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The case of Kurdish Iranian death row prisoner Behruz Alakhani

(21 May 2012) -- The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) has learned from an informed source close to the case of Kurdish Iranian death row prisoner Behruz Alakhani that Alakhani's arrest, prosecution and sentencing leave numerous evidentiary questions unanswered. The source has also expressed concern for Alakhani's psychological state. Alakhani endured 19 months of solitary confinement without access to visitation in the detention centers of several local Intelligence Ministry offices prior to his transfer to Orumiyeh Prison, where he is currently held. IHRDC has also obtained an exclusive copy of the judgment rendered against Alakhani—both the Farsi original and English translation of this judgment are appended to this report. 

Behruz Alakhani was arrested 28 months ago and taken to the Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Salmas. Thereafter his family had no knowledge of his whereabouts. However suspicions that Alakhani had been arrested were raised when several plainclothes agents from the local branch of the Intelligence Ministry along with uniformed members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and the local police raided the Alakhani family home without a search warrant three days after his disappearance, on January 30, 2010. At that point, a member of Alakhani's family asked why he had been arrested, to which one agent replied that he had not been arrested. Other agents involved in the raid confirmed his arrest, but stated that the charges were theft or the possession of alcohol.   

Only after Behruz Alakhani's transfer to the drug offenders’ ward of Orumiyeh Central Prison after 19 months in the custody of the Ministry of Intelligence were charges brought against him. He was charged with muharibih [waging war against God] and ifsad-i fil arz [sowing corruption on earth]. These charges were made on the grounds that Alakhani had collaborated with PJAK (Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê)—an armed Kurdish group—by procuring and transporting illegal firearms and a bomb, and that he had also participated in the assassination of the prosecutor of the county of Khoy, Valiollah Hajj Gholizadeh. 

The day after the shooting, a local official, Fakhrali Nikbakht, alleged that PJAK was behind the assassination of Hajj Gholizadeh. Mehr News Agency later claimed that PJAK had claimed responsibility for the attack. This was never confirmed, and no public record of an acceptance of responsibility for the assassination by PJAK exists. Until its declaration of a unilateral ceasefire in September 2011, PJAK regularly claimed responsibility for the deaths of IRGC members. 

At the time of his death, the Iranian government stated that Valiollah Hajj Gholizadeh died of two gunshot wounds sustained on the front doorstep of his home at 8PM on January 18, 2010. The next day, on January 19, 2010, the local governor stated that two “suspicious” automobiles had been found and the semi-official Mehr News Agency announced that four suspects had been arrested, though the news article did not provide names. Further, IHRDC’s source confirms that Behruz Alakhani was arrested the day after the assassination of Hajj Gholizadeh. 

On the same day Mehr News Agency also quoted Ebrahim Mohammadlou, the governor of Western Azerbaijan province as claiming no suspects had yet been arrested, but that agents were on the case. Whether this belies miscommunication between the local Intelligence Office that was already detaining Alakhani and the governor's office, or whether Alakhani was indeed not charged with any crime related to the assassination of Hajj Gholizadeh at the time of his arrest and early detention as the agents searching his house also stated is unclear at this time.

IHRDC’s source also avers that Alakhani's codefendants, Kamel Shablouee, Bashir Chartagh and Akbar Ali Akbarlou, were all his paternal relatives and that he had no connection with PJAK. 

In the court opinion rendered in Alakhani’s case, Judge Chabak of Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court of Orumiyeh sentenced Alakhani to 10 years' imprisonment including time served and subsequent execution.

According to the opinion, Alakhani's alleged guilt is based in part on a claim that his phone lines were deactivated for one week after the assassination—purportedly he then received a call from an alleged PJAK agent designated only as 'Khalil', who congratulated Alakhani on assassinating Mr. Hajj Gholizadeh. However if Alakhani was arrested the day after the assassination of Mr. Hajj Gholizadeh, as IHRDC's source has stated and the January 19, 2010 Mehr News article seems to confirm, then the evidence about the congratulatory telephone call does not accord with that narrative. Further evidence mentioned in the judgment base Alakhani’s guilt on a codefendant’s claim that he did not eat very much on the night of the assassination, allegedly indicating a nervous mental state. Alakhani’s verdict is also based in part on what is designated a ‘speedy confession’ on his part and testimony from local agents of the Ministry Intelligence and IRGC.

IHRDC’s source states that Alakhani has suffered greatly as a result of his 19 months of solitary confinement. The source further indicates that Alakhani's psychological state has deteriorated, adding "he does not speak with you anymore. He is like a mentally ill person now."