June 19, 2006

Appeal to Stop the Death Penalty and a Fair Process for the Cases of 9 Charged in Ahwaz

This letter has been published completely and/or briefly in domestic press and Persian sites

June 17, 2006

Honorable Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi,
Chief of the Judiciary
Islamic Republic of Iran

cc: Hojjatoleslam Mohseni Eje’i,
Minister of Intelligence
Islamic Republic of Iran

Your Excellency,

As a human rights advocate and a law-respecting Muslim, I write this letter to voice my serious concern regarding the fate of nine individuals who have been sentenced to death in the City of Ahwaz. Discussions with the families and lawyers of those sentenced have convinced me that the court decision made about the fate of these individuals requires your close attention in order to prevent the possibility of grave injustice

As you are well aware, in the first half of the year several disturbing events took place in the city of Ahwaz, where this kind of ethnic issue is rooted in the poverty, socio-economic deprivation and accumulated repressed complexes abused and exploited by foreign forces. It is only through the pursuit and implementation of justice that ethnic concerns can be addressed and external manipulation neutralized.

In October 2005, a bomb exploded in the Naderi neighborhood of Ahwaz, killing several of our Khuzeztani compatriots. Those involved in the bombing were arrested and executed. Afterwards another group of individuals were arrested for acquiring explosives or the intent of bombing oil pipelines, out of which nine individuals -- Abdolzahra Halichi, Yahya Nasseri, Rissan Savari, Abdolemam Zayeri, Jafar Savari, Mohammad Ali Savari, Hamzeh Savari, Nazem Barihi, and Zamen Bavi – have since been sentenced to death. Some of these individuals are between 18 and 20 years old, have only had primary education, and are manual workers. According to the information received some had absolutely no connection to the intent of bombing. Others were deceived by one individual who sold them sonar bombs and encouraged them to explode the bombs. These sentenced ended up changing their minds, abandoning or hiding the explosives. The amazing fact is that the individual that was identified by all nine defendants as the provider of bombs has not been arrested and continues to roam freely in Ahwaz, yet those he deceived have been sentenced to death.

The delivery of justice in this situation requires close attention to the following facts:

1. Those sentenced to death are all Iranian citizens constitutionally entitled to due process and human dignity.
2. They are among the victims or those harmed by the imposed war with Iraq.
3. They are Arab Khuzestanis, more than 16,000 of which were martyred in the war.
4. While the people of Khuzestan sit on Iran’s most valuable resources, they are amongst the poorest in the country. Despite this they consider themselves an integral part of Iran.
5. Respected members of the community believe that since none of the sentenced was responsible for any explosions, they deserve reduced sentences.
6. Although the case against these individuals is based on the claim that they had an organization, there was no organization; some did not even know each other, and all were individually deceived by the supplier of the explosives.
7. Since there was no explosion and no murder was committed, there are no private plaintiffs and law of retribution (qessas) does not apply. The government is the plaintiff and its restraint and compassion will have deep impact on the hearts and minds of the people of Khuzestan.
8. Not only the law of qessas does not apply, the sentenced are also not subject to the charge of moharebeh since, according to all Muslim religious authorities (Shi'i and Sunni), the mere fact of being in possession of weapons/explosives cannot be considered tantamount to the actual use of weapons/explosives for the purpose of threatening people and causing fear. Illegal possession of weapons is of course a crime but not a crime deserving of a death sentence.
9. According to reports by family members as well as lawyers there were many irregularities which undermine the integrity of the legal process in this case. For instance, the defendants, after 10 or 11 months of solitary confinement, were tried, mostly in other cities, without meeting their lawyers. This meant that during the trial lawyers did not even know their clients. Furthermore, lawyers had only 24 hours to read the defendants’ files. The sentenced have all claimed that their confessions were made under duress and the day one of the sentenced was arrested was approximately two months prior to the claimed bombing date.
10. The sensitive situation of our country and the plans that are being devised for causing ethnic unrest necessitate an approach that lessens ethnic tensions and neutralizes external manipulation. The execution of these individuals, on the other hand, heightens as well as injures tribal and communal feelings.
11. In principle, compassion works better than violence and overlooking the mistake of a citizen is more valuable than lack of patience.
12. The principle of ethnic belonging is officially recognized in the Iranian Constitution and the costs accrued by the actions of a few extremists should not be paid by individuals who are not connected to these extremists.

Considering that the Supreme Court is about to review the decision of the lower court and the approval of the lower court decision may lead to disconcerting events in Khuzestan that can be emotionally manipulated by others, it is respectfully requested that an order be issued for the careful reconsideration of the case. It is further requested that a select investigative committee be formed to talk directly with the sentenced, their families as well as their lawyers. Finally, it is requested that a just and speedy process for the consideration of the cases of others charged with similar crimes in Khuzestan be initiated. As your Excellency is aware, the possibility of defendants admitting to uncommitted crimes under duress is not unheard of and in this case of particular national sensitivity all possibilities must be investigated in order to avoid costly mistakes not only in relation to the taking of precious human lives but also because of the real potential for heightening and injuring ethnic sensibilities.

I thank you in advance for your careful attention to this matter.

Respectfully yours,

Emadeddin Baghi

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