Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Ezat’ollah Atefi Afusi

About

Age: 54
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Baha'i
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Execution: September 11, 1981
Location: Esfahan Province, Iran
Mode of Execution: Shooting (extrajudicial)
Charges: Unknown charge
Age at time of offense: 54

Human rights violations in this case

Extrajudicial killings


Since the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, national and international human rights organizations have blamed the Islamic Republic authorities for the extrajudicial killing of their opponents, both within and outside of Iran's borders. Although over two hundred cases have been reported, the exact number of victims remains unknown.

Extrajudicial executions carried out in Iran are rarely investigated; the few cases that have been investigated have indicated that the Iranian state security apparatus has been involved. Agents of the Islamic Republic have also targeted dissidents outside the country, assassinating opposition members in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and in the United States,.

In many assassination cases outside Iran, local authorities have made no arrests. However, investigations, when they have taken place and been made public, have led to the single hypothesis of State ordered crimes. The organization and execution of these crimes constitute a pattern that Swiss prosecutor Roland Chatelain describes as “common parameters” following a “meticulous preparation.” Similarities between different cases in different countries have created a coherent set of presumptions designating the Islamic Republic as the instigator of these assassinations.

 

In cases involving prominent Iranians assassinated in France, Germany, and Switzerland, local prosecutors have provided evidence linking Iranian authorities to the crimes in question.

 

In France, for example, the Iranian Deputy Minister of Telecommunications has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the 1991 murder of two dissidents. In Germany, agents of Iran's secret services and Lebanese Hezbollah have been convicted for the 1992 murder of four dissidents in Berlin. Currently, the Islamic Republic's Minister of Information and Security at the time of this murder is under an International arrest Warrant launched by German judicial authorities for his involvement.

 

The German court in Berlin found that Iran's political leadership ordered the murder through a "Committee for Special Operations," whose members reportedly include the Leader of the Islamic Republic, the President, the Minister of Information and Security, and other security officials.



The Islamic Republic’s officials have claimed responsibility for some of these assassinations while denying involvement in others. In the 1980s, Iranian authorities justified extrajudicial executions of dissidents and members of the former regime and actively worked for the release of Iranians and non-Iranian agents who were detained or convicted in the West for their involvement in those killings. During the 1990s, they systematically denied any involvement in extrajudicial killings and often credited the killings to infighting amongst the opposition.

 

Still, the rationale supporting these killings was articulated as early as in the spring of 1979 when the First Revolutionary religious judge publicly announced the regime's intention to carry out extrajudicial executions. He said:

 

“no state has the right to try as a terrorist the person who kills [exiles] in foreign lands, for this person is implementing the verdict issued by the Islamic Revolutionary tribunal.”

 

More than a decade later, in August, 1992, the Minister of Intelligence and Security publicly boasted about the success of Iran's security forces, alluding to the elimination of dissidents:

 

"We have been able to deal blows to many of the mini-groups outside the country and on the borders...."

Human rights violations

Based on the available information, the following human rights may have been violated in this case:

  • The right to liberty and security of the person. The right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 9.1.

  • The right not to be punished for any crime on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time it was committed.

UDHR, Article 11.2; ICCPR, Article 15, Article 6.2.

  • The right not to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation.

UDHR, Article 12, ICCPR, Article 17.1.

  • The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to change and manifest one’s religion or belief.

UDHR, Article 18; ICCPR, Article 18.1, ICCPR, Article 18.2; Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Article 1 and Article 6.

In its general comment 22 (48) of 20 July 1993, the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee observed that the freedom to "have or to adopt" a religion or belief necessarily entailed the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one’s current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views, as well as the right to retain one’s religion or belief. Article 18, paragraph 2, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert.

  • The right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.

UDHR, Article 19; ICCPR, Article 19.1 and ICCPR, Article 19.2.

  • The right, as a member of a religious or ethnic minority, to enjoy one’s own culture or to profess and practice one’s own religion.

UDHR, Article 18; ICCPR, Article 27.

  • The right to equality before the law and the right to equal protection of the law.

UDHR, Article 7; ICCPR, Article 26.

The right to due process

  • The right to be presumed innocent until found guilty by a competent and impartial tribunal in accordance with law.

ICCPR, Article 14.1 and Article 14.2.

Pre-trial detention rights

  • The right to know promptly and in detail the nature and cause of the charges against one.

UDHR, Article 9(2); ICCPR, Article 9.2 and Article 14.3.a

  • The right to counsel of one’s own choosing or the right to legal aid. The right to communicate with one’s attorney in confidence

ICCPR, Article 14.3.b and Article 14.3.d; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 1, Article 2, Article 5, Article 6, and Article 8.

  • The right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense case.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.b.

  • The right not to be subjected to torture and to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.

Trial rights

  • The right to a fair and public trial without undue delay.

ICCPR, Article 14.1, Article 14.3.c.

  • The right to examine, or have examined, the witnesses against one, and the right to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on one’s behalf under the same conditions as prosecution witnesses.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.d and Article 14.3.e.

  • The right to have the decision rendered in public.

ICCPR, Article 14.1.

Judgment rights

  • The right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction.

ICCPR, Article 14.5.

  • The right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence.

ICCPR, Article 6.4.

Capital punishment
  • The inherent right to life, of which no one shall be arbitrarily deprived.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6.1; Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, Article 1.1, Article 1.2.

  • The right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.

About this Case

refused to deny his religion to protect his life.

The news of the extrajudicial death of Mr. Ezat’ollah Atefi Afusi, son of Jamileh and Mohammad Baqer, along with his brother, Bahman, and three other people, was obtained through Abdorrahman Boroumand Center’s interviews with Mr. Atefi Afusi’s grandchild on March 18, 2012 and June 15 and September 24, 2018 (ABC interview). Additional information in this regard was obtained through Abdorrahamn Boroumand Center’s interview with an informed person who previously lived in the village of Afus on May 14, 2018 and documents available at Abdorrahman Boroumand Center including a newsletter from the Baha’i community and an October 6, 1994 court order from an Islamic Revolutionary Court specially assigned to handle such cases per an order issued on September 7, 1989.

Mr. Atefi is one of the 206 Iranian Baha’is listed in a 1993 report published by the Baha’i International Community. The report documents the persecution of the members of the Faith in the Islamic Republic of Iran and lists the Baha’is killed since 1979.

Mr. Atefi was born in the village of Afus near Faridan, Esfahan, in 1927. He was a farmer, but also worked as a seasonal carpet yarn dyer. Because of his job and his honesty he had a good reputation and was well-known among the people in his village and the surrounding villages. He did not go to school, but learned to read and write. He was married with seven children.

Mr. Atefi was a Baha’i and had no political affiliation or connection with any political group. There was a long history of harassment of Baha’is in areas where he worked and lived. One of Mr. Atefi’s relatives had been murdered by some villagers at the provocation of Mullahs before the 1979 revolution. However, during more recent years (the interview were conducted in 2012), many people in the village have come to regret their behavior during the period when Baha’is were arrested and executed. They now sympathize with the victims’ families. They regret cooperating with authorities and not opposing the executions.  

Because of his job and his honesty, Mr. Atefi had a good reputation and was well-known among the people in his village and the surrounding villages.

Baha’is’ situation in the village of Afus

An informed person who previously lived in the village of Afus stated in an interview with Abdorrahaman Boroumand Center that about 100 Baha’is had lived in the village of Afus before the Islamic revolution. According to the interviewee, about 13 Baha’i families had lived in Afus, all of whom were driven out of the village shortly after the Islamic Revolution. Following the Islamic Revolution, the arrest order for the members of the Baha’is’ Local Spiritual Assembly* in the village of Afus was issued and nine members of the Assembly left the village with their families for fear of harassment, persecution, arrest, and execution. After leaving the village, their properties, houses, and farms were confiscated, and they had no reason to return to their hometown.

Background

The authorities of the Islamic Republic have subjected the members of the Baha'i religious community of Iran - the largest religious minority, with approximately 300 thousand members in 1979**- to systematic harassment and persecution, depriving them of their most fundamental human rights. The Baha'i religion is not recognized under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, and Iranian authorities refer to it as a heresy. As a result, the Baha'is have been denied the rights associated with the status of a religious minority; they cannot profess and practice their faith, and are banned from public functions. Discrimination under the law and in practice has subjected them to abuse and violence.***

About 13 Baha’i families had lived in Afus, all of whom were driven out of the village shortly after the Islamic Revolution.

Arrest and detention

On July 16, 1981, Mr. Atefi was arrested in his home by two agents of the Revolutionary Guards Headquarters and one plainclothes agent without any arrest warrant. According to the interviewee, the agents did not specify the reasons for detention. It was evident, however, that Mr. Atefi was arrested for being Baha’i.

Shortly before this arrest, the agents had arrested Mr. Atefi’s brother as well. For more than 50 days, Mr. Atefi and his brother were held in Daran Prison, located 150 kilometers south of Esfahan. During this time, they did not have access to an attorney.

In late August 1981, about two week prior to his extrajudicial death, Mr. Atefi visited his family for the last time (ABC interview).

Trial

According to available information, no court session was held to try Mr. Atefi. Mr. Atefi’s family members are not aware of any court session, and Mr. Atefi never mentioned anything about a trial during his visitation with family.

Charges

According to the interviewee, Mr. Atefi’s sole charge was “believing in the Baha’i religion”.

At his last visitation, Mr. Atefi had told his family: “I wrote a letter to the Prosecutor and asked about the basis of our arrest and detention. The Prosecutor replied that as long as you are Baha’i you will be in prison.” One of the prison’s guards, in response to one of Mr. Atefi’s relatives’ inquiry about the reasons behind Mr. Atefi and his brother’s arrest, stated: “Their crime was to be infidels”.

The validity of the criminal charges brought against these defendants cannot be ascertained in the absence of the basic guarantees of a fair trial.

Mr. Atefi’s sole charge was “believing in the Baha’i religion”.

Evidence of guilt

The report of this execution does not contain information regarding the evidence provided against Mr. Atefi.

Defense

No information is available on Mr. Atefi’s defense. According to the interviewee, Mr. Atefi did not consider himself guilty. Before his arrest, when some of the family members and friends felt threatened and told Mr. Atefi and his brother to flee, both responded: “We did not do anything [wrong]. Why we should escape?”

The representatives of the Baha’i community stress that their members are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. They note that Baha’is’ requests to access their files are usually denied, and access to attorneys is often denied.

However, the representatives of the Baha’i community stress that their members are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. They note that Baha'is' requests to access their files are usually denied, and access to attorneys is often denied. They refute the validity of charges such as counter-revolutionary political activities or spying leveled against them in Iranian courts. They point out that the fundamental principles of their religion require them to show loyalty and obedience to their government and refrain from any political involvement. They believe that the accusation of espionage for Israel is unfounded and based solely on the fact that the Baha'i World Centre is in Israel. They point out that this Center was established on Mount Carmel in the late 19th century, long before the establishment of the State of Israel.

Judgment

There is no information on the court order issued against Mr. Atefi.

Shortly after Mr. Atefi, his brother, and three other Baha’i prisoners left Daran Prison, the prison’s officials shot them in the back.

Mr. Ezat’ollah Atefi Afusi’s death

According to interviewees, on the morning of September 11, 1981, the prison’s officials told Mr. Ezat’ollah Atefi Afusi, his brother Bahman Atefi Afusi, and three other Baha’i prisoners named Ataollah Ruhani, Ahmad Ridvani, and Gushtasb Thabit-Rasikh that they were free to go home. Shortly after they left Daran Prison, the prison’s officials shot them in the back. The officials then spread word in the village that the men had been executed for intending to escape from prison.

The officials placed Mr. Atefi and his brothers’ bodies in sealed plastic bags and forced one of Mr. Atefi’s sons to bury the bodies. According to Mr. Atefi’s son, “only their faces remained uninjured, and their bodies were completely perforated [by bullets].” Mr. Atefi’s family was not allowed to wash the bodies, and the bodies were buried in plastic bags without any religious ceremonies. Their graves have since been hidden under a newly-constructed road.

According to the interviewees, if Mr. Atefi had stated that he was a Muslim, he would have been released. But Mr. Atefi and his brother refused to deny their religion to protect their lives.

The judicial authorities confiscated all of Mr. Atefi’s property and transferred it to one of his children, who had converted to Islam**** (Court order dated on October 6, 1994).

_____________________________

* The affairs of the Baha’i’ community are administered through a system of institutions, each with its defined sphere of action. At the local level, the affairs of the Baha’i’ community are administered by the “Local Spiritual Assembly”. Each Local Assembly consists of nine members who are chosen in annual elections. At the national level, the affairs of the Baha’i’ community are administered by the “National Spiritual Assembly”, a nine-member elected council responsible for guiding, coordinating, and stimulating the activities of Local Spiritual Assemblies and individual members of the Baha’i’ community within a given country.
** “Slow Death for Iran's Baha'is” by Richard N. Ostling, Time Magazine, 20 February 1984. Also see 'The Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran, 1844-1984, by Douglas Martin, Baha'i Studies, volume 12/13, 1984, p. 3. There is no information about the current number of Baha'is in Iran.
*** The Islamic Republic Penal Code grants no rights to Baha’is, and the courts have denied them the right to redress or to protection against assault, murder, and other forms of persecution and abuse. In so doing, the courts have treated Baha'is as unprotected citizens or “apostates,” citing eminent religious authorities whose edicts are considered to be a source of law equal to acts of Parliament. The Founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, made execution a punishment for the crime of apostasy and decreed that a Muslim would not be punished for killing an apostate.
Banishment from public functions has seriously damaged the Baha’is’ professional, economic, and social lives. Soon after the revolution, a Ministry of Labor directive called for the dismissal from public office and all governmental organizations and associations those “who belong to any of the misguided sects recognized by all Muslims as heretical deviations from Islam, or to organizations whose doctrine and constitution are based on rejection of the divinely-revealed religions.” Finally, the mandatory requirement of specifying religion in application forms and official documents (lifted recently in some areas under international pressure) has seriously limited Baha'is' freedoms and opportunities in all areas of their lives including divorce, inheritance, access to universities, and travel.
In practice, since 1980, thousands of Baha’is have lost their jobs, pensions, businesses, properties, and educational opportunities. By banning the Baha’i administration including Spiritual Assemblies, the elected bodies that lead and administer the affairs of Baha'i communities at both local and national levels, the Islamic Republic has denied Baha'is the right to meet, elect, and operate their religious institutions. Further, the Iranian government has executed at least 200 Baha’is and has imprisoned, tortured, and pressured to convert to Islam scores more.
Because of the unanimous international condemnation of the persecution of this quietist (apolitical) religious community, Iranian authorities do not always admit that the Baha’is are being punished for their religious beliefs. Therefore, judicial authorities have often charged Baha’is with offenses such as “being involved in counter-revolutionary activities,” “having supported the former regime,” “being agents of Zionism,” or “being involved with prostitution, adultery, and immorality.”
**** Article 881 bis of the Civil Code of Islamic Republic of Iran:  “An unbeliever (Kafir) does not take inheritance from a Muslims and if there is a Muslim among the heirs of an unbeliever (Kafir) deceased, the unbelieving heirs do not take inheritance even if they are prior to the Muslim as concerns class and degree.” 

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