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Haunted Memories: The Islamic Republic’s Executions of Kurds in 1979

Certainly the executions ordered by Ayatollah Khalkhali, as authorized by Ayatollah Khomeini, violated both international and Iranian law for several reasons. While the exact number of executions is not known, it was reported at the time that as many as 80 people were executed in the Kurdish regions. They were executed for such crimes as “corruption on earth and at war with God and his prophet,” and expressing support for the KDPI, as well as vague offenses such as “direct participation in Mariwan’s events” and “gathering armed individuals.” These offenses, most of which are political crimes, do not rise to the level of seriousness set forth in Khomeini’s order or required under international law. Moreover, at least three of the people executed were under the age of 18. Mozaffar Rahimi, a 17-year-old, was executed in Sanandaj. Seifollah Feizi was 15 years old, and Azar Kashb-Daraei was 12 years old when they were executed in Saqqez.217

In addition, the executions were not ordered by competent courts and or after procedures that even approached fair trials. Khalkhali was swift and brutal. He or his deputies briefly questioned the detainees – most of whom had been arrested without warrants - and summarily announced whether they would live or die. In many cases it was sufficient that the detainee admitted he supported the KDPI. Khalkhali made no allowance for assistance of counsel, production of evidence, or appeal. Men were executed within hours, sometimes minutes, of the pronouncement of the death sentence. 218

Lastly, the regime intentionally used these executions, and the threat of such executions, to terrorize Iranian Kurds and their supporters. Khomeini sent Khalkhali, “The Hanging Judge,” to the Kurdish regions and supported Khalkhali’s methods. Khalkhali publicized his execution orders and welcomed interviews. His deputies were not concerned as Jahangir Razmi photographed them killing eleven men in Sanandaj. Khomeini’s method was effective - Kurds were terrorized by the threat of executions. It was reported that after government troops took control of Mahabad in early September, the city was strewn with posters urging people to be “prepared for battle or ‘face Khalkhali!’”219 Terrified citizens of the town wrote Khomeini begging him to not allow Khalkhali to travel to Mahabad as he had to other towns in the Kurdish regions.

5.2. Rights to Freedom of Expression and Association

Fundamental human rights to freedom of expression and association are codified in the ICCPR. Article 19 provides that “[e]veryone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.”220 Article 22 provides that “[e]veryone shall have the right to freedom of association with others.”221 Similar to the


[216] Bih Dastur-i Imam Khomeini: Mujazat-i Idam Mahdud Shud [By Order of Imam Khomeini: Limitations Were Placed on Execution Orders], ETTELAAT, [May 14, 1979], available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[217] Feizi Interview, supra note 178; Navareh Interview, supra note 146.
[218] Feizi Interview, supra note 178.
[219] Thurgood, Iranians Take Rebel Kurdish Town, GUARDIAN, Sept. 4, 1979, at 6, available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[220] ICCPR, supra note 208 art. 19(1). Article 19(2) provides that “[e]veryone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and Ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” Id. art. 19(2). Id. art. 22. Article 22 further provides that:
[221] Id. art. 22. Article 22 further provides that:

No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Id. art. 22(2).

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