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

Sohrab A'rabi

About

Age: 19
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Presumed Muslim
Civil Status: Unknown

Case

Date of Execution: June 15, 2009
Location: Tehran, 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 of 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 compelled to testify against oneself or to confess to guilt.

    ICCPR, Article 14.3.g.

  • 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

Mr. A’rabi had been missing from his family for 26 days.  A dispute arose between his mother and some officers after pictures of Sohrab were torn from the hallway walls.

Information about Mr. Sohrab A’rabi, son of Parvin and Mohammad Reza and born on February 23, 1990, was gathered from his mother’s interviews with Rooz Online (October 22, 2009; March 3, 2010). Mr. A’rabi’s death was announced on the following websites: Human Rights Activists News Agency (July 12 and 13, 2009, and December 23, 2009), Noruz website (July 12, 2009), AUTNews of Amirkabir University of Technology (July 12 and 31, 2009), the Committee of Human Rights Reporters (August 20, 2009) Rooz Online (December 23, 2009), Gooya newsletter (December 22, 2009), Radio Zamaneh (July 12, 2009), and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (June 4, 2010).

On June 15, 2009, Mr. A’rabi participated in a peaceful demonstration protesting the result of the presidential election. He was shot and killed by a Basij agent near Azadi Square in Tehran. Mr. A’rabi is one of the seven persons whose death has been confirmed by Iranian authorities in an incident that involved a Basij member shooting at protesters from the Basij building of Ashura, Battalion 117, located at the intersection of Azadi and Jenah streets. The A’rabi family was unaware of Sohrab’s whereabouts and condition until July 11, 2009, when state officials informed them of his death. Sohrab was 19 years old.

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.

Mr. A’rabi’s death certificate reports that he died on June 15, soon after he was shot, but the Kahrizak coroner received his body on June 19. There is no information about where his body was from June 15 to June 19.

According to HRANA, Mr. A’rabi’s body was taken from the coroner to the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery on July 12, where he was buried the following day. Hundreds of people reportedly participated in the burial ceremony to show their solidarity with the family. HRANA reported that armed forces were not present at the location; only plainclothes agents were seen. Police officers told the A’rabi family to stop chanting slogans, and to end the ceremony quickly. On August 20, 2009, a memorial service was held at the cemetery to mark the fortieth day after his death. 

Officials’ Reaction

According to the HRANA report of July 12, 2009, the judge in charge of Mr. A’rabi’s cases stated, “Sohrab was shot and killed in the crowd that had gathered at the Azadi Square. He was one of the seven persons who died when a Basij member shot towards the crowd.” How the officials found out about Mr. A’rabi’s death is unclear; however, what is known is that the officials did not inform Mr. A’rabi’s family of his death until July 11, 2009, despite the fact that his mother visited numerous state agencies in order to obtain information about her son.

According to a Gooya newsletter, on December 20, 2009, “security forces” went to the A’rabis’ apartment in the Apadana neighborhood in western Tehran, and tore down pictures of Mr. A’rabi on the walls in the hallways of the building and on the front door of the family’s apartment. Ms. Fahimi, Mr. A’rabi’s mother, was not at home at the time. The same evening, agents of the security police came back to the apartment and summoned Ms. Fahimi to the security police station. She protested that her son’s pictures were torn down and taken off the walls of her building. The officers replied, “Hallways are public space; there must not be pictures” (Rooz Online, December 23, 2009). The following day, a few officers went to the A’rabis’ apartment with a warrant to summon Ms. Fahimi to the prosecution office.

On the evening of December 21, 2009, a crowd gathered in front of the A’rabis apartment “with the excuse of mourning the passing of Ayatollah Montazeri,” according to a cleric who spoke out against the state violence against peaceful protestors. The crowd chanted anti-government slogans. Several shots were heard as state officials attacked – and arrested a few of – the protestors. Following this incident, a curfew was imposed for two nights in the neighborhood. A a chief police officer reportedly stated that if people stop chanting anti-government slogans, then he can arrange the release of for those who were arrested, and for the evacuation of the police officers from the area (Rooz Online, December 23, 2009).

Family

During the 26 days that the A’rabi family did not know of Mr. A’rabi’s condition or whereabouts, they searched for him at various offices as well as police stations, hospitals, and the revolutionary court (Rooz Online, December 23, 2009). Ms. Fahimi went to the Tehran prosecution office where she was told that Mr. A’rabi was being held at Evin prison. She went to Evin every day, waited outside, and showed Mr. A’rabi’s picture to those who were released and asked them if they had seen Mr. Sohrabi inside Evin. AUTNews reported that on July 7, Ms. Fahimi posted a bond at a branch of the the revolutionary court, fearing that “they [would] kill my son,” and she expected that her son would soon be released from Evin. However, her efforts to find him remained futile. One day when she went to the revolutionary court, a low-ranking official advised her to visit the detective police station located in the Shahriar neighborhood in south Tehran. At the detective police station, Ms. Fahimi identified her son’s body when she was shown several pictures (HRANA).

Ms. Farahnaz Mohammadi, Mr. A’rabi’s aunt, who lives in Germany, told a Radio Zamaneh correspondant that her nephew died due to two bullets that hit his head and chest. On March 3, 2010, Ms. Fahimi told Rooz Online that nine months after her son’s death, no official has yet to be held accountable for his death. “I have written to numerous officials but no body is [being held] accountable. Many times my attorney has visited different offices but was told, ‘go; we will call you’ and [yet] there is still no news.” She said in another interview, “I will follow up on my complaint. I want to know who killed my son and why nobody informed me of his death while I was looking for him” (Rooz Online, October 22, 2009).

On June 4, 2010, Ms. Fahimi told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that state officials warned her against holding a memorial service for her son. “Security forces came to my house and told me not be deluded, to stay at home on the anniversary of my son’s martyrdom, and not to speak publicly about him. I said that I am willing to sacrifice my son’s blood only with the condition that political prisoners be released.”

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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