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

Abdolvahab Rigi

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; Membership of anti-regime guerilla group; Bombing; Corruption on earth; Corruption on earth

About this Case

News of the execution of Mr. Abdolvahab Rigi 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), and Mr. Rigi’s letter from Zahedan prison (June, 2013), and other resources*.

Mr. Rigi was a young, unmarried Baluch living in Zahedan. He was a religious person and a student at the Zahedan Darul Uloom Seminary (Makki) (ABF interview).

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).

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

On Saturday September 25, 2003, agents of the Zahedan Ministry of Intelligence of arrested Mr. Abdolvahhab Rigi at the intersection of Moalem and Bozorgmehr Boulevard in Zahedan. They possessed no warrant, and beat Rigi while taking him into custody. He was then transferred to the Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Zahedan. Here Mr. Rigi was imprisoned in solitary confinement for 50 days. Rigi reports that during this time he was subjected to “different physical and mental tortures in order to elicit a confession for crimes (he) hadn’t committed” (letter from prison). Later he was transferred to a two-person cell at the detention center. Mr. Rigi was deprived of the right to meet his family and access to a lawyer during this period. After five months, his family was allowed to meet with him for ten minutes. Following this brief exchange, he was again held incommunicado for four months (ABF interview).

In addition to the incarceration of Mr. Rigi and his brother, the Rigi family was put under pressure by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence. A relative reported that in the days following Mr. Rigi’s arrest intelligence operatives pressured his father to cooperate. He refused. Agents told the elder Rigi that his son was going to be executed. In order to mentally coerce the defendant and demoralize his family, agents would sometimes place telephone calls to the family during torture sessions in order to relay the sound of Rigi’s screaming. Female members of the family were also humiliated and insulted over their clothing when visiting the Ministry of Intelligence facility (ABF interview).

After the trial, Mr. Rigi was transferred to the quarantine ward in Zahedan Prison along with his brother and cellmate. After three months being held incommunicado, they were transferred to ward 5 of Zahedan Prison. Rigi and his brother were then again relocated to solitary confinement in custody of the Ministry of Intelligence: Rigi himself for 20 days, and his brother for a period of six months. In May 2012, following a protest of Zahedan Prison’s ward 5 inmates against abusive staff behavior which ended with the violent intervention of Special Guards, Mr. Rigi was punitively sent to a ‌small confinement cell of the facility. He wrote that during that time he was again tortured by “being insulted, held in strong sunlight, and kept in a small cell with other inmates”. He was relocated to Qazvin Central Prison that same month, and was returned to Zahedan Central Prison six months later (letter from prison).

He was 19 at the time of his arrest (ABF interview).

Trial

Branch 1 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Zahedan tried Mr. Rigi in a closed session. Three defendants (including Mr. Rigi’s brother,) the judge, and agents of the Ministry of Intelligence were all present at trial. According to Mr. Rigi, the judge treated him and the other defendants in an aggressive manner (letter from prison).

Charges

Mr. Rigi explained the charges brought against him in his letter from prison: “membership in Jundullah and taking part in the bombings at the Jamia mosque in Zahedan”. According to one of Mr. Rigi’s relatives, he faced a total of some twenty charges, including disturbing public opinion, distributing Sunni religious books and print materials, and propaganda against the regime (ABF interview).

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’s letter, his verdict was based on his confessions he made during interrogation and trial (letter from prison). No precise information exists regarding evidence presented at trial.

Defense

According to Mr. Rigi’s letter, the judge did not grant him permission to defend himself, treated the defendants in an aggressive manner, and did not consider defendants’ objections (letter from prison). He was deprived of the right to choose a lawyer. According to one of his relatives, all of the lawyers that were chosen by his family were forced to resign due to threats and pressures; his appointed lawyer, meanwhile, did not defend him in court (ABF interview).

Mr. Rigi explained that his confession during interrogation for “a crime he hadn’t committed” was made under physical and mental duress. He also reported that “even when I was charged, the interrogator, the judge, and the investigating judge Mr. X were present at the Zahedan Ministry of Intelligence office and I was so scared of torture that I confessed to the charges.” Rigi claims that he plead guilty to all charges in court only for the sake of reducing pressure on his co-defendant and brother Mehrolla Rigi. Nevertheless, agents of the Ministry of Intelligence continued to harass them after the trial. According to Mr. Rigi’s letter, the interrogators had coerced his brother by transferring him to the Ministry detention center for a period of four more months. They pressured him to confess on camera that Maulana Abdul Hamid (a Sunni religious leader in Sistan and Baluchistan) was in command of Jundullah and that Mr. Rigi and his brother had mediated between the organization and other countries, including the United States. He refused to confess to these charges, however.  

Mr. Rigi denied the charge of cooperation with Jundullah and wrote a letter of complaint about the verdict explaining that he was only a relative of the defendants: “We were just acquaintances; I didn’t know anything about their plans and goals.” According to a relative, at the time of Rigi’s arrest for participation in the bombings at the Jamia mosque in Zahedan news had been reported several times that the attack’s perpetrators had already been taken into custody (ABF interview).

The families of some of the executed prisoners including Mr. Rigi’s father 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”. Referring to instances of torture including “connecting electric wires to the bodies of the defendants, drawing hot irons against their bodies, hanging weights from sensitive body parts, and suspending them from their arms or legs”,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)

Judgment

Branch 1 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Zahedan sentenced Mr. Abdolvahhab Rigi to death (ABF interview). The public prosecutor of Zahedan announced that judicial authorities had confirmed the verdict without providing further detail (Judiciary of Sistan and Baluchistan). According to a relative of Mr. Rigi’s, his family was not made aware of any such confirmation (ABF interview).

Mr. Rigi was hanged along with fifteen other prisoners on October 26, 2013 in Zahedan Central Prison. His execution was conducted in secret and without the observance of proper legal procedures: his lawyer was not provided with prior notification and his family was not granted a final visitation. Rigi’s body was not turned over to his family. In response to further questioning from family members, the Zahedan Intelligence Office stated that Rigi and eight other executed prisoners had been buried in a distant location. The family has not been informed of the precise location of the grave (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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