Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Moharram Chegini Qeshlaqi

About

Age: 33
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Presumed Muslim
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Execution: June 15, 2009
Location: Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Execution: Shooting (extrajudicial)

Human rights violations in this case

Extrajudicial killings


Since the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, national and international human rights organizations have blamed the Islamic Republic authorities for the extrajudicial killing of their opponents, both within and outside of Iran's borders. Although over two hundred cases have been reported, the exact number of victims remains unknown.

Extrajudicial executions carried out in Iran are rarely investigated; the few cases that have been investigated have indicated that the Iranian state security apparatus has been involved. Agents of the Islamic Republic have also targeted dissidents outside the country, assassinating opposition members in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and in the United States,.

In many assassination cases outside Iran, local authorities have made no arrests. However, investigations, when they have taken place and been made public, have led to the single hypothesis of State ordered crimes. The organization and execution of these crimes constitute a pattern that Swiss prosecutor Roland Chatelain describes as “common parameters” following a “meticulous preparation.” Similarities between different cases in different countries have created a coherent set of presumptions designating the Islamic Republic as the instigator of these assassinations.

 

In cases involving prominent Iranians assassinated in France, Germany, and Switzerland, local prosecutors have provided evidence linking Iranian authorities to the crimes in question.

 

In France, for example, the Iranian Deputy Minister of Telecommunications has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the 1991 murder of two dissidents. In Germany, agents of Iran's secret services and Lebanese Hezbollah have been convicted for the 1992 murder of four dissidents in Berlin. Currently, the Islamic Republic's Minister of Information and Security at the time of this murder is under an International arrest Warrant launched by German judicial authorities for his involvement.

 

The German court in Berlin found that Iran's political leadership ordered the murder through a "Committee for Special Operations," whose members reportedly include the Leader of the Islamic Republic, the President, the Minister of Information and Security, and other security officials.



The Islamic Republic’s officials have claimed responsibility for some of these assassinations while denying involvement in others. In the 1980s, Iranian authorities justified extrajudicial executions of dissidents and members of the former regime and actively worked for the release of Iranians and non-Iranian agents who were detained or convicted in the West for their involvement in those killings. During the 1990s, they systematically denied any involvement in extrajudicial killings and often credited the killings to infighting amongst the opposition.

 

Still, the rationale supporting these killings was articulated as early as in the spring of 1979 when the First Revolutionary religious judge publicly announced the regime's intention to carry out extrajudicial executions. He said:

 

“no state has the right to try as a terrorist the person who kills [exiles] in foreign lands, for this person is implementing the verdict issued by the Islamic Revolutionary tribunal.”

 

More than a decade later, in August, 1992, the Minister of Intelligence and Security publicly boasted about the success of Iran's security forces, alluding to the elimination of dissidents:

 

"We have been able to deal blows to many of the mini-groups outside the country and on the borders...."

Human rights violations

Based on the available information, some or all of the following human rights may have been violated in this case:

  • The right not to be punished for any crime on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time it was committed.

    UDHR, Article 11.2; ICCPR, Article 15, Article 6.2.

  • The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to change and manifest one’s religion or belief.

    UDHR, Article 18; ICCPR, Article 18.1, ICCPR, Article 18.2; Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, Article 1 and Article 6.

    In its general comment 22 (48) of 20 July 1993, the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee observed that the freedom to "have or to adopt" a religion or belief necessarily entailed the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one's current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views, as well as the right to retain one's religion or belief. Article 18, paragraph 2, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use or threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert.

  • The right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.

    UDHR, Article 19; ICCPR, Article 19.1 and ICCPR, Article 19.2.

  • The right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

    UDHR, Article 20; ICCPR, Article 21.

The right to due process

Pre-trial detention rights

  • The right to counsel of one’s own choosing or legal aid and the right to meet with one’s attorney in confidence

    ICCPR, Article 14.3.d; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 1 , Article 2, Article 5, Article 6, and Article 8.

  • The right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense case.

    ICCPR, Article 14.3.b; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 8

  • The right not to be subjected to torture and to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

    UDHR, Article 5; ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1, and Article 2.

Trial rights

    • The right to a fair and public trial without undue delay.

      ICCPR, Article 9.3, Article 14.1, Article 14.3.c.

    • The right to examine, or have examined the witnesses against one and to obtain the attendance and examination of defense witnesses under the same conditions as witnesses for the prosecution.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.e.

  • The right to have the decision rendered in public.

    ICCPR, Article 14.1.

Judgment rights

  • The right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction.

    ICCPR, Article 14.5.

  • The right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence.

    ICCPR, Article 6.4.

Capital punishment
  • The inherent right to life, of which no one shall be arbitrarily deprived.

    Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6.1; Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, Article 1.1, Article 1.2.

  • The right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

    ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.

About this Case

He had aspirations, which he shared with his wife:  a peaceful life, to travel, to become parents.  With the number of victims rising, his mother wondered why the world community was so quiet.

Information about the death of Mr. Moharram Chegini Qeshlaqi was collected from reports of the “Where Are Our Votes” website (January 13, 2010; February 4, 2010; May 19, 2010) as well as Rooz Online (June 14, 2010), where interviews with Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi’s brother, mother, and wife are posted. His name is also mentioned as a casualty of post-election protests on the lists posted on the Iran News Agency’s site (June 28, 2009), the Human Rights Activists in Iran website (July 21, 2009), and the Parcham website (October 3, 2009). The Behesht-e Zahra cemetery’s site states that he is buried there.

Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi, son of Mirza Qoli, was born on October 2, 1975. According to his wife, he had many dreams. The couple wanted to have a child, travel, and lead a peaceful life.

On June 15, 2009, Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi participated in a demonstration to protest the result of the presidential election. Around 7 or 8 in the evening, he was shot in the head and killed in front of Meqdad Base of the Basij’s Ashura 117 Battalion, near the Azadi Square. That day, someone called his wife from the Rasul Akram Hospital and said that he was shot in the leg. When his family members went to the hospital, they could not find any information about Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi; however, they found out that at least eight individuals were killed that day. Family members also visited other hospitals in Tehran, but did not find any other information about him.

On June 15, 2009, a demonstration to protest the result of the presidential election took place in Tehran. Several people were killed or injured by paramilitary forces of the Basij as the demonstration came to an end and people began to disperse. The Basij forces of Ashura, Battalion 117, opened fire on protesters from the rooftop and through the windows of their building located at the beginning of the Mohammad Ali Jenah Highway on the north side of Azadi Square. Video clips of these shootings, posted on YouTube, showed tens of protesters in front of this Basij building chanting slogans.

Direct clashes between people and Basij forces were not seen in these clips. However, the videos clearly showed the Basij members shooting at people from the rooftop and through the windows; and gunshot noises could be heard as well as scenes of civilians moving injured people. During an interview with the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, an eyewitness present at the time of these shootings by Basij forces stated:

 “The crowd was so huge that a large demonstration took place everywhere people went. Around 7:00 p.m., I walked north from Azadi Square towards the Ariashahr neighborhood. The crowd was chanting slogans… We went far away from Azadi Square. The number of military forces on the streets – wearing multi-colored clothes – gradually increased. Black clothed agents were also present on the streets. There was a limited number of police. We walked for about 800 meters or a kilometer when I heard a noise. People said it was the sound of shooting. We turned around. It was not evident where the noise came from… I heard the sound of a machine gun shooting a round of bullets and then heard single shots being fired. The crowd pointed towards one place. I saw a building that was crowded… On the rooftop, Basij members were moving about, but it was not very clear what was going on. I turned back and saw a young boy who was shot in his side and was bleeding severely.” This eyewitness emphasized that people nearby the Basij building were not armed. The exact number of victims in this incident is unknown.

On June 17, family members saw video footage of Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi being shot and killed. The “Where Are Our Votes” website reported that “the video of Moharram being shot clearly shows that the bullet was shot from the direction of the Basij Base.” Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi’s bag was found at the location where he was shot in central Tehran and returned to his family. On June 22, someone called Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi’s brother from the Kahrizak coroner and asked them to visit the coroner’s office. There, family members identified Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi’s pictures among photographs of the casualties of post-election protests. The officials told them to go to the Detective Police station in Shahriar (a city in the suburbs of Tehran). The police told the family that Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi’s body was found at 6 a.m. on June 16 on a street in District Four of the Andisheh neighborhood in Shahriar. His brother stated: “His body and three other bodies were abandoned in Shahriar” (“Where Are Our Votes”, February 4, 2010). The authorities returned to the family only on the condition that they would not publicize his death (Rooz Online).

Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi was buried at the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, in Tehran.

Officials’ Reaction

According to Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi’s wife, after his death the family filed a complaint and the judge initially assigned to the case “was determined to investigate the case.” Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi’s mother told the Rooz Online correspondent, based on the judge’s findings, “the bullet was shot from a gun type that the Basij uses… But the Basij has denied this, stating that their forces did not shoot anyone on that day. Immediately, the file was taken away from this judge and he was declared disqualified. Then the file was sent to the Tehran’s Criminal Prosecution office. Thereafter, whenever we followed up, they said the file was lost.” The same judge from Shahriar warned the family against speaking with anyone over the phone about Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi’s death, explaining that their telephone was under surveillance.

After the file was sent to Tehran, the authorities claimed it was lost. An unidentified person, advised the family to ask for blood money. (When a victim’s family accepts blood money, paid by the party causing the victim’s death, the family in effect withdraws any other claim against the murder suspect.) Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi’s mother stated a few days after the family asked for blood money, the officials found the file and asked the family to collect payment. Knowing that the file has now been found, the Chegini Qeshlaqi family once again asked the authorities to investigate the case and find the murderer. After that, the officials refuse to answer any questions about the case.

Family members wanted the gravestone to say that Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi was a “martyr” but the cemetery officials told them that using that word needed official permission. His brother states that, “On the day of the burial ceremony, someone from the political section of the governor’s office contacted us and said that we should not announce the ceremony and should be quiet about it. Fifty days later, we were asked to be interviewed for a television program. We were told that we should file a complaint against [Mir Hossein] Musavi, but we replied that we would only file complaints against Moharram’s killer, and nobody else… [Yet] the governor’s political aid stated that Moharram was killed in a car accident.”

Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi’s wife told the reporter of the “Where Are Our Votes” website that on May 9, 2010, someone who introduced himself as a judge told her, “these files were to remain confidential. But now, there is no way out other than accepting the blood money” and withdrawing the complaint. (Blood money is typically provided by the party that caused a victim’s death. If the victim’s family accepts blood money, they in effect will have withdrawn any legal claim against the party causing the death.)

According to Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi’s wife, security forces threatened her after she tried to follow-up on her husband’s murder.

Family

Having retrieved Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi’s body, the family filed a complaint with the court. After some time, when it appeared that the case was not being investigated, his wife filed a second complaint with the prosecution office. She was told that “you are not alone. There are four or five others who have similar circumstances.” His wife said, “I will stand my ground until the end to find out who killed my husband. I do not want bloody money.”

Mr. Chegini Qeshlaqi’s mother said, “I ask the international community to speak up. Why are they quiet when they know so many innocent youth have been killed?”

Background

Election returns from Iran’s June 12th, 2009, presidential election declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected with 62.63 percent of the vote. Following the announcement, citizens disputing these official results demonstrated in the streets. Text messaging services were disrupted starting at 11:00 p.m. on the night before the election and remained unavailable for nearly three weeks, until July 1st. On Election Day, the deputy chief of Iranian police announced a ban on any gathering of presidential candidates’ supporters throughout the country. The same evening, security forces made a “show of strength,” increasing their presence in Tehran’s public squares to “reinforce security at polling stations.” Officials at election headquarters began reporting results soon after midnight, despite a statement from the Minister of the Interior that the first returns would not be announced until after the morning prayer (around 4:00 a.m.).

Many supporters of other presidential candidates came out into the streets on June 13th, once the results were made public, to protest what they believed to be a fraudulent election. Candidates Mir Hossein Musavi, Mehdi Karubi, and Mohsen Reza’i, Ahmadinejad’s competitors in the race, contested the election, alleging many instances of fraud. They filed complaints with the Council of Guardians, the constitutional body charged with vetting candidates before elections take place and approving the results afterwards, requesting an annulment and calling for a new election. Before the Council of Guardians could review their claims, however, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, congratulated Ahmadinejad on his re-election. In the meantime, many people active in Karubi’s and Musavi’s campaigns were arrested.

On June 15th, unprecedented demonstrations filled the streets of central Tehran, in which an estimated three million protestors participated, according to statements attributed to the mayor of Tehran. As the demonstrations were ending, paramilitary forces attacked the marchers, injuring and killing several people. To prevent such news from being broadcast, the Iranian government expelled foreign journalists from the country and banned news agencies from reporting on the events. Over the next three days, protesters took part in peaceful demonstrations in Tehran. The repression entered a new phase on June 19th after Ayatollah Khamenei’s Friday sermon, in which he announced his support for Ahmadinejad and warned protestors that they were responsible for any disorder and its consequences. Amnesty International stated that the speech gave “legitimacy to police brutality.” The next day and thereafter, police and plainclothes paramilitary groups attacked the protesters. Public gatherings of any kind were declared illegal, and police, motorcycle-riding special units wearing black uniforms and helmets, and plainclothes agents brutally enforced this restriction.

Individuals in civilian clothing, commonly referred to as plainclothes forces, are used in the Islamic Republic to disrupt political and trade union activities, student events and gatherings, electoral initiatives, and protests. Armed with sticks and clubs, and sometimes with chains, knives, batons, or firearms, they emerge when the state decides to suppress dissent. These plainclothes forces move about freely, violently beating protesters and arresting them, while the police passively look on or actively cooperate with them.

There is little information on the command structure and organization of such groups, whose members wear ordinary clothing rather than official uniforms and may be affiliated with the ministry of information, influential political groups, or the armed forces. Following the post-election demonstrations in June 2009, pictures of some plainclothes agents were posted on internet websites. Internet users helped to identify some of them and provided evidence that these individuals were affiliated with the Basij paramilitary groups, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and state intelligence forces. On September 16, 2009, a deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps of the Province of Tehran confirmed the active and decisive role of Basij forces in the repression of the demonstrations, saying, “Basijis, through their presence in recent events, have blinded the eyes of the conspirators, and they should be appreciated… The enemies of Islam wanted to make the air dusty and to exploit the recent events, but thank God, through the enlightenment of the Honorable Leader we were victorious against this conspiracy.” He also emphasized, “The zealous youth of [the] Basij, believers in the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent, are the second and third generations of the Revolution. They have been successful in this stage and victorious on this battlefield.”

When personal property was damaged during the protests, government authorities and state-run radio and television programs accused the demonstrators of vandalism and justified the repression. At the same time, however, footage posted online showed security forces destroying and damaging property on side streets and in uncongested areas away from the protests. Moreover, in a public gathering in Tehran on October 20th, the chief of Iranian police conceded that police had destroyed and damaged property and accepted responsibility for it.

The precise number of citizens injured, killed, or disappeared in the post-election violence is not known. According to various reports, there were hundreds of victims in demonstrations throughout the country. More than seventy names have been reported. It is said that officials have threatened victims’ family members, demanding their silence and that they refrain from giving interviews. Reports also allege that returning a victim’s body to a family has been made conditional upon their agreement to change the cause of death listed on the coroner’s certificate to that of a heart attack or some other natural cause — thus foregoing the right to file a complaint — as well as the family's agreement not to hold memorial services for the loved one.

According to government statements, more than 4,000 people were arrested throughout Iran in the weeks following June 12th. Many have been held at the Kahrizak Detention Center, where prisoners’ rights and minimum hygiene standards were typically ignored. Numerous reports of violence, including the torture and rape of detainees, have been published. State reports and testimonies confirm that a number of detainees at Kahrizak died in custody due to beatings, difficult and unbearable prison conditions, and torture.

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