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

Mohammadreza Salas Babajani

About

Age: 51
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Shi'a)
Civil Status: Single

Case

Date of Killing: June 18, 2018
Location of Killing: Raja’i Shahr (Gohardasht) Prison, Karaj, Alborz Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: Murder; Disrupting public order
Age at time of offense: 50

About this Case

a Gonabadi Dervish, who was sentenced to death in spite of the many uncertainties and defects surrounding his trial

News of the execution of Mr. Mohammad Reza Salas Babajani, child of Asadollah, was published in the Tehran Province Judiciary’s website (June 19, 2018), Jam-e Jam Online (June 18, 2018), and Mizan News Agency (June 18, 2018). Additional information about this case was obtained from the Tehran Province Judiciary’s website (June 20, 2018), IRNA news agency (March 12, 18, and 19, 2018, April 7, and 24, 2018), Kayhan newspaper (February 21, 24, and 25, 2018, March 12, and 18, 2018, April 4, 2018), Mizan News Agency (March 11, and 12, 2018), BBC Persian website (February 20, 2018, and June 18, 2018), Majzooban-e Noor Website (June 17, 2018), Tasnim News Agency (April 24, 2018), Amnesty International reports (June 18, 2018, July 17, 2018), and newletters and weblogs published by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center (1).

Further details about this case were obtained from documents published on the web, including the Court Decision issued on March 19, 2018, by Tehran Province Criminal Court One, Branch 9, the Supreme Court Branch 39 Decision issued on April 23, 2018, Mr. Salas’ attorney’s brief requesting a new trial, and Mr. Salas’ children’s letter to the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. (Documents available at the Boroumand Center).

Mr. Salas was born in 1967 in the city of Borujerd in Lorestan Province, and resided in Tehran. He had two children and was a bus driver. After becoming acquainted with Sufism(2), he became a follower of the Nematollahi Soltan Alishahi Gonabadi order (known as Gonabadi Dervishes (3)), one of the most famous Sufi orders.

Mr. Salas’ case is related to the killing of three police officers in February 2018 in Tehran

On February 19, 2018, at 6:20 PM, following a protest gathering by a number of Gonabadi Dervishes on Seventh Golestan Street at Tehran’s Pasdaran neighborhood, a white bus drove toward police and Basij forces that had taken up position on said street, hitting the forces and resulting in the death of three officers and injury to eight others. (Tehran Province Judiciary, June 19, 2018, Mizan News Agency, March 11, 2018, Tehran Province Criminal Court Branch 9’s Decision).

Upon becoming acquainted with Sufism, Mr. Salas became a follower of the Nematollahi Soltan Alishahi Gonabadi order (known as Gonabadi Dervishes), one of the most famous Sufi orders.

A Brief Summary of the Events at Seventh Golestan Street

Following news of the arrest of Nurali Tabandeh, the leader of the Nematollahi Order, the Gonabadi Dervishes gathered in front of his house on February 3, 2018, to prevent an attack on his home located on Pasdaran’s Seventh Golestan Street. The gathering led to a skirmish with security forces and plainclothes agents that same night, two days later, with the increase in the number of Dervishes in attendance, more skirmishes broke out. Two days later, Nurali Tabandeh issued a message asking his followers to maintain their calm and leave the location. Following the arrest of one of the Dervishes on February 19, 2018, however, protests and gatherings started on Seventh Golestan Street once again, but this time, facing more severe confrontation from security and plainclothes forces. News sources estimated the number of Dervishes arrested during these protests at 300.

Arrest and detention

According the then-Police Force spokesman, Mr. Salas and 8 other Dervishes present at Pasdaran’s Seventh Golestan Street were arrested on February 19, 2018. (BBC Persian, February 20, 2018). No information is available regarding the time of arrest and the arresting authority, and the materials published in official state media conflicts with unofficial news sources and the statements of Mr. Salas’ attorney. It was stated that Mr. Salas was the driver of the bus that had run over three police officers that same night. (Tasnim News Agency, April 24, 2018).

In a video broadcast after the incident by state media in Iran, Mr. Salas can be seen with severely wounded and bloodied head and face lying on a hospital bed, describing the events.

Mr. Salas was transferred to the Shapur Criminal Investigations Bureau detention from the hospital, and underwent interrogations there. He was deprived of access to an attorney and of contact with his family during interrogations. (Amnesty International Report, July 17, 2018)

After the completion of the preliminary investigations phase, Mr. Salas was transferred to Rajaishahr (Gohardasht) Prison in the city of Karaj, where he was detained for four months until the implementation of his sentence. No information is available regarding the number of times and the manner in which he visited with his family and attorney. His last visitation with his family occurred on June 17, 2018, at Rajaishahr Prison. (Majzooban-e Noor Website, June 17, 2018, BBC Persian, June 18, 2018).

It was stated that Mr. Salas was the driver of the bus that had run over three police officers that same night.

Trial

Upon the issuance of an indictment by Tehran Criminal Affairs Prosecutor’s Office, Tehran Province Criminal Court One, Branch 9 tried Mr. Salas in a public hearing over three trial sessions. Mr. Salas’ court-appointed lawyer accompanied him in the first two sessions that took place on March 11 and 12, 2018.

In the third and last trial session that convened on March 18, 2018, Mr. Salas presented to the court the attorney of choice he had retained. That session began with the statements of the Police Force’s legal representative, then, a number of police officers testified as to what they had witnessed on the night of the incident. Afterwards, Mr. Salas and his attorney responded to the Presiding Judge’s questions.

Charges

The charges against Mr. Salas were stated as “being the principle in three counts of intentional murder of police officers” and “disrupting public order and calm through commotions and rowdiness and unconventional acts, and attacking police officers at Tehran’s Pasdaran Avenue”. (Criminal Court Branch 9 Court Decision).

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 have drawn attention to reports indicating that the Islamic Republic authorities have brought trumped-up charges, including drug trafficking, sexual, and other criminal offences, against their opponents (including political, civil society activists, as well as unionists and ethnic and religious minorities.) Each year Iranian authorities sentence to death hundreds of alleged common criminals, following judicial processes that fail to meet international standards. The exact number of people convicted and executed based on trumped-up charges is unknown.

In a video broadcast after the incident by state media in Iran, Mr. Salas can be seen with severely wounded and bloodied head and face lying on a hospital bed, describing the events.

Evidence of guilt

The evidence used against Mr. Salas was “his admissions and confession before the Criminal Prosecutor’s Office’s Investigating Judge, accepting the incident and the fact that he had driven the bus toward the police officers, law enforcement reports, video of the way the bus was moving, the pictures of the dead bodies, the Prosecutor’s investigations, testimony of several police officers in court, certificate of his mental fitness, and his criminal record”. (Mizan News Agency, March 11, 2018, Kayhan newspaper, March 18, 2018, Amnesty International Report, July 17, 2018).

Iranian state media also broadcast a video of Mr. Salas on a Sajjad Hospital Bed as he was seriously injured, in which he admits that he had attacked the police officers out of rage and anger. (Amnesty International Report, July 17, 2018, BBC Persian, June 18, 2018, and Jam-e Jam Online, June 18, 2018).

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

In his last trial session, Mr. Salas denied all of his prior admissions and confession, adding that he had been forced to confess after he had been severely beaten by the police and Criminal Investigations Bureau officers, and that his finger had been broken as a result of these beatings. Denying the charge of killing the three police officers, Mr. Salas said that he had already been arrested by the police before the time the incident occurred (February 19, 2018, at 6:20 PM), and that he was being detained at that time. There were several witnesses who were willing to testify to that effect, however, the court never issued a subpoena to hear these individuals’ testimony. (Criminal Court Branch 9 Decision, and Amnesty International Report, July 17, 2018).

In his last trial session, Mr. Salas denied all of his prior admissions and confession, adding that he had been forced to confess after he had been severely beaten by the police and Criminal Investigations Bureau officers, and that his finger had been broken as a result of these beatings.

According to the Amnesty International Report, Mr. Salas was arrested at 2:30 PM on February 19, 2018 and was severely beaten by police officers. Before losing consciousness as a result of the severity of the blows, he had heard one of the police officers order the others to “beat him until he dies”. Mr. Salas’ unconscious body with multiple fractures of the head, teeth, rib, and nose was taken to the hospital by the police. After he regained partial consciousness at the hospital, the interrogation officer forced Mr. Salas to sign a prepared confession paper, whereas Mr. Salas, burdened by limited reading and writing skills and poor eyesight, was not aware of the content of the paper and was under the influence of a high dose of painkillers and sedatives. This was the only interrogation existing in the case file. Another person who was present in the hospital room, immediately proceeded to videotape Mr. Salas, asking him why he had murdered three police officers. One day later, this video was broadcast on the Islamic Republic of Iran Radio and Television as Mr. Salas’ confession. (Mr. Salas’ attorney’s brief requesting a new trial, and the Amnesty International Report, July 17, 2018).

Mr. Salas’ attorney had announced that he had obtained new evidence proving his client’s innocence but the Supreme Court refused to accept this evidence, which included testimony of witnesses who claimed the person behind the wheel of the bus was a young man. The investigating judge in this case never issued an order to carry out investigations regarding Mr. Salas’ claim that he had been tortured and beaten by the officers, nor did he allow the witnesses who wanted to testify on his behalf be introduced to the court. (Amnesty International Report, July 17, 2018).

In his third trial session, Mr. Salas stated: “…We had gathered in Pasdaran in order to support one of our elders and our brother when the Islamic Republic Police Force started to beat us with clubs, and I had 17 stiches in my head.” In response to the Presiding Judge’s question who had asked him if he admitted the charges of being the principal in the murder of three police officers and disrupting public order, he said that he did not. (Mizan News Agency, March 18, 2018).

According to Mr. Salas’ attorney, one of the defects in the adjudication of the case was that “no finger prints were taken of the wheel, the gear shift, the key, and other equipment and parts that could have proven the identity of the driver”. Furthermore, the indictment issued against Mr. Salas “holds having a commercial driver’s license as ‘evidence of the attributed charge’, which is in clear conflict with the ‘principle of innocent until proven guilty’.” (BBC Persian, June 18, 2018).

Two audio files have been published on the web in which Mr. Salas insists on his innocence: “I’m innocent. There were two buses there. I’m not the driver of the bus that killed people. I’m not a murderer. I don’t even kill ants. My vehicle was intact, there were no bullet holes [in it]. This is histrionics by the police force… The time I [moved] it was actually day light, but in the video, it’s dark… They had given me methadone and I was half conscious, half asleep. And I was also afraid to say anything. They would have killed me if I had defended myself at the first trial [session]. They beat me at the precinct at around 2. They said ‘beat him ‘til he dies, and then say he had been killed in the skirmishes’. So I had to tread very lightly with the police and I went to court so they wouldn’t kill me… They broke my head in 17 places with clubs, they didn’t stab me, they beat me with clubs. Do you know what that means? My brain is completely destroyed… They have no video of me behind the wheel. I challenge them to show a single video of me. Someone else was behind the wheel… That is another bus altogether, it has a different tag number than mine… I’m not afraid to die, but I am not a murderer, I didn’t kill anybody. I announce to the world that I was not the driver of that bus.” (Audio files available at the Boroumand Center).

No finger prints were taken of the wheel, the gear shift, the key, and other equipment and parts that could have proven the identity of the driver.

A summary of the defects of Mr. Mohammad Reza Salas Babajani’s Legal Proceedings

According to Mr. Salas and his attorney’s statements after the issuance of the final order, Mr. Salas had been arrested and tortured prior to the incident and was being detained by security and police forces at the time the murders occurred. Mr. Salas also stated that he had been forced to sign a confession admitting the commission of the crime as a result of torture and duress. Even though Mr. Salas had confessed to committing the crime during the proceedings, his claim subsequent to issuance of the ruling and his attorney’s request for submission of new evidence must have been considered by judicial authorities. Investigating Mr. Salas’ claims was not a difficult task. The court could easily have investigated and ascertained where he was at the time of the incident. Hospital cameras where Mr. Salas had been admitted after his arrest could have been a good indication of that. Closed circuit cameras at the location of the incident could certainly have been useful to learn the truth. In addition to camera footage, there were numerous witnesses present at the location at the time of the incident who had seen the whole thing from up close. The court did not even consider the possibility of allowing those individuals’ testimony to discover the truth. Furthermore, the court should have put the bus at the disposal of forensic experts to check for finger prints but, according to Mr. Salas’ lawyer, that never happened.

Mr. Salas’ attorney had stated that the bus used in the attack was an Iran Khodro Mercedes Benz bus, whereas the bus Mr. Salas was driving was a Scania bus assembled in Iran, called Shahab, and the tag number of the bus mentioned in the indictment is different than Mr. Salas’ bus. Furthermore, in videos of the incident, the bus was fired upon by the police, and had Mr. Salas been driving it, he should either have been killed or injured from bullet wounds, whereas there were no signs of injuries resulting from bullet wounds on Mr. Salas’ body. Additionally, a passage in the indictment issued against Mr. Salas cites having a commercial driver’s license as evidence of the attributed charge, which is in clear conflict with the Principle of Innocence [until proven guilty]. Also, the crime scene re-construction was done at the Criminal Investigations Bureau instead of the scene of the crime, without either the defendant or his attorney present. It appears that these defects occurred because the legal proceedings were derailed, becoming a security-related issue as a result of pressure and influence by [non-judicial] non-accountable organs on the court.

Mr. Salas had stated in an audio file: “I’m not afraid to die, but I am not a murderer, I didn’t kill anybody. I announce to the world that I was not the driver of that bus.”

Judgment

According to the Court Decision issued on March 19, 2018, Tehran Province Criminal Court One, Branch 9, sentenced Mr. Mohammad Reza Salas Babajani to three times Qesas of life (death), one year imprisonment, and 74 lashes. On April 23, 2018, Supreme Court Branch 39 upheld the trial court’s decision verbatim, and the decision was confirmed by the Head of the Judiciary Branch. (Documentation available at the Boroumand Center, Jam-e Jam Online, June 18, 2018, BBC Persian, June 18, 2018, IRNA, April 7, 2018, and Kayhan newspaper, April 4, 2018).

Mr. Mohammad Reza Salas Babajani was hanged at dawn on Monday, June 18, 2018, at the city of Karaj’s Rajaishahr Prison.

According to the Amnesty International Report, judicial authorities transported Mr. Salas’ body to be buried in the city of Borujerd in Lorestan Province without the knowledge and presence of his children and mother, hundreds of miles away from their place of residence. Further, Mr. Salas’ family’s request for an autopsy and examination of his body by the Medical Examiner’s Office in order to document the signs of torture was opposed [and denied] by judicial authorities. (Amnesty International Report, July 17, 2018).

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(1)
http://blog.iranrights.org/judiciary-official-on-mohammad-salas-case-we-had-a-confession-why-would-we-need-fingerprints/
http://blog.iranrights.org/mohammad-salas-darvish-given-hasty-death-sentence-in-unfair-trial-executed-over-widespread-protest/
http://blog.iranrights.org/mohammad-salas-at-imminent-risk-of-execution-after-supreme-court-rejects-retrial-bid/
http://blog.iranrights.org/amidst-health-concerns-for-hunger-striking-gonabadi-darvishes-prison-warden-says-their-deaths-would-mean-less-garbage/
http://blog.iranrights.org/khamenei-irans-judiciary-must-strike-back-against-criticism-with-decisive-action-public-relations-work/
https://www.iranrights.org/newsletter/issue/89
(2)  Sufism or Dervish life is an ascetic way of life to purify body and soul and to stay away from worldly, materialistic things in order to reach truth and perfection. There are differences of opinion regarding the origins of Sufism. Some consider it an Aryan reaction to Islam, some believe it comes from Brahman and Buddhist traditions in India, others relate it to Greek philosophy, and still others believe Christianity and Manichaeism to be at the root of Sufism. In addition to all of these viewpoints, there are those who believe that Sufism is a product oof Islam and Koranic teachings.
(3)  The Nematollahi Order is a Sufi order that was established in the 14th Century by Seyed Nureddin Shah Nematollah Vali. Currently, the Nematollahi Soltan Alishahi Gonabadi order (known as Gonabadi Dervishes) is one of the most famous Sufi orders. The term “Nematollahi” is drawn from Shah Nematollah Vali’s name, and since his followers were known as “Nematollahi” during his time, the same title was subsequently used to describe those who followed his beliefs and Sufi ways. The current Qotb (leader) of the Gonabadi Dervishes is Nurali Tabandeh (known as Majzoob Ali Shah).

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