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

Hashem Sha'baninejad (Amuri)

About

Age: 32
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Shi'a)
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Execution: January, 2014
Location: Ramshir, Khuzestan, Iran
Mode of Execution: Hanging

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, 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 freedom of peaceful assembly.

 

UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 21.

 

·         The right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade union for the protection of one’s interests.

 

UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 22.1.

 

·         The right, as a member of a religious or ethnic minority, to enjoy one’s own culture or to profess and practice one’s own religion.

 

UDHR, Article 18; ICCPR, Article 27.

 

·         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.

 

UDHR, Article 11.1; 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 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 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.

·         The right of a person not to be subjected to the capital punishment for an offence committed before the age of eighteen. The right not to be deprived of life while pregnant.

 

 ICCPR, Article 6.5; Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 37.a.

 

About this Case

He put a particular emphasis on “awareness” and “vigilance.”  He said, “This is life’s most important element and is constantly abused by those who base their survival on human beings’ ignorance and lack of awareness.”

Information about Mr. Hashem Sha’baninejad Amuri (hereinafter referred to as “Sha’bani”) was obtained from an interview conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF) with an eye witness, and member of the Al-Hiwar  Organizatio,n and from published accounts about Mr. Sha’bani, including the Justice for Iran organization’s report (Conversation with Death, February-March 2013), Amnesty International’s Bulletin (December 9, 2013), Human Rights Watch (January 24, 2013) the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s Report (January 24, 2013), Mr. Sha’bani’s letter from inside Karun Prison (Padmaz, May 21, 2013), and other news websites.

Mr. Hashem Sha’bani was from Ramshir (Khalafieh), a town located to the south of Ahvaz.  He was 32 years old, married, and had a daughter. In addition to supporting his wife and daughter, he also supported his poverty-stricken family, which included his mother, his sister, and his wounded war veteran father.

 

Mr. Sha’bani taught Arabic language and literature at high schools in Ramshir, Khuzestan Province, and was simultaneously studying for a Master’s degree in political science at Ahvaz Azad University. His poems were published in local publications, such as Nur, Fajr, and Asr-e Karun. While an [undergraduate] student at Shahid Chamran University, in Ahvaz, he was managing director of the Farsi language student publication Nedaye Bassirat and editor-in-chief of the Arabic language publication Al-Bassirah. At the same time, he was in charge of the political [wing] of the reformist students of the Faculty of Literature and Theology at the same university. Mr. Sha’bani wrote poetry in both Farsi and Arabic. He has published two books of poetry in Arabic entitled, “Al-E’teraf bel-Ofoghiah” (Reorganizing Ofoghi Thought) and “Iqa’e Mazarib oddam,” (The Beat of the Roof Gutters of Blood.)” (Mr. Sha’bani’s letter)

Mr. Sha’bani was also a founder of the Al-Hiwar  Scientific and Cultural Organization (“Hiwar” meaning “Dialogue”) in Arabic, which was inspired by former President Khatami’s slogan “Dialogue among Civilizations,”) which had obtained temporary authorization to operate from the offices of the National Organization for Youth* in 2001-2002. Al-Hiwar  held cultural programs in Arabic, as well as cultural and educational classes for the young people of [the town of] Ramshir. It was also active in promoting Arabic language and culture, as well as women’s rights. The activities of the young members of the organization were very well-received by the people of Ramshir. As a result, in the second City Council elections in 2002-2003, all five candidates supported by Al-Hiwar  were elected. (ABF’s interview)

Subsequent to street demonstrations by Iranian Arabs residing in Khuzestan [Province] in 2005-2006, the Al-Hiwar  Organization was declared illegal. Mr. Sha’bani and other members, however, continued their activities by establishing a library and holding study [groups and] meetings at their homes. Continuing these cultural activities led to the members being summoned and interrogated by the town’s security apparatus. Between 2006 and 2009, Mr. Sha’bani and the other members of Al-Hiwar  were summoned and interrogated numerous times by the Ministry of Information. (Justice for Iran) The security people accused them of promoting ethnic thinking and demanded an end to their meetings and study sessions. 

As written in his letter from jail, during the time he was a graduate student of political science at Khuzestan’s Science and Research University, Mr. Sha’bani had been active in various internet websites under the pseudonym, “Abol-Ala Al-Ofoghi,” and had been publishing his writings under the title, “Al-Ahwaz Popular Resistance and Freedom [Movement].” He was a spokesperson for “the Movement,” who also introduced himself under another false name, “Abi-Walid Al-Ahwazi.” 

A Summary of the Khuzestan Protests 

Subsequent to the publication of a letter dated July 24, 1998, ascribed to then-President Khatami’s Chief of Staff, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, demonstrations protesting the letter broke out on Friday, April 15, 2005, first in [the city of] Ahvaz, and then in other cities, such as Mahshahr and Hamidideh, and continued for several days. The letter emphasized the modification of Khuzestan Province’s ethnic Arab population through promotion and encouragement of the migration of non-native populations to the province, [thus] reducing Khuzestan’s Arab population to one third of the total population of the province. Although the government’s spokesperson officially denied [the existence of] this letter on Saturday, April 16, the demonstrations that had been called for by the “Coordination Committee for Popular Protests in Ahvaz” continued extensively in the coming days. In calling for demonstrations, [the organizers] highlighted various factors, including “the central government’s policies in expropriating Arab farmers’ lands for various projects such as sugar cane development,” and “marginalization of, as well as profound discontent among, Khuzestan’s Arab [population], as a result of the regime’s efforts to obliterate Arab identity.” 

The demonstrations that had started in Shelangabad (Da’ereh), one of [the city of] Ahvaz’s poor neighborhoods, quickly spread to the center of Ahvaz and to the cities of Mahshahr and Hamidieh. Citing Ahvaz News (a regional news organization) and eyewitnesses at the scene, the Ahvaz Human Rights Organization’s bulletin, dated April 15, 2005, stated, “Around three thousand Arab people of Ahvaz have gathered together and started extensive but peaceful demonstrations in Kordovani Street and Square, along with thousands of others in neighborhoods such as Shelangabad, Malashieh, Ameri, and Kut Abdollah, among others. Security forces are attacking the demonstrators, first with tear gas, and are subsequently firing on them in Da’ereh and Malashieh neighborhoods.” The degree of violence resorted to by security and police forces in quashing the demonstrations was such that it led to the death of a number of protestors. Dozens more were injured. Subsequent to these deaths, the intensity and magnitude of the protests increased. In a number of towns, demonstrators proceeded to cut off roads and to occupy government buildings and police posts. These protests continued for ten days in many Arab regions of Khuzestan. Protestors demanded a government apology to the region’s Arabs. Official government sources, quoting the Islamic Republic’s Defense Minister, announced the death toll as standing at three or four. (ISNA, April 19, 2005) Civil society activists, however, declared the number of people killed during these events to be between 50 and 60. Amnesty International stated the number as 29; Human Rights Watch, 50; and the Ahvaz Human Rights Organization, 160. Dozens of others were injured. The Ahvaz General and Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office announced the arrest and arraignment of 447 individuals. (IRNA, April 25, 2005) Local sources, however, announced the number as being greater than 1200. A number of intellectuals and ethnic leaders were among those arrested. Although the demonstrations subsided after ten days, widespread arrests, multiple bombings, successive executions, and popular protests continued on various occasions, including the anniversary of the events. 

Arrest and Detention 

Mr. Hashem Sha’bani was arrested on February 13, 2011, along with a number of other members of the Al-Hiwar  Organization from the cities of Ramshir and Ahvaz. He was arrested in the city of Ramshir while on his way home from the Sheikh Ansari High School. He was then transferred to one of the Ministry of Information’s secret detention centers near the Abazar Hospital of Ahvaz. Two of the other members of the organization, who had been detained and interrogated along with their friends at the Ahvaz Ministry of Information detention center, spoke of being tortured by various methods, including flogging with cables or plastic “green pipes,” being hung from the ceiling, sleep deprivation, psychological pressure, and insults, during their detention. (Justice for Iran; ABF’s interview )

In an interview with the Boroumand Foundation, one Al-Hiwar  member stated that he had repeatedly heard Hashem Sha’bani crying and praying in his cell, while reading the Koran. Mr. Sha’bani spent 7 months in solitary confinement at the detention center of the Ministry of Information, undergoing severe physical and mental torture. He was transferred to Karun Prison only after he had been forced, under tremendous pressure, to confess on television (confession aired on Press TV in the winter of 2012). During the time he was at the detention center, his family only visited him once, for 15 minutes, four months after his arrest. At his trial, Mr. Sha’bani talked about the torture he had undergone during his detention at the Ministry of Information, including having boiling water poured on his body, and stated that he had attempted to commit suicide twice, because of all the pressure. (ABF’s interview)

Mr. Sha’bani, along with Hadi Rashedi, was transferred on two occasions by security agents from Karun Prison [back] to the Ministry of Information detention center. The first time was in July-August 2012, for a period of 10 days, and the second time, in August-September 2013, for several weeks. He was tortured again on each occasion, as reported by Arab activists. (HRANA, September 7, 2013) Prior to the second transfer, Mr. Sha’bani wrote a letter from inside Karun Prison in May-June 2013 and alluded to being under torture and pressure for confession while in detention at the Ministry of Information. He asked for the support of the international community.

Trial 

The first court session to examine the charges against Mr. Hashem Sha’bani and twelve of the other young members of the Al-Hiwar  Organization was conducted on May 21, 2012, at the Ahvaz Islamic Revolutionary Court, Branch 2. Based on Mr. Sha’bani’s letter, there were three closed sessions examining the charges brought against 13 members of the organization. Based on information available to the Boroumand Foundation, the accused or their attorneys were served with court summonses only three days prior to the trial date and in an unusual fashion:  by the Public Information Office of the Ministry of Information. 

According to the eyewitness interviewed by ABF, the first session was the trial for Mr. Sha’bani and Mr. Hadi Rashedi. They proceeded to defend their [respective] cases, providing great detail and transparency. Things changed dramatically, however, during the second session: the courtroom was full of masked and armed members of security and police forces, and the families of the accused were not allowed entry into the courtroom. The new prosecutor, a cleric, asked that the court to be more strict. Based on published information, Mr. Sha’bani’s family, who had been able to see him before the trial, testified that he had been under tremendous torture while in detention and was in grave physical condition. (Justice for Iran, May 21, 2012) Mr. Sha’bani and other defendants who had been transferred from the prison, were in handcuffs and shackles during the entire course of the trial and were not allowed to have them taken off, in spite of their and their attorneys’ protests. (ABF’s interview) 

Charges 

Based on reports by Arab activists and human rights institutions, and according to Mr. Sha’bani’s family and attorneys, the charges against Mr. Sha’bani were:  “Moharebeh” (“waging war against God), “Efsad fel Arz” (“spreading corruption on Earth”), “spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” and “acting against the country’s national security.” 

Evidence of Guilt 

The judge considered the defendant’s [incriminating] confession  -  which had been obtained under torture -  to be evidence of the crime(s). In November-December 2011, prior to the trial, the English language government-run television station, Press TV, broadcast a program entitled “Iran e Emrooz” (“Today’s Iran”), in which Mr. Sha’bani was introduced by the announcer as a member of the terrorist group “Al-Moghavemat al-Sho’aibieh.” On camera, Mr. Sha’bani made certain statements regarding “Arab terrorists” and political groups’ policies and contacts with the outside [i.e., other states]. 

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. State 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, Sha’bani could not afford to hire an attorney, and his lawyer had been appointed by the court. Based on information received by the Boroumand Foundation, the defendants’ attorneys had limited access to the content of the cases against their clients, as well as to their clients themselves. This access was not, however, free and without interference. 

In an interview with the Foundation, an eyewitness recounted that, at the trial session of May 21, 2012, Mr. Sha’bani had retracted all of his previous confessions and had expressly stated that those confessions had been dictated by security agents, that they were lies, and that he had been coerced into confessing under extreme mental [and emotional] duress and severe physical torture.

During the first court session, Mr. Sha’bani defended his legal activities, providing great detail and transparency. He stated that the treatment he had received was not because of his activities but rather due to his interrogators’ fear of his ideas and beliefs.

The transcript of Mr. Sha’bani’s defense is not available. In the letter written from jail in May-June 2013, however, he addressed “all those who respect humanity” and asked for a fair and impartial trial. He emphasized that security forces had extracted false confessions from him under  torture. He states in his letter, “All my contacts and correspondence have been carried out without coordinating with real or legal persons. I have tried to inform the international community of the criminal actions of Iranian governmental organs against Ahvazi Arab citizens, including cruel and summary executions. Through those same correspondences, I wished to defend the legitimate right of all peoples on this planet to life, to civil rights, and to liberty. In spite of all the injustices [perpetrated against us] I never sought to carry arms and [to engage in an] armed struggle. In the face of these ugly crimes, I have carried no arms but the pen.

“I was arrested by Iran’s intelligence agents on February 11, 2011, when I was coming home from Sheikh Ansari High School in the town of Khalafieh.” (In the original letter, this date of February 11, 2011 is based on the Christian calendar and is probably not accurate, The date of Mr. Sha’bani’s arrest was February 13). “I was a teacher at several high schools in Khalafieh at the time. The first charge leveled against me was for ‘establishing a “popular resistance” movement.’ As I said before, this was nothing but a [heading and] a title under which I was trying to express my feelings about the cruelty that is perpetrated against the people. The intelligence [agents] were not convinced, however, and, subjecting me to the worst psychological and physical torture imaginable, they coerced me to confess to things I had not done and to confess as they wished. They wanted me to name my friends as members of the (hypothetical) movement.

“After spending five months in the Ministry of Information’s secret solitary confinement, I succumbed to their wishes and did everything they asked me to, uttering the words that were dictated to me. Two months after the false confession, I was transferred to Karun Prison … . At the first trial, which was conducted on May 21, 2012, I told the truth to the judge, a truth that Iran’s information apparatus wanted to bury. I told the judge that the movement and the organization you claim to have discovered consists of only one person, and that person is me, Hashem Sha’bani. I emphasized to the judge that I had implicated others at the behest of the security forces and that I had been coerced to do so under mental and psychological duress and under [physical] torture.”

After learning of his death sentence, he wrote a letter from jail in his own defense:  “I must stress the fact that under no circumstances did I ever engage in armed action. I do not believe in violence, so long as there are appropriate and peaceful means at our disposal, in order to realize our goals.”

Mr. Sha’bani’s reference to his defense in court and the retraction of the confessions obtained under duress have been confirmed in the text of the Supreme Court’s final order (January 2013). 

Decision

On July 7, 2012, the Ahvaz Islamic Revolutionary Court, Branch 2, sentenced Mr. Sha’bani and four other defendants in the case, to death by hanging. The transcript of the decision is not available. On January 9, 2013, however, it was upheld verbatim by the Supreme Court, Branch 32, presided over by three judges. The decision was communicated to the defendants. A passage from the final decision issued by the Supreme Court reads, “All of the defendants denied the charges against them at trial and declared their confessions before [the interrogators] to have been [obtained] as a result of torture as well as physical and psychological pressure. Further, they stated that their confessions before the investigating judge had been given under threats and through coercion by and in the presence of [law] enforcement agents. In spite of this assertion … the defendants and their counsel have not submitted any evidence to prove said claim … .” (Justice for Iran organization) 

In protest of the upholding of the death sentence by the Supreme Court, Mr. Sha’bani and four of the other individuals sentenced to death in this case went on an 18-day hunger strike in Karun Prison, beginning March 2, 2013. In his letter of May-June 2013, from Karun Prison, Mr. Sha’bani stated, “After three trial sessions, and after I had provided explanations of the subject matters raised in the case with the utmost transparency, a sentence of death was pronounced for me and four of my friends, which was amazing and astounding. Another friend, Rahman Asakareh, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in exile. This is an arbitrary and unjust sentence.” (Padmaz, May 21, 2013)  He further stated, “This letter is addressed to all human rights activists and institutions and is a request for immediate assistance. Our most important request is another trial, a fair and impartial one. I ask you to make all possible efforts so that this can be achieved.” 

Iranian and international organizations and institutions, as well as a large number of political and international figures, protested the issuance of a death sentence for the defendants in this case, including Mr. Sha’bani, based on the fact that the confessions had been obtained under duress. The British Foreign Office, the British Parliament, the Foreign Ministries of Germany and Norway, the U.S. State Department, the European Parliament, the Special Rapporteur on Iran, Mr. Ahmad Shahid, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, all condemned these individuals’ death sentences. The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation and twelve other human rights institutions also asked for the revocation of the death sentence. In December 2013, three members of the European Parliament asked Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to take immediate action [on behalf of and in order to influence] the fate of Hashem Sha’bani and Hadi Rashedi. On December 9, 2013, Amnesty International warned once again of the danger of these two Arab activists’ executions.

The exact date of Mr. Sha’bani’s execution is not clear. On December 7, 2013, security agents transferred Mr. Sha’bani and Hadi Rashedi from Karun Prison to an unknown location. Finally, on January 29, 2014, after 53 days of complete silence, agents of the Ministry of Information informed Mr. Sha’bani’s family that he had been executed three or four days earlier. According to their attorney, these prisoners’ request for a new trial had been submitted to judicial authorities and was being examined. No decision had yet been made in this regard. (HRANA, December 30, 2013)  His family was not told of the precise date and time when the sentence was carried out, nor where he had been buried. The authorities refused to surrender the bodies to their families and warned them against holding mourning rituals in mosques or other public places, allowing them only a limited mourning in their homes for 24 hours.

                       

* Sazman Melli Javanan (“The Youth Organization”) was established by the Khatami government in 1378 (1999). Its goals included the formation and spreading of NGOs and civil organizations for youth and the licensing and supervising of youth organizations, which were built by the citizens. When Sazman Tarbiat Badani (“The Organization of Physical Education”) merged with Sazman Melli Javanan in the year 1389 (2010), the new organization was named the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

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