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

Mohammad Yusef Sohrabi (Nokohchi)

About

Age: 45
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Sunni)
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Killing: April 9, 2008
Location of Killing: Zahedan Prison, Zahedan, Sistan Va Baluchestan Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: War on God; Disrupting public order; Attempt to assassinate or assassination of state dignitaries; Actively opposing the Islamic Republic
Age at time of offense: 45

About this Case

Mr. Mohammad Yussef Sohrabi Nekahchi was a firm believer in God and was a follower of the Naghshbandi order

News of the execution of Mr. Mohammad Yussef Sohrabi Nekahchi, child of Ali Mohammad, along with another defendant on this case, Mr. Abdolqodus Mollazehi, was published by numerous sources including the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Sistan and Baluchestan Province (April 9, 2008), Tabnak (April 10, 2008), Asr-e Iran News-Analysis website (April 10, 2008), Sunni News (November 4, 2010), Iranian Students News Agency, ISNA (April 9, 2008), and the Official Website of the Popular Resistance Movement of Iran – Jondollah (April 10, 2008). Additional information about this execution was obtained from the Boroumand Center’s interview with Mr. Habibollah Sarbazi, Mr. Sohrabi’s co-defendant, and from other sources.*

Mr. Sohrabi was between 45 and 50 years old, and was known as Molavi (title for a Sunni clergyman) Mohammad Yussef Nekahchi. He was a Sunni, ethnic Baluch, from the village of Matteh Sang in Sistan and Baluchestan Province. Mr. Sohrabi was married and had four children. He had graduated from Manba-ol-olum Kuh Van seminary, located in Kuh Van village. He subsequently taught Qor’an, Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), and Hadith (reports of the Prophet’s tradition) at that same seminary for 10 years (The Boroumand Center’s research and interview).

Mr. Sohrabi was a religious man and a follower of the Hanafi** faith, but did not belong to any particular group or organization. He was a firm believer in God and a follower of the Naghshbandi order. He was interested in Sufism and spirituality and did not socialize very much. He would sit in a corner and recite prayers for hours. Mr. Sohrabi was a dignified and quiet man and was extremely patient (Boroumand Center interview with Habibollah Sarbazi).

Upon the execution of Mr. Sohrabi and the other defendant in the case, the Popular Resistance Movement of Iran (Jondollah) published an announcement on its website calling them “martyrs”. Jondollah denied any connection with Mr. Sohrabi and his co-defendant and declared that the reason they were executed was that they “demanded their rights and had risen up against oppression and injustice” (Sunni News, November 4, 2010).

Following Mr. Sohrabi’s execution, Jondollah also warned the non-native population residing in Sistan and Baluchestan Province to leave the region so that they would not become targets attacks by armed groups (Jondollah Official Website, April 10, 2008).

Arrest and detention

Between 2:30 and 3 o’clock in the morning of December 13, 2007, Iranshahr Information Administration agents arrested Mr. Sohrabi and 19 other individuals at Iranshahr’s Dar-al-forqan Chah Jamal seminary without presenting an arrest warrant. Security agents, some of whom were wearing military uniforms and others in plain clothes, arrested Mr. Sohrabi, who was a guest at the Dar-al-forqan seminary, in his pajamas (Boroumand Center interview).

After arresting him, security agents then forced Mr. Sohrabi down on the floor and proceeded to beat and kick him in the side, the head, and the face, and insulted him using such words as “terrorist” (Boroumand Center interview).

Security agents also searched the Dar-al-forqan seminary where Mr. Sohrabi had been arrested, but there is no information as to whether any documents were discovered and seized (Boroumand Center interview).

During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked in the side, the head, and the face, and was insulted using such words as “terrorist”.

Security agents handcuffed and blindfolded Mr. Sohrabi and took him to the Iranshahr Information Administration Detention Center in a pickup truck. After beating him in the detention center courtyard, they took him to a solitary confinement cell. According to Mr. Sohrabi’s co-defendant, Iranshahr Information Administration Detention Center’s solitary cell was a room smaller than 5’ by 6.5’, with a very high ceiling and a stone wall, a toilet, a shower, and a very small hole where little light would come in, and was very cold during winter (Boroumand Center interview).

Three days after his arrest, on December 16, 2007, Mr. Sohrabi and 8 to 10 of his co-defendants were transferred to the Zahedan Information Administration Detention Center. According to his co-defendant, they were placed in pairs on the floor of the back seats of three or four Peugeot 405 cars with dark windows. They were seated in such a way that each person was facing the car door and had his back to the other person, one behind the driver’s seat, the other behind the passenger seat. They were not allowed to talk and did not know who they were in the car with. They were taken like that to Zahedan, which was a three-hour drive, with just one stop along the way.

The witness explained: “It was excruciating torture; they had handcuffed us so hard from behind that blood had concentrated in our hands; they had forcibly placed us on the floor of the back seat where people put their feet, and had told us, ‘You will sit here with your heads down’; and if we raised our head just a little bit, the agent looking over us would punch us in the head very hard and say, ‘Put your head down and stay like that for three or three and a half hours until we get to Zahedan Information Administration Detention Center’. Along the way, we had the impression that our hands and feet weren’t with us; they transferred everyone under similar circumstances” (Boroumand Center interview with Habibollah Sarbazi).

Mr. Sohrabi experienced physical and psychological torture in prison. He was subjected to solitary confinement, threats of summoning his family, beatings while blindfolded (kicking and punching), electric shock, flogging on the “miracle bed”***, and hanging from his hands. He talked about the torture that he endured to Mr. Sarbazi, who was his cellmate for a week at the Zahedan Information Administration Detention Center. He had said to him: “They had put me in the middle, and four people would be on four sides; I was blindfolded, and they beat me from four sides. One would push me toward the other. The first one would punch me, the second would kick me; they played with me as if I were a ball, while constantly insulting me. They said, ‘You either confess or you will stay like this’. They used electric shock on me, they flogged me, and used many other things.” Mr. Sohrabi’s cellmate said that he cried when he saw the signs and wounds resulting from torture on his body, but that Mr. Sohrabi was strong and had kept his spirits high. According to this witness, contrary to the other co-defendants in the case and to the normal procedure at the Information Administration Detention Center, Mr. Sohrabi was not blindfolded and could see the agents and the people in charge of the detention center (Boroumand Center interview).

Trial

On January 22, 2008, one of the branches of the Zahedan Revolutionary Court tried Mr. Sohrabi and five of the co-defendants in a hall of the judiciary building located on University Street in Zahedan. Mr. Sohrabi and his co-defendants were taken to court blindfolded. According to one of the co-defendants, they were taken into the building through a back door, and their blindfolds were taken off right in front of the court entrance. They were then pushed inside the room, in such a way that they entered the courtroom and were not able to see behind them. They were blindfolded once again when they left the courtroom, in front of the exit (Boroumand Center interview).

He was tried at 10 o’clock at night in a hall of the Zahedan Judiciary building.

The trial of Mr. Sohrabi and the other defendants in the case lasted one hour and took place in front of more than 50 family members of those who had been killed in several Jondollah operations, including the Tassuki Village operation****, and in the presence of the Information agents’ relatives, all of whom were Shi’a and non-Baluch. The trial session was filmed with several cameras (Boroumand Center research and interview). The video was broadcast on Sistan and Baluchestan Province Television Network (BBC Persian, January 25, 2018).

Charges 

The Court charged Mr. Sohrabi with “membership in the Jondollah group, acting against national security, illegal exit at the border, sewing conflict among and inciting the population, cooperating with Jondollah and making preparations and gathering types of weapons and ammunition for purposes of assassinations, bombings, and carrying out suicide missions in the Iranshahr region”. No reference is made to charges brought individually against Mr. Sohrabi and the other defendants in the case.

Among the charges brought against him was “having plans to drive a wedge between Shi’as and Sunnis”. 

The Sistan and Baluchestan Judiciary issued an announcement in which it called Mr. Sohrabi and another defendant in the case “pseudo-clerics” who “have turned the seminary, the mosque, and the madrassa into a terrorist den” (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Sistan and Baluchestan Province, April 9, 2008).

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 such as commission of sex crimes, drug trafficking, etc., and execute them along with other regular criminals. The number of those who are sentenced to death based on these false charges is not known.

Evidence of guilt 

Mr. Sohrabi’s confession during interrogations and the Information Administration interrogators’ report constituted the basis for his sentence. Based on available information, the televised confessions of Mr. Sohrabi and several of the other defendants in the case, the first part of which was broadcast on April 6, 2008 at 8:20 PM on Sistan and Baluchestan Province Network as a documentary entitled “Ill-fated Conspiracy”; discovery and seizure of 150 pounds of TNT; 20 107-mm mortar rounds; RPG 7; remote control device; electronic trigger mechanism for explosion of a bomb; hand grenades; a number of light firearms; a considerable amount of ammunition; and several videos of Jondollah’s programs; were among evidence presented against Mr. Sohrabi.

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. Sohrabi and the other defendants in the case did not accept the charges brought against them in court and stated that their confessions during detention were made under duress and torture. According to one of the defendants, security agents forced Mr. Sohrabi to confess under duress and torture to having met with Abdolmalek Rigi, to obtaining money and weapons from the Jondollah group, and to inviting Jondollah to conduct military operations. Mr. Sohrabi was arrested prior to the skirmishes between forces attributed to Jondollah and security forces (that occurred 2 to 3 kilometers from where he was arrested) and had not participated in the conflict (Boroumand Center interview).

One of Mr. Sohrabi’s co-defendants and his cellmate, testified that Mr. Sohrabi’s and the other defendants’ confessions were dictated to them by the agents. In order to obtain the confessions, Information Administration agents had told Mr. Sohrabi and his co-defendants that the trial was not official and that they would be released if they accepted the charges in court (Boroumand Center interview).

The interrogators told him that his trial was not official and that he would be released if he accepted the charges in court.

According to Mr. Sohrabi’s co-defendant, it was obvious during detention and before trial that he would be sentenced to death. This witness described his observations and experiences as follows: “From the very first day we entered the Zahedan Information Ministry Detention Center, we felt that everything had been planned in advance, that is, they were pushing everything in the direction of what they had already written, and they were telling everyone what to say. Inside the Zahedan Information Ministry Detention Center, none of us - that is, those of us who had been arrested together - were allowed to take our blindfolds off at any time, with the exception of Molavi Mohammad Yussef Sohrabi and Molavi Abdolqoddus Molazehi. Every time they wanted to enter the room and/or take us elsewhere, they would scream, ‘Put your blindfolds on’ and we would put the blindfolds on. But the last week, when we were in the same ward as Molavi Mohammad Yussef, he said, ‘I’ve not been putting on my blindfold for a long time and I see all the agents and officials who come in here’. As soon as he said that, two of us who were there looked at each other and started whispering that it was not a good sign that they had let Molavi Mohammad Yussef Sohrabi see the Information Ministry Detention Center agents, who were top secret and  whose faces had been seen by no one. To see the agent who tortured him and to see the agents in charge of his transfers and interrogation before trial (whom none of us had seen), only meant that this man was not getting out of there alive” (Boroumand Center interview).

A Summary of the Legal Defects in the Adjudication of Mr. Mohammad Yussef Sohrabi’s case

Based on published news, such as the announcement by Sistan and Baluchestan Province’s Head of the Judiciary, Mohammad Yussef Sohrabi was accused of sowing discord between Shi’a and Sunni Moslems, making preparations for armed operations, and supporting the Jondollah Group. He was charged with and sentenced to death for Moharebeh. Pursuant to Islamic Penal Code Article 183, an individual is considered to be Mohareb when he/she takes up arms with the intention of instilling fear and terror in the public. Furthermore, pursuant to Article 186 of said Code, membership and effective cooperation in armed groups involved in uprising against the regime is considered to be an instance of Moharebeh. Based on available information, including the Judiciary’s announcement, Yussef Sohrabi had never participated in any armed action and no weapon was ever found on him. He had no role and no involvement in the skirmish that occurred at the time of his arrest. The Judiciary’s announcement demonstrates that Sohrabi had not participated in armed actions, and, according to said announcement, he merely intended to create altercations and insecurity; in order to satisfy the requirements of the crime of Moharebeh, however, fear and terror must actually be created. 

Based on an interview conducted by the Boroumand Center with knowledgeable sources, Yussef Sohrabi was severely tortured and forced to make a televised confession. These admissions, broadcast on Iranian state television, were made under torture and duress, despite the fact that subjecting a defendant to torture and duress are illegal under Iranian laws and considered to be a crime, and any confessions or admissions so obtained are without legal credence. Principle 38 of the Iranian Constitution, as well as certain Iranian laws and other international documents to which the Iranian government is a signatory, expressly refer to the matter, and even consider obtaining confessions under torture a criminal act and individuals who resort to such action to be criminals. Therefore, not only did security agents illegally torture the late Mr. Sohrabi, but the confession obtained was without any legal value and credence. Furthermore, according to available information, Mohammad Yussef Sohrabi and the other defendants denied the charges at trial and made no admissions to the crime of Moharebeh. Pursuant to Iranian laws and regulations, including the Note to Article 59 of the Law on the General and Revolutionary Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure, admissions and confessions to crimes, especially those that carry Hadd punishments, are legally valid only if made before the judge who issues a ruling in the case. Therefore, even if Sohrabi had made a confession under torture in the preliminary investigations stage, he denied the charges in court. The court could not, therefore, rely on these admissions as evidence. 

Based on available information, Yussef Sohrabi was entirely denied, or granted only very limited, access to an attorney during investigations and at trial. Pursuant to Iranian law, a defendant has the right to an attorney present at all stages of adjudication; Yussef Sohrabi, however, was deprived of an attorney when detained at the state security detention center as well as at the prosecutor’s office and at trial. This is completely against the law, since under the law, access to an attorney is mandatory for the crime of Moharebeh. Pursuant to the Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure for General and Revolutionary Courts, Note 1 to Article 186, “If in crimes for which the law has mandated the punishments of Qesas of life, execution, stoning, and life imprisonment, the defendant does not personally introduce an attorney, it is mandatory that a court-appointed attorney be designated.” Therefore, as can be seen, presence of an attorney is a necessity in adjudicating the crime of Moharebeh, the punishment for which is death. If this condition is not satisfied the trial and the court decision will be invalid. The court’s action in this regard was illegal, rendering the ruling null and without legal validity. 

Yussef Sohrabi was arrested on December 13, 2007, tried mid-January of 2008, and executed on April 9, 2008. The fact that he was tried along with 15 other defendants is clearly indicative of the precipitous nature of the judicial authorities’ actions in this case. His case file most probably contained thousands of pages. How is it possible for such a case to be adjudicated so quickly and the resulting sentence to be implemented in the span of four short months? Taking into consideration the administrative formalities alone shows that the requisite attention was not given in this case. Furthermore, Yussef Sohrabi and the other defendants’ trial was convened at 10 PM when courts are closed. This action, contrary to judicial custom, also shows that judicial authorities intended to keep the trial’s time, place, and procedure a secret. It is not clear what procedure if any was followed in appealing the Revolutionary Court’s decision and in forwarding the case to the Supreme Court, subsequent to its issuance. Judicial authorities simply stated in an announcement that the decision had been upheld by higher judicial bodies. The authorities did not turn Mr. Sohrabi’s body over to his family after the execution and buried him themselves. All of these actions indicate that security agents were intent on executing Yussef Sohrabi any way they could with the cooperation of Sistan and Baluchestan Province judicial authorities. 

Judgment 

In late January 2008, the Zahedan Revolutionary Court sentenced Mr. Mohammad Yussef Sohrabi Nekahchi to death.

Mr. Sohrabi was served his sentence in a room of the Zahedan Information Administration. Before serving him, the interrogator summoned Mr. Sohrabi’s cellmate and told him: “We put you and Molavi Sohrabi in the same cell and you are going to receive your sentences now. His sentence is harsh, but don’t be afraid because it’s a preliminary ruling and the Supreme Court will reduce it to life imprisonment, and then it will become a few years imprisonment and then he will be released. Tell him these things to calm him down when we serve him with the sentence.” According to Mr. Sohrabi’s cellmate, he was very sad after he got his sentence (Boroumand Center interview).

Mr. Sohrabi appealed the sentence but the Supreme Court upheld the ruling (Boroumand Center interview).

One of the reasons for not turning Mr. Sohrabi’s body over to his family was that signs of torture were visible all over it.

Prior to implementing the death sentence, security agents informed Mr. Sohrabi’s family to come for visitation, but did not tell them that it was the last one. His family visited with him the day before his execution. Without telling them that it was the last visitation, the Zahedan Prison warden told Mr. Sohrabi’s family and the family of his co-defendant to make efforts in order to stop the execution. The efforts of the families of Mr. Soharabi and his co-defendant to stop the execution bore no fruit, in spite of their going to Zahedan judicial authorities (Boroumand Center interview).

On the morning of April 9, 2008, Mr. Sohrabi and one of the other defendants in the case were hanged at Zahedan Central Prison. Zahedan Information Administration agents informed Mr. Sohrabi’s family of his execution but did not turn his body over to them. A person with knowledge of the case stated that one of the reasons for not turning Mr. Sohrabi’s body over to his family was that there were visible signs of torture all over it (Boroumand Center interview).

A short time after the hanging, security agents buried Mr. Sohrabi in Zahedan without his family being present. Following the execution of Mr. Sohrabi and the other defendant in the case, Zahedan police occupied the streets of Zahedan for a few days for fear of potential protests by the people, and Zahedan seemed to be under martial law (Sunni News, November 4, 2010).

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*Other sources: Baluchestan Human Rights Activists website (March 10, 2008), Baluch Activists (January 5, 2016), Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Sistan and Baluchestan Province (January 22, 2008), BBC Persian (January 25, 2008), Baluchi Radio F.M. (April 7, 2008), Sunni News (November 4, 2010).
**The Hanafi school is a branch of Sunni Islam that follows the teachings of Abu Hanifeh Na’man Bin Sabet, one of the four Imams of Sunnah and Jama’at. Among the four schools of Sunni Islam, the Hanafi has the largest number of adherents who follow Mohammad, Abu Bakr, Osman, and Ali.
***The “miracle bed” is a metal bed to which an individual being interrogated is bound with handcuffs. He or she is then subjected to torture with different types of cables, the pouring of cold water, and insults and curses, all in an extremely frightening atmosphere.
****The Tassuki operation was carried out by the Jondollah group on March 16, 2006, at 9:00 PM, on the Zabol - Zahedan road, around six miles from the Tassuki police post, and caused the death or injury of 28 people. At least seven other people were taken hostage during this incident. One of the hostages was killed while being held and the other six were slowly released in the course of 200 days.

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