We Couldn't Have Done it Without You: ABC's 2017 Year in Review

December 31, 2017

We Couldn't Have Done it Without You:
Abdorrahman Boroumand Center's 2017 in Review

 
In the past four days, at least 10 Iranian provinces have witnessed spontaneous protests in which citizens expressed grievances and, in some cases, called for an end to clerical rule. Protests in the past decades have been harshly repressed, including through mass arrests and politically motivated executions.

With at least 500 death row prisoners sent to the gallows in 2017, Iran will once again rank first in the world with the highest per capita rate of executions. As in the past, Abdorrahman Boroumand Center will investigate executions and extra-judicial killings, but documentation is a first step.
 Unless we act, thousands more, including political prisoners, will be sentenced to death in a judicial system that takes life with no regard to due process and fair trial.

Accurate and compelling information – the result of our painstaking work - can encourage a constructive and public debate in Iran and among the diaspora, and in particular the youth, active on the web and connected across borders. ABC’s documentation and education work, combined with advocacy carried out by other Iran-focused human rights groups, has succeeded in normalizing discussions about use of the death penalty, a taboo just two years ago.

The shift ABC is working to effect has shown concrete results this year: the number of reported executions, though still too high, has dropped, and late this year the Iranian legislature passed a reform of the penal code aimed at reducing the number of executions for drug offenses. Though inadequate, these are encouraging indicators. Changing minds however, requires stamina. We will continue to engage ordinary Iranians in thinking about state violence, justice and due process through the work detailed below:

Documenting the Truth

In 2017 ABC continued documenting the violation of the right to life in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). We gathered reports of 500 executions (as opposed to 581 in 2016) and talked to scores of family members and friends about the impact of executions on their lives. Due to lack of independent investigation in Iran, these statistics are neither exact nor exhaustive. 

Beside our core work on the right to life, we’ve continued documenting other rights violations including cruel and unusual punishments. For 2017 we collected reports on at least 158 cases of flogging, including that of twenty individuals in Qazvin in June 2017 for eating during the fasting month, and 5 cases of limb amputation. Flogging sentences are widespread and under reported.
 
Keeping Hope Alive

ABC also continued to expand its database of stories of those who have lost their lives to state violence. The Omid Memorial (meaning “hope” in Persian) is a historical record of state violence, and a platform provided to victims’ relatives and survivors to engage in truth telling efforts, to restore the dignity and memory of their loved ones while they learn about their violated human rights, and to find solace in working toward justice. We added 934 new cases to Omid Memorial in 2017, and updated scores of cases thanks to victims’ friends and relatives. ABC legal experts penned 23 legal analyses of such cases. ABC received 175 unsolicited e-forms and emails from friends and relatives of victims who joined our truth telling network and sent us information about unreported executions or completed/corrected a story already in Omid. We also conducted interviews with at least 81 individuals who have lost people close to them at the hands of the Iranian judiciary.

Highlights of Omid content for 2017 include:
  • Mohammad Rajabi Sani, a PTSD-stricken veteran of the Iran-Iraq war who died in custody following a mental health crisis, despite his wife’s pleas to judiciary officials to respect his medical needs
  • Alireza Mollasoltani, a young man executed following a hasty trial marked by widespread public anger over the death of the popular athlete he was accused of killing
  • Fardin Hosseini, a member of the Ahl-e Haq religious minority put to death in connection with the death of a Shi’a cleric in proceedings which he characterizes as “an extensive trap by the Information Ministry”
  • Ehsanollah Ehsani, a young Afghan immigrant who died in law enforcement custody whose family was warned not to follow up on the case under threat of revoking their residency status
  • Fatemeh Salbehi, a 17-year-old executed for the murder of a husband she had been forced to marry, despite forensic evidence indicating she was physically incapable of the crime and her claims of having been coerced into confession  
These activities strengthened ABC’s growing body of testimonials. Through this work, we draw attention to the victims of executions and their families, highlight cases with obvious due process violations, provide legal analysis, and furnish Iranian activists and the international community with strong arguments for accountability and to oppose the abuse of the death penalty in Iran.
 
Strengthening Human Rights and Democracy

In 2017 we added 218 new documents to our human rights and democracy library, which now contains over 3,300 documents. This searchable database makes available to the Persian speaking readership texts and international legislation on human rights, writings on democracy and ethics of citizenry, as well as victims’ testimonies, and reports on the situation of human rights in Iran. The English speaking readership will find a wealth of information on the situation of human rights, as well as on IRI’s laws and judicial system.

Highlights of ABC library resources for 2017 include:
 
A Crisis of the Right to Life Too Big to Ignore

This year, Abdorrahman Boroumand Center developed and launched an education campaign that aims to tackle the obstacles faced by both Iranian human rights organizations and the international community by making data on executions easily accessible, uniting disparate forces against the death penalty, and delegitimizing the government’s use of the death penalty on both religious and cultural grounds. The campaign, which includes a dedicated website and map of executions, provides facts and arguments to encourage a public debate in Iran and among the diaspora to educate a larger audience on the lack of due process in Iran’s criminal proceedings and the devastating social impact of executions. The overall objectives of the effort are to raise awareness and engage the public in reflecting on the death penalty and to promote legal reforms and a moratorium in view of a future abolition of the death penalty in Iran.

Multimedia resources debuted this year as part of our campaign against the death penalty include:
ABC also produced and released an Interview with Mohsen Sabzichi (58,094 views) the first-person account of a man whose hand was amputated for single theft conviction. Despite having received no sentence of jail time, he was kept in prison for seven years. Sabzichi’s interview forces viewers to confront the reality of the Iranian judiciary’s use of religious laws, on the implementation of which religious jurists do not agree, to impose arbitrary and cruel punishments and calls into question the religious justifications officials offer when implementing the hodud punishments.

Other ABC audio-visual resources released in late 2016 continued to circulate online this year, raising doubt about judiciary practices among a diverse global audience. They include videos on alleged juvenile offenders condemned to die in violation of international law like Bahram Ahmadi (more than 220,00 views), Behnud Shoja’ei (more than 124,000 views), and Mohammad Reza Haddadi (more than 303,000 views, including at least 180,000 on Voice of America Persian social media), and a video on Iran’s review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (more than 101,000 views.) Our project page dedicated to Iran’s juvenile offenders, who continue to be tried and executed as adults in violation of international law, continued to be shared throughout the year.
 
Advocating for Change

Putting to use the richness and depth of the data it has collected and focusing on the weaknesses of the judicial system, including in ensuring defendants’ rights to defense and due process in general and the existing legal protections, ABC has strengthened the call for institutional reform and accountability.

ABC was the major contributor to the Human Rights Advocate’s research briefing for the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in advance of Iran’s first review by the body in March. ABC was in fact the only human rights organization focused on the Islamic Republic’s executions and amputations to provide such information to the Committee. The report focused on systematic violations of the rights of persons suffering from psycho-social and physical disabilities, and included individual case research as well as news reports translated and archived by ABC in the Cruel and Unusual Punishments collections dedicated to amputation and forced blinding. ABC’s recommendations were featured in the Committee’s concluding observations.

ABC's comprehensive and unique data on decades of drug-related executions strengthened the debate on Iran’s drug control policy, which led to a reform bill aimed at reducing the number of executions. The organization has become a trusted source of information for international human rights experts and is regularly solicited for information.

To build on this important work in 2018, we need your support. Your generosity will turn opportunity into action. Please accept the challenge and join us in making a difference by clicking here.

Thank you again and happy new year.