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

Seyedeh Tayebeh Hojati

About

Age: 29
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Presumed Muslim
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Killing: December 24, 2008
Location of Killing: Evin Prison, Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: Murder
Age at time of offense: 24

About this Case

Ms. Hojati was 24, resided in Tehran. She continued her education in prison until she was graduated from high school and even enrolled at a university.

News of the execution of Ms. Seyedeh Tayabeh Hojati was published by various sources including Iscanews on December 24, 2008 and E’temad and Iran newspapers on December 25, 2008. Additional information was taken from the E’temad newspaper on June 30, 2008, December 31, 2007, January 29, 2008, August 24, 2006, and October 4, 2006; the Hamvatan Salam newspaper on June 30, 2008, the E’temad Melli newspaper on January 29, 2008, and other sources.*

Ms. Hojati, daughter of Mohammad Reza, 24, resided in Tehran. She married Mr. Reza Karimpur in December of 2002. They got divorced after a year in December of 2003. But, they got married again (as a temporary marriage) in January of 2004. According to Mr. Karimpur, Ms. Hojati looked like his first wife.

Ms. Hojati’s case was related to the kidnapping and murder of Elaheh Karimpur, the six-year-old daughter of her temporary husband from his first marriage, from her school yard located in Majidieh, Tehran, on February 22, 2004 at noon. Elaheh Karimpur’sbody was recovered from a pit in the Shiyan Park on February 29, 2004.

Arrest and detention

Ms. Hojati was arrested by police during the investigation of the murder of Elaheh Karimpur.

She was first summoned to the police station 190 and interrogated regarding the disappearance of Elaheh on February 22, 2004; however, she was released after denying to have any information about the girl.

A week later Ms. Hojati was arrested on February 28, 2004. After 24 hours, she was transferred to the Under Supervision Section of Tehran Intelligence Police – Department 10 for further investigation. According to the indictment, the temporary warrant for arresting Ms. Hojati was issued on March 10, 2004.

Ms. Hojati was detained for five years. All or part of her detention was in the Evin Prison. According to the Jamejam Online, Ms. Hojati continued her education in prison until gradation from high school and even registered in a university. According to a cellmate in Women Section, prisoners called her Babri [Tiger].

Trial

Branch 74 of the Criminal Court of Tehran tried Ms. Hojati in open session in the presence of five judges on October 28, 2004. Mr. Marzban Taheri and a female attorney defended Ms. Hojati. After her two attorneys objected to the case, the Supreme Court called for reinvestigation and referred the case back to Branch 74 of the Criminal Court of Tehran. Branch 74 of the Criminal Court of Tehran, presiding with another judge and four counselors, tried Ms. Hojati in three open sessions on February 1, 2006, January 3, 2007, and May 23, 2007.

Charges

The charge brought against Ms. Hojati was announced as “murder.” She was charged with the murder of her temporary husband’s daughter on February 22, 2004.

The validity of the criminal charges brought against this defendant cannot be ascertained in the absence of the basic guarantees of a fair trial.

Evidence of guilt

The evidence presented against Ms. Hojati was her “confession” during interrogations, “recovery of the buried alive body of Elaheh,” in Shiyan Park, “testimonies of witnesses during the trial,” and the forensics report.

Eleven days after her arrest, Ms. Hojati confessed to murder at the Intelligence Police Office 10 during so called “technical police interrogations.” She stated that because of her intense love for Elaheh’s father, she did not want to separate from him and considered Elaheh as an obstacle. Therefore, she decided to murder her. (E’temad newspaper on June 30, 2008)

During interrogations, Ms. Hojati confessed that she dissolved 30 Diazepam pills in juice and put Elaheh to sleep. Then, she buried her alive in a pit that she dug before at a quiet spot in the Shiyan Forest Park. Some reports indicated that Ms. Hojati only confessed to the murder of the girl and did say anything about the burial location.

Six days after her disappearance, Elaheh’s body was recovered from the Shiyan Forest Park on February 29, 2004 at 7:35. After performing an autopsy, the forensics’ report declared the cause of death as “suffocation due to entrance of external objects into the respiratory tract.” (E’temad Melli newspaper on January 29, 2008)

The school janitor and two mothers of Elaheh’s classmates were present during the trial and testified as witnesses that they had seen Ms. Hojati leaving the school with Elaheh on the day of the incident. The school janitor pointed at Ms. Hojati and stated: “That day, this woman took Elaheh from the school on the pretext of buying a snack.” Then, Maryam, the mother of a classmate, stood before the court and said: “That day I drove my daughter to school when I noticed Tayebeh’s suspicious movements. The poor girl’s step mother was hidden behind a car before she took Elaheh’s hand and walked away.” (Iscanews)

During the trial, Elaheh’s father stated that an hour after the disappearance of his daughter, when he went to school and showed a picture of Ms. Hojati to her classmates, he became certain that Ms. Hojati had taken Elaheh with her. Therefore, he went to Ms. Hotati’s house and realized that she was not there. Mr. Karimpur referred to the history of abuse of Elaheh by Ms. Hojati and said: “Tayebeh used to detain my daughter in a room all the time.” (Mitra Khal’atbari’s weblog) He also emphasized that the reason for his separation from Ms. Hojati was her abuse of his daughter and the fact that she did not take care of her.

International human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for its systematic use of severe torture and solitary confinement to obtain confessions from detainees and have questioned the authenticity of confessions obtained under duress.

Defense

During all court sessions and the first interrogation after transferring from the Intelligence Police, Ms. Hojati denied all her confessions of kidnapping and murdering Elaheh and stated that her confessions was taken under pressure and torture by agents of the Intelligence Police. “I said whatever they dictated to me.”

At the Public Prosecution O ffice, and in all three trial sessions at the Province Criminal Court, Ms. Hojati disavowed her previous confessions and stated that her her confession had been made under duress and were not true.

In her defense during the first trial session, she stated: “I did not hate Elaheh. She was a very good girl and listened to me. I loved her and she was like my own child. I even liked my family. My problem was with my husband’s family. If I were to murder anyone, definitely, that person would not be Elaheh.” (E’temad newspaper on August 24, 2006)

During the trial sessions and in their defense statements to the Supreme Court, Ms. Hojati’s two attorneys pointed out several procedural errors and content objections during the investigation, interrogation, and trial of their client. Mr. Marzban Taheri, a defense attorney, questioned the authenticity of his client’s confession during interrogations and stated that there were no interrogation papers between February 29 to March 10, 2004 when she confessed, and stated: “There are no interrogation forms. It’s not clear that what my client was doing at the Intelligence Office during this period. If she was interrogated by inspector Honarmand, how come there is not even one page about the investigation?” (Hamshahri, October 28, 2004)

“I said whatever they dictated to me.”

In their appeal filing during the first trial session, Ms. Hojati’s attorneys listed 13 objections to the forensics report which resulted in referring the case to experts of the Forensics Office for reevaluation. (E’temad newspaper on October 4, 2006) According what the attorneys stated during the trial, tests performed by the Forensics Office regarding the time and cause of death were inconsistent with what Ms. Hojati confessed. According to the forensics report, the time of death was between 48 and 72 hours before February 29, 2004; however, according Ms. Hojati’s confession, she had murdered the girl several hours after her disappearance on February 22, 2004, six days before the body was recovered. Additionally, during her confession, Ms. Hojati stated that she had put Elaheh to sleep using 30 Diazepam pills before burying her. However, there is no indication of the sleeping drug in the forensics report that listed the cause of death as “suffocation due to entrance of external objects into the respiratory tract.”

“If she was interrogated by inspector Honarmand, how come there is not even one page about the investigation?”

Another issue that was dubious and needed investigation, according to Ms. Hojati’s attorneys, was the statement made by Elaheh’s grandmother indicating that she fed the girl at 11:30 a.m. before sending her to school. If Ms. Hojati took the girl from school at noon and murdered her, there should have been food in her stomach; however, there was no sign of any food in her stomach [in the autopsy]. Ms. Hojati’s attorney referred to the contradictions of the two forensics reports and stated: “Forensics doctors had twice offered their opinion regarding this case and each time it has become more ambiguous. Therefore, I ask for the presence of the Forensics Committee members in order to answer questions verbally.”

In response to these contradictions, two forensics doctors participated during the second trial session on May 23, 2007. They stated that knowing the exact time of death was impossible because of the necessary factors, atmospheric conditions, the buried body, changing soil at the burial location, and the rotten corpse. Additionally, some time after the death, the toxicology test result cannot be definite: “The toxicology test result always indicates a plus or minus percentage incorrectness.” (Iscanews)

The burial location, according to Ms. Hojati’s attorneys, was another issue that was inconsistent with Ms. Hojati being the murderer. Because of her body type, she could not carry a six-year-old unconscious child to the top of the hill through such an uneven route.

According what the attorneys stated during the trial, tests performed by the Forensics Office regarding the time and cause of death were inconsistent with what Ms. Hojati confessed.

Ms. Hojati’s attorneys emphasized that no one had seen her murder the girl. They expressed doubts about testimonies of witnesses against Ms. Hojati based on her resemblance to Elaheh’s mother. Ms. Hojati’s attorneys emphasized that she had been at home when Elaheh was kidnapped and the neighbors had seen her. They asked the court to summon more witnesses. Mr. Marzban Taheri introduced two witnesses to the court: “First witness is a sergeant, who was present when the body was recovered, and has described detailed information. The other witness is a woman named Shahnaz Kheiri, the mother of a student who made statements contradicting the other two witnesses.”

During the final court session, Ms. Shahnaz Kheiri testified as a witness and stated that on the day of victim’s disappearance, “I saw Tayebeh without a veil wearing a white jacket pass by our door around 12:30 or 1 p.m.” She continued: “The defendant came to our house along with her mother and told me to testify that I have seen her there [at our house].”

Another ambiguous point regarding the charge of murder against Ms. Hojati, according to her attorneys, were the statements made by the park’s guards. They considered it improbable that a body could stay in the Lavizan Park for a week without them seeing it. According to Ms. Hojati’s attorney, “First of all, considering the cold weather, rain, and snow in March, whatever was buried under the surface would be recognized. Secondly, beasts such as jackals and dogs would find it. In addition, police always patrol the forest and control the park.” (E’temad newspaper on August 24, 2006)

Ms. Hojati’s attorney told the court: “The time of the day when it is claimed Tayebeh kidnapped the child in front of the school and taken her to Shiyan (park) had been a busy time. Many students are off from schools and come to the park. In addition, the guard station overlooks the burial location. Therefore, Tayebeh never could do such a thing in the day light (Hamshahri).”

A Summary of the Defects of Ms. Hojati’s Legal Proceedings

There are certain ambiguities and contradictions in the late Tayebeh Hojati’s case. These ambiguities are such that they can render the court decision without merit. [The existence of] a number of these ambiguities was confirmed by the Supreme Court in the course of the adjudication. We will conduct a legal analysis of the case as follows:

1. After being arrested for the murder of Elaheh Karimpur, Tayebeh Hojati confessed to the murder. In her statements at the Criminal Investigations Office and the Prosecutor’s Office, all of which are considered preliminary stages of investigation, she stated that she had gotten the victim out of school, had given her sedatives, and had buried her alive in the forest. On one occasion, the defendant stated at the Prosecutor’s Office that her statements and her confession had been made under duress and were not true. Further, in three trial sessions at the Province Criminal Court, she disavowed her previous confessions and denied having murdered Elaheh. According to Iranian laws, it is illegal to put a defendant under duress in order to obtain a confession, and any confession so obtained is invalid. Principle 38 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran provides: “All forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confessions or acquiring information are forbidden. Compulsion of individuals to testify, confess, or take an oath is not permissible, and any testimony, confession, or oath obtained under duress is devoid of value and credence. Violation of this article is liable to punishment in accordance with the law.” Similarly, the Law on Respecting Legitimate Freedoms and Protecting Citizens Rights of 2004, Paragraph 9, provides: “All manner of torture of the accused to obtain a confession or to force him/her to do any other act is prohibited. Any confessions thus obtained have no legal merit or legitimacy.” Tayebeh claimed the confession made at the Criminal Investigations Office was obtained under duress. It was necessary for the judges to ascertain the veracity of this claim and interrogate the agents conducting interrogations in the case; nothing of the sort was done, however, during the adjudication process.

Furthermore, pursuant to Iranian law, including the Islamic Penal Code and the Law on General and Revolutionary Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure, admissions and confessions are legally valid only when made before the ruling judge. The Law on General and Revolutionary Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure, Note to Article 59, which was in force at the time of the adjudication of this case, provides: “In cases where the court issues a ruling based on the defendant’s confession, or a witness’ testimony, or a testimony about a witness’ testimony, it is mandatory that such confession and/or testimony be made before the court.” In other words, although confession to a non-judge is considered evidence, if the judge relies on the confession and/or admission to issue his ruling, however, it is mandatory that the judge have heard such confession first hand. A confession made to an investigating judge and/or law enforcement officers cannot, therefore, form a basis for the judge’s ruling. Accordingly, it was necessary, first, that the court investigate whether Tayebeh was under duress or not, and second, disregard the confession made in the preliminary stages since the defendant had, in all stages of the trial, denied having committed murder, and had declared her previous confessions false.

2. After examining Elaheh Karimpur’s body, the medical examiner’s office reported that death was due to asphyxiation caused by entry of a foreign object into the respiratory tract. The report confirmed that the victim was buried while she was still alive. This portion of the coroner’s report conforms to the defendant’s initial confession in preliminary investigations; other portions, however, indicate that the defendant’s confession at the Criminal Investigations Office was completely false. In preliminary interrogations, the defendant had stated that she had given a considerable amount of sedatives to the victim, whereas the coroner confirmed that there were no signs of said drugs in her body. In other words, the medical examiner’s test results are in conflict with the defendant’s initial statements. Furthermore, the time of murder declared by the defendant in her initial statements does not correspond with the medical examiner’s report. The time of murder determined by the coroner is four days apart from the time stated by the defendant. This contradiction [and time difference] is so serious as to prove the falsity of Tayebeh’ statements in the preliminary investigations. The Supreme Court took notice of this contradiction and considered it a defect of the investigations. The defendant’s attorneys also reiterated this ambiguity at all stages of the trial and demanded that it be rectified. Province Criminal Court Branch 74 judges summoned officials of the medical examiner’s office to court but the ambiguities were not clarified. Ultimately, the judges issued a decision without making an effort to clarify these contradictions. These ambiguities are an indication of, on the one hand, the falsity of the defendant’s confession at the interrogation stage, and on the other, the lack of necessary and sufficient investigations by the judges. Therefore, since this significant contradiction was not resolved and the judges made no further efforts to do so, the court decision is defective.

3. In criminal cases, investigations must be precise and sufficient. In other words, it is not possible to render a decision in the absence of thorough investigations of all aspects of the case. It appears that the necessary investigations were not conducted in this case. [In fact,] due to defects in the investigations, the court decision was overruled the first time the case was sent to the Supreme Court, and an order was issued to complete said investigations. Even upon renewed adjudication, however, it appears that necessary and sufficient investigations were not conducted. Defense attorneys introduced several witnesses to the court but the court took no action to hear their testimony. The court could also have taken other actions to discover [the truth], including going over video recordings from traffic cameras and/or other places in the relevant location. Furthermore, the defendant’s initial confession indicated that the victim’s clothes had been taken off and that she had been buried without her clothes on. If the victim was not wearing any clothing, it was necessary to take action to discover her clothes so that the clothing, and/or the victim’s body, could be tested for the presence or absence of the defendant’s fingerprints thereon, and thus determine her criminal conduct. It was imperative that the victim’s body and clothes be tested for any trace or mark the murderer may have left, and if necessary, take steps for DNA testing. All of these actions could have provided leads for getting to the bottom of the case but the court showed no inclination to carry out such investigations, and solely relied on traditional methods such as confession and witness testimony.

4Province Criminal Court Branch 74 judges issued their ruling based on [the concept of] “the judge’s knowledge.” The judge’s knowledge must be based on very strong evidence. It appears that the judges considered the defendant’s confession in the interrogation stage, witnesses’ testimony, and the medical examiner’s report, as evidence, and issued the “Qesas-e-Nafs” (“life for a life” retribution) sentence [on that basis], whereas, the witnesses had simply testified to the victim being taken out of school by the defendant; in other words there was no testimony regarding murder and burial of the victim by the defendant. Furthermore, the defendant had not confessed to anything at the trial stage, had denied having committed the murder, and had declared her confession in interrogations false. The coroner’s report also contains ambiguities and defects. These three factors were not strong enough to constitute [and result in] “the judge’s knowledge,” that is, they were not strong enough to prove murder. It seems, therefore, that the court’s decision is not solid enough and was issued based on insufficient and weak evidence.

Judgment

Branch 74 of the Criminal Court of Tehran first condemned Ms. Tayabeh Hojati to death on November 5, 2004. The Supreme Court rejected the ruling based on defects in the investigation and referred it to Branch 74. After a retrial on May 23, 2007, Branch 74 of the Criminal Court of Tehran repeated the death sentence against Ms. Hojati for the second time. Branch 37 of the Supreme Court confirmed the ruling on January 29, 2008 and the Head of Judiciary approved it. (Mardomsalari and Ebtekar newspapers, February 29, 2008)

In July of 2008, after the date of execution of Ms. Hojati was announced, her attorneys sent a letter to the Head of Judiciary, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahrudi, asking for time to get the victim’s family’s pardon. Their request was accepted; however, they were unsuccessful in obtaining the pardon from Elaheh’s parents. Ms. Hojati was finally hanged in the Evin Prison on December 24, 2008.

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*other sources:

Newspapers such as the Khabar-e Jonub on May 27, 2007, Mardomsalari on January 30, 2008, Ebteckar on May 24, 2007 and on January 30, 2008, E’temad on December 31, 2007 and August 24, 2006, E’temad Melli on February 28, 2008, Javan on January 6, 2007 and October 28, 2004, Jamejam on January 4, 2007, Sharq on February 2, 2006, April 14, 2004, and March 8, 2004, Ettela’at and Iran on November 7, 2004, Hamshahri on October 28, 2004, and Hamvatan Salam on November 6, 2004, and the website of Women in Iran in September of 2006, Radio Farda on October 29, 2004, and the weblog of Mitra Kahl’atbari on January 5, 2007.

 

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