Iranian Authorities Must Suspend Death Sentences of November 2019 Protesters
7/10/2020 Update: According to Iran Prison Atlas, Hossein Taj, Babak Paknia and Mostafa Nili, the lawyers representing the three prisoners sentenced to death after the November protest, have confirmed that the verdict has been upheld by the Supreme Court. In late June, Iran Prison Atlas received reports that the Supreme Court upheld the execution sentences of Amir Hossein Moradi, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi, but an unnamed judicial official denied the news. Now we have confirmation that the sentence was handed down to the prisoner’s lawyers.
We, the undersigned, express serious concern with the recent prison and death sentences for Amirhossein Moradi, Mohammad Rajabi and Saeed Tamjidi imposed after grossly unfair trials which include allegations of torture. We ask the United Nations human rights bodies and the European Union to intervene with Iranian authorities, urging them to suspend the sentences of these men and provide them with fair re-trials.
The Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Moradi, Rajabi, and Tamjidi to death for their alleged involvement in an arson and other alleged acts that took place during the nationwide protests of November 2019. They received prison sentences and floggings for other acts. According to research conducted by Amnesty International, the Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA), and United for Iran, the trial and treatment of the three men were riddled with human rights violations. None of the young men were allowed lawyers during the investigation phase and interrogations. They were also not allowed to pick their lawyers at trial and received little defense from the court appointed one. They claim they were tortured into making false confessions, including one which was broadcast on state television, that the court used as evidence to convict them.
In November 2019, days of anti-government protests and unrest erupted nationwide in response to a cut in fuel subsidies. Iranian authorities responded swiftly with a violent crackdown, resulting in hundreds of protesters dead and injured and thousands of arrests. Moradi, Rajabi, and Tamjidi are friends and all participated in the protests.
Amirhossein Moradi, age 25, was arrested on November 19, 2019. Moradi first spent a week in the detention house of the security police and was then transferred to a section of Evin prison controlled by the Intelligence Ministry. He was kept in a solitary cell the whole time and had no access to a lawyer. According to Moradi, he was tortured by interrogators. “One of the security police interrogators stood on my chest so that my ribs were pushed in,” Moradi reportedly told his family. He also alleged that another interrogator, an official from the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office named Amin Nasseri, beat and zapped him with an electroshocker. According to Moradi, he experienced paralysis and panic attacks and the interrogators told him that any medical treatment was incumbent on providing the confessions demanded by the interrogators. When he gave such confessions, however, he was still reportedly denied medical care.
On December 24, 2019 Iranian state television broadcasted a segment featuring 13 persons with blurred out faces confessing to various acts and crimes that purportedly took place during the November protests. One of these people is understood to have been Moradi. This confession was used against him in court according to rights groups. Political prisoners in Iran regularly report they confess on camera under torture, debilitating psychological pressure, or with the promise of an early release and that they were forced to repeat the words fed to them by their interrogators. In a series of programs made around the November protests, state television generally claimed that the protesters were “thugs, rioters, and chaos-mongers.”
On November 20, 2019, a day after Moradi was arrested, Rajabi, age 25, and Tamjidi, age 27, left Iran for Turkey. They went to the Turkish police in Antalya, explained their fear of arrest to the police and to an official who claimed to represent the United Nations. They then asked for asylum, according to a source familiar with the case. But the police reportedly told them they would either be sent back to Iran or have to remain restricted to a refugee camp for a year.
On December 28, 2019, Iranian authorities arrested the two young men. It is unclear how they were returned to Iran (i.e., by Turkish officials, Iranian officials, or voluntarily). They were briefly held in police custody and subsequently transferred to Evin prison to be detained in a ward run by the Intelligence Ministry. A week later on January 4, Rajabi was released on bail but on January 19, he was summoned and arrested. Rajabi and Tamjidi have also said that they were tortured. They said that interrogators hung them upside down from their feet and beat them with batons. Like Moradi, neither of them had access to a lawyer during the interrogation and investigation phase of their pre-trial detention.
Moradi, Rajabi, and Tamjidi were tried on January 5 and 6, 2020, in Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. Prosecutors brought a series of charges around claims that the defendants used deadly weapons against riot police, burned a petrol station, and collaborated with the opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI). Moradi was also accused of using the messaging app Telegram to teach other protesters how to take cameras from the security forces who were filming the crowds. Moradi had said he used a taser to do this.
The trial was presided over by Judge Abolqasem Salavati, who is known in Iran for his harsh sentencing of political detainees. During the trial, the defendants told Judge Salavati that their confessions had been made under torture and that accusations had no truth to them. But the judge ignored these statements.
The three defendants did not have the right to freely pick their lawyer. The lawyers assigned to them by the court did nothing to defend them during the trial. Sources reported that the lawyers not only did not defend their clients, but also told the Judge that they were disappointed by what their defendants had done.
On February 21, Judge Salavati convicted Moradi, Tamjidi and Rajabi of “Moharebe” (acting against God) by “taking part in destruction and burning, aimed at countering the Islamic Republic of Iran” and sentenced them to death. The Moharebe charge seemed to be based on the allegation that the men had taken part in arson of a petrol station and other alleged acts of non-lethal violence.
Judge Salavati also reportedly said Mr Moradi’s taking of a camera from a security force was tantamount to “taking part in armed robbery…” and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. Tamjidi and Rajabi each received 10 years in prison for similar allegations. They also each received an additional one-year sentence on the conviction of “illegal exit from the country.”
Since their conviction Moradi, Tamjidi and Rajavi have faced continued cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment. In March 2020, when Moradi was in the hospital for paralysis, interrogators went to his room and told him, “you will be executed next week and it is not economical for us to spend any funds on your treatment.”
On March 2, 2020, the authorities in Fashafooye prison in Tehran transferred the three detainees, together with some others, to closed quarters and told them that they had contracted the Coronavirus. A few weeks later, they were sent to their former prison section and told that they had actually been isolated as a punishment.
The psychological pressure that comes with a death sentence, together with physical and mental torture and a lack of medical care, has put Moradi’s health in critical condition. He now has to use a wheelchair to get around and has developed severe skin ulcers as a result.
This conviction and the procedure violate both Iranian and international law. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran is obligated to uphold the right to life under Article 6. The Convention provides extremely narrow circumstance under which the death penalty can be impossed. Death sentences must be only for the “most serious crimes” and only after fair proceedings. Most serious crimes are strictly those that involve crimes involving intentional killing, yet none of the men were accused of killing or trying to kill anyone.
Moreover, these proceedings were utterly unfair based on the standards of Article 14 of the ICCPR as they involved severe limits on access to lawyers and a legal defense and were based on confessions allegedly extracted under tortured, which would be wholly inadmissible in court. The court reportedly refused to even investigate the torture allegations. Torture and ill treatment of detainees are barred without exception under the ICCPR and Iranian law. Iran’s Criminal Procedure would have also required the three men access to a lawyer, from a Judiciary approved list, upon arrest. The men however did not have lawyers during the initial investigation and interrogation, which, if they did, could have safeguarded them from torture and making false confessions.
On June 24, contradictory reports emerged about the appeal of Moradi, Rajabi, and Tamjidi,’s conviction and sentences. Some reports stated that the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences and the executions can be carried out at any time. Other reports, including a statement from the Young Journalists Club (IRIB affiliated), expressed that this news was not true.
For the above reasons we, the undersigned, implore the United Nations human rights bodies and the European Union to urgently intervene in this case and demand that Iranian authorities repeal this sentencing and hold fair trials for Amirhossein Moradi, Mohammad Rajabi and Saeed Tamjidi.
1. United for Iran
2. Center for Human Rights in Iran
3. Association for Human Rights of Azerbaijani People in Iran (AHRAZ)
4. Ensemble contre la peine de mort (ECMP – Together Against the Death Penalty)
5. Arseh Sevom
6. Justice for Iran
7. Kurdistan Human Rights Network
8. The Baloch Activists Campaign
9. Iran Human Rights Documentation Center
10. Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran
11. All Human Rights for All in Iran
12. Iran Human Rights
13. Impact Iran
14. Siamak Pourzand Foundation
Note on Judge Salavati:
Judge Salavati owes his infamy to his role in the violation of fundamental rights of Iranian citizens, ignoring fair trial rules and violating the independence of the Judiciary by closely coordinating his sentencing with intelligence officials .
Based on the information gathered by the Iran Prison Atlas since 2016, Judge Salavati has tried at least 240 of the opponents and critics of the Islamic Republic state, sentencing them to a collective 1,208 years in prison, two life sentences, and 24 death sentences. On average, he has committed three judicial violations in each case; about 88 percent of the people who were sentenced by him lacked free access to a lawyer; about 65 percent were kept in high-security detention cells for more than two weeks; half of his defendants were barred from contacting family members; and about 19 percent of his prisoners experienced physical torture.
Despite all this, as well as the fact that human rights groups have repeatedly called for Salvavti to be held accountable for his role in abuses, not only has he not been dismissed or had his behavior reviewed by the Iranian Judiciary, but he remains a favorite judge of the Islamic Republic for political cases. At the time of this writing, at least 26% of political cases in the Tehran Revolutionary Court have been tried and sentenced by Judge Salavati between 2016 and now.