(Beirut) – Iranian authorities announced on August 2, 2016, that they had executed 20 members of a group Iran considers a terrorist organization, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities have yet to formally confirm the identities of those executed and so it is not yet possible to verify independently how many were killed and who they were.

Rajai Shahr Prison, Karaj, Iran.

Revolutionary courts had allegedly found the men guilty of “enmity against God,” which carries the death penalty in Iran. They are alleged members of a group called “Jihad and Tawhid.” The government statements said that authorities executed the men by hanging after they were convicted “of establishing a terrorist group” and “killing a Friday prayer Imam and several local guards,” among other crimes.

 

“Iran’s mass execution of prisoners on August 2 at Rajai Shahr prison is a shameful low point in its human rights record,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “With at least 230 executions since January 1, Iran is yet again the regional leader in executions but a laggard in implementing the so far illusory penal code reforms meant to bridge the gap with international standards.”

Two lawyers who represented some of the men told Human Rights Watch that their clients did not get a fair trial and that their due process rights had been violated.

Deutsche Welle Persian service reported that on the evening of August 1, prison officials called family members of more than 20 prisoners detained in Ward 4, Room 10 of Rajai Shahr prison and informed them that they could visit their imprisoned family members one last time. The prisoners are believed to have been part of a group of 33 Sunni Muslim men, including possibly a child offender, whom human rights groups previously identified as having been convicted of “enmity against God” (moharebeh).

One member of the family of Shahram Ahamdi told Human Rights Watch that on August 2, before they had reached the prison, they were directed to the medical examiner’s office where they saw the bodies of 10 people, including their son.

The announcement on August 2 was made by the judiciary in northwestern Kurdistan province, who said that 20 members of a “terrorist Takfiri group” (a group accusing others Muslims of apostasy), had been executed after a six-year judicial proceeding. The Iranian government refers to this group as “Jihad and Tawhid.”

Iran’s mass execution of prisoners on August 2 at Rajai Shahr prison is a shameful low point in its human rights record.

Sarah Leah Whitson

Middle East Director

Following the judiciary’s announcement, the Ministry of Intelligence published an open letter comparing the group to the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and claiming that 102 of its members and supporters had been identified and prosecuted in Iran.

Rights groups believe that these 33 men were arrested in 2009 and 2010 and appeared before Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, where they were charged with “enmity against God,” convicted, and sentenced to death. One person was tried by Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, and another by a branch of the Revolutionary Court of Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province. Both were also sentenced to death for the same crime.

In 2014, Human Rights Watch reported on several patterns of due process violations in Rajai Shahr prison and said that the 33 men were at imminent risk of execution.

Iran’s penal code, which went into force in 2013, provides that the crime of “enmity against God” refers to “drawing a weapon on the life, property or chastity of people or to cause terror as it creates the atmosphere of insecurity.” Recent changes require the judiciary to review and vacate sentences of people sentenced to death on that charge if they had not personally used weapons in committing the crime.

On March 4, 2015, Iranian authorities executed six men out of this group identified as Hamed Ahamadi, Kamal Molaie, Jamshid Dehghani, Jahangir Dehghani, Sadigh Mohamadi, and Hadi Hossein. Sources familiar with those cases had told Human Rights Watch in 2014 that all six denied that they had killed anyone or had any involvement in violent acts.

The men also alleged severe torture, including the use of electric shocks and threats of sexual assault, prolonged solitary confinement, and coerced confessions at the hands of Intelligence Ministry officials during their pretrial detention in the city of Sanandaj.

On July 5, the Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) published a letter said to be from Shahram Ahamdi to Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran. In the letter, Ahmadi described being tortured by his interrogators and asked Shaheed to help him get a fair trial.

Lawyers who represented the prisoners believed to have been executed on August 2, 2016, told Human Rights Watch that their clients had not received due process in accordance with the new changes in the penal code. One of the lawyers, Osman Mozayan, who represented at least four of those prisoners, said he did not know for certain whether his clients were among those executed.

Rights groups have reported that Iran has executed at least 230 people since the beginning of 2016.

International standards require countries that retain the death penalty to use it only for the “most serious crimes,” and in exceptional circumstances. In 2012, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions stated that where used, the death penalty should be limited to cases in which a person has been convicted of an intentional killing, which has not been the case in Iran.

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.

“It is shameful that Iran takes pride in the growing number of executions it carries out rather than being able to boast about its adherence to international fair trial standards,” Whitson said. “It is critically important to give everyone accused of a crime due process and fair trials, not least when their lives are at stake.”