesas for adults as well as for individuals under 18 who have attained puberty, if the individual under the age of 18 is not aware of the nature of the crime, and there is doubt as to his maturity, the punishment will be dropped and changed to incarceration and rehabilitative educational measures. Pursuant to Islamic Penal Code Article 91, “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. Note: 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.” This provision paved the way for exemption from the death penalty for criminals under 18. Since most killings committed by individuals under the age of 18 are “heat of the moment” murders, and usually at that age, an individual has not reached the level of maturity to comprehend the nature of his actions, this provision may in practice save criminals under 18 from the death penalty. According to an established legal principle, in the event that the subsequent law is more lenient to an accused or a convicted criminal than the prior law, the subsequent law will be applied even though a final judgment has been rendered. On that basis, the new law must apply to individuals under the age of 18 who have attained puberty and have been tried and sentenced to death while the previous law was still in force, and such individuals must be able to take action under Article 91 in order to avoid the death penalty. Moreover, in practice courts have viewed Article 91 as applying to those having a final death sentence. In fact, in December 2014 the Supreme Court General Council issued a Uniform Procedure Decision regarding the manner of Article 91’s applicability to individuals under the age of 18 who have attained puberty. The decision provides: “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).

Mr. Samad Zahabi was executed two years after the passage of this provision. It is not clear whether he or his attorney took the necessary steps for a new trial based on Article 91 but it seems that even if such a request was submitted, it was not given any consideration by the judicial authorities. The manner of the killing, the murderer’s conduct, and his age indicate that the murder took place following a routine argument. Even if we assume that the shooting was intentional, one can say with a high degree of probability that Mr. Zahabi had not reached the requisite complete development of his mental faculties and was not aware of the nature of his action. In other words, after the passage of the Islamic Penal Code reforms, it would have been reasonable to dispatch the defendant to the Medical Examiner’s office and allow use of Article 91 to escape execution.

Judgment

The Criminal Court of Kermanshah condemned Mr. Samad Zahabi to death in February of 2013. The Supreme Court confirmed the ruling. He was hanged in the yard of Dizelabad Prison in Kermanshah on October 5, 2015. Contrary to legal procedure, his family and his attorney were not informed of the time of execution beforehand. When his mother went for visitation, officials told her that he had been executed. His body was given to his family for burial at Kermanshah cemetery. 

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