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

Ashkan Sohrabi

About

Age: 20
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Presumed Muslim
Civil Status: Single

Case

Date of Execution: June 20, 2009
Location: Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Execution: Shooting (extrajudicial)

Human rights violations in this case

Extrajudicial killings


Since the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, national and international human rights organizations have blamed the Islamic Republic authorities for the extrajudicial killing of their opponents, both within and outside of Iran's borders. Although over two hundred cases have been reported, the exact number of victims remains unknown.

Extrajudicial executions carried out in Iran are rarely investigated; the few cases that have been investigated have indicated that the Iranian state security apparatus has been involved. Agents of the Islamic Republic have also targeted dissidents outside the country, assassinating opposition members in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and in the United States,.

In many assassination cases outside Iran, local authorities have made no arrests. However, investigations, when they have taken place and been made public, have led to the single hypothesis of State ordered crimes. The organization and execution of these crimes constitute a pattern that Swiss prosecutor Roland Chatelain describes as “common parameters” following a “meticulous preparation.” Similarities between different cases in different countries have created a coherent set of presumptions designating the Islamic Republic as the instigator of these assassinations.

 

In cases involving prominent Iranians assassinated in France, Germany, and Switzerland, local prosecutors have provided evidence linking Iranian authorities to the crimes in question.

 

In France, for example, the Iranian Deputy Minister of Telecommunications has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the 1991 murder of two dissidents. In Germany, agents of Iran's secret services and Lebanese Hezbollah have been convicted for the 1992 murder of four dissidents in Berlin. Currently, the Islamic Republic's Minister of Information and Security at the time of this murder is under an International arrest Warrant launched by German judicial authorities for his involvement.

 

The German court in Berlin found that Iran's political leadership ordered the murder through a "Committee for Special Operations," whose members reportedly include the Leader of the Islamic Republic, the President, the Minister of Information and Security, and other security officials.



The Islamic Republic’s officials have claimed responsibility for some of these assassinations while denying involvement in others. In the 1980s, Iranian authorities justified extrajudicial executions of dissidents and members of the former regime and actively worked for the release of Iranians and non-Iranian agents who were detained or convicted in the West for their involvement in those killings. During the 1990s, they systematically denied any involvement in extrajudicial killings and often credited the killings to infighting amongst the opposition.

 

Still, the rationale supporting these killings was articulated as early as in the spring of 1979 when the First Revolutionary religious judge publicly announced the regime's intention to carry out extrajudicial executions. He said:

 

“no state has the right to try as a terrorist the person who kills [exiles] in foreign lands, for this person is implementing the verdict issued by the Islamic Revolutionary tribunal.”

 

More than a decade later, in August, 1992, the Minister of Intelligence and Security publicly boasted about the success of Iran's security forces, alluding to the elimination of dissidents:

 

"We have been able to deal blows to many of the mini-groups outside the country and on the borders...."

Human rights violations

Based on the available information, some or all of 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 not to be punished for any crime on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time it was committed.

    UDHR, Article 11.2; ICCPR, Article 15, Article 6.2.

  • 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 due process

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 legal aid and the right to meet with one’s attorney in confidence

    ICCPR, 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; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 8

  • 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 or punishment.

    UDHR, Article 5; 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 9.3, Article 14.1, Article 14.3.c.

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

ICCPR, 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

News of the murder of Mr. Ashkan Sohrabi was published by various media including the Rooz website on June 30, 2009 and BBC Persian Service on July 26, 2009. According to the BBC, “Ashkan Sohrabi, a twenty-year-old man, is among those killed during the Iranian post election protests. The young man was shot, and died in hospital on June 20.” According to the reports, Mr. Sohrabi lived near the intersection of Bustan-e Sa’di and Rudaki (formerly Salsabil) streets where he was killed. He was reportedly shot three times, one striking an artery. Mr. Sohrabi was born in 1989. He was an IT student in Qazvin University.

According to the BBC, quoting Ms. Zahra Nikpayma, his mother, Mr. Sohrabi left home on June 20, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. and on his way back home was shot from a tall building. According to her, after noticing that he was late, she went out into the street and saw his friend with a bloody face, who came to her and informed her of Mr. Sohrabi’s injury. Ms. Nikpayma stated: “His uncle and I went to the [Rasul Akram] Hospital. Ashkan was in grave conditions. Doctors said it was impossible to save him. The medical team had no blood unit, not even a suitable oxygen system. I watched through the door crack. He was breathing by pump. They did not take care of him and my son died after 10 minutes.”

According to the above report, Mr. Sohrabi’s mother stated that her son’s body was not given to the family easily. They received the body after three days of hassling. According to Ms. Nikpayma, several individuals “tore flags and announcements papers, and stole the recording camera during a ceremony at the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery. They made us undertake to say nothing to anyone and take the body directly to the Behesht-e Zahra.” She said: “Ashkan was my only son. He was a painter and had a black belt in taekwondo. With all his talents, they killed him in five minutes and nobody is responsible. Who is going to answer to my son’s blood?” (BBC).

In an interview with the Rooz website, Ms. Elham Sohrabi, Ashkan’s sister, described her last visit with her brother, as follows: “My mother and I were at our house. Ashkan had just returned from the gym. He told us people were protesting on the streets and that fires were burning everywhere. He said he had trouble getting home as anti-riot guards had closed off all surrounding streets and were dispersing people. My mother asked me not to let Ashkan return to the streets. I tried my best to distract Ashkan with things other than the street, but the crowds on our streets (Azadi) continued to get bigger. People sought refuge in alleys and homes. We heard different chants and the sound of bullets and smell of tear gas were everywhere. I asked Ashkan not to go to the street. But he said his last words to me and left the house: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll come back.’”

According to Ms. Sohrabi, two security vehicles were present during the burial ceremony. Mr. Sohrabi’s resting place is number 19, row 50, and section 257 in Behesht-e Zahra cemetery.

Background

Election returns from Iran’s June 12th, 2009, presidential election declared Mahmud Ahmadinejad to have been re-elected with 62.63 percent of the vote. Following the announcement, citizens disputing these official results demonstrated in the streets. Text messaging services had been disrupted since 11:00 p.m. on the night before the election and remained unavailable until July 1st. On Election Day, the deputy chief of Iranian police announced a ban on any gathering of presidential candidates’ supporters throughout the country. On the same evening, security forces made a “show of strength,” increasing their presence in Tehran’s public squares to “reinforce security at polling stations.” At election headquarters, the head official began reporting results soon after midnight, despite a statement from the Interior Minister that the first returns would not be announced until after the morning prayer (around 4:00 a.m.).

Many supporters of other presidential candidates came out into the streets on June 13th, once the results had been made public, to protest what they believed to be a fraudulent election. Candidates Musavi, Karubi, and Reza’i, Ahmadinejad’s competitors in the race, contested the election, alleging many instances of fraud. They filed complaints with the Council of Guardians [the constitutional body charged with vetting candidates before elections take place and approving the results afterwards], requesting an annulment and calling for a new election. Before the Council of Guardians could review their claims, however, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, congratulated Ahmadinejad on his re-election. In the meantime, many people who had been active in Karubi’s and Musavi’s campaigns were arrested.

On June 15th, unprecedented demonstrations were held on the streets of central Tehran, in which an estimated three million protestors participated, according to statements attributed to the mayor of Tehran. As the demonstrations were ending, paramilitary forces attacked the marchers, injuring and killing several people. To prevent such news from being broadcast, the Iranian government expelled foreign journalists from the country and banned news agencies from reporting on the events. Over the next three days, protesters took part in peaceful demonstrations in Tehran. After Ayatollah Khamenei’s Friday sermon on June 19th, which Amnesty International said gave “legitimacy to police brutality,” the repression entered a new phase. The next day and thereafter, police and plainclothes paramilitary groups confronted the protesters, resulting in casualties. Public gatherings of any kind were declared illegal, and police and plainclothes agents brutally enforced this restriction.

Paramilitary plainclothes groups are used in Iran to disrupt political and trade union activities, student events and gatherings, electoral initiatives, and protests. There is little information on the command structure and organization of such groups, whose members wear ordinary clothing rather than official uniforms. Armed with sticks and clubs, and sometimes with chains, knives, batons, or firearms, they emerge when the state decides to suppress dissent. Police forces either passively observe their conduct and do not react, or they may actively cooperate with the plainclothes forces, who move freely about, violently beating protesters, including when the police are present.

Following the post-election demonstrations of June 2009, pictures of some plainclothes agents were posted on internet websites. Internet users helped to identify some of them and provided evidence that these individuals were affiliated with the Basij paramilitary groups, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and state intelligence forces. On September 16th, 2009, a deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps of Tehran Province confirmed the active and decisive role of Basij forces in the repression of the demonstrations, saying, “Basijis, through their presence in recent events, have blinded the eyes of the conspirators, and they should be appreciated. … The enemies of Islam wanted to make the air dusty and to exploit the recent events, but Thank God, through the enlightenment of the Honorable Leader we were victorious against this conspiracy.” He also emphasized, “The zealous youth of Basij, believers in the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent, are the second and third generations of the Revolution. They have been successful on this stage and victorious on this battlefield”.

When personal property was damaged during the protests, government authorities and state-run radio and television programs accused the demonstrators of vandalism and justified the repression. At the same time, however, footage posted on-line showed security forces destroying and damaging property on side streets and in uncongested areas away from the protests. Moreover, in a public gathering of Tehran police commanders on October 20th, the chief of Iranian police conceded that police had destroyed and damaged property and accepted responsibility for it.

The precise number of citizens injured, killed, or disappeared in the post-election violence is not known. According to various reports, there were hundreds of victims in demonstrations throughout the country. More than seventy names have been reported. It is said that officials have threatened victims’ family members, demanding their silence and that they not agree to be interviewed. Reports also allege that returning a victim’s body to a family has been made conditional upon their agreement to change the cause of death listed on the coroner’s certificate to that of a heart attack, or some other natural cause — thus foregoing the right to file a complaint — as well as an agreement not to hold memorial services for the loved one.

According to government statements, more than 4,000 people have been arrested throughout Iran since June 12th, many of whom have been held at the Kahrizak Detention Center, where prisoners’ rights and minimum hygiene standards are typically not observed. Numerous reports of violence, including the torture and rape of detainees, have been published. According to state reports, some of the detainees at Kahrizak died in custody.

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