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

Kaveh (Khaled) Veysi

About

Age: 32
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Sunni)
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Execution: August 2, 2016
Location: Raja’i Shahr (Gohardasht) Prison, Raja’i Shahr, Karaj, Alborz, Iran
Mode of Execution: Hanging
Age at time of offense: 25

Human rights violations in this case

The Legal Context

The Courts

 

Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 11 February 1979-1994

 

In the immediate aftermath of the 11 February 1979 Revolution, an ad hoc tribunal, initially referred to as the Extraordinary Revolutionary Tribunal, was set up to try the officials of the previous regime, for which no specific procedures were devised. In a decree dated 24 February 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, the revolutionary religious leader, appointed a cleric as Shari’a Judge and instructed him “to issue Shari’a-based rulings,” thereby establishing the foundation of a system of special courts.

 

Initially, the revolutionary courts’ jurisdiction was determined by the religious judge’s interpretation of the Shari’a (Islamic law based on the teachings of the Qur’an, the traditions of the Prophet, the 12 imams, and the teachings of Shi’a scholars. On 17 June 1979, the Revolutionary Courts and the Prosecutor’s Office Rules of Procedure, which was only selectively observed, established the latter’s jurisdiction and make-up.

 

The Courts’ jurisdiction encompassed a wide array of offenses including moharebeh (“waging war with God”), efsad e fel arz (“spreading corruption on Earth”), crimes against national and international security, economic crimes, murder, profiteering, prostitution, rape, and narcotic drugs-related crimes. The law required that two of the three principal members of the Revolutionary Courts be Shari’a judges.

 

 

Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 1994-2002

 

With the adoption of the Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 14 June 1994, and the Code of Criminal Procedure for General and Revolutionary Courts of 19 September 1999, a uniform code of procedure was applied to both revolutionary and general courts. The jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts was limited to 6 categories of offenses:

1. Crimes against national and international security,“moharebeh” (enmity with god) and “efsad e fel arz” (corruption on earth;)

2. defaming Ayatollah Khomeini and the Supreme Leader;

3. plotting against the Islamic Republic of Iran, armed action, terrorism, and sabotage;

4. espionage;

5. smuggling and drug-related crimes; 6. claims under Principle 49 (economic crimes) of the Constitution.

 6. Furthermore, pursuant to the Law on the Manner of Punishing Individuals Engaged in Unauthorized Audio and Visual Activities, Article 11, the revolutionary courts have jurisdiction over crimes that fall within the purview of said Law, including production and distribution of obscene materials and misuse and abuse thereof.

These courts continued, however, to try cases falling outside their jurisdiction, such as theft and sexual offenses. Further, the vagueness of laws regarding national security allowed the revolutionary courts to try political and media crimes whenever they wished to do so.

 

The new law eliminated the Prosecutor’s Office and gave the judges inthe Revolutionary Courts the power to perform the duties of the prosecutor, as well as their own, in any case brought before them.

 

Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 2002-Present

 

The Amended Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 2002 reinstated the Prosecutor’s Office in both revolutionary and general courts. In cases involving political and media crimes, revolutionary courts’ jurisdiction overlaps with that of Province Criminal Courts.

 

With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014, and its coming into force in June 2015, the jurisdiction of the revolutionary courts remains unchanged, with slight modifications in procedural aspects of adjudication. For instance, the new law provides that for crimes subject to the death penalty, life imprisonment, amputation, third degree, or higher, the revolutionary court shall convene with three judges, whereas, prior to the passage of this law, adjudication of all crimes within the jurisdiction of revolutionary courts took place with only a single judge.

The Appellate System of Revolutionary Courts, 1979-Present

 

From their inception until 1994, the rulings of the Revolutionary Courts were not subject to appeal. In the early 1980s a court entitled the Supreme Court of Qom was established in the city of Qom and which reviewed cases of execution and confiscation of properties, thereby forming a first tier form of appeal. The exact date of the creation of the court is not clear, but, based on available information, the court became operational in the early 1980s, even though Ayatollah Khomeini's official order for its creation is dated 1985. The court’s procedure was not systematic and did not meet the international standards for a court of appeals; there was no official record of its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Qom was dissolved in 1989.

 

The Law of 14 June 1994 subjected the Courts’ decisions to appeal. An appellate court was established at each provincial capital, called the Province Court of Appeals, composed of a three-judge panel, to review decisions made by the Revolutionary Courts. The Supreme Court was designated as the appellate authority for particular decisions, including those involving capital punishment.

 

Narcotic drugs-related crimes constitute a significant exception to the appeals process. Governed by the Anti-Narcotic Drugs Law of 1988, as Amended on 8 November 1997 and 31 July 3 2010, these crimes are within the jurisdiction of, and are adjudicated on a regular basis by, Revolutionary Courts whose decisions are final. After being handed down by the judge, death sentences are sent to the Prosecutor General or the Head of the Supreme Court as a matter of administrative approval.

 

With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 (and its coming into force in June 2015), however, drug related crimes became subject to appeal as well.

General Courts, 1979-1982

 

In cases not falling under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts, the system devised under the previous regime continued to function in parallel with new systems devised by laws passed by the Judicial Council, one of which, entitled The Legal Bill for the Establishment of General Courts of 11 September 1979, radically changed the entire structure and categorization of the courts. It divided the courts in three branches: Criminal, Civil, and Peace (a sort of arbitration court dealing with minor financial and other disputes). Specialized courts such as family courts were eliminated.

 

General Courts, 1982-1994

 

The Law of the Amendments to the Rules of Criminal Procedure of 1982 established a new criminal courts system, Criminal Courts I and II. Criminal Court I, established only in provincial capitals, had jurisdiction over more serious offenses, including those punishable by death, and Criminal Court II heard less serious crimes.

 

General Courts, 1994-2002

 

The Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 14 June 1994 established umbrella courts called General Courts, which replaced and dissolved pre-existing civil and criminal courts. The law dissolved the Prosecutor’s offices and tasked a single person with the roles of judge, prosecutor, and investigator.

 

General Courts, 2002-2015

 

In 2002, the 1994 Law was amended, reviving the role of the Prosecutor’s Office in General Courts. The prosecution offices were re-established in a gradual process over several years. The amended law also re-established specialized branches within general courts dealing separately with criminal and civil matters. In addition, this law allocated a number of branches of the Province Court of Appeals to have original jurisdiction over a number of cases including the most serious offenses, as well as political and media crimes. In these cases, the branches are called the Province Criminal Court.

 

General Courts, 2015 to Today

 

With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 and its coming into force in June 2015, general courts underwent certain changes as well. Criminal courts were divided into Criminal Court One, Criminal Court Two, Military Court, Juvenile Court, and Revolutionary Court. Criminal Court One has jurisdiction over serious crimes such as those subject to the death penalty, life imprisonment, amputation, third degree, and higher, as well as political and media crimes. Criminal Court Two has jurisdiction over other crimes. Another change consists of the establishment of juvenile courts, which adjudicates crimes committed by individuals less than 18 years of age. In cases where the individuals less than 18 commit serious crimes such as those subject to the death penalty, however, Criminal Court One will have jurisdiction, observing rules of juvenile criminal procedure.

 

The Appellate System of General Courts, 1979-Present

 

The Legal Bill for the Establishment of General Courts of 11 September 1979, abolished appeal of most criminal courts’ decisions. The law of 1982 restricted the appeal possibility even further. According to the Islamic Republic authorities’ interpretation of Islamic Law, a qualified jurist’s decisions were not subject to appeal except under special circumstances, such as when the judge realized his own mistake, or another judge advised him so, or when he did not have jurisdiction over the case. Even in such situations, the case would not go to a higher court but would be subject to review by the same judge or another judge at his level. The judges were even urged to call their verdicts “opinions,” so that the possible change in the verdict would not be “haram” (“sinful,” the highest level of prohibition in Islam, disobedience of which would result in a sin).

 

In October 1988, the Majles (Iranian parliament) passed a law regarding review of court judgments. This law provided for an appeal if the conviction was claimed to be based on invalid documentation or false testimony. The defendant could also base an appeal on a point of law or a procedural violation.

 

The appellate system was expanded in other laws in the late 1980s and in 1993. The Law for the Establishment of Criminal Courts I and II of 11 July 1989 created the Branches of the Supreme Court. Crimes of less importance, tried in Criminal Court II, were subject to review by Criminal Court I.

 

For the most important crimes involving death punishment, which were under the jurisdiction of Criminal Court I, the law allowed limited appeal to the Branches of the Supreme Court. Defendants had the right to petition the Supreme Court for appeal in certain cases involving false testimony or procedural violations, and if granted, the case would be remanded to either another criminal court or the original one.

 

Finally, the Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 1994, as amended in 2002, established an appellate court at each provincial capital, called Province Court of Appeals, composed of a three-judge panel, to review decisions made by both general and revolutionary courts. The Supreme Court was designated as the appellate authority for particular decisions, including those carrying the death penalty, as well as decisions made by the Province Criminal Court.

 

The amended law of 2002, continued the appellate procedure to the Branches of the Supreme Court established by the afore-mentioned law of 11 July 1989

 

The Supreme Court continues to be the competent authority to rule on new trials, which have been provided for in limited circumstances.

With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 and its coming into force in June 2015, the Court of Appeals shall be the competent authority to hear appeals from Criminal Court Two decisions, and the Supreme Court shall hear appeals from Criminal Court One decisions.

Special Courts for the Clergy

 

These courts are rooted in a 1979 decree, issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, which established a committee of religious and noble figures in every region to purge the clergy of anti-revolutionary elements under the supervision of the Revolutionary Courts. Between late 1981 and 1984, a special court in the city of Qom handled, though not systematically, the trial of clerics.

 

On 29 July 1987, Ayatollah Khomeini officially appointed a prosecutor and a member of the clergy as Shari’a judge for Special Courts for the Clergy. On 6 August 1990, a directive was issued regulating the conduct of these courts, the jurisdictional ambiguity of which is such that it effectively extends to “anyone where one of the parties is a cleric” and to “all matters in which the Court is designated as competent by the Supreme Leader.”

 

The court, which was not mentioned in the Islamic Republic's constitution, was mandated to try “pseudo clerics, those related to/connected with the clergy, for public and/or anti-revolutionary crimes, and violations of the prestige of the clergy,” and where the principal suspect is a member of the clergy, “any co-conspirator or assistant, whether a cleric or not.”

 

These courts are generally not open to the public and can issue sentences for all acts and omissions punishable under codified Iranian laws or Shari’a or for any other acts or omissions which can bring dishonor to the clergy or to the Islamic Revolution. Further, in certain particular cases – which have not been defined – where no punishment has been devised by either the Penal Code or even the Shari’a, the Court “can rule as it deems fit.” 

 

The Appellate System of the Special Court for the Clergy, 1979-Present

 

There is no information on any appeal process for the Special Court for the Clergy prior to the 1990 directive. Article 49 of said directive set up, however, an appeals court called Special Appellate Court for the Clergy, the head of which is appointed by the Supreme Leader, to which the decisions of the lower court can be appealed.

 

Military Courts

 

The military court system, independent from the judiciary under the previous regime, became a part of it on 1 December 1981. The Judiciary Organization of the Armed Forces, established in 1986, replaced and merged other military courts and tribunals in existence at the time, namely the pre-revolution Judiciary Organization of the Army, the Revolutionary Tribunal of the Army (established on 8 December 1979), and the Revolutionary and General Court for the Revolutionary Guards (established on 15 July 1979.) The Judiciary Organization of the Armed Forces has its own Criminal Code and follows the country’s general rules of criminal procedure.

 

The Law of the Criminal Procedure of the Armed Forces of 15 May 1985 created Military Courts I and II. Military Court I has jurisdiction over more serious offenses, including those punishable by death, and Military Court II hears less serious crimes.

 

The Appellate System of Military Courts, 1979-Present

 

The law of 8 December 1979, establishing the Revolutionary Military Court, did not provide for any appeals. The Law of 15 May 1985 created a system of appeals through the creation of a two-tier system of courts. The decisions of Military Court II were subject to review by Military Court I. This law also provided that multiple Branches of the Supreme Court be designated as the appellate court to review decisions of Military Court I.

 

The judges

 

1979-1997: Prosecutors and judges are not necessarily law graduates and jurists. Shortly after the Islamic Revolution, a five-member Committee was established to purge the judicial system of undesirable elements, pursuant to the Legal Bill for the Modification of the Judiciary and the Law for Hiring Judges of 8 March 1979. The power of the committee was absolute and its decisions, resulting in a widespread purge of the judiciary, final.

 

The Law for the Conditions of Selection of Judges of 4 May 1981 established the conditions of eligibility for judges. The latter were to be hired among men who were legitimate children and had practical commitment to Islam and allegiance to the Islamic Republic. The law, which led to the hiring of clerics and Islamic legal scholars, also allowed hiring practically anyone as a judge who could “obtain the Judicial High Council’s permission.” Moreover, Note 2 of the Amendments of 4 October 1982 to this law allowed widespread employment of seminary students “who ha[d] general knowledge equivalent to a high school diploma” as judges at prosecutor’s offices in general as well as Revolutionary Courts.  

 

By 1989, the judiciary counted about 2,000 new judges trained in theological seminaries (graduates and students) and political appointees, many having replaced judges trained in law schools.

 

1997-Present: As of this writing (2013) the Law for Hiring Judges and its amendments of 4 October 1982, 7 February 1987, and 9 May 1988 are in full force and form the basis for hiring judges. The Executive Rules of Procedure of 22 December 1997 subjected such hiring to passing an entrance examination and successful completion of an apprenticeship program, the duration of which ranges between one and two years. The law does not limit hiring to men only but does not specify in what capacity women will be functioning, other than an advisory one.

Currently, judges are selected in accordance with the Guidelines on the Recruitment, Selection, and Internship for Judicial Candidates and the Hiring of Judges.

 

Dismissal of Judges: From 1979 to 1989, the judiciary was run by the Supreme Judicial Council which was composed of the head of the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General (both of whom were appointed by the Supreme Leader), and three judges elected by the entire body of judges in the country. The Council had the power to hire and dismiss judges in accordance with the law.

 

The constitutional reforms of 1989 substituted the Supreme Judicial Council with one person, the Head of the Judiciary. The Supreme Leader, whose mandate is not subject to popular vote, appoints the Head of the Judiciary for a 5-year term. The latter has significant power to influence the dismissal of judges. Dismissal cases are referred to three types of disciplinary courts, presided over by judges appointed by the Head of the Judiciary, who has veto power over any decisions made by the relevant courts.

 

Two of these courts, established in 1991 and 2011, are charged with examining the judges’ conduct from a religious and ideological standpoint. The process does not necessarily involve the defendant and the final decision, left to the Head of the Judiciary, is not subject to appeal.

 

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 to freedom of peaceful assembly.

UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 21.

  • The right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of one’s interests.

UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 22.1.

  • 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 compelled to testify against oneself or to confess to guilt.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.g.

  • 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 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

Mr. Veysi was by the delivery room door awaiting the birth of his only child when he was arrested

News of Mr. Kaveh Veysi and 24 other individuals’ execution was published by various sources including IRNA (August 3, 2016), IRIB News Agency (August 3, 2016), Fars News Agency (August 2, 2016), Khorassan Newspaper (August 4, 2016), HRANA (August 3, 2016), Kurdistan Human Rights Defenders Center (August 3, 2016), and the Amnesty International Report (November 17, 2016). Additional information about this execution was obtained through Boroumand Foundation’s research and an interview with a person close to Mr. Veysi, from an Information Ministry Announcement (Islamic Republic of Iran Information Ministry website, August 3, 2016), Kurdistan Province Judiciary Announcement (Fars New Agency, August 2, 2016), and from other sources.*

Mr. Kaveh Veysi, child of Karim, also known as Mamusta Khaled Mansur Balaghi, was a Sunni Kurd from Mansur Balaghi village and resided in [the city of] Sanandaj. He was married, had one child (born on the night Mr. Veysi was arrested), and lived in a poor neighborhood called “Kani Kuzleh” in Sananadaj. He worked as an errand boy at a clothing store. Mr. Veysi had been entrusted to his uncle and aunt as an adopted child and was raised by them in Sanandaj. He had a very difficult childhood and would return to the village in the spring and summer to do farm work. (Boroumand Foundation interview).

Based on available documentation, Mr. Veysi started reading the Koran at the age of six at their village mosque. In Sanandaj, he went to their neighborhood’s Jebrael Mosque, and took to learning the Koran, developing oratory skills, learning how to preach, and reading religious psychology books. At the age of 15, Mr. Veysi met his Arabic teacher Abdolhamid Aali in early 1998 at Bahr-ol-Olum High School at Sanandaj’s Karamuzi neighborhood, and started studying theology at Imam Ali Mosque in Sanandaj’s Ekbatan neighborhood, where that same teacher was the Imam. In pursuing his theological studies, and starting at the age of 18, he began living six months in [the city of] Zahedan and six months in Sanandaj. Mr. Veysi was accepted at Kurdistan University in 2002 as a mathematics student but decided not to attend due to financial problems. (Boroumand Foundation interview).

Mr. Veysi was accepted as a mathematics student at the university but did not attend due to poverty

According to an acquaintance, Mr. Veysi was a religious man, a follower of the Shafe’i** branch of Islam, but was not affiliated with any particular group or organization, and taught religious subject matters of the Sunni faith at his home and at his students’ homes. Mr. Veysi continued to teach the tenets of the Shafe’i religion even in jail, and answered people’s religious inquiries through a Telegram channel called “Aghideh va Javab” (“Belief and Answer”). He was taken to the Revolutionary Guards’ solitary confinement cell for 17 days for having this channel. (Boroumand Foundation interview).

Sunni defendants’ families’ correspondence, including Mr. Veysi’s, with the Leader, the Head of the Judiciary, and the President, as well as sit-ins and follow-ups with the authorities in protesting the arrest and issuance of a death sentence, bore no fruit. (Boroumand Foundation interview). According to the Amnesty International report, Iranian security forces threatened Mr. Veysi’s family and lawyers in order to prevent them from releasing information about the cases and to stop them from giving interviews to media and human rights organizations.

Background

Based on available information, in the years 2007 to 2009-10, Shi’a evangelists hurled numerous insults at Sunni beliefs and Sunni respected figures, with severe backlash from Sunni religious figures and activists. Following famous Shi’a movie director Ebrahim Hatamikia’s offensive statements about Aisha, the Prophet’s wife, in Khanevadeye Sabz (“Green Family”) Magazine (Volume 195, 2007-08), and statements made by several well-known preachers such as Hojjatoleslams Daneshmand, Juybari, and Ansari – whose speeches were covered by [IRIB,] state radio and television in certain instances – a number of religious Sunni youth from Kurdistan (who considered these insults as being organized) proceeded to hold classes, distribute books and CD’s in local mosques, universities, and their neighborhoods, protesting against these actions and raising awareness, as well as promoting and defending the tenets of the Shafe’i religion.**  These CD’s contained documented instances of offensive language used against Sunni beliefs, quoted from well-known religious sources of the Shi’a religion such as Bohar-ol-Anvar. The religious activities of these young people raised the security apparatus’ sensitivity.

Subsequent to Ayatollah Khamenei’s trip to Sanandaj in April-May 2009, several young Sunni Kurd religious activists were arrested in the name of fighting Salafi and Takfiri (term used to denote Sunni extremists such as al-Qaeda and ISIS) movements. Three months later, a number of assassinations were carried out in Sanandaj, including Mamusta Sheikh-ol-Eslam, member of the Assembly of Experts, and Molla Borhan Aali, a Sunni cleric. Security forces accused certain individuals of murder, who had already been arrested prior to these assassinations. The arrestees denied any connection to armed, extremist, or radical groups, objected to the charges brought against them, and asked for a new and public trial, to no avail. Ultimately, six of the arrestees were executed in December 2012-January 2013, and six others on March 4, 2015. Also, continuing this process, 25 others, named “the Unity and Jihad Group”, were put to death on August 2, 2016.

The issuance and implementation of the death penalty for this group of Sunni adherents, was followed by the reaction of numerous domestic and international individuals and organizations. On June 12, 2014, eighteen human rights organizations, including the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation and a human rights lawyer, protested the sentences in a declaration and demanded that they be rescinded. Furthermore, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Defenders, and the Abdorrahman Borumand Foundation (December 31, 2014) issued several declarations and calls to action, demanding the rescission of the death sentences issued for the defendants of the case, and asking for a just, transparent, and public trial. Well-known Sunni figures such as Molavi Abdolhamid, Zahedan’s Sunni Friday Prayers leader, Hassan Amini, Sananadaj’s Imam Bokharai Seminary’s mufti and school director, and Molana Gergij, Azadshahr Sunni Friday Prayers leader, asked for the immediate rescission of the Sunni prisoners’ death sentences by sending open letters to the Islamic Republic’s Leader and the heads of the Judiciary, Legislative, and Executive branches. (Al-Arabiah, September 18, 2012). The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation and 21 other human rights organizations issued a declaration condemning the implementation of the prisoners’ death sentences and asked for the immediate abolition of the death penalty. (August 16, 2016).

Arrest and detention

On June 10, 2009, Mr. Veysi was arrested by a number of individuals, some of whom wore military uniforms and some who were were in plain clothes. He and his brother were at Sanandaj’s Be’sat Hospital awaiting the birth of his only child by the delivery room when he was arrested and taken to the Sanandaj Information Administration detention center. About four months after his arrest, Mr. Veysi was allowed to talk on the phone with his parents for five minutes and with his wife for five minutes. On January 19, 2010, eight months after his arrest, he visited with his family for 15 minutes, in the presence of Information Administration agents. He had lost a lot of weight and was shaking. Mr. Veysi had told people close to him that after his arrest, “he had been kept standing in a room that resembled a coffin for three months, and could not sit down.” He had lost a lot of weight during detention. Mr. Veysi was detained at the Sanandaj Information Administration detention center for 30 months, and was subsequently transferred to Tehran’s Evin Prison in December 2011. He was transferred to Karaj’s Rajaishahr Prison Ward Four, Hall 10, known as the Sunni adherents’ Hall, after 10 days. In September-October 2013, Information Administration forces transferred Mr. Veysi and several other Sunni defendants to Evin Prison Ward 240 for eight months, for having contact with the media through Telegram and WhatsApp and providing information regarding the execution of six Sunni prisoners in December 2012. During that period, he only had one cabin visitation with his family, and one 20-minute in-person visitation on another occasion. Then, in April-May 2014, he was taken to Rajaishahr Prison once again. Mr. Veysi was also transferred to the Revolutionary Guards solitary confinement cell at Rajaishahr Prison from June 21 to July 8, 2016. After he was taken back to Rajaishahr Prison Ward 4, he was returned to solitary confinement once again where he was kept until his execution. (Boroumand Foundation research and interview).

According to people close to him, he was held in a constant standing position for three months in a room that was like a coffin

According to the attorney for several of the prisoners who were executed along with Mr. Veysi, these prisoners’ families lived in poverty. Had the prisoners been incarcerated in their own towns, they could have visited them once a week but in Tehran they could only visit them once every few months, and when they did come to Tehran for visitations, they had nowhere to stay. (Euronews, August 8, 2016).

Based on available information, Rajaishahr Prison guards insulted Mr. Veysi’s family and the families of other Sunni prisoners when they came to visit. A person with knowledge described the prison guard’s treatment of the Sunni prisoners’ families during visitations as follows: “They would allow visitations once a month for 20 minutes, with prison guards insulting us. For instance, they would say: ‘Hello hello, al-Qaeda, Wahabis, Salafis,’ in a very mocking and derisive manner. They insulted us every which way in order to bother us… They would bring guards for inspection, in a very offensive way. For example, if our kids had something in their mouth, they would tell them to throw it in the trash can. When we would go for in-person visitations, there would be a wall between us, like an open kitchen. Baha’is and Shia’s, for example, their guys were free, but we weren’t. Even when we wanted to take our prisoner’s hand, the guards would say: ‘Bring your hands down’. We weren’t even allowed to touch our prisoner. Even when a mother wanted to hug her imprisoned child, a guard would stand between them. They had brought the prisoner themselves and we had been thoroughly inspected downstairs; what could we possibly pass to our prisoner?! They would stand there so no one would whisper into the prisoner’s ears. We even had trouble sending our children to the other side of the short wall.” (Boroumand Foundation interview).

The attorney for several of the defendants in these cases said: “Around 300 prisoners at Rajaishahr Prison are connected to the Sunni religious activist’s cases. Their charges range from affiliation with al-Qaeda, Taliban, Ansar ol-Saneh group, and the Towhid and Jihad (“Unity and Jihad”) group. I read several cases and I represented several individuals, so I was aware of some of what was going on. Each case had a bunch of cases jumbled up, which creates a sort of confusion for the court and for the lawyers: There are people who are [defendants] in other cases and come into the case, or the charges against individuals in one case are investigated in multiple cases; this creates an extremely unpleasant and difficult condition for the lawyers. But the problem is that, in any event, these people have been in jail for many years. First the Sanandaj Prosecutor’s Office investigated the case, where, after corresponding with the Head of the Judiciary, they said that the group was dangerous there and continued to be active, and that the judges were not safe there. A special branch was opened in Tehran strictly to investigate the charges against these individuals, then Evin Prosecutor’s Office Branch 6 issued an indictment against them.” (Iran Human Rights Organization, August 4, 2016).

Trial

In December 2013, Tehran Revolutionary Court Branch 28 tried Mr. Kaveh Veysi and four other defendants in a closed door session. The trial, presided by Judge Mohammad Moghisseh, lasted only 10 minutes and was conducted in the presence of Sanandaj Information Administration forces and a Shi’a cleric, and all the defendants were sentenced to death. (Boroumand Foundation interview). The Court paid no attention to his and the other defendants’ objections to having been tortured in order to make forced confessions. (Amnesty International Report).  

According to a person close to Mr. Veysi, he and the rest of the defendants were taken to court once for trial and once for service of the decision, and they were beaten and insulted on both occasions. (Boroumand Foundation interview). 

The trial took place outside the jurisdiction of the defendant’s residence and detention, contrary to usual judicial custom.

Charges

According to a person close to Mr. Veysi and to the attorney for several of the individuals who were tried alongside him, the charge brought against him was “Moharebeh (“waging war with God”).” According to another person close to Mr. Veysi, the charge, as explained to him, consisted of “propaganda against the regime through giving lectures in mosques, at the university, and in public places, conducting religious and political classes, conducting religious and political classes for students of theology, and teaching religious books to theology students.” (Boroumand Foundation research and interview).

According to Kurdistan Province Judiciary’s announcement, the collective charges of these individuals were “establishing a Takfiri terrorist grouplet (Towhid and Jahad) for the purpose of Moharebeh and carrying out armed operations inside the country, terror and killing of innocent people and certain religious scholars including the martyrs Mamusta Sheikh-ol-Eslam and Mamusta Borhan Aali, killing a number of environmental protection enforcement agents in the city of Sanandaj, kidnapping and murder of several citizens including Khalifeh Farhadi from Qaraveh and Hedayat Hassankhani from Ilam, procurement of numerous weapons of war and manufacture of more than 50 bombs ready for explosion, bombing various targets in Sanandaj, several counts of armed robbery of jewelry stores in the towns of Qaraveh, Zanjan, and Hamedan, distributing poisoned food in order to assassinate certain Kurdistani citizens, attacking police and road police posts, attempted armed robbery of banks in the Province, and random shooting of firearms into the crowd at Sanandaj’s Azadi Square and killing and injuring 14 individuals.”*** (Fars News Agency). This announcement does not specify, however, who is charged with what crime. Furthermore, in describing these individuals’ charges, the Information Ministry’s announcement alludes to “limiting who is a Moslem and branding others as infidels based on personal interpretation of religion, low level of religious education of the principles members of the group, and religious interpretations based on their low level of understanding, being influenced by Wahabi and Takfiri thought, denying the basic tenets of the Shafei religion, calling well-known Sunni scholars infidels, adventurism, extremism in their belief, blind one-sidedness, and not accepting or standing the opinion of others, violent behavior.” (Information Ministry website, August 3, 2016).

The validity of the criminal charges brought against this defendant cannot be ascertained in the absence of the basic guarantees of a fair trial. International human rights organizations allude to reports according to which, in certain cases, the Islamic republic of Iran’s officials bring false charges against their opponents (including political, civil, and union activists, as well as ethnic and religious minorities) such as drug trafficking or commission of public or sexual crimes, and execute them along with other regular criminals. Hundreds of people are sentenced to death in Iran every year; however, the number of those who are sentenced to death based on these false charges is not known.

Evidence of guilt

The report of this execution does not contain information regarding the evidence provided against the defendant. According to a person close to Mr. Veysi, Kurdistan Province Information Administration considered him “the instigator and the principle actor of all the assassinations”; the declaration and the CD’s published by Mr. Veysi and his friends in defense of the adherents of the Sunni faith, were among the evidence presented against him. (Boroumand Foundation interview). 

According to Kurdistan Province Judiciary’s announcement, however, the confessions of some of the defendants in the case, during interrogations and on camera, were used against them as evidence. The announcement stated: “In interviews with Press TV and Kurdistan Province Network subsequent to their arrest, a number of the defendants declared themselves to be ‘followers of the Salafi, Jihadi, and Takfiri thought’ and ‘have expressly described the details of their crimes.” (Khorassan Newspaper).

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. The National 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

Mr. Veysi was not given the opportunity for a defense at trial. He was assigned a court-appointed lawyer but he was not given the opportunity to meet with or even speak with his court-appointed attorney before trial. Mr. Veysi’s court-appointed lawyer was able to read the case file only a few minutes before trial, and he was not given an opportunity to defend his client. (Amnesty International Report).

According to a person with knowledge, and following the same school of thought as Mr. Veysi, no such group as “Towhid and Jihad”, membership in which was one of the charges against him and his co-defendants, exists, and this was a name fabricated by the security apparatus subsequent to their arrest. Mr. Veysi and a number of Sunni activists were arrested in 2009 and some were executed before Mr. Veysi; but the name “Towhid and Jihad” was brought up only a few years after these people’s arrest, and after the first group had been executed. (Boroumand Foundation research).

Based on files that were prepared in prison by cell phones, the defendants of this case had declared that the confessions had been made under severe torture. The file that was published after Mr. Veysi’s execution and the other defendants by a government website, contained video clips of ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq, which had been combined with the forced confessions of some of the defendants. (Amnesty International Report). It is not clear why certain evidence such as “numerous weapons of war and more than 50 bombs ready for explosion,” which the Kurdistan Province Judiciary claims to have discovered, was not shown in the video file published by that government website.

According to the defense attorneys for some of the defendants, there are serious issues with the dispensation of these cases, and, given the change in the Islamic Penal Code, the conditions for Moharebeh were not met for most of the defendants, and the cases were not adjudicated in accordance with the new Islamic Penal Code. (Boroumand Foundation interview).

Mr. Osman Mozayyan, attorney for some of the defendants in the case said: “There are people in this case who have committed one or two counts of murder of citizens. Now, whether this can be considered Moharebeh is doubtful, but all the individuals are looked upon the same way, regardless of whether they were involved in those operations or not; and this is a problem that really exists… Many of these defendants did not use arms at all. We expected their request for a new trial be considered, given the change in the new law and the change in the definition of Moharebeh. However, since the revolutionary court does not provide lawyers with a copy of the court decision, lawyers are legally not able to [ask for] a new trial without the copy of the decision. They must either have a copy, or handwrite the entire decision. The decisions are long because each decision concerns 20 to 25 people and there is one page for each person. Another issue is that we told the defendants to request a new trial, but the officials have not considered their request in spite of the positive promise they gave us. Even in one case where I wanted to read the case file, the presiding judge of the court branch would not allow it, saying he was finished with the case, whereas the case was at the appeals stage and legally, I had the right to read his file.”

According to Mr. Mozayyan “all of these individuals had submitted a request for a pardon but neither their request for pardon, nor their request for a new trial was not considered and taken under advisement. Even when they were serving the court decision on the defendants, they were not given a copy; they were just told to sign under the letter. And when the court-appointed attorneys and the retained attorneys wanted to meet with their clients and obtain their signature, the court would not allow it and would not issue an order to allow us to meet with our clients. And when we wanted to obtain their signature at Rajaishahr Prison, they would tell us at the entrance that since these defendants were al-Qaeda, “you are not allowed to meet with them. Leave your retainer agreement or power of attorney here and come back tomorrow to get the signature.” The lawyers’ defense of these defendants was mostly done without meeting them and without speaking to them. And if they were able to talk to them at all, it was in the hallway of courtroom, in the short time they had been brought for trial. As for their trial, they would bring multiple people together and each was tried for tried for a few minutes. They would only ask them a few questions. In the cases that I defended, the court insisted that all the investigations and all the charges were correct, and they did not pay much attention to the briefs. And when the ruling was issued, the court would simply repeat its own justifications and the contents of the indictment, without any reference to the attorneys’ defense, not even dismiss the defense with its own arguments and/or evidence. I saw some of the briefs presented by both court-appointed attorneys (because all of them were introduced to the court by the bar association) and attorneys chosen by the defendants, and they had all presented very good and comprehensive defenses; they had even spent months to write those briefs and had done a very good job. Unfortunately, however, I believe, my professional belief is, that the court did not pay attention to the defenses mounted by the attorneys, and not all these people deserved the death penalty given their cases.” (Iran Human Rights Organization, August 4, 2016).

According to Mr. Osman Mozayyan “trial session or sessions took place without the prosecutor’s representative, contrary to the Islamic Penal Code, and lasted three, four, or five minutes, and the court did not pay the slightest attention to the defendants’ and their attorneys’ defense.” Mr. Mozayyan said: “I defended numerous times. Numerous times I said: ‘Mr. Moghisseh, I’m defending, please listen.’ He would just keep his head down and be on his phone and then he would say: ‘Hurry up; what is it you want to say?’ And then the rulings were issued in a few pages, almost identical. That is, the text of the decision would be generally exactly the same, and there were no references to any details. In a way, an identical decision was issued for everybody, whereas they did not all have the same conditions and had not all done the same things.” According to Mr. Mozayyan, the rulings for all of these individuals were issued at the time of the old Islamic Penal Code. In the new law, “Moharebeh is taking up arms in order to spread fear in the Islamic society” and there is no Moharebeh as long as there is no weapon; and if the cases are taken up again, many of these people would not be considered Mohareb.” He emphasized: “Most of these individuals are very young and have no experience with the law, don’t know how to defend themselves, and speaking Farsi in court was very difficult for some of them. In spite of all that, the court did not allow them to meet with their attorneys. None of them were able to meet with their attorneys, and if there was a conversation between attorney and client, it was either done on the phone or in the few minutes they were in court. Regarding court-appointed attorneys, Mr. Mozayyan said: “many of them presented very good defenses but unfortunately, the court did not pay attention to the defenses and punished all these people in one manner and in the same way; the death sentence was upheld at the Supreme Court as well.” According to Mr. Mozayyan, Mr. Nassiripur, the Sentence Implementation judge had thrown him out of his room numerous times, saying “Why are you defending the Daesh”, whereas he was defending the defendant not the charge.

Additionally, Mohammad Seifzadeh, jurist and member of the Human Rights Defenders Center, who had spent several years in Rajaishahr prison with these prisoners, said: “on enight the officer in charge said: ‘this morning the guys from Hall 10 were taken to court, more than 30 of them, and they returned them all, they issued death sentences at that session, please go talk to them.’ I went to Hall10, all the Sunni guys gathered around and we talked to each other warmly. We talked about Islam, the Koran, the Prophet Mohammad, human rights, etc. One or two of the guys said: ‘We’re not afraid of execution but what we saw today had nothing to do with a court of law, not even in the Middle Ages. We had no right to defend ourselves; they had already written down our names and our sentences. They took 37 people in, told them they were sentenced to death, and got their signature, all in about 15 minutes.’” Siamak Qaderi, a journalist who was in the same ward with the defendants, said that Messrs. Soltani and Sefzadeh, jailed attorneys, gave them legal advice and added: “These attorneys were their advisers in [aiding them to] recount the details of their arrest, investigation, and trial, and at times, would prepare [written] defenses or requests for them. I can say with the utmost certainty that, in spite of the very serious difference of opinion they had with these people, the attorneys considered the process of their adjudication completely against the Law on the Rules of Procedure, contrary to common sense, humanity, and against human rights tenets.” Sa’eed Madani, a political prisoner who was incarcerated with the defendants, alluded to the made up case against these individuals and said: “From the first days I was released from prison, I asked every human being with integrity who had a hand in the judicial and the executive system for help, to get them to reconsider their case with impartiality, disregarding the hoopla, so they could notice the multitude of contradictions and false reports in the file, and thereby prevent the continuation of this major and unforgivable injustice. It seems, however, that not even the slightest bit of conscience, humanity, honor, and piety remains in order to hear the cries of the oppressed.” (Euronews, August 8, 2016).

Judgment

Tehran Islamic Revolutionary Court Branch 28 sentenced Mr. Veysi to death. Supreme Court Branch 32 upheld the sentence. (HRANA, February 1, 2014).

Based on available information, beginning at 7:30 PM on Monday, August 1, 2016, in order to prevent any news of the implementation of the death sentence against Mr. Veysi and 24 other defendants from being disseminated, Rajaishahr Prison officials activated the machine that sends interference on cell phones, cut off the Prison’s main phone lines, and limited visitations and prisoners comings and goings to the yard and to the infirmary. (HRANA, August 3, 2016).

Mr. Veysi was executed but the death certificate states the cause of death as “respiratory illness”

According to a person close to Mr. Veysi, the night before the execution, the Prison’s special guards took Mr. Veysi and the rest of the defendants from Ward 4 to solitary confinement cells, handcuffed, shackled, and with [tape over] their mouths, so that other prisoners would not be able to hear them and find out was going on. (Boroumand Foundation interview).

Mr. Veysi and 24 other defendants, were hanged at [the city of] Karaj’s Rajaishahr Prison in the morning of Tuesday, August 2, 2016, without due process regarding sentence implementation.  Following Mr. Veysi’s and the other defendants’ execution, Rajaishahr Prison Ward 7, Hall 21 prisoners who were mostly Sunni Moslems, went on a strike to protest their execution and to empathize with their families. (HRANA, August 3, 2016).

The next day, security forces called Mr. Veysi’s family, and without informing them of the execution, told them to come and see him for the last time. On their way to Rajaishahr Prison, they were contacted by phone and told to go to the Evin Prison morgue. They were contacted once again and told to go to Kahrizak morgue to identify the body. Mr. Veysi’s family identified his body in the presence of Sanandaj Information agents, but the body was not turned over to them for burial. Mr. Veysi was buried in Tehran’s Behesht Zahra Cemetery in the presence of his family, but they were not allowed to conduct the burial according to Sunni religious rites. Based on available documentation, even though Mr. Veysi was executed, the death certificate states the cause of death as “respiratory illness”. According to a person with knowledge of the case, Information Ministry agents stopped Mr. Veysi’s family’s car on the way back from the cemetery and obtained a pledge from them not to hold any funeral services. In spite of the Information Ministry agents’ threats, Mr. Veysi’s family did hold services for him and a large number of people attended. (Boroumand Foundation interview).

According to the attorney for several of the defendants, “pursuant to the law, at the time of carrying out a death sentence, a number of officials as well as the condemned’s attorney must be present; none of their attorneys were asked to attend the execution, however. Most importantly, a person must be buries either according to his/her will, or to the wishes of his family. Naturally, the remaining family members want their dead to be buried in their city of residence and this is their personal right. This is contrary to religious tenets and principles as well as the wishes of the condemned and the will of the survivors.” (Iran Human Rights Organization, August 4, 2016).

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*Other sources: Roj Halat (July 20, 2011), Boroumand Foundation (August 11, 2016), Fars News Agency (August 2, 2016), Amnesty International (November 27, 2016), Aljazeera (August 4, 2016), HRANA (November 12, 2013, December 14, 2013, January 3, 2014, January 29, 2014, February 1, 2014, February 21, 2014, March 4, 2014, March 17, 2014, August 3, 2016), Boroumand Foundation interview with Osman Mozayyan (August 22, 2016), Boroumand Foundation interview with Hossein Ahmadi Niazi (September 2, 2016), and Boroumand Foundation research.

** The Shafei religion is the name of a branch of Sunni Islam that follows Abu Abdollah Mohammad Idris Shafei, one of the four Imams of Sunna and Jama’a. The Shafei religion is the third oldest religion of the adherents of Sunni Islam, that follows Mohammad, Abu Bakr, Osman, and Ali.

*** By broadcasting reports and special programs on November 15, 2013, and March 14, 2014, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (State radio and TV) hurled several accusations at the defendants in this case, including “the assassination of Mamusta Sheikh-ol-Eslam, member of the Assembly of Experts”, “keeping and storing weapons”, and “contact with PEJAK group”. Furthermore, on August 3, 2016, Kurdistan Province Network broadcast a four-part documentary entitled “Takfir and Terror” in which, in addition to accusing them of assassinating religious and judicial figures, including Mamusta Sheikh-ol-Eslam, Mamusta Borhan Aali, and Judge Kamiani, it accused them of various crimes such as “robbing jewelry stores”, “assassinating four environmental protection agents”, “attacking and opening fire on passersby and traffic police in Sanandaj’s Azadi Square”.

****Mr. Asghar Rahimi, Mr. Veysi’s brother-in-law, was executed on December 27, 2012, with 9 other defendants at [the city of] Karaj’s Qezalhessar Prison, for “Moharebeh,” through “contact with a Salafi enemy grouplet” and for “propaganda against the regime through participation in religious belief and political classes, possession, sale and purchase of religious books of the adherents of the Sunni faith, and lecture CD’s.” 

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