Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

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

Ali Reza Reza'i


Age: 24
Nationality: Afghanistan
Religion: Islam (Shi'a)
Civil Status: Single


Date of Killing: September 20, 2015
Location of Killing: Azarbaijan-e Gharbi Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Death in custody
Charges: Attempt to leave the country illegally

About this Case

Information regarding the death in detention of Mr. Ali Reza Reza’i was taken from three interviews conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation with his relative, who was with him until the last moments of his life; with Mr. Ali Hezareh, an Afghan documentary film maker residing in Paris; with Mr. Reza’i’s sister in October of 2015; and the official statement by his family. Additional information was gathered from the websites of RFI on September 26, 2015 and Deutsche Welle Persian on May 13, 2013 and September 14, 2015.

Mr. Reza’i was arrested on September 20, 2015 while crossing the Turkish border illegally along with six others. He died in detention after being led to the border station several hours later.

Mr. Reza’i was born in Tehran into an Afghan family who migrated to Iran in 1979. He was single and 24 years old. He had primary education and lived in Pakdasht near Varamin in Tehran Province until 2004. He then moved to Afghanistan along with his family and resided in Kabul. He left school and began graphic and artistic work and after completing a course in montage, he entered the movie industry. He worked at National Radio and Television in Afghanistan for a period. He also worked at the Afghanistan Cultural House and at an independent cultural center as a sound recordist and director’s assistant. He lost his mother in 2008 and helped his father, who was a well-known metalsmith in Afghanistan and owned a large factory which made safes. They had a factory in Kabul, but when his father died in 2012, Mr. Reza’i experienced the problems facing the industry and his father’s wealth disappeared. He decided to migrate to Europe and re-entered Iran legally.

However, without committing any crime, he was arrested in Orumieh and his passport was cut up. The apparent reason for this was that Afghans were forbidden to enter Azerbaijan-e Gharbi province. He was detained at Sefidsang Camp* for several days under hard condition and then deported to Afghanistan where unfavorable living conditions forced him to migrate once more. Since he could not get another passport to enter Iran legally, he entered illegally over the Zahedan border. He stayed with his sister in Iran for seven months. Finally, due to a lack of work permit and difficulties of life in Iran, he decided again to leave for Europe. (interview with Mr. Ali Hezareh)


Iran has long been host to one of the largest displaced populations in the world due to its 937 kilometer border and common language with a large part of the Afghan population. Millions who fled conflict and repression during the late 1970s and early 1980s when the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan, or during the civil war and especially after the Taliban took power in 1996, left their homeland and mostly fled to Pakistan and Iran.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, emphasized hosting Afghans in 1979. Therefore, Iran gave asylum and some assistance to Afghan refugees from 1979 to 1992. However, after the Afghan Mojahedin came to power in 1992, the Iranian government began encouraging and pressuring Afghans to return to Afghanistan through various measures, including the implementation of onerous procedures for renewing refugee papers, refusal to register newly arriving Afghans as refugees, and denial of public services to refugees. As a result, about a million Afghans returned to their homeland in a short period. This policy has continued up to now in spite of increasing Afghan migration caused by dire security condition in Afghanistan since 2008. Authorities arrest undocumented Afghans and detain them in camps assigned for aliens before returning them to their country. Meanwhile, the United Nations offered financial assistance to the Iranian government in order to support minimum living conditions for refugees and their voluntarily return.**

Arrest and detention

Mr. Reza’i was arrested by border patrol agents near the Turkish border while attempting to leave Iran illegally along with a group of his family members on September 20, 2015 at 3:00 A.M. All his companions - including a 10-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 19-year-old girl, and three youngsters aged between 18 and 25 - were arrested and led to the border station. (RFI on September 26, 2015)

According to his companion’s interview and his family’s statement, after hours of mountain climbing and the surprise attack and shooting by the border patrol, Mr. Reza’i felt exhausted and ill. In spite of this, agents forced him and the rest of the group to climb on for another half an hour to reach the border station. When a companion realized that Mr. Reza’i was not feeling well and asked soldiers to rest, agents beat him and Mr. Reza’i. According to his sister, who was among the companions, soldiers subjected Mr. Reza’i to several minutes of fist punches and kicks; one such kick to Reza’i’s chest would prove life-threatening. The severity of beating was such that Mr. Reza’i passed out and laid on the ground with only 100 meters left to go to the station. (interview with ABF)

Death in Detention

Lack of medical attention caused Mr. Reza’i’s heart to beat slowly and ultimately stop. However, following CPR and heart massage performed by a companion, his heart began pumping again and he opened his eyes and breathed. Officials’ indifference and violent reactions to any request for help caused Mr. Reza’i’s death in the border station ten minutes later on September 20, 2015 at 10:00 A.M. (interview with ABF)  


Mr. Reza’i was never tried.


The charge against Mr. Reza’i was “illegal border crossing” when arrested.

Evidence of guilt

The report of his death in detention did not provide any evidence against Mr. Reza’i.  


Mr. Reza’i had no opportunity to defend himself.


No ruling was issued against Mr. Ali Reza Reza’i. His body was left on the floor of the border detention center for 6 to 7 hours (RFI, September 26, 2015). Then a police vehicle transferred it to another station in Chaldoran and later to the forensics morgue. Only after the family paid costs were they able to receive his body, which was buried in Emamzadeh Hamzeh Cemetery at Khanunabad in Pakdasht (official statement by Mr. Reza’i’s family). In his death certificate, issued on September 22, 2015, the date of death is written as September 21 and the cause of death as “unknown but possibly due to heart arrhythmia.” (ABF interview)

The Family’s Statements

According to Mr. Reza’i’s sister, when his body was washed in preparation for burial, black and blue marks on his chest and nose and mouth bleeding were evident (ABF interview). According to Mr. Reza’i’s companion, when his family tried to file a complaint with the border patrol a day after his death, the inspector of Branch One of Chaldoran Courthouse told them that agents had done their duties and that the family could not do anything. When the family told him that they didn’t have the money necessary for taking Mr. Reza’i’s body, he told them that he would then be buried in an unknown location. Ultimately, the family had to pay 1.7 million Tumans for an ambulance, forensics costs, and transportation of the body. (ABF interview)

In a statement published on social media several days after his death, Mr. Reza’i’s family described the event and concluded: “From our point of view, the death of Ali Reza Reza’i was a murder. Based on all laws, police are responsible for protecting the life and health of those in custody. The soldiers’ negligence regarding Ali Reza’s physical health, beating him, and depriving him of first aid and denying his request for medical attention caused his death. Those who kicked and beat him up are responsible for his death and must be accountable. 40 minutes passed from the first signs of a problem to his death. It would certainly have been possible for them to provide necessary medical attention.” (official statement by Mr. Reza’i’s family)    

*Shahid Motahari Care Camp in Fariman: This camp is located 30 kilometers from Fariman and 150 kilometers from Mashhad. On average, two thousand illegal aliens enter the camp daily. (website of the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs, July 2, 2015)

**The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that a total of 2.5 million Afghans, including 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees and 1 million undocumented, were living in Iran as of November 2015. The latest governmental statistics, published in May of 2015, indicate that about one million Afghans legally and somewhere between 1 to 1.5 million Afghans illegally live in Iran. Most of them have lived in Iran for a long time, they have married, and worked in difficult jobs such as construction work. Most Afghan refugees live in urban areas and in certain provinces such as Khorasan-e Razavi, Tehran, and Esfahan.

Since 2004, Iran has imposed severe restrictions on freedom of movement for Afghans. Their movement totally in some provinces, and partially in some other provinces, is forbidden. Even though Iran signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, it has imposed some discrimination against Afghan refugees. For example, the Iranian government has made it difficult for many mixed Iranian - Afghan couples to marry, denied citizenship to Afghan husbands of Iranian women, and created barriers to citizenship for the children of such couples. Since 2006, mixed marriages are not recognized officially. Iranian women cannot officially marry Afghan men unless they go through a difficult process.

According to various reports by human rights defenders, some of the discrimination against Afghan migrants includes charging a fee to obtain education for their children, and various excuses by school principals to deny their registration. Afghans are restricted to working in specific professions, all of which are menial and many of which are dangerous, as listed by the Interior Ministry. They cannot obtain driver licenses nor purchase property in their name. Finally, both documented and undocumented Afghans experience a range of abuses, and many who are deported also face police abuse, including violence, theft, unreasonable deportation fees, forced labor during detention prior to deportation, and poor conditions in detention facilities.

Difficult living conditions in Iran forced some Afghans to aim for migrating to Europe through the Turkish border. But they face Iranian control of the border and many obstacles to reaching their goals. For instance, according to the Border Commander of the West Azarbaijan province, about 22 thousand foreign citizens who intended to exit through the West Azarbaijan border, were arrested during the spring and fall of 2015. At least two individuals were shot to death by border patrols.    

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