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

Ali Reza Tajiki

About

Age: 21
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Shi'a)
Civil Status: Single

Case

Date of Killing: August 10, 2017
Location: Shiraz Central Prison (Adelabad), Shiraz, Fars Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: Murder; Homosexual rape
Age at time of offense: 15

About this Case

A 15-year-old religious young man of rather small stature; he held a ranking in cycling in Fars Province

News of Mr. Alireza Tajiki’s execution was published on August 10, 2017, by numerous sources including Radio Farda, Manoto TV, and HRANA News Agency. Additional information in this case was obtained through Boroumand Foundation research and an interview with a person with knowledge of the case, and from documents related to the case, available at Boroumand Foundation, and from Amnesty International’s communiqués (May 18, 2016, August 3, 2016, August 9, and 10, 2017), Mizan and Ana News Agency (August 10, 2017), HRANA (August 9, 2017), Voice of America (August 10, 2017), Radio Farda (August 10, 2017), Deutsche Welle (May 26, 2016 and July 31, 2016) Worldwide Movement for Human Rights website (August 1, 2016).

Mr. Alireza Tajiki, child of Rajabali, was born on May 26, 1996, in the town of Fasa in Fars Province. He had a number of siblings and his father was a gardener at the Fasa Water Administration. He was a high school freshman, a religious young man of rather small stature, member of the mosque’s cycling team, and held a ranking in cycling in the Province.  Based on available information, Mr. Tajiki began to stutter after a traumatic experience when he was in second grade, and received treatment for a while (Boroumand Foundation interview with a person with knowledge of the case).

Based on available information, he spent a few years at the Reform and Education Center and was trusted by the people in charge there. He taught other kids the Koran while studying there and obtained a professional degree.

Mr. Tajiki’s case is related to the rape and murder of his close 16-year-old friend on May 18, 2012.

Iranian judicial authorities intended to carry out Mr. Tajiki’s death sentence on two separate occasions (May 15, 2016, and August 3, 2016) but each time the execution was postponed due to international and Iranian civil society protests.

The possibility that Mr. Tajiki would be executed attracted much public attention inside and outside Iran and caused international human rights organizations, the United Nations, and several foreign governments to try on several occasions to prevent his execution. They succeeded twice. The day prior to the implementation of the sentence, the international community expressly asked Iranian authorities to halt his execution (Amnesty International Iran Section researcher’s interview with Voice of America, August 10, 2017, and the German Government’s communiqué, May 26, 2016).

Arrest and detention

Based on available evidence, Mr. Tajiki was arrested on July 3, 2012 at the age of 15, after having been summoned to the Criminal Investigations Bureau several times. Mr. Tajiki was summoned to help the police investigations after the discovery of his friend’s body in a well in the village of Gardsar. Mr. Tajiki had been summoned to the Fasa Criminal Investigations Bureau on that day, along with a number of the victim’s other friends, when he was arrested without his family’s knowledge. Several other people were arrested in connection with the murder.

Based on available information, Mr. Tajiki was kept in solitary confinement for 15 days without access to his family or an attorney, where the interrogators forced him to make a self-incriminating confession under pressure and torture through beating, flogging, and suspension by the hands and feet (Amnesty International, May 18, 2016 and August 10, 2017).

According to a person with knowledge of the case quoting Mr. Tajiki, the interrogator tortured him by tying his hands and feet and suspending him upside down, stripping him and lighting a lighter under his testicles, and beating him with a cable. According to this defendant, they beat him so much during interrogations that he would pass out and they would revive him by pouring a bucket of water on his head, and would tell him “This is how it’s going to be if you don’t confess” (Boroumand Foundation interview with a person with knowledge of the case).

Based on available information, after much pressure and torture, Mr. Tajiki was forced to re-create the scene of the crime, with the interrogators leading him to say what they wanted him to say. According to a person with knowledge of the case, on July 16, 2012, after two days of rehearsal in the presence of the Criminal Investigations Bureau agents, Mr. Tajiki reconstructed the scene of the crime in front of the investigating judge.

He was under torture at the Criminal Investigations Bureau for 15 days, without access to his family or to an attorney

Based on available information, after spending over three months being interrogated at the Criminal Investigations Bureau, during which he had no access to a lawyer and was not allowed to contact his family, Mr. Tajiki was taken to Fasa Prison for 20 days, and thereafter, he was taken to Shiraz’ Reform and Education Center where he spent five years. He then spent less than a year at Shiraz’ Adelabad Prison (Boroumand Foundation interview with a person with knowledge of the case).

Subsequent to the Supreme Court overturning the trial court’s ruling and declaring defects in the case in 2014, he was taken to the Medical Examiner’s office twice to ascertain his intellectual development. The medical panel did not confirm his intellectual maturity. One month later, upon the victim’s next of kin’s objection to the first finding, another medical panel was assigned with the task of ascertaining his intellectual development. The second panel confirmed that he was intellectually mature at the time of the commission of the crime (Documents available at Boroumand Foundation and Boroumand Foundation interview with a person with knowledge of the case).

Mr. Tajiki was able to have a cabin visitation with his family four months after the murder (Boroumand Foundation interview with a person with knowledge of the case).

Trial

Fars Province Criminal Court, Branch Four tried Mr. Tajiki’s case in several sessions. Based on available information, the first and second trial sessions were conducted without the presence of an attorney. Even though Mr. Tajiki’s defense attorney could not be present in court to defend his client (due to an accident and severe injury of the spinal court and subsequent surgery), the judge did not postpone the trial. The third session which took place on April 13, 2013, in the presence of the Prosecutor’s representative, the victim’s next of kin, and the parties’ attorneys, resulted in an initial ruling against Mr. Tajiki.

Upon review by the Supreme Court and a finding of investigative defects, the case was remanded to Fars Province Criminal Court, Branch Four on April 14, 2014. The Supreme Court cited the following as reasons for its ruling and remand: Fars Province Criminal Court Branch Four’s lack of sufficient investigations regarding fluid discharge in and around the victim’s anus, and comparing those with fluids from the defendant; not ascertaining the defendant’s age at the time of commission of the crime; and not taking into consideration the new Islamic Penal Code’s Article 91 passed in May 2013, which could apply retroactively to the defendant.

On November 23, 2014 Fars Province Criminal Court, Branch Four tried the case a second time in the presence of the panel of judges, the Prosecutor’s representative, the victim’s next of kin, the defendant, and the parties’ attorneys.

Charges

The court declared the charges against Mr. Tajiki to be “intentional murder and forced sodomy”. The accusation made against him was that, at the age of 15, he had threatened his friend (who was a year older than him) with a knife to have sex, and had subsequently killed him and suspended his body with a rope in a well in the vicinity of the town of Fasa.

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 evidence presented at trial against Mr. Tajiki consisted of his confession during interrogations, the Telecommunications Company’s printout showing Tajiki and the victim having contacted each other in the final hours of the night and that the two of them were in the same cell phone coverage area at the time; confirmation of forced sodomy and stab wounds to the victim’s side and forearm and the throwing of the body in the well in the course of the crime re-construction scene; and the Coroner’s report citing the wound to the chest as the cause of death.

Based on available information, the interrogators trained Mr. Tajiki for two days to have him repeat their story at the crime reconstruction scene, but he was ultimately not able to reconstruct the scene the way they wanted and began to stutter, which they interpreted as an effort to “hide the truth”.

According to Fars Province Criminal Court Branch Four’s ruling “based on the printout obtained from the Telecommunications Company regarding the contents of the victim’s and his friends’ phones, it has been established that the defendant was in contact with the victim in the final hours of the night and thereafter, and that they were in the same cell phone reception area, and that the Defendant, during preliminary investigations with the Police and before the investigative judge, as well as at the scene of reconstruction of the crime, has described the event and has confessed to sodomizing the victim, then injured and strangled the victim with a rope, ultimately throwing his body in the well. The Medical Examiner has confirmed the injury to the right side, to the posterior region of the right forearm, which is in the shape of a spindle, and has declared that the victim’s neck wound conforms to the Defendant’s statements. Consequently, the Medical Examiner has declared the cause of death to be injury to the chest by a sharp object, in addition to the fissure on the victim’s neck while he was still alive. Penetration (sodomy) on the victim prior to death has also been confirmed. Considering that the murder weapon (knife) was discovered by the Police following the Defendant’s information, upon conducting a comparison of the discovered knife, the Medical Examiner declared that there was a possibility that it was the murder weapon. Based on the investigations conducted by the General and Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office, upon the disappearance of the late Ehsan Neyssari, his friends tried hard to find him, and contacted the Defendant several times to find out whether he had any information, to which the Defendant did not provide an answer, an assertion that is also confirmed by the Defendant”.

International human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for its systematic use of severe torture and solitary confinement to obtain confessions from detainees and have questioned the authenticity of confessions obtained under duress.

Defense

At his trial, Mr. Tajiki insisted that he was innocent. There are many contradictions and defects in this case. Further, Mr. Tajiki declared that his statements were made after 45 days of interrogations and torture. Existing evidence also confirms these contradictions.

Based on available legal documents, there were many defects in this case and several important documents that helped prove the Defendant’s innocence had been eliminated from the case file. The Medical Examiner’s autopsy report of the victim’s body performed on May 20, 2012, was never included in the file. This report contains medical information that is in conflict with Mr. Tajiki’s admissions made during interrogations and under physical and psychological torture, based on which the judge issued his ruling. According to a person with knowledge of the case, the report confirms that the rape, murder, and suspending of the victim from the well was the work of at least three people (Boroumand Foundation interview with a person with knowledge of the case, and the brief asking for a new trial, available at Boroumand Foundation).

Furthermore, the Supreme Court Branch 11 decision states in part: “The Medical Examiner’s office examined the body 12 to 18 hours after the incident and confirmed that there were signs of penetration of a hard body into the anus, but it was not clear whether the fluid discharge in and around the anus was compared to the Defendant’s fluids to determine whether sodomy had taken place and whether it was done by the Defendant or not. The minutes of the examination of the body do not indicate anything in that regard and it is not clear whether there was a possibility for such comparison and determination. 2. The Defendant’s birth certificate was not obtained and observed to determine how old the Defendant was exactly at the time of the commission of the crime. 3. Although the court’s ruling was issued prior to the passage of the Islamic Penal Code of May 19, 2013, since Article 91 of said law is considered to be a mitigation of punishment for defendants under the age of 18, it must be applied retroactively and observed as such.”

The evidence in the file contradicted Mr. Tajiki’s confession obtained under torture, but the judges paid no attention

Mr. Tajiki’s family tried to present the court with medical evidence of his treatment for stuttering when he was eight years old but the court did not accept the evidence at the new trial. According to a person with knowledge of the case quoting Mr. Tajiki, he had told his family: “(The interrogator) would tell me to say I went here, then I went there, then I did this here, I killed him over there, I picked him up here, I threw him in the well like that’. He was teaching me what to say and what to do, but I wouldn’t learn no matter how hard he tried. If I had learned, I would have done what he told me because I just didn’t want to be beaten up anymore.” According to this person, the soldier assigned to guarding the Defendant who had accompanied the Defendant to the crime reconstruction scene had told his family: “I will go anywhere you want me to and will testify that it was the interrogator who taught him all of this, what to say and what to do”. Mr. Tajiki’s family then asked the Prosecutor to allow the soldier to testify but he did not consent and said: “My knowledge tells me he’s the one who did it; you people go on and be on your way!” In fact, the court was not able to rule on the evidence and had to resort to “the judge’s knowledge”.

Mr. Tajiki had stated in preliminary interrogations that on the day of the incident, the person in charge of the cycling commission, who was a 26-year-old single man, had come to his home and asked him to go to the park for training. Mr. Tajiki had said that his bicycle was in need of repair; the cycling commissioner tried but was unable to fix the bike and obtained another bicycle for Mr. Tajiki and insisted that he accompany him. They then went to pick up the victim and another friend and went to Fasa’s Azadi Park to train. After training, they prayed and went to Shiraz’ Falakeh Gas together, then they said goodbye and Mr. Tajiki went home and had no further news of the victim (Evidence and documentation existing at Boroumand Foundation).

According to the serology report, which had not been attached to the case file until the Supreme Court declared the defects in the case, there is no proof or indication of Mr. Tajiki performing sodomy on the victim, and the report conflicts with Mr. Tajiki’s admissions made under torture. Furthermore, there was negligence in submitting the victim’s fluid discharge sample to the Medical Examiner’s office to conduct DNA testing (Evidence and documentation existing at Boroumand Foundation).

Based on available documentation, in addition to being in conflict with Mr. Tajiki’s confession, the evidence shows that there is serious doubt as to the commission of the crime by a single individual. According to a source with knowledge of the case, lack of any signs and evidence of the victim having been dragged on the ground around the well, indicates that the body was picked up from the ground by several people and thrown into the well. This fact conflicts with Mr. Tajiki’s confession at the crime scene reconstruction, to the effect that he had dragged the body on the ground and thrown it into the well. Further, the Medical Examiner’s first report that has been eliminated from the case file indicates that there was semen from three different sources in the victim’s anus. Furthermore, the existence of stab wounds on both sides of the victim’s body strengthens the possibility of the victim having been stabbed by several individuals. Also, the stab wounds that have been declared as the cause of death in the Medical Examiner’s report do not correspond to the specifications of the knife described in the case file. (Boroumand Foundation interview with a person with knowledge of the case, and the evidence existing at Boroumand Foundation).

The judge did not take into consideration the conflicting statements of one of the defendants denying such established facts as a phone call with the victim. Furthermore, pursuant to the investigative judge’s order, the victim’s text messages should have been submitted to the court, but they are not even incorporated into the case file. Additionally, the documents available at Irancell Company should have been studied in more detail. According to Mr. Tajiki’s admissions, he had said that the victim had left his bike in an empty field in his home’s alleyway, but the bicycle was not found there. All of these details indicate that there are some very serious defects in this case and that it should have been investigated and studied more deeply and carefully (Evidence and documentation available at Boroumand Foundation).

The Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights, Mr. Abodlkarim Lahiji’s open letter to the Human Rights High Commissioner alluded to the lack of transparency and the weaknesses of the adjudication of this case, and reiterated the lack of investigation regarding another suspect who was the brother of one of Fasa’s security agents (Worldwide Movement for Human Rights website, August 1, 2016).

Emphasizing the numerous ambiguities regarding the commission of the crime by her client and reiterating information and security agents’ interference in the case, Nassrin Sotudeh, one of Mr. Tajiki’s attorneys, stated: “This case was influenced by information and security issues from the start, so much so that after my first appearance as the attorney to follow up on the case, I received calls from the security apparatus. Some of these issues are very obvious in some parts of the case, including the fact that certain people had been investigated and questioned in the beginning of the case but the investigations ended very abruptly.” Mr. Tajiki’s attorney said: “There were many witnesses who were ready to appear in court and testify on my client’s behalf that he was home at the time of the commission of the crime. But the court disregarded all these requests.” Citing the provisions of the Islamic Penal Code of 2013, she stated: “In accordance with Islamic Penal Code Article 91, an inquiry was made with the Medical Examiner’s Office in Alireza Tajiki’s case as to the latter’s intellectual development. At first, the Office’s Medical Panel declared that he did not have the requisite intellectual capacity as provided for in Article 91. Within one month, however, another inquiry was made of a second medical panel, which, in a very surprising move, declared that Alireza Tajiki possessed the requisite mental and intellectual capacity and maturity; this cannot be proven from a psychological standpoint at all and we object to this entire process, since it has derailed the adjudication from the requirements of a fair trial” (Radio Farda, August 10, 2016).

According to a person with knowledge of the case, Mr. Tajiki’s family, quoting various authorities and people involved in the process of investigation and adjudication, stated that different people in the Criminal Investigations Bureau, fingerprinting office, and the investigative judge’s office, had told them “This child is innocent; hire a good lawyer and save him”.

The judge failed to consider the brief prepared for the new trial and prepare the ground for witnesses to testify: “My knowledge tells me he’s the one who did it; you people go on and be on your way”

According to people close to him, Mr. Tajiki was crying during the first visitation session and was saying: “I’m innocent, I haven’t done this. Why are they pinning this murder on me?” According to this individual, Mr. Tajiki had told his family that he had been told by the agents who had brought him to jail not to say that he was innocent and accept the murder so that other prisoners would respect him and give him a proper bed and adequate facilities.

Legal Analysis

According to Mr. Alireza Tajiki’s statement at the Province Criminal Court and his defense in various stages of adjudication, he was under pressure and persecution at the Criminal Investigations Bureau to confess to the crime. He had even mentioned this in the Province Criminal Court during trial. Pursuant to Iranian laws, torture of and exerting pressure on a defendant is illegal and considered a crime, and any evidence so obtained is without credibility, and lacking in legal value. Principle 38 of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution expressly makes provisions in that regard. The law considers torture for the purpose of extracting confession a crime and those who engage in such activities, criminals. Therefore, after Mr. Alireza Tajiki claimed that he was tortured, the court should have carried out the necessary investigations in this regard, which was not done. Furthermore, pursuant to Iranian laws and regulations, including the Islamic Penal Code and the Law on the General and Revolutionary Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure, admissions and confessions to crimes are legally valid only if made before the judge who issues a ruling in the case (Note to Article 59 of the Law on the General and Revolutionary Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure). In this case, Mr. Alireza Tajiki only made a confession in the preliminary investigations stage and denied his confession at trial in the Province Criminal Court. No one was introduced in the court as a witness. The Province Criminal Court Branch Four’s decision states that the Defendant had not made any confessions at trial, but that the evidence shows that the murder was committed by Mr. Alireza Tajiki. The judges have issued the death sentence on the basis of Mr. Tajiki’s initial confession at the preliminary investigations stage and certain other vague evidence such as tracing his phone at the time of the commission of the murder, and their own “knowledge”, though it appears that this “knowledge” was purely conjecture and guesswork and contained no certainty.

The Islamic Penal Code of 2013 provides the same punishment for crimes that are subject to Hadd and Qesas for adults as well as for individuals under 18 who have attained puberty. However, if the individual under the age of 18 is not aware of the nature of the crime, and there is doubt as to his maturity, the punishment will be dropped and changed to incarceration and educational actions. Pursuant to Islamic Penal Code Article 91 “In crimes requiring Hadd or Qesas, if the individuals under the age of 18 who have attained puberty cannot comprehend the nature of the crime or the prohibition thereof, or if there is doubt as to their mental development and capacity and maturity, they will be sentenced to the punishments prescribed in this chapter on a case by case basis...” Since most killings committed by individuals under the age of 18 are heat of the moment murders, and usually at that age, an individual has not reached the level of maturity to comprehend the nature of his actions, this provision can, in practice, save criminals under 18 from the death penalty. Nevertheless, Mr. Tajiki’s request for the application of Article 91 was not granted and the authorities considered him to have reached maturity and intellectual development, even though they could have applied the Article to save his life; this is while Mr. Tajiki was less than 16 years old at the time of the murder, and even assuming that he did commit murder, he did not possess the intellectual capacity for understanding the issue.

Judgment

Fars Province Criminal Court, Branch Four’s panel of judges sentenced Mr. Alireza Tajiki to death for forced sodomy and Qesas of life (a second death sentence) for the intentional murder of a Moslem man. The case was sent to the Supreme Court on appeal, and remanded to the Court based on defects in the case; however, the Court ruled again as it had at the first trial. The Defendant appealed the decision once again but this time, the Supreme Court Branch Eleven upheld the sentence of death and Qesas in Mr. Tajiki’s case.

On August 9, 2017, Mr. Tajiki was transferred to the quarantine section in the basement of Shiraz’ Adelabad Prison for the implementation of the sentence, and prison officials called his family for a last visitation. Mr. Tajiki’s mother, who was hospitalized at the time after two open heart surgeries, was taken to the prison in an ambulance for the last visit. A group of people and civil society activists gathered in front of Shiraz’ Adelabad Prison the night before to protest the sentence. The sentence was carried out at dawn on August 10, 2017 in Shiraz’ Adelabad Prison court yard.

A few hours after the execution, in response to national and international objections to the execution of this young man, the Shiraz Prosecutor declared the sentence a “sound and legal” one and stated that judicial authorities had tried to obtain the next of kin’s pardon; he did not, however, provide any explanations for Mr. Tajiki having two death sentences, and for the denial of his request for a new trial to consider the evidence that had been removed from the case file.

The Tajiki family described their situation: “We’ve been dead for 6 years; we just haven’t been buried.”

In the six years of Mr. Tajiki’s incarceration, his family endured many hardships. Mr. Tajiki’s father was forced to sell his property and obtain a loan in order to pay for legal fees and developed diabetes due to severe mental pressure and became almost blind. His mother developed a severe cardiac illness. According to a person with knowledge of the case, one of Mr. Tajiki’s family members described the family’s situation thus: “We’ve been dead for 6 years; we just haven’t been buried!”

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