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

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 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 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 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.

Judgment rights

  • The right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction.

ICCPR, Article 14.5.

  • 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

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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