Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

https://www.iranrights.org
Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Zahra Bahrami

About

Age: 45
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Unknown
Civil Status: Single

Case

Date of Killing: January 29, 2011
Location of Killing: Evin Prison, Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: Drug trafficking; Drug possession; War on God, God's Prophet and the deputy of the Twelfth Imam

About this Case

Introduction

Information relating to the execution of Ms. Zahra Bahrami, a UK resident with dual Iranian-Dutch citizenship, was drawn from official statements by Iranian authorities, published reports by human rights groups, testimonies of her family, media reports, and a Boroumand Foundation's interview with a former prisoner. The latter was detained in Evin during the detention and interrogation of Ms. Bahrami and managed to communicate with her for a short time while she was in solitary confinement and also when she was brought to the public ward. This person was interviewed outside Iran (November 2011 and January, 2012). Also see Amnesty International statements (December 2010, 29 January and 16 February 2011), announcement by the Public and Revolution Prosecutor's Office (29 January 2011), Radio Netherlands Worldwide, (27 and 31 January 2011, and 4 February 2011), Reuters (2 February 2011), Wall Street Journal (7 February 2011), BBC (29 January 2011), Deutsche Welle (29 January 2011), Radio Free Europe (22 December 2011).*

The news of Ms. Bahrami's execution led to tensions between Iran and the Netherlands as well as in Iran's relations with the European Union. The Dutch media, some political parties, and Iranian residents in the Netherlands criticized the Dutch government for its slow reaction and its limited efforts in support of Ms. Bahrami (Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 31 January 2011). Furthermore, the Dutch Parliament summoned the Foreign Minister for explanation (Radio Zamaneh, 31 January 2011). The Dutch government temporarily suspended all diplomatic contact with Iran. Iran responded by accusing the [European] states of meddling in its internal affairs (Reuters, 2 February 2011).

Ms Bahrami was born in Tehran and had a son and two daughters. According to the available information, she had experienced many difficulties throughout her life. She left Iran with her son in 1991 after her divorce from her first husband. She settled in the Netherlands in 1992, where she eked out a living through performing professional Indian dancing. She was also a student of Indian sitar music at the Rotterdam Conservatory. According to Dutch media reports (Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 4 February 2011), Ms. Bahrami got involved in drug smuggling in 1999 after she learned that one of her daughters was in a poor psychological condition. She needed money to pay for her fare to Iran and bring her daughter to the Netherlands. But the attempt proved to be ultimately unsuccessful. She was arrested by the Dutch authorities in 2003 and handed down a three-year prison sentence.

Ms. Bahrami left for Britain in 2006 to begin a new life. In 2007 she was again arrested in the Netherlands while carrying a forged Austrian passport, and sentenced to one year in prison (Radio Netherlands Worldwide, (4 February 2011). Her daughter, Ms Banafsheh Nayebpour, said in an interview that her mother visited Iran quite often in order to see her and the children of her brother, whom she had been helping ever since the latter's execution (International Campaign for Human Rights, 26 January 2011).

According to existing information, Ms. Bahrami became politically active in support of the opposition after arriving in Britain. She was apparently in contact with opposition media under the alias of "Kurdieh Banoo", and was providing them with occasional reports on the demonstrations inside Iran. In that connection, a recording of her voice in conversation with Pars TV is posted on YouTube. During that period, she paid several visits to Iran. According to Amnesty International, Ms Bahrami had visited Tehran to take care of her daughter who was receiving chemotherapy treatment (Amnesty International, 29 January 2011).

The witness interviewed by ABF remembers Ms. Bahrami as a lively woman who was very kind to fellow prisoners and defiant towards the guards. “I could hear her make prisoners laugh. Sometimes, she even made the guards, laugh.” She liked music and was often singing her cell (ABF interview, January 20, 2012).

Arrest and Detention

Ms. Bahrami was arrested in the winter of 2010 alongside three other individuals. Non-governmental and human rights sources believe that she was arrested during the Ashura protests in December 2009 (Amnesty International, 29 January 2011). Ms Bahrami's daughter, Ms Nayebpour, also stated in an interview that her mother was arrested in a brutal manner while traveling in a car along Tehran's Shademan Street two days after Ashura. Quoting her mother, she said that Intelligence Ministry agents had arrested her after dragging her out of the car by pulling her hair (JARAS, 15 January 2011). According to a witness, Ms Bahrami was detained in Ward 209 of Evin Prison when the prison was overcrowded with political prisoners in the days following the Ashura arrests (ABF interview, November 16, 2011). After that date, Ms. Bahrami was transferred to the Women's Ward, and two months later, on 7 December 2010, to the Methadone Ward (HRANA, 28 October 2010 and Radio Farda, 21 January 2011). Official and semi-official sources, have given two different dates for the arrest: 1 February (Kayhan, 31 January 2011) and 1 March 2011 (Iran's official response to the British government, as cited by IRNA, 1 February 2011).

Independent witnesses, media and human rights sources believe that Ms Bahrami was tortured and was for a period confined in solitary confinement, without any contact with the outside world (Amnesty International, December 2010). In that regard, Ms Bahrami's daughter told HRANA in an interview that the family had no news of their mother for three months; they did not even know that she had been arrested until Ms Bahrami telephoned them from inside prison (HRANA, 16 January 2011). She had spent at least eight months in solitary confinement, about which she had protested in court on 16 August 2010 (HRANA, 18 August 2010). According to non-official news agencies, Ms Bahrami had been prevented from contacting the Embassy of the Netherlands and her family for some time, and was subsequently permitted to have only brief telephone conversations in the presence of Intelligence Ministry agents (HRANA, 4 April 2010). There are also reports that she had been subjected to lengthy and constant interrogations. These interrogations were not conducted by ordinary interrogators but by the anti-espionage team of the Intelligence Ministry (Radio Zamaneh, citing the International Campaign for Human Rights (31 January 2011)

According to the interviewed source, Ms. Bahrami contacted her through an opening in her cell, during the interrogation period. She repeatedly said that she was tortured. She asked the interviewee to inform anyone she talks to from the outside so that the information about her arrest reaches the Dutch embassy. She was in a very poor physical state and found it very difficult and painful to sit down or stand up as a result of torture. The interviewee also highlighted the prison guards' abusive conduct with prisoners in the wake of the Ashura protests (ABF interview, November 16, 2011). According to reports, she was suffering from lung complications and her face was swollen and covered in infected blemishes; her condition was worsening owing to lack of access to medical care. (HRANA, 11 July 2010). Reports of her physical state were confirmed by her daughter in an interview in January 2011 (Radio Farda, 21 January 2011). The Iranian government rejected all these reports and said that Ms. Bahrami had been accorded all her legal rights (IRNA, 30 January 2011).

The Trial

Ms. Bahrami appeared before Branch 15 of Tehran's Islamic Revolution Court presided by Judge Salavati, on 16 August 2010, and was tried by the same court later on 7 December 2010 (Deutsche Welle, 29 January 2011 and Committee of Human Rights Reporters, 5 January 2011).

According to Ms. Bahrami's defense lawyer, Ms Sharif Razi, and also Judiciary Spokesman Mohseni-Ezhe'i, and based on Article 32 of the anti-narcotics law, those sentenced by courts of First Instance on drugs related offenses have no right of appeal, and their cases are merely sent to the state Prosecutor General and the Supreme Court for approval. Consequently, the sentence issued for Ms Bahrami was sent to the Prosecutor General for approval, and subsequently to the Amnesty and Clemency Commission, without going through an appeal stage (Central News Unit, 1 February 2011, HRANA, 29 January 2011, and Rooz Online, 6 January 2011).

The Charges

According to official sources, the defense lawyer, her family, and various human rights groups, Ms. Bahrami was initially arrested in relation to security-related issues, and it was later that she was charged with possession and trafficking of drugs. An announcement published by the Public and Revolution Prosecutor's Office in the wake of her execution stated that Ms. Bahrami had been "arrested earlier for security reasons." It was some time later that the charge of forging of documents was added to her indictment (IRNA, 1 February 2011).

In a letter to the British government after Ms. Bahrami's execution, the Iranian embassy stated that she was charged with membership to the Kingdom Assembly of Iran [Anjoman-e Padeshahi-e Iran], which had "caused the martyrdom of 14 and injury of 215 individuals in a terrorist attack in the city of Shiraz" (IRNA, 1 February 2011). A statement by the Tehran Public and Revolution Prosecutor's Office, dated 29 January 2011, also confirmed that the defendant had been "arrested earlier for security reasons."

Kayhan newspaper stated that Ms. Bahrami had "engaged in inciting rioters on the Ashura Day unrest in Tehran (Kayhan, 31 January 2011). Ms Sharif Razi too said in a number of interviews that, as stated by Judge Salavati at Ms Bahrami's preliminary court session, one of the charges against her was that of moharebeh [waging war against God].

Another charge against Ms. Bahrami was the possession of 450 grams of opium, 450 grams of cocaine, and sale of 150 grams of cocaine. The Tehran Public and Revolution Prosecutor's Office announced that she was a "member of an international drugs network and was smuggling cocaine into Iran from the Netherlands through her Dutch contact. As part of her activity in the drugs ring she had smuggled cocaine into Iran on two occasions and distributed them inside the country." (Statement by the Tehran Public and Revolution Prosecutor's Office, 29 January 2011)

Evidence of guilt

The evidence against Ms. Bahrami have been listed as her confession to being a member of the Kingdom Assembly of Iran and the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, possession of drugs, witness testimonies, and police expert declaration that the drugs found in her home were genuine (Kayhan, 31 January 2011 and Amnesty International, 29 January 2011). The Voice and Vision (state-run Iranian television) broadcast Ms. Bahrami's confessions first in 2010 and later, following Ms. Bahrami's execution, on 29 January 2011. However, after her execution, the part concerning Ms. Bahrami's political links were omitted from the televised confession. She had confessed to participating in the protests, and engaging alongside her co-protestors, who were armed with knives, in clashes with the police. She then went on to confess to possession and trafficking of drugs, which she said she had stored in her home. The television also broadcast a testimony against her given by a young man who claimed to have come across Ms. Bahrami in a cafe where the defendant had suddenly asked him for opium. He added that Ms. Bahrami had then told him about the international drugs trafficking network she was a member of and explained that they had "brought 600 grams of cocaine into Iran and were seeking to take opium, and hashish, methamphetamine out of the country. He added that she [defendant] had sold 150 grams of it and was looking for customers for the remaining quantity" (Iranian TV 2030 news bulletin, 29 January 2011). Her lawyer, Ms Sharif Razi also confirmed the existence of [her client's] confessions in the case but noted that prior to becoming her lawyer, Ms Bahrami had confessed that the drugs belonged to a friend of hers to whom she was feeling somewhat indebted, and that out of friendship she had promised the friend to look after the drugs until his/her return to Iran. (Rooz Online, 6 January 2011).

Regarding the charge of moharebeh and links with the monarchist group, Anjoman Padeshahi Iran, Ms Sharif Razi said that Ms Bahrami had confessed to having had links with the said group several years ago.

Defense

Ms. Bahrami's defense statements in court have not been published. Her family, the Dutch government, and human rights groups have strongly opposed her court process and described it as unjust. (Amnesty International, December 2010 and BBC, 29 January 2011). Ms. Bahrami was tortured during the interrogation process and was suffering from searing pain in that made it extremely difficult for her to sit down or stand up. She told the interviewee repeatedly that she was tortured and insisted that they [interrogators] should not be trusted and that “they lie”. (ABF interview, November 16, 2011). These groups have raised several points in relation to the general mode of the trial.

Firstly, Ms. Bahrami's confessions were extracted under duress, and should, therefore, not be used (Amnesty International, 29 January 2011). According to non-official sources, in the course of the confessions Ms. Bahrami was in a very weak physical state. Ms Bahrami had told the court that all her confessions were made under duress. Her daughter has on many occasions quoted her mother as telling the court president, Judge Salavati, in court: "I was put under pressure. I was in an appalling condition and had no choice but to accept all these charges. But I am telling you now that the charge is totally baseless and I totally reject it." (HRANA, 22 January 2011) Ms Bahrami's lawyer, who was also present at the court session, has confirmed this (Rooz Online, 6 January 2011). The court, however, had paid no attention to the defendant's allegation of torture and deemed her confession as valid evidence (Kayhan, 31 January 2011). Furthermore, Ms. Bahrami's daughter has said that the Tehran Public and Revolution Prosecutor Abbas Ja'fari-Dolatabadi had promised her mother that she would be released if she agreed to give a televised confession. But after she had done so, the confessions were used against her. Ms. Bahrami's confessions and the testimony given against her, which were broadcast on Iranian national TV, are in contradiction with her confessions as quoted by her defense lawyer from the file.

Secondly, Ms. Bahrami's confessions had been broadcast on national TV in 2010, over a year before the start of her trial (Amnesty International, 29 January 2011). And based on existing evidence, the judge presiding over the case had already made his ruling regarding the defendant's guilt before the start of the trial and had told Ms Bahrami's lawyer that her punishment in relation to the drugs charges would be either execution or life imprisonment. (HRANA, 26 August 2010 and Rooz Online, 6 January 2011)

Thirdly, Ms. Bahrami did not have effective access to other guarantees of a fair trial, such as to legal representation. Her first defense lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was herself arrested shortly after agreeing to represent her. Also, according to reports, during her legal representation of Ms. Bahrami, she was not given access to her client's file for some time, and had merely managed to have a monitored telephone conversation with her (HRANA, 26 August 2010). Ms. Bahrami's family had not initially been given access to her file either, and had even spent six months to try and track down her case number. Moreover, after Ms Sotoudeh's arrest, Ms. Bahrami's family had serious difficulty in paying the legal fees of another competent lawyer because the court had confiscated Ms. Bahrami's entire assets – as will be mentioned later (HRANA, 25 December 2010) It has been said that the judge and Intelligence Ministry interrogators dealing with the case had also embarked on threatening lawyers to prevent them from taking on Ms Bahrami's case. For instance, at one stage, the judge tore up the legal contract of one of the lawyers who had intended to represent Ms Bahrami (HRANA, 28 October 2010) The case's second lawyer, Ms Sharif Razi, also stated that by the time she took on the case, it was too late for any kind of defense as she had already confessed to offenses that were punishable by death penalty (Rooz Online, 6 January 2011). Furthermore, Ms Bahrami's family and lawyer had been put under pressure not to contact the Dutch embassy or give interviews to the media. When communicating the verdict to Ms Sharif Razi, Judge Salavati warned her not to get in touch with either the media or the Dutch embassy (HRANA, 5 January 2011).

Ja'fari-Dolatabadi also promised her that if she refrained from giving any interviews, he would do his utmost to secure Ms. Bahrami's release (HRANA, 16 January 2011)

Fourthly, throughout her time in detention, before and even after her trial, Ms Bahrami was prevented from having access to consular assistance from her country of nationality, the Netherlands. These criticisms highlight international laws based on which, in the likelihood that the death penalty is meted out to a foreign national, that country's authorities must be notified and be given the right to extend consular assistance to the detainee (Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Avena Case, Mexico versus USA, International Court of Justice, 2004) The Iranian authorities openly prevented Ms. Bahrami from having any contact with the Dutch authorities (Netherlands TV, September 2010). The Iranian authorities pointed to Article 989 of the Civil Code, which does not recognize the adoption of foreign nationality by Iranians who have not first renounced their Iranian nationality, hence any second nationality is considered null and void.

Regarding the charge of possession and trafficking of drugs, Ms. Bahrami's family and human rights bodies believe the charge to be without merit and used to cover up her execution on the charge of moharebeh (waging war against God). Highlighting similar cases in which political activists have most likely been executed on drugs-related charges, Amnesty International quotes Mrs Ebadi as saying that execution of political opponents under the pretext of common offenses is not uncommon in Iran (Amnesty International, 16 February 2011) Moreover, in an interview to Radio Netherlands, Nobel laureate and lawyer Mrs Ebadi raised the question of why the authorities had discovered drugs in Ms Bahrami's home several days after her arrest? Surely, in those few days her family could have easily disposed of the drugs and destroyed any incriminating evidence? (Netherlands Radio, 15 February 2011). Moreover, Ms Bahrami's daughter having dismissed the charge of possession and trafficking of drugs remarked that the illicit substances had been planted in her mother's house (Amnesty International, December 2010). She posed the question of why all of a sudden the political accusations against her mother had been forgotten, and never pursued. And if her mother's offense was an ordinary one, why had she been detained in Evin Prison's security ward for 11 months? (HRANA, 6 January 2011)

Regarding the charge of moharebeh, Ms. Bahrami's lawyer stated that the only evidence against her was her own confession, and even then some parts of the defendant's confession had been disregarded, because she had said that she had cut off her links with the said organization some time ago (Rooz Online, 6 January 2011). Ms. Bahrami's daughter also reiterated that her mother's political activity did not go beyond telephone contacts with opposition media and participation in protest gatherings, and that she had had no links with any political groups. Furthermore, she noted that the Kingdom Assembly of Iran had also denied any links with Ms. Bahrami (HRANA, 6 January 2011). This possibility is corroborated by Ms Bahrami's telephone contact with Pars TV network under the alias of "Kurdieh Banoo". In the course of that telephone contact, Ms Bahrami had highlighted some of the state violence against protestors in the wake of the 2009 elections, to which she was a witness. She had also made some harsh remarks about the Iranian government and the manners of protest. For instance, she said: "... Don't tell us not to beat them up! We will beat them up! We will set off fires! We will tear down! We will attack everything of this regime!..." (YouTube, quoting Persian Radio, presented by Sa'id Qa'em-Maghami)

Verdict

Ms. Bahrami was sentenced to death and confiscation of property on the charge of possession and involvement in the trafficking of cocaine. She was also sentenced to 70 lashes and a payment of a 14 million-rial cash fine (Statement by the Tehran Public and Revolution Prosecutor's Office, 29 January 2011). The sentence was communicated to Ms Bahrami's lawyer on 2 January 2011 (HRANA, 5 January 2011)

Ms Zahra Bahrami was hanged at dawn on Saturday 29 January 2011 (Statement by the Tehran Public and Revolution Prosecutor's Office, 29 January 2011). Her daughter quoted remarks by one of her mother's cellmates on the manner of her execution. She quoted her as saying that they had come to Ms Bahrami's cell a day before her execution and told her to pack her belongings. She spent the night in the Prayers Room. They woke her up at 4 am and took her to the gallows. They told her to write down her last will and testament (Radio Free Europe, 4 January 2012) Ms Bahrami's execution took her family, lawyer and the Dutch government by surprise. None of them had been notified (Amnesty International, 16 February 2011). After the execution of her client, Ms. Sharif Razi told the media that she had no knowledge whatsoever of the execution, while legally, the convict's lawyer should be informed 48 hours in advance of the execution (Wall Street Journal, 7 February 2011 and Amnesty International 16 February 2011). Ms. Bahrami's family also disclosed that they had not been notified of the prosecutor's decision. Ms Bahrami's daughter told the International Campaign for Human Rights that her mother's file was still going through the administrative stages for amnesty and that they were still awaiting a positive or negative response in that regard (Rooz Online, 30 January 2011 and Radio Zamaneh, 3 February 2011). Moreover, the Intelligence Ministry's Follow-Up Department had given Ms Bahrami's family assurance that the case would be settled in the Amnesty and Clemency Commission and that there was no cause for concern (Rooz Online, 30 January 2011).

As to whether or not all her trial stages had been completed, there are contradictions between government sources, her family and lawyer on the one hand, and various [other] government sources, on the other. In a statement issued immediately in the wake of Ms Bahrami's execution, the Tehran Public and Revolution Prosecutor's Office declared that the aforementioned sentences had been approved by the Prosecutor-General (Statement by the Tehran Public and Revolution Prosecutor's Office, 29 January 2011). The Iranian ambassador to the Netherlands also announced: "The enforcement of the verdict demonstrated that it had been approved by the Prosecutor-General and the time period for the approval of the verdict by the Prosecutor depends on the judge and the trial stages." Judiciary Spokesman Mohseni-Ezhe'i told a news conference that both the first and second amnesty commissions had rejected Ms Bahrami's appeal for amnesty (Central News Unit, 1 February 2011) The statement by the Tehran Public and Revolution Prosecutor's Office makes no mention of a court verdict in relation to the charge of moharebeh (Statement by the Tehran Public and Revolution Prosecutor's Office, 29 January 2011).

The Dutch government also announced its shock and regret at the abrupt execution of Ms. Bahrami. The Dutch foreign minister stated that his government had heard of the execution via the media (Radio Farda, 30 January 2011) Only a day before her execution, the Iranian authorities had given assurance to the Dutch government that her sentence would be reconsidered (Wall Street Journal, 7 February 2011 and Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 27 January 2011)

Owing to the common practice of the Iranian government when it comes to dealing with executed political opponents, Ms. Bahrami's family encountered difficulties in collecting her body.

Although Ms. Bahrami's family had stated their intention to bury her in Fars Province, it was reported that the authorities buried her body, without the presence of her family, in Semnan, on 6 February 2011. Moreover, the family of the deceased were threatened against holding a public funeral ceremony for her. They were also told not to inform the Dutch government of the covert burial of Ms. Bahrami (Human Rights and Democracy Activists in Iran, 7 February 2011 and Amnesty International, December 2010). Furthermore, for some time her family had been banned from placing a tombstone on her grave. And security agents warned them that only up to 10 persons could visit her grave. Ms. Bahrami's family were also summoned to and interrogated by the Intelligence Ministry several times after her execution. They were threatened by the ministry not to contact the Dutch government or human rights bodies, or else they would broadcast television programs in which they would accuse Ms. Bahrami of moral corruption, and dishonor her whole family (Human Rights and Democracy Activists, 2 March 2011).

_________________________

*Other sources used in this document include: The Central News Unit (1 February 2011), Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA – 30 January and 1 February 2011), The 2030 Iranian TV news bulletin (Voice and Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 29 January 2011), International Campaign for Human Rights (26 January 2011), Radio Zamaneh (31 January and 3 February 2011), Keyhan (31 January 2011), Harana (4 April, 11 July, 18 August, 30 September, 28 October, and 25 December 2010, 5, 16, 22, and 29 January 2011), Rooz Online (6 and 30 January 2011), Human Rights and Democracy Activists in Iran (29 January, 7 February and 2 March 2011), Radio Farda (21 January 2011), Saham News (4 February 2011), Cheraq (7 February 2011), Committee of Human Rights Reporters (5 January 2011)

Correct/ Complete This Entry