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Death Sentences for Ahwazi Arab Cultural Activists

Two more Ahwazi Arab cultural activists have been sentenced to death on national security charges.

Ali Chobayshat, Yasin (Khaled) Mousavi and Salman Chayan’s confessions were aired by PressTV on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. Ahwazi Arab activists fear that the screening was a prelude to the implementation of Chobayshat and Mousavi’s death sentences.

(November 20, 2013) –The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) has learned from informed sources that two Ahwazi Arab political prisoners have been sentenced to death in procedurally flawed trials in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), with a third co-defendant sentenced to imprisonment in exile. The death sentences come amidst a record surge in the numbers of executions of prisoners in the IRI, and add to the growing list of Ahwazi Arab cultural activists on death row. 

On September 9, 2013, Seyyed Mohammad Bagher Mousavi, a judge in Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court of Ahvaz, issued death sentences for detained cultural activists Ali Chobayshat and Yasin Mousavi, who were accused of complicity in the October 23, 2012 bombing on the Chogh Zanbil natural gas pipeline near the town of Shush, Khuzestan province. A third co-defendant, Salman Chayan, was sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment in exile in Yazd, in Central Iran. IHRDC first reported on the status of the three prisoners in June, when they were still detained in a Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) detention center in Ahvaz.

A source close to the case has alleged that Abbas Torabi, the prisoners' court-appointed attorney and a former judge of the Revolutionary Court of Ahvaz, requested 3 billion Rials (about 120,000 USD at the time of this release) from each defendant's family.  The request for money was allegedly specifically to bribe the judges overseeing the case to secure a better outcome. The source, a relative of Ali Chobayshat, adds that when the prisoners' families attempted to obtain copies of the court's judgment in the case, they were told to request copies from Torabi. But reports from local human rights activists have reiterated that Torabi was never allowed to meet with the defendants—all members of a cultural organization called al-Shabab ("Youth") in Khalaf Mosallam village near Shush—or their families. Although Torabi is a court-appointed attorney who is obliged to defend his clients pro bono, the attorney also reportedly asked for a payment of 50 million Rials (about 2,000 USD) per defendant in order to make an appeal to the two death sentences before the Supreme Court of Iran. It should be noted that the average GDP per capita in Khuzestan province is around 2,000 USD, and that the defendants and their families hail from a poor rural farming community. According to Article 236 of the IRI’s Code of Criminal Procedure, convicted persons have 20 days to appeal initial sentences to the relevant courts. That period reportedly passed without any appeal being registered—thereby potentially rendering the Revolutionary Court’s sentences as final.   

Furthermore, Chobayshat’s relative has reported that the families of some of the defendants in the case, and one of the six other members of al-Shabab (who was initially arrested along with Chobayshat, Mousavi and Chayan at Chobayshat's mother's funeral) attempted but failed to secure alternative legal representation from several private attorneys in the province.  Reportedly, shortly after the attorneys were approached, the attorney contacted the relatives and the former detainee and informed them that they could not take the case.

After their sentences were issued, Chobayshat, Mousavi and Chayan were all transferred to Dezful Prison in the north of the province. Although the court opinion has not been released to the families or to the prisoners themselves, televised confessions—which were aired by Press TV, the IRI's English-language news network, on November 16, 2013—suggest that in addition to the pipeline explosion, the defendants were also found guilty of bombing a railroad track. Unlike the pipeline explosion there have been no reports of such an explosion in Khuzestan province.

Chobayshat’s relative adds that several furloughed prisoners from Dezful Prison have claimed that all three defendants have privately expressed their innocence, adding that their confessions were extracted under torture. The relative adds that Chobayshat is still in poor health following inadequate treatment for a broken rib, for which he is currently receiving treatment. Chobayshat did not have a broken rib prior to his arrest—therefore it is likely that the injury was sustained while he was in detention, possibly under torture.

Since the release on bail of the other six al-Shabab detainees, Hossein and Salah Chobayshat—who are Ali's sons; Mohammad and Karim Chayan—who are Salman's cousins; Ashur Sorkheh; and Habib Silawi, reports have emerged that Hossein and Salah Chobayshat and Habib Silawi were all tortured severely during their detention in the MOIS detention center in Ahvaz, each having been subjected to hanging from a ceiling by their hands, blows to the genitals, and two separate mock executions each. The three were also reportedly falsely informed during their detention that Ali Chobayshat, Yasin Mousavi and Salman Chayan had all been executed.

Although the property deeds that had been provided as bail for the release of the other six al-Shabab detainees have not been returned, they have not yet been charged with any crime. Local human rights activists add that there have in fact been numerous overnight house raids, arrests, and subsequent releases on bail of many residents of Khalaf Mosallam village since the pipeline explosion. Several members of the al-Shabab organization have been among those arrested.

Chobayshat’s relative indicates that the al-Shabab organization was involved in exclusively peaceful activities including holding religious ceremonies with the appropriate permits as well as college examination preparation instruction. These events were routinely raided and dispersed by regular police, whose main criticism is reported to have been the attendees' choice to wear traditional Arab garb.

The families have also attempted to create a petition for clemency, but local authorities have allegedly pressured residents not to sign the petition. The source close to the case relates that of the ten signatories to the petition, all ten have already been interrogated by the local MOIS office. At the current time, the physical conditions of Chobayshat, Mousavi and Chayan continue to be precarious, and the three are rarely afforded visitation rights.

The reports above indicate numerous breaches of both Iranian and international laws. Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a signatory, prohibits the torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment of prisoners and Article 10 of the ICCPR requires that prisoners be treated with humanity and respect for their inherent dignity. Similarly, Article 38 of the Constitution of the IRI prohibits the use of torture for the purpose of extracting confessions and voids all testimony obtained under duress, and Article 39 prohibits offenses to the dignity of detained persons. In addition, Article 9 of the ICCPR obliges member states to "promptly" inform arrested persons of the charges against them, whereas formal charges were not brought in this case for months. Article 32 of the Constitution of the IRI also states that detainees must be informed of the charges against them as soon as possible, adding that “the legal process must be initiated as early as possible.” Article 14 of the ICCPR also sets out minimal guarantees of defendants' rights at trial. In this case many of those rights appear to have been violated by the court, the defendants' court-appointed attorney, or both.

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Ahwazi Arabs, Executions