(New York, November 11, 2006) - Iran's Judiciary should immediately halt the imminent execution of 10 Iranians of Arab origin and revoke the death sentence imposed on them, Human Rights Watch said today. The death sentences were imposed following secret trials that Human Rights Watch said could not be considered to meet international standards.
On November 9, Abbas Jaafari Dowlatabadi, head of the Judiciary in the southern province of Khuzistan, told the Islamic Republic News Agency that Iran's Supreme Court has confirmed the execution sentence of 10 Iranian Arabs. He said the condemned men were convicted of carrying out bombings in Ahwaz, capital of Khuzistan, last year. He did not name them.
During the past year, the Judiciary has sentenced at least 13 Iranians of Arab origin to death for armed activity against the state. They are: Zamel Bawi; Awdeh Afrawi; Nazem Bureihi; Alireza Salman Delfi; Ali Helfi; Jaafar Sawari; Risan Sawari; Mohammad Ali Sawari; Moslem al-Ha'I; Abdulreza Nawaseri; Yahia Nasseri; Abdulzahra Helichi; and, Abdul-Imam Za'eri.
"Iran's opaque judicial system denies people due process and then hands down a death sentence after a one-day trial," said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "The Judiciary should stop these executions."
Iranian rights advocates told Human Rights Watch that these trials were held behind closed doors and without any independent or impartial observers present.
On June 8, the Third Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Ahwaz sentenced Zamel Bawi, Jaafar Sawari, Risan Sawari and Abdulreza Nawaseri to death following a one-day trial on June 7. Human Rights Watch has been informed that no witnesses were called in the trial of these four men. The Judiciary has not provided dates and details of trials for the other nine men sentenced to death.
According to Iranian activists, one of the convicted men, Nazem Bureihi, has been imprisoned since 2000 and was serving a 35-year sentence for "insurgency against the state" at the time of his alleged crime.
"One of the wonders of the Iranian Judiciary is that it can accuse a person of carrying out bombings while he's in prison," said Whitson. "That lays bare the arbitrariness of his conviction."
Iran carries out more executions annually than any other nation but China. Human Rights Watch, which opposes capital punishment in all instances, called on the Iranian government to stop using the death penalty, due to its inherent cruelty and irrevocability.
During the past two years, Iran's southwestern province of Khuzistan has witnessed ethnic unrest among its Iranian-Arab population. The province is home to nearly two million Iranians of Arab descent. Protests erupted in Khuzistan's capital, Ahwaz, on April 15, 2005, following publication of a letter allegedly written by Mohammad Ali Abtahi, an advisor to President Mohammad Khatami. The letter referred to government plans to implement policies that would reduce the proportion of ethnic Arabs in Khuzistan's population. After security forces tried to disperse the demonstrators and opened fire on them, clashes between protesters and security forces turned violent. The violence spread to other cities and towns in Khuzistan. The next day, Abtahi and other government officials denied the authenticity of the letter, calling it fake.
Ahwaz and other cities experienced several bombings after the April 2005 protests. In June 2005, four bombs in Ahwaz and two others in Tehran killed 10 people and injured at least 90. Two other bombings in Ahwaz, one in October 2005 and another in January 2006, killed 12 people. The government has reportedly arrested hundreds of Iranian Arabs since April 15, 2005.
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