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

Hossein Akhtarzand

About

Age: 33
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Presumed Muslim
Civil Status: Unknown

Case

Date of Execution: June 15, 2009
Location: Esfahan, Esfahan Province, Iran
Mode of Execution: Extrajudicial killing
Charges: Unknown charge
Age at time of offense: 33

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, the following human rights may have been violated in this case:

  • The right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.

UDHR, Article 19; ICCPR, Article 19.1 and ICCPR, Article 19.2.

  • The right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 21.

  • The right to equality before the law and the right to equal protection of the law.

UDHR, Article 7; ICCPR, Article 26.

  • The 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.

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

About this Case

in the course of the protests after the presidential election in 2009, was thrown off the third floor by Basijis.

Information about Mr. Hossein Akhtarzand’s death was published on the websites of Moje Sabze Azadi (September 7, 2009 and June 21, 2011), Jonbeshe Rahe Sabz (August 18, 2009), Kudeta News (July 28, 2009), Noruz (July 27, 2009), and Yari News (June 17, 2009).

Mr. Akhtarzand was born in December 18, 1976 in Esfahan. After his father passed away, he became the only breadwinner of the family. His distinct points of view on social and political issues were remarkable to his friends.

Mr. Akhtarzand died at the age of 33.

Mr. Hossein Akhtarzand’s Death

Mr. Akhtarzand was killed on June 15, 2009, during protests following the presidential election in Esfahan.

According to eye-witnesses, after finishing work on June 15, 2009, Mr. Akhtarzand was walking towards the Darvazeh-Shiraz neighborhood, near the center of the clashes. While Basijis and plain-clothes agents were attacking and beating protestors, about 15 people, including Mr. Akhtarzand, entered a physicians’ building complex through the parking door and tried to hide themselves where possible among the floors and rooms. Mr. Akhtarzand was caught by Basijis on the third floor roof. He was beaten severely and thrown off the third floor by Basijis. Although his half-dead body was transferred to the nearest hospital by people at the scene, he died in front of his mother, sister, and brothers an hour later due to the severity of his injuries (Jonbeshe Rahe Sabz and Kudeta News).

There was various evidence indicating that Mr. Akhtarzand was beaten and thrown off the building deliberately. The published pictures of his body clearly showed marks of injuries on his face and body, especially the scratch on his right hand. Also, according to the Mr. Akhtarzand’s brother, marks of severe blows from a hard external object on several parts of Hossein’s body were mentioned in the forensic medical report. Also, one of Mr. Akhtarzand’s brothers had seen this sentence on forensic medicine’s report: “marks of being severely hit by an outside hard substance are evident in several parts of the body” (Moje Sabze Azadi).

2009 Election Background

Election returns from Iran’s June 12th, 2009, presidential election declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected with 62.63 percent of the vote.  Following the announcement, citizens disputing these official results demonstrated in the streets.  Text messaging services were disrupted starting at 11:00 p.m. on the night before the election and remained unavailable for nearly three weeks, 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.  The same evening, security forces made a “show of strength,” increasing their presence in Tehran’s public squares to “reinforce security at polling stations.”  Officials at election headquarters began reporting results soon after midnight, despite a statement from the Minister of the Interior 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 were made public, to protest what they believed to be a fraudulent election.  Candidates Mir Hossein Musavi, Mehdi Karubi, and Mohsen 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 active in Karubi’s and Musavi’s campaigns were arrested.

On June 15th, unprecedented demonstrations filled 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.  The repression entered a new phase on June 19th after Ayatollah Khamenei’s Friday sermon, in which he announced his support for Ahmadinejad and warned protestors that they were responsible for any disorder and its consequences. Amnesty International stated that the speech gave “legitimacy to police brutality.”  The next day and thereafter, police and plainclothes paramilitary groups attacked the protesters.  Public gatherings of any kind were declared illegal, and police, motorcycle-riding special units wearing black uniforms and helmets, and plainclothes agents brutally enforced this restriction.

Individuals in civilian clothing, commonly referred to as plainclothes forces, are used in the Islamic Republic to disrupt political and trade union activities, student events and gatherings, electoral initiatives, and protests.  Armed with sticks and clubs, and sometimes with chains, knives, batons, or firearms, they emerge when the state decides to suppress dissent.  These plainclothes forces move about freely, violently beating protesters and arresting them, while the police passively look on or actively cooperate with them.

There is little information on the command structure and organization of such groups, whose members wear ordinary clothing rather than official uniforms and may be affiliated with the ministry of information, influential political groups, or the armed forces. Following the post-election demonstrations in 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 16, 2009, a deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps of the Province of Tehran 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 [the] Basij, believers in the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent, are the second and third generations of the Revolution.  They have been successful in 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 online showed security forces destroying and damaging property on side streets and in uncongested areas away from the protests.  Moreover, in a public gathering in Tehran 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 refrain from giving interviews.  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 the family's agreement not to hold memorial services for the loved one.

According to government statements, more than 4,000 people were arrested throughout Iran in the weeks following June 12th. Many have been held at the Kahrizak Detention Center, where prisoners’ rights and minimum hygiene standards were typically ignored.  Numerous reports of violence, including the torture and rape of detainees, have been published.  State reports and testimonies confirm that a number of detainees at Kahrizak died in custody due to beatings, difficult and unbearable prison conditions, and torture.

Officials’ Reaction

Despite all the efforts made by security authorities in Esfahan to control the family and hold a quiet burial for Mr. Akhtarzand, news of his death disseminated across the city quickly and many people including the Head of the Election Headquarters for Mirhossein Musavi participated in the burial ceremony (Jonbeshe Rahe Sabz and Kudeta News).

Officials including Esfahan Intelligence Police and judiciary and security authorities denied any involvement in Mr. Akhtarzand’s death, claiming his death was due to his own “negligence” in walking on rotten roof covers. The Commander of Special Forces in Esfahan had announced that Mr. Akhtarzand had fallen from the third floor owing to the use of narcotics, namely methamphetamine (Moje Sabze Azadi).

Family’ Reaction

Mr. Akhtarzand’s family filed a complaint against the police force and the Basij in the Fifth branch of the Revolutionary Public Prosecution Office in Esfahan. Nevertheless, officials have tried to delay investigations of the case. At the beginning, officials tried to close the case by calling the cause of Mr. Akhtarzand’s death an accident (Moje Sabze Azadi).

The security forces pressured the family and told them at the beginning that unless they announced that Mr. Akhtarzand had been killed in an accident, they would not be given his body. Security forces were present during the burial ceremony. They selected the person who read the Qoran and even dissuaded people from calling out Allah-o-Akbar (“God is great”) when carrying the body. The burial ceremony was totally controlled by security forces and they prevented the family from praying properly (Moje Sabze Azadi).

Two years after Mr. Akhtarzand’s death, his family announced that their efforts to follow up on a legal suit had been ineffective and living in a small city was forcing them to remain quiet (Moje Sabze Azadi).

Correct/ Complete This Entry