Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

https://www.iranrights.org
Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Ali Ashtari

About

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

Case

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

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).

Trial

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.

Charges

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.

Defense

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.

Judgment

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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