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

Mehdi Qasemzadeh

About

Age: 27
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Other
Civil Status: Single

Case

Date of Killing: February 28, 2009
Location of Killing: Orumieh Prison, Orumieh, Azarbaijan-e Gharbi Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: Armed rebellion against the Islamic Republic

About this Case

To Ayatollah Khamenei from inside prison:

“Your tyranny is like leprosy that slowly gnaws at - and eats away - the flesh. You are like an extreme heat that evaporates [and destroys] everything this nation possesses: its life, sources of life, religion, integrity, principles, mercy, and fairness.”

News of Mr. Mehdi Qasemzadeh’s execution was published in numerous sources, including the Yarsan Website (February 28, 2009); and Human Rights Activists in Iran (February 28, 2009); the Fars News Agency published the news of the execution of an Ahl-e Haq prisoner without mentioning a name (March 1, 2009), quoting the chief of the West Azarbaijan Province Police Force Information Center. Additional information was obtained from an interview with Mr. Qasemzadeh’s sister and one of his co-defendants with Gunaz TV; (Prosecutor General’s website):  Summary of Insistent Criminal Case number 11/86. The report: “Belief-based Genocide:  Miandoab Qushachai [Region’s] Ahl-e Haq Qizilbashan [People],” published on the Yurd.net website (October 29, 2014), as well as from other sources.*

Mr. Mehdi Qasemzadeh was a single, 27-year-old high school graduate. He was an [ethnic] Turk from Miandoab’s village of Uchtappeh, who worked at a cattle farming complex owned by Mr. Soltanali Mohammadi. Mr. Qasemzadeh was a follower of the Atashbeigi Branch of Ahl-e Haq. (Qizilbashan tribe’s of Azerbaijanies Alavi)

Ahl-e Haq

Ahl-e Haq is an internal, mystical faith, founded in the 14thcentury by Sulta Eshaq. It is established upon deeply felt spiritual and religious premises. Although Ali Ibn Abitaleb, the first Shi’a Imam, holds an important and pivotal place in Ahl-e Haq beliefs, this creed is not, however, solely an Islamic sect; it encompasses a collection of Zoroastrian, Manichaeist, Christian, and Jewish beliefs. Ahl-e Haq believes in resurrection (the continuation of life after death in another body) and in unity (God entering a body, object, or place), but does not believe in judgment day (heaven and hell). Purity, truth, nonexistence (degenerating desires to reach to or toward God), and reda (sacrificing oneself and providing services to help human beings) are the four pillars of Ahl-e Haq. “Kalam-e Saranjam” is their central holy book. “Jamkhaneh” is their place of worship and collective prayer, which, in most regions, is accompanied by the musical instrument, the tanbur. Ahl-e Haq adherents live in Iran in parts of the provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Azarbaijan, Zanjan, Hamedan, and Lorestan, as well as in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Albania, and Afghanistan. Sultan Eshaq divides the Ahl-e Haq into seven main Families, to which four other Families were added in the 18th and 19th centuries, among them the Atashbeigi Family. The leader of the Atashbeigi Family is Nezamoddin Mosha’shai. The Atashbeigi live in the regions of Lorestan, Hersin in Kermanshah, and Ilkhchi in Azarbaijan.

Summary of Events

The commanding officers’ insistence that one of the Ahl-e Haq soldiers shave his mustache, and his refusal to do so, caused the latter to run from the military base where he was serving in July and August 2000. His father, Soltanali Mohammadi, and a number of the residents of Miandoab’s Uchtappeh village wrote letters to local and state authorities, including the Ministry of the Interior, the Majles (Iranian Parliament) Commission on Principle 90 [of the Constitution], and the Leader of the Islamic Republic, asking that Ahl-e Haq’s beliefs be respected, and that military base [residents] and other administration [personnel] refrain from insulting and offending them. They also objected to employment discrimination and early retirement of Ahl-e Haq followers because of their beliefs. Uchtappeh residents’ follow-ups and open letters in the years 2001 to 2003 bore no fruit and at times provoked the security forces to react and exert further pressure.

In 2002-03, Mr. Soltanali Mohammadi’s action in publishing a book on Ahl-e Haq’s beliefs and in installing signs at the entrance to his cattle farming complex bearing Ahl-e Haq themes, caused local authorities to react to and prevent the same, as well as to summon and temporarily arrest a number of Ahl-e Haq followers. The Town [of Miandoab’s] Security Council’s Resolution to remove the signs, and a group of Ahl-e Haq followers’ insistence on their religious beliefs, ultimately resulted in two armed clashes in September and October 2004 at Uchtappeh’s cattle complex.

The first clash began when a large contingent of the police force conducted a widespread attack against the cattle farming complex on September 22 and occupied it, using semi-heavy military equipment. The second clash consisted of a counter-attack to take back the complex on September 28. These two clashes resulted in the death of six villagers and three police officers, and the wounding of twenty others. The commander of Miandoab’s police force, as well as Soltanali Mohammadi and his son, were among the dead. Mr. Mehdi Qasemzadeh’s brother, Behrooz, was killed on September 28, during the second clash. Subsequent to these armed clashes, the cattle farming complex’s equipment, a pasteurized milk production factory and related farmland, were destroyed by the government, and a number of villagers were arrested. At least three Ahl-e Haq Dervishes surrendered themselves to security forces on the orders of the Chief of the Atashbeigi Family. Those arrested were tried and condemned to different sentences, including death and long prison terms.

Mr. Qasemzadeh published numerous open letters from prison, addressed to the country’s high-ranking officials, emphasizing the rights of Ahl-e Haq followers and enumerating the discriminations. In one such letter, he asked that the individuals attacking the homes of Ahl-e Haq followers be identified and punished for their actions, stressing that young Ahl-e Haq followers are banned from pursuing higher education at universities, because of their beliefs and their mustaches, and cannot obtain government employment. He also asked for high-ranking government authorities’ official apologies, the return of Ahl-e Haq followers’ religious signs, [the right] to hang the signs up at the entrances to their homes, and for the enactment of a law officially recognizing Ahl-e Haq.

In another letter, Mr. Qasemzadeh and the other defendants in the case address Ayatollah Khamenei, whom they consider to be the one who orders the police force attacks against Ahl-e Haq followers, for having their beliefs, as well as to burn and pillage their property, and to conduct genocide against them, and states:  “Your tyranny is like leprosy that slowly gnaws at, and eats away, the flesh. You are like an extreme heat that evaporates [and destroys] everything this nation possesses:  its life, sources of life, religion, integrity, principles, mercy, and fairness.” (Yurd.net, October 29, 2014).

On April 27, 2009, Amnesty International issued a bulletin declaring Mr. Qasemzadeh’s execution to have been against freedom of religion and belief and contrary to the tenets of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. On June 18, 2010, in his report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Philip Alston, pointed to letters sent to Iran’s judicial authorities requesting explanations concerning Mr. Qasemzadeh’s trial and execution. The UN Special Rapporteur expressed concern that Mr. Qasemzadeh was sentenced to death contrary to international norms and without having committed a serious crime. He asked that the Iranian authorities explain their definition of “Mohareb,” and the incompatibility of Mr. Qasemzadeh’s sentence, and those of other Ahl-e Haq defendants in the case, with Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Iranian authorities did not respond to the Special Rapporteur’s letters. (UN website, June 18, 2010)

Arrest and Detention

Mr. Mehdi Qasemzadeh was injured and arrested on September 22, 2004, in the course of the police force attack on Miandoab’s village of Uchtappeh’s cattle farm. His 75-year-old father was arrested that same day at home, and his brother Abdollah was arrested during the September 28 clash. His father was released on bail on December 25, 2004, but the Qasemzadeh brothers remained in detention.

According to Mr. Qasemzadeh’s memoirs, his leg was injured at the time of his arrest. Police officers subjected him to physical and psychological torture from the moment of his arrest. The torture continued, while en route from the site of the clash [to the hospital], inside the Mahabad emergency room, and then at [the city of] Orumieh’s Motahari Hospital. In his memoirs, Mr. Qasemzadeh provides a detailed account of the torture, while in custody and in front of hospital personnel, and even in the presence of the Mahabad Friday Prayer Imam:

“My uvula was torn from the force exerted by the rifle, and I passed out. I regained consciousness by being kicked and hit with a Kalashnikov on the chest. When they had thrown me down, my leg bones had broken [so severely] that they were disconnected; I heard a sound that resembled the sound of wooden sticks breaking, but it was the sound of my bones hitting each other. They had rendered my arms useless. I could not put my hands on my eyes to cover them. They threw my leg toward my head from the place it was broken and my leg was lying on my chest. [I knew] I could never fix my leg. They were throwing it around like a piece of cloth. This torture was accompanied by curse words and insults to my religion, my honor, my dignity and my integrity … . They put me on a bed in the emergency room and proceeded with torture and insults. Whoever showed up would kick me and punch me in the leg and in the head and would spit in my face. I couldn’t see anymore. My entire body was bleeding, so much so that, in the course of 22 hours of torture, they bandaged me 33 times.” (Yurd.net website, October 29, 2014)

On September 28, he was operated on in Orumieh’s Motahari Hospital, where platinum rods were placed in his leg. On October 5, he was taken to the police force’s Information Protection Detention Center (known as the “9 Steps” detention center). He spent 85 days in solitary confinement at the detention center and was interrogated at the Orumieh Information Administration. Thereafter, he was transferred to the Orumieh Central Prison. He and the other defendants in the case went on a hunger strike in prison in March and October 2008, protesting “the ruling regime’s excessive corruption, the lack of freedom of expression - which is our natural right - as is defending the trampled-upon rights of Ahl-e Haq adherents.” (Mehdi Qasemzadeh’s letter from prison, October 19, 2007)

According to Mr. Qasemzadeh, Ahl-e Haq followers were continuously subjected to pressure, ridicule, and insults for their beliefs by prison officials, warden, and guards. For instance, they forced them to shave their mustaches. One prison official had told other prisoners that Ahl-e Haq prisoners were infidels and that one should not even shake their hand. Emphasizing that the regime was “tyrannical and despotic,” Ahl-e Haq prisoners considered prison food Haram (“forbidden by religion”) and refused it. They ate what their families brought them to prison. After the prisoners’ letter to the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the officials did not allow them to receive food from the outside. (Mehdi Qasemzadeh’s letter from inside prison, October 19, 2007)

Trial

There are no details regarding Mr. Mehdi Qasemzadeh’s trial. The Mahabad Islamic Revolutionary Court, Branch Two, tried him and nine other defendants in the fall of 2004 in two sessions. Mr. Beyrami was Mr. Qasemzadeh’s court-appointed attorney in this case. (Court Decision, January 11, 2005) The Mahabad Islamic Revolutionary Court, Branch Two, had initially declared itself not competent to hear the case. Supreme Court Branch 33, however, declared the Revolutionary Court competent and assigned the case to that Branch. (Public Prosecutor’s website:  Summary of Insistent Criminal Case Number 11/86).

Charges

According to the Case Summary, Mr. Qasemzadeh’s charges were: “1. Participation in procuring and installing offensive signs, reading ‘Owner of Time, Excellency Aqa Nezam, the World is Awaiting Your Public Appearance’ at the entrance to his and others’ homes. 2. Instigating and encouraging village residents to install the aforementioned signs at their homes. 3. Armed resistance to the law and law enforcement and disobeying the orders of police and judicial authorities. 4. Procuring and keeping illegal weapons and war ammunitions. 5. Active participation in clashes with, armed attack against, and shooting the police force, resulting in the martyrdom of the Miandoab Police Commander, another police officer, and seven other individuals. 6. Participation in the armed attack of the Police Force Special Unit station at the cattle farm, which resulted in the martyrdom of one and injury to eleven individuals. 7. Insistence on heretical positions (considering Nezamoddin Moshashai as God, and that he will appear as the Imam of Time.” (Prosecutor General’s website, Summary of Insistent Criminal Case Number 11/86)

In the decision issued by the Islamic Revolutionary Court, Mr. Qasemzadeh’s charges were stated to be, “armed uprising against the Islamic Republic and the illegal carrying of war weaponry.” Additionally, said decision alludes to Mr. Qasemzadeh’s role in, “publishing and distributing leaflets against the regime and the Supreme Leader of the Revolution.” (Court Decision, January 11, 2005) West Azarbaijan Province’s Chief of the Police Force Information Center declared that Mr. Qasemzadeh was the person responsible for “the martyrdom of two of the region’s commanders.” (Fars News Agency, March 2, 2008)

Evidence

The Prosecutor General has declared “the region’s information officials’ statements and their written report,” “the [town’s] Security Council resolutions,” “the discovery of more than 10 weapons of war,” and “equipping Miandoab region villages with weapons and ammunitions without any legal or religious permits,” as evidence “indicating a premeditated plan to confront and resist the regime.”

In a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the country’s Prosecutor General declares “the defendants’ actions against the orders of executive and judicial authorities; confronting agents in multiple phases; having misguided, superstitious, and heretical beliefs; taking action as an organized group under a command, installing guards at the cattle farm building, and the fact that they had stated that they would wage war in their meeting,” as evidence of the defendants’ guilt. He has also stated that “the aforementioned individuals’ actions that are characterized as ‘Moharebeh’(“waging war against God”), frightening the population, distributing arms, disobeying the Imam [and Leader], as well as heresy, corruption, and endangering public order and security are undoubtedly clear instances of confrontation and fighting the regime, and ‘Moharebeh.’” (Prosecutor General’s website: Summary of Instant Criminal Case Number 11/86).

Defense

There is no detailed information regarding Mr. Qasemzadeh’s defense at trial. He was deprived of the right to hire an attorney and was represented by a court-appointed lawyer to conduct his defense. The text of his bill of objection to the charges brought against him has, however, been published.

In that bill, Mr. Qasemzadeh refers to the court decision as “unfounded and nonsensical,” calling the charge of armed uprising and carrying weapons “ridiculous.” He states: “I was wounded inside and outside the Mohammadi cattle farm, without any weapons whatsoever, and was taken prisoner by the police force and taken to the hospital. After that, I was taken to Orumieh Hospital and from there to solitary confinement, and I have been in jail ever since. How has this charge been brought against me?” In denying the charge of armed uprising he states: “This was not an uprising. We have simply defended our beliefs and this is very clear from your attack on our cattle farm. What gave you the right to attack the cattle farm?” (Bill of Objection, Yurd.net, October 29, 2014)

Four of the other defendants in the case who were present at the site of the clash gave a written affidavit to the court, stating that Mr. Qasemzadeh was exiting the cattle farm and had not shot anything when he was targeted and wounded by the agents and that he was not responsible for other people shooting, [and that the latter were] individuals “who had been forced to defend their life, property, and belief, influenced by the prevailing circumstances.” (Text of the Affidavit attached to the Bill of Objection)

In his Bill of Objection, Mr. Qasemzadeh alludes to the fact that he was under “torture and physical and psychological pressure” while in detention and considers the judge in his case to be “influenced by the [statements and] orders of the police force and, perhaps, other institutions.” He considers the police force reports and minutes of meetings as lies made up by senior police officers, who are trying to cover up their illegal actions [and the fact] that they have forced their underlings to sign [those documents]. He also states that no crime was ever proven to have been committed by him in interrogations conducted at the Information Administration.

In its initial consideration of the case, the Mahabad Islamic Revolutionary Court, Branch Two, declared itself not competent to hear the case regarding the defendants’ apostasy, disobeying the police force, murder, and intentional assault and battery, stating that “the defendants’ actions in confronting the police force were to prevent enforcement of an arrest warrant, and their armed resistance against police officers cannot be considered armed conflict against the regime, and they cannot be characterized as ‘Mohareb’ (“waging war against God”).” (Prosecutor General’s website: Summary of Insistent Criminal Case Number 11/86). In the Supreme Court General Council session that met to determine the fate of the other defendants in the case, the Prosecutor General’s First Deputy expressly stated: “Simple possession of weapons, and even using the same in resisting police officers, is not evidence of Moharebeh and uprising against the regime.” (Prosecutor General’s website: Summary of Insistent Criminal Case Number 11/86).

Judgment

On January 11, 2005, the Mahabad Islamic Revolutionary Court, Branch Two, sentenced Mr. Mehdi Qasemzadeh to death for “armed uprising against the Islamic Republic regime,” in accordance with the Islamic Penal Code Articles 186**and 190***. The Supreme Court, Branch 27, upheld the Revolutionary Court’s decision for only two of the defendants in the case, including Mr. Qasemzadeh. The same Branch, however, in considering the charges against the other defendants, did not consider their actions as amounting to armed uprising against the regime and characterized it as “simply rioting and disobeying the orders of government agents, mixed with superstitious religious beliefs.” Branch 27’s decision states that “the initial source of the conflict was instigations by certain officers,” which went against the defendants’ “superstitious beliefs,” (such as clipping their mustaches) and that the reason for the occurrence of the second clash “was to take the cattle farm back, not to overthrow the regime; they’re not big enough to even think of such a thing.” (Prosecutor General’s website: Summary of Insistent Criminal Case Number 11/86).

Mr. Qasemzadeh was hanged in Orumieh Prison on the morning of March 1, 2009. According to his sister, neither she, nor her family, knew of the implementation of the sentence. In the afternoon of the day before his execution, prison phones were disconnected, and he was transferred to solitary confinement. According to his sister, Mr. Qasemzadeh had not had any visitations with his family since five months prior to his hanging.

Mr. Qasemzadeh’s body was not turned over to his family, nor were they told of where he was buried. According to his sister, the family’s efforts to obtain the body bore no fruit. Security forces have told them, “If we give you his body, you will turn his grave into a shrine. (YouTube interview with Gunaz TV, May-June 2014).

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*Other sources:

Advar News (July 12, 2006), Savalan Sesi (March 1, 2009), Amnesty International (April 27, 2009), UN Special Rapporteur on an Extrajudicial Executions Report (June 18, 2010), Human Rights Activists in Iran (February 28, 2009), Rooz Online (October 22, 2008), Committee for the Defense of Azarbaijan Political Prisoners (March 4, 2008), Hamshahri Online (October 11, 2004), Yarsan Website (February, 28, 2009), Gunaz TV Website ( July 7, 2012), Oyenci news (September 26, 2008),  Jamali Website, Ahl-e Haq Weblog, YouTube

 ** Article 186 :All members and supporters of any group or association that resorts to armed uprising against Islamic Rule, who know of the group or association’s position, and who take effective actions and efforts in the advancement of their goals in any way, are considered Mohareb, even if they do not participate in the military branch thereof, so long as the central [organization of such group or association] remains in existence.

***Article 190: The Hadd (“Islamic punishment”) for Moharebeh and Efsad Fel Arz is one of four things: 1. Murder; 2. Hanging; 3. First cutting off the right hand then the left foot; 4. Exile.

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