May 29, 2014

His Excellency Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani
Head of the Judiciary
slamic Republic of Iran

His Excellency Mohmmad Javad Larijani
Head of the Judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights
Islamic Republic of Iran

Your Excellencies:

We are writing to you because Human Rights Watch is planning to issue a report regarding “national security” prisoners held in three prisons in Alborz province. Information collected by Human Rights Watch strongly suggests that authorities have arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced at least 55 persons in these prisons because of their peaceful exercise of their rights, including the rights to free speech, association, and assembly. We are also concerned that Iran’s judiciary has convicted more than a hundred other detainees in prisons located in Alborz province, some of them serving death sentences, following trials that do not meet international standards for fairness.

We are keen to share our preliminary findings with you, and would like to invite you to comment generally and also to answer specific questions, below in this letter by June 27, 2014. The report will reflect any pertinent responses we receive from you by this date.

Authorities are currently holding 52 prisoners sentenced solely for their peaceful activities in Rajai Shahr Prison, and three others in the Central Infirmary Prison in Karaj. Our research indicates that Iranian authorities prosecuted, and revolutionary courts subsequently convicted, these prisoners under broadly or vaguely worded national security laws, many of which criminalize the exercise of fundamental rights protected under international law. The majority of these prisoners reside in Room 12 of Ward 4 of Rajai Shahr Prison.

Examples of these crimes include “collusion and gathering against the national security,” “propaganda against the state,” “disturbing the public order,” “membership in illegal groups,” “participating in unlawful gatherings,” “insulting the Supreme Leader,” and “publication of lies.” Sentences for these crimes often involve prison terms of up to 25 years, flogging, internal exile, and professional bans upon release.

These 55 detainees, whose names we provide in Annex 1 of this letter include journalists, rights defenders, civil society activists, political opposition members, and members of ethnic and religious minorities who the government considers to be activists because of their cultural and religious activities.

We understand that Iran’s judiciary maintains that there are no political prisoners in Iran, and that these individuals are serving sentences for endangering the country’s national security.

In addition, Human Rights Watch is concerned that courts convicted at least 120 other defendants who are now imprisoned in Rajai Shahr and Ghezel Hesar prisons (names provided in Annex 2 of this letter) in proceedings that did not respect their due process rights. These persons are allegedly members of political or religious opposition groups; they were convicted of committing or participating in violent acts or belonging to extremist Sunni groups alleged to be involved in “terrorism.” The majority of these prisoners are members of Iran’s Sunni minority and ethnic Kurds whom officials have detained in Room 10 of Ward 4 of Rajai Shahr Prison.

In part because of the secrecy surrounding many national security trials, too little information is available to us to evaluate whether these 120 individuals actually participated in any act of violence. Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch has concerns regarding their arrest, detention, and prosecution because the nature of their activities and the authorities’ history of targeting opposition parties and groups critical of the government suggests that authorities may have targeted at least some of these individuals for their peaceful exercise of fundamental rights.

In a handful of these cases, Human Rights Watch has found that prosecutors charged critics of the government with committing crimes of violence such as terrorism, without providing sufficient, or in some cases any, evidence to establish the guilt of the accused. Revolutionary courts subsequently convicted many of these individuals, often handing down harsh sentences. In a few other cases, we documented due process violations such as secret hearings, lack of access to a lawyer, long periods of incommunicado and solitary confinement, and allegations of torture and coerced confessions.

Human Rights Watch has also learned that 33 of these 120 prisoners are currently on death row and at imminent risk of execution (names provided in Annex 3 of this letter). We are concerned about the fate of these prisoners in light of the executions of several dozen prisoners convicted of national security-related charges since 2012.

There are further concerns that the judiciary has sentenced at least one of these individuals to death for a crime he allegedly committed while under the age of 18.

Of the 33 prisoners in Alborz province who were sentenced to death, most were tried by revolutionary courts applying laws that fall outside the traditional national security framework and are used to prosecute crimes which are described as “terrorism-related”, but which are vague and overbroad in both definition and application such as moharebeh (“enmity against God”). The punishments for such crimes are severe and often include death.

Recent amendments to the old penal code limit to 15 years in prison the sentences that judges may impose on members of armed or terrorist groups when they have not personally used weapons or resorted to violence. It is not clear whether any of the individuals currently in Alborz province prisons waiting for their death sentences to be carried out for terrorism-related crimes have benefited from this new law and had their death sentences vacated by the judiciary.

Finally, we believe that the prosecution and continued detention of at least some of these prisoners violates Iran’s constitution, which mandates that laws must define “political offenses” and guarantee the prosecution of alleged offenders in the presence of a jury. Despite a provision in the 1989 Iranian constitution mandating lawmakers to define “political offenses” and specifying that those committing such offenses should be tried before a jury, no such law currently exists.

In light of the foregoing concerns we submit the following questions:

  • For each prisoner identified in Annex 1 to this letter, please provide a) the charges under which they have been convicted, b) their sentence, and c) the evidence used to convict them in revolutionary courts.
  • For each prisoner identified in Annex 2 to this letter, please provide a) the charges under which they have been convicted, b) their sentence, c) the evidence used to convict them in revolutionary courts, d) whether they or their lawyers ever challenged the convictions by alleging serious due process violations, including secret hearings, lack of access to a lawyer, long periods of incommunicado and solitary confinement, and allegations of ill-treatment, torture, and coerced confessions, and e) whether the judiciary has ever investigated allegations of serious due process violations in these cases.
  • For each prisoner identified in Annex 3 to this letter, please provide a) the charges under which they have been convicted, b) the age of the defendants at the time they committed the alleged offense, c) the evidence used to convict them, and d) for those convicted of moharebeh but deemed not to have not used weapons or resorted to violence, whether their cases have been reviewed by courts in light of new amendments to the penal code obligating judges to impose prison sentences not exceeding 15 years.
  • How many prisoners are currently being held in Alborz province prisons or detention facilities under “national security” charges (including terrorism-related charges such as moharebeh)?
  • Outside of Rajai Shahr Prison, Ghezel Hesar Prison, and the Central Infirmary Prison at Karaj, are there any other prisons or detention facilities located in Alborz province where authorities are holding “national security” detainees or prisoners? If so, a) where are authorities holding them, b) what are the charges against them, c) what is their sentence, and c) what evidence did authorities use against them in revolutionary courts?
  • Does the Iran Prisons Organization control, manage, or otherwise have access to all prisons and detention facilities in Alborz province? If not, please identify the prisons and detention facilities outside the control of the Iran Prisons Organization.
  • Does the Iran Prisons Organization control, manage, or otherwise have access to all locations within Rajai Shahr Prison, Ghezel Hesar Prison, and the prison at the Central Infirmary Prison at Karaj? If not, please identify areas within these prisons outside the control of the Iran Prisons Organization.
  • What are the procedures and criteria used to determine when, and for how long, a prisoner can be transferred to solitary confinement?
  • Are any “national security” prisoners in Alborz province prisons currently detained in rooms or wards with individuals sentenced to prison for crimes unrelated to “national security,” such as rape or murder? If so, what is the reason for mixing these prison populations?

We thank you for your attention to these matters.

Sincerely,

Sarah Leah Whitson

Executive Director

Middle East and North Africa Division

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