‘It is truly deplorable that the Iranian authorities are playing games with the lives of these men in such a manner’ - Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui
The Iranian authorities’ threat to expedite the execution of ten men on death row in retaliation for going on hunger strike is deplorable, said Amnesty International as it called for the death sentences to be commuted immediately.
One of the ten - Saman Naseem - was sentenced to death last year after he allegedly participated in a 2011 gun battle while he was still a child.
The ten men are among 24 prisoners from Iran’s Kurdish minority who have been on hunger strike since 20 November in protest at the conditions in Ward 12 of Oroumieh Central Prison, West Azerbaijan Province, where political prisoners are held. The other nine hunger-striking prisoners on death row are: Ali Afshari, Habib Afshari, Behrouz Alkhani, Mohammad Abdollahi, Sayed Sami Hosseini, Sayed Jamal Mohammadi, Sirvan Nejavi, Ebrahim Rezapour and Ali Ahmad Soleiman.
Prisoners in Ward 12 began their hunger strike to protest against a decision to transfer 40 prisoners convicted of serious crimes such as murder and armed robbery to their ward leading to a deterioration in their security. In addition to execution threats, the prison authorities have also reportedly subjected hunger strikers to beatings and other punitive practices and threatened them with transfer to remote prisons in the south of the country, thought the prisoners say they’ll continue their protest until the authorities end their abuse of prisoners. The hunger strikers who are not on death row are serving prison sentences ranging from six months to 34 years.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“It is truly deplorable that the Iranian authorities are playing games with the lives of these men in such a manner.
“Resorting to death threats and other punitive measures to quell prisoners’ hunger strikes only serves to underscore how rotten Iran’s criminal justice system is.
“Instead of dealing out threats of execution against these prisoners, the authorities must commute their death sentences and ensure they are treated humanely.”
Saman Naseem was arrested on 17 July 2011 when he was just 17 years old. He was held for two months at a Ministry of Intelligence detention centre in Oroumieh, West Azarbaijan Province and while there he said he was tortured by interrogators who pulled out his fingernails and toenails, and beat him leaving bruises on his back, legs and abdomen. He also said he was forced to sign a written “confession” while blindfolded.
Naseem was sentenced to death in January 2012 by the Revolutionary Court of Mahabad for “enmity against God” (moharebeh) and “corruption on earth” (ifsad fil-arz) for allegedly carrying out armed activities against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard during which a member of the guards was killed. This sentence was overturned by Branch 32 of the Supreme Court in August that year on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction in the case and because Naseem was under 18 at the time of the alleged offence. His case was sent to Branch 2 of the Criminal Court of West Azerbaijan Province for re-trial and in April 2013 he was again sentenced to death. The judgement made no mention of the fact that Naseem was 17 at the time of the alleged crime, and Branch 32 of the Supreme Court subsequently upheld his death sentence last December. He could be executed at any time as his death sentence has been sent to the Office of the Implementation of Sentences.
Two days ago - on 14 December - Naseem was transferred to a prison clinic suffering from low blood pressure and physical weakness, but he refused to break his hunger strike. He was returned to Ward 12 the same day.
Commenting on Saman Naseem’s case, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“Executing him would be a flagrant violation of international law. His sentence must be commuted immediately.”
Execution of child offenders
During 2014 Amnesty has received reports of the execution of at least 14 individuals for crimes allegedly committed while they were under 18 years of age. The use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders is strictly prohibited under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of a Child, to which Iran is a state party.