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

Ali Ashtari


Age: 43
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Shi'a)
Civil Status: Married


Date of Execution: November 18, 2008
Location: Evin Prison, Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Age at time of offense: 41

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 due process

  • The right to be presumed innocent until found guilty by a competent and impartial tribunal in accordance with law.

ICCPR, Article 14.1 and Article 14.2.

Pre-trial detention rights

  • The right to know promptly and in detail the nature and cause of the charges against one.

UDHR, Article 9(2); ICCPR, Article 9.2 and Article 14.3.a

  • The right to counsel of one’s own choosing or the right to legal aid. The right to communicate with one’s attorney in confidence

ICCPR, Article 14.3.b and Article 14.3.d; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 1, Article 2, Article 5, Article 6, and Article 8.

  • The right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense case.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.b.

  • The right not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess to guilt.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.g.

  • The right not to be subjected to torture and to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.

Trial rights

  • The right to a fair and public trial without undue delay.

ICCPR, Article 14.1, Article 14.3.c.

  • The right to examine, or have examined, the witnesses against one, and the right to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on one’s behalf under the same conditions as prosecution witnesses.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.d and Article 14.3.e.

  • The right to have the decision rendered in public.

ICCPR, Article 14.1.

Judgment rights

  • The right to 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

Owned several commercial companies and was in the business of importing communications and electronics equipment for 17 years. Since most of his clients were military and security bodies, he was well-known by the people in charge of these organs.

News of Mr. Ali Ashtari’s execution was published by IRNA News Agency and the Entekhab website on November 22, 2008. Additional information about this case was obtained through an electronic form sent to the Boroumand Center by a person acquainted with him, an interview conducted by the Boruomand Center  with a person with knowledge of the case (July 31, 2018), Fars News Agency (November 23, 2008), IRNA, ISNA, and Mehr News Agencies, and Khabar Network (June 30, 2008), and the Al-Arabiah website (September 28, 2010).

Mr. Ali Ashtari, child of Mahmud, was born in 1965-66 in Tehran. He was a geological engineer and was married. He was highly intelligent and was a communications, safety, and security equipment specialist. He owned several commercial companies and was in the business of importing communications and electronics equipment for 17 years. Since most of his clients were military and security bodies, he was well-known by the people in charge of these organs, but was not engaged in any political activities. According to available information, because of his job, he was in contact with nuclear centers and other centers related to the Ministry of Information regarding communications equipment, that had been subjected to information [hacking and] theft.

His case is related to cooperation with foreign intelligence services.

Arrest and detention

Mr. Ashtari was arrested in Tehran by Ministry of Information agents on a February morning in 2007 (Electronic form) and spent 20 months in Evin Prison’s Ward 209 in solitary confinement as well as group cells, at the mercy of the Ministry of Information and undergoing interrogations. He provided information during that period that was put to intelligence uses by the Islamic Republic. (Electronic form and the Boroumand Center interview; IRNA).

Mr. Ashtari was deprived of the right to an attorney and from contacting and visiting with his family during his detention (Electronic form) and was under tremendous pressure. He cooperated with the interrogators and provided them with useful information. (Boroumand Center Interview). According to the Ministry of Information’s Counterintelligence Director, Mr. Ashtari provided his interrogators with information regarding the Mossad’s needs inside Iran and their mode of operation. (IRNA).


According to a Ministry of Information report, the last trial session adjudicating the charges against Mr. Ashtari convened publicly on June 28, 2008, and in the presence of reporters. (IRNA, June 30, 2008). However, published reports all quote Ministry of Information officials, and there are no independent reports of the trial session(s) available.


Mr. Ashtari was charged with “acting against national security through spying for foreigners”. According to published reports, he was accused of collecting information inside the country for Israeli intelligence services for a period of three years through technical means and in person, and providing Mossad agents with such information. According to claims made by a senior official at the Ministry of Information, the Defendant “utilized the means and powers put at his disposal by certain [official governmental] centers for the benefit of Israel, and was also responsible for luring individuals targeted for recruitment by the Mossad and attempting to take them out of the country so that they could establish contact with the Mossad.” Among other charges brought against him were sale of faulty and defective equipment to certain research and defense bodies through a commercial company, at the direction of the Mossad, injecting infected and unsound equipment to the country’s technical centers that were responsible for conducting advanced projects, providing “treacherous advice” to certain security and defense centers and presenting them with the Israeli intelligence service’s wishes. He was also accused of using his capabilities and influence to contact several foreign embassies in Tehran in order to continue his plans with several other intelligence services. This senior security official also claimed that the Defendant “was involved in extensive moral and financial corruption and had started his espionage through these same activities.”

The validity of the criminal charges brought against this defendant cannot be ascertained in the absence of the basic guarantees of a fair trial.

Evidence of guilt

Mr. Ashtari’s confessions made in the course of 20 months of interrogations were used against him as evidence.

According to one of the published reports, prior to the implementation of his sentence at dawn on November 18, 2008, he made further confessions for an hour. According to the Ministry of Information’s Director of Counterintelligence, these confessions were made at the Defendant’s own “request”. (Entekhab).

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.


Mr. Ashtari did not have access to an attorney during his detention (Electronic form) and was under tremendous pressure to make a confession the entire time he was detained. For instance, the Ministry of Information forces had put pressure on his wife to ask for a divorce. Further, in order to entice and encourage him to cooperate and provide information, the interrogators had made him certain promises, and he did not expect a harsh sentence to be issued for him. (Boroumand Center interview).

According to a text published as his “confessions” prior to his execution, Mr. Ashtari said that he had made a mistake and was remorseful. He said that he had learned from his mistakes and asked for forgiveness. He stressed that he had unknowingly fallen into the Mossad spy agency’s trap and had thought that he was presenting his company and his services to an investor. He says in this published report that had he taken his actions in consultation with “the experienced and competent advisers of the Ministry of Information” and had he informed the Ministry of Information of these issues, things would never have gotten to the point they did. (Entekhab).

A summary of the defects of Mr. Ali Ashtari's legal proceedings

According to the statements made by the Ministry of Information’s Director of Counterintelligence and the news published in national media, Mr. Ashtari had engaged in espionage for the state of Israel; the charge based on which he was tried, however, was “Moharebeh” (“waging war against God”) and “Efsad fel-Arz” (“spreading corruption on Earth”). The Islamic Penal Code specifically provides for the crime of espionage and punishment therefor. Pursuant to Article 501 of said Law: “Any person who knowingly and purposely provides plans, secrets, documents, or decisions regarding the country’s national or foreign policy to individuals who are not competent [and authorized] to have access thereto, or informs such individuals of the contents thereof, in a way that constitutes a form of espionage, shall be sentenced to one to 10 years imprisonment depending on the type and the severity of the crime.” It can be deduced from this Article that espionage cannot be considered to be Moharebeh, since, in accordance with Article 183 of the Islamic penal Code, “any person who picks up arms in order to cause fear and apprehension among the populace and deprive the same of their freedom and security, shall be considered Mohareb (“one who wages war against God”) and Mofsed fel-Arz (“one who spreads corruption on Earth”)”. Even assuming that Mr. Ashtari had committed espionage, he had not committed any armed action whatsoever and had not created fear and apprehension in the public. To extend the application of the crime of Moharebeh and Efsad fel-Arz [to include the aforementioned crime] by judges, is contrary to the principle of the criminality of an act by law and the punishment therefor. In the present case, where, by the security official’s own admission, Mr. Ashtari had solely engaged in espionage, he could at most be sentenced to 10 years imprisonment once the charges had been duly proven.

Another point that needs to be made is that the implementation of the sentence is the Judiciary’s duty, and logically, any reporting should be done by the Judiciary Branch officials, whereas, in the present case, an official at the Ministry of Information who had no authority in carrying out the sentence, was the one to announce the news of the execution and even the news of the trial; Judiciary officials have thus far not expressed any views regarding this execution. This conduct is contrary to legal and administrative custom and procedure. Furthermore, pursuant to Iranian law, the investigating judge may not delegate the entire preliminary investigations phase to law enforcement or security forces; in this case however, we see that the Defendant was detained at the Ministry of Information detention center and was at the disposal of this organ’s personnel from the time of his arrest until his death. This shows that the Defendant was in the hands of the Ministry of Information agents even after the investigations were over, when the function of law enforcement and security forces actually comes to an end. This demonstrates the degree to which the Ministry of Information interfered and had control over the case.

He was prosecuted for the charges of “war against God and corruption on earth” though espionage is not considered an act of “war against God”

Pursuant to Iranian laws, preliminary investigations are conducted by law enforcement officials upon an order by a judge; Ministry of Information agents are not, however, considered law enforcement in security-related crimes. One can deduce this from a number of different laws and regulations. The first law that addresses this issue is the Law Establishing the Ministry of Information of 1983. Article 4 of this Law provides: “All actions in implementing internal security are the responsibility of the Judiciary Branch law enforcement personnel. Note 1: The Ministry of Information shall provide law enforcement with the necessary information prior to the operations. Note 2: Law enforcement personnel shall immediately turn all documents and evidence obtained during the operations over to the Ministry of Information.”

A close reading of this Article indicates that the Law simply charges Ministry of Information agents with the discovery of security-related crimes, and provides that implementation operations in that regard shall be carried out by law enforcement. It can easily be ascertained and stated that pursuant to the aforementioned Law, Ministry of Information agents are not considered law enforcement personnel and cannot engage in the arrest of defendants in political or media-related cases, and proceed to take charge of preliminary investigations, because all of these matters are considered to be functions of the Judiciary’s law enforcement. The Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure in General and Revolutionary Courts had not counted Ministry of Information agents as being considered law enforcement personnel. Article 15 of said Law listed law enforcement personnel and nowhere was there any mention of Ministry of Information agents. Subsequent to the passage of the Law for the Fourth Development Plan of 2005, the fact that Ministry of Information agents were not law enforcement personnel was stressed even further. This Law considered Ministry of Information agents to be law enforcement personnel only in the cases of discovery of “substantial financial corruption” and “theft of cultural heritage [items]” (Article 124(b)). Given the above, Ministry of Information agents were not authorized to arrest and interrogate defendants in political crime cases. Ministry of Information agents were allowed to be present in political crime cases only as security experts, and this duty did not extend to detaining defendants for months in their detention centers, engaging in interrogations of the detained, and opening a case against them. In spite of the Law’s clarity and lack of ambiguity, judiciary and Ministry of Information officials violated the laws and entrusted Ministry of Information agents with preliminary investigations. In any event, the disagreements and arguments over whether Ministry of Information agents were law enforcement personnel or not, led the Judiciary Branch’s Legal Division to declare in its several opinions that they were indeed not law enforcement personnel. In its opinion number 7/2132-7/4/1389, the Legal Division expressly stated: “Ministry of Information agents are not law enforcement personnel and that entrusting them with and referring duties of law enforcement to them does not adhere to the provisions of the law. Therefore, in accordance with Article 15(5) of the Law on the General and Revolutionary Courts Rules of Procedure, said Ministry’s agents may operate as the Judiciary Branch’s law enforcement personnel solely within the purview of the Law for the Fourth Development Plan of September 2, 2004, in discovering substantial financial corruption and theft of cultural heritage objects; in all other cases, pursuant to the law for the Establishment of the Ministry of Information of 1983, Ministry of Information agents must carry out their enforcement actions through the Judiciary’s law enforcement personnel…”

Therefore, given the above, one can conclude that in the present case, the Ministry of Information had engaged in opening a case and carrying out a substantial amount of the work on the case, all without legal authority, and that the judge issued his ruling based on the Ministry of Information’s investigations.


The trial court found Mr. Ali Ashtari “mohareb” (“one who wages war against God”) and sentenced him to death. Published reports do not, however, refer to the next phases of the adjudication.

There is conflicting information about Mr. Ashtari’s manner of death. According to official reports, he was executed once legal and judicial procedures had run their course. Some sources reported the time and date of his execution as 5 o’clock in the morning of November 17, 2008. (IRNA). Another source announced the date of execution as November 18 of that same year. (Entekhab). According to the statements of the interviewee, however, one day prior to the announced date, Mr. Ashtari had had a fatal heart attack in his solitary confinement cell due to pressure put on him by Ministry of Information interrogators during 20 months of interrogations. A witness who had spent some time with Mr. Ashtari in a group cell at Evin Prison’s Ward 209 and was in the adjoining cell at the time of his death stated: “In the evening, I heard the sound of the cart carrying food and when it went to the adjoining cell, the guard opened the door and I heard him call ‘Ashtari, Ashtari’ and he did not answer. That guard quickly left and brought back other guards with him. I could hear the sound of comings and goings and conversation from behind the door and it was obvious that there were people from the Ward 209 infirmary there as well who were saying that he had had a heart attack; I could tell from the sounds that they brought a stretcher and took him away.” The following day, they announced that they had executed him. (Boroumand Center interview).

There is no information regarding the judicial and legal procedures of the sentence having been carried out. The authorities turned Mr. Ashtari’s body over to his family. He was buried Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery, Section 36, Row 77, [Grave] Number 28.

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