The Iranian authorities’ threat to expedite the execution of 10 men on death row in retaliation for going on hunger strike is deplorable, said Amnesty International as it called for the death sentences to be commuted immediately.
One of the 10, Saman Naseem, was sentenced to death in 2013 for engaging in armed activities against the state after he allegedly participated in a gun battle while he was a child during which a member of the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was killed. The 10 men are among 24 prisoners from Iran’s Kurdish minority who have been on hunger strike since 20 November 2014 in protest at the conditions of Ward 12 of Oroumieh Central Prison, West Azerbaijan Province, where political prisoners are held.
“It is truly deplorable that the Iranian authorities are playing games with the lives of these men in such a manner. Resorting to death threats and other punitive measures to quell prisoners’ hunger strikes only serves to underscore how rotten Iran’s criminal justice system is,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Saman Naseem was a child at the time of his alleged offence. He says he has been tortured in detention and forced to “confess”. Now, the authorities are effectively blackmailing him with the prospect of death. Executing him would be a flagrant violation of international law. His sentence must be commuted immediately.”
Amnesty International is calling for Saman Naseem’s case to be re-examined fairly without recourse to the death penalty or relying on torture-tainted evidence, and taking into account provisions of Iran’s revised Penal Code that exclude the use of the death penalty for juvenile offenders in certain situations.
Saman Naseem was arrested on 17 July 2011 when he was just 17 years old. He was held for two months at a Ministry of Intelligence detention centre in Oroumieh, West Azarbaijan Province. While there, he said he was tortured by interrogators who pulled out his fingernails and toenails, and beat him leaving bruises on his back, legs and abdomen. He also said he was forced to sign a written “confession” while blindfolded.
On 14 December, Saman Naseem was transferred to a prison clinic suffering from low blood pressure and physical weakness, but he refused to break his hunger strike. He was returned to Ward 12 the same day.
Prisoners in Ward 12 at Oroumieh Central Prison went on hunger strike to protest against a decision to transfer 40 prisoners convicted of serious crimes, such as murder and armed robbery, to their ward leading to a deterioration in their security.
In addition to execution threats, the prison authorities have also reportedly subjected those on hunger strike to beatings and other punitive practices and threatened them with transfer to remote prisons in the south of the country, so as to force them to end their hunger strike.
The prisoners, who are all members of Iran’s Kurdish minority, say that they will continue their hunger strike until the authorities put an end to the abuse of prisoners. The hunger strikers who are not on death row are serving prison sentences ranging from six months to 34 years.
“The death penalty is a cruel and inhuman punishment under any circumstances. Instead of dealing out threats of execution against these prisoners the authorities must commute their death sentences and ensure they are treated humanely,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
Saman Naseem was sentenced to death on charges of “enmity against God” (moharebeh) and “corruption on earth” (ifsad fil-arz) for allegedly carrying out armed activities against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
He was first sentenced to death in January 2012 by the Revolutionary Court of Mahabad but the sentence was overturned by Branch 32 of the Supreme Court in August that year for lack of jurisdiction by the Revolutionary Court and because Saman Naseem was under 18 at the time of the alleged offence. His case was reverted to Branch 2 of the Criminal Court of West Azerbaijan Province for re-trial.
In April 2013 he was sentenced to death again by Branch 2 of the Criminal Court of West Azerbaijan Province. The judgement made no mention of the issue that Saman Naseem was under 18 at the time of the alleged the crime. Branch 32 of the Supreme Court subsequently upheld his death sentence in December 2013. He could be executed at any time as his death sentence has been sent to the Office of the Implementation of Sentences.
Under Iran’s revised Islamic Penal Code, passed into law in May 2013, the execution of offenders under the age of 18 is allowed under qesas (retribution-in-kind) and hodoud crimes under Islamic law, unless the juvenile offender is found to have not understood the nature of the crime or its consequences, or if there are doubts about their mental capacity.
In 2014, Amnesty International received reports of the execution of at least 14 individuals for crimes allegedly committed while they were under 18 years of age. The use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders is strictly prohibited under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of a Child, which Iran is a party to.
The names of the other nine prisoners on death row are, in alphabetical order: Ali Afshari, Habib Afshari, Behrouz Alkhani, Mohammad Abdollahi, Sayed Sami Hosseini, Sayed Jamal Mohammadi, Sirvan Nejavi, Ebrahim Rezapour, Ali Ahmad Soleiman.