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

Ya'qub Mehrnahad

About

Age: 28
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Sunni)
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Killing: August 4, 2008
Location of Killing: Zahedan Prison, Zahedan, Sistan Va Baluchestan Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: Sympathizing with anti-regime guerilla groups

About this Case

The execution of Mr. Ya’qub Mehrnahad was announced on August 4, 2008 on the website of Human Rights Activists in Iran and the Iranian Students News Agency of Sistan and Baluchestan province. Additional information has been drawn from his own weblog (mehrnehad.blogfa.com), Amnesty International reports (Feb. 12 and Mar. 12, 2008), the Amirkabir University (Tehran Polytechnic) Students’ Forum News (AUTNEWS Feb. 11, Feb. 20, Aug. 5, 2008), Radio Balooch website (Sweden, Feb. 9, 2008) and Norooz News (Aug. 6, 2008).

Mr. Merhnahad, a 28-year old father of three and an ethnic Baluch, was a journalist and a civil society activist. He was the head of the Voice of Justice Young People’s Society, an organization founded in 2002 and registered by the National Youth Organization (a state agency). The Society’s mandate includes education and assistance to the disadvantaged. It provides courses and professional training. It also focuses on discrimination issues and accountability.

The Organization holds an annual meeting called “Questioning Youth, Accountable Authorities” in April/May during which social problems are discussed with local authorities. Members of the Central Council of the Society are elected every year by the Society’s members. Mr. Mehrnahad was elected the executive director of the Society for three consecutive terms. He was also a journalist and editor-in-chief of the Mardomsalary [Democracy] newspaper (AUTNEWS, Feb. 11, 2008).

Mr. Mehrnahad’s stated goal was to eliminate what he believed to be the root causes of violence, which characterizes his region. He called for social justice, accessible education, and end to discrimination. He rejected violence and promoted activism within the legal framework. He believed that “the only way to provide security is through justice, eradication of poverty and discrimination and unemployment” (his blog, Feb 28, 2007). Therefore, in 2006, he attempted to run for the City Council in Zahedan but his candidacy was rejected (his blog, Dec. 9, 2006). Mr. Mehrnahad, who attributed the authorities’ rejection to his campaign for human rights and transparency, did not give up promoting rights and non-violence:

“I believe that the right to freedom of expression and freedom of thought and defending human rights while respecting other people’s rights and dignity and while maintaining security and public order are my religious and legal duties … Some expected that by rejecting [my] candidacy, they would attract young people into the arena of violent struggle…but they ignore the fact that young people are too aware and know how to fight for their ideals without violence. We will pursue a wide scale struggle against monopoly and tyranny by rejecting violence. We are convinced that the future is ours and we will succeed acting with wisdom and rejecting violence because if the oppressed use violence as do the oppressors, there is no difference between them” (his blog, Dec. 12, 2006).

According to Norooz News, Mr. Mehrnahad was first arrested in March/April 2007 for “having written an article on his blog, criticizing the authorities of Sistan and Baluchestan province and calling for their resignation or dismissal.” The date of his release from prison is not known.

At the time of Mehrnahad’s second arrest, his 16-year old brother, Ebrahim, and three other members of the Voice of Justice Young People’s Society were also arrested. They were all released after a few months of detention.

Arrest and detention

Mr. Ya’qub Mehrnahad was arrested at the annual meeting “Questioning Youth, Accountable Authorities” in early May 2007. Some state officials were reportedly present at this meeting. There were various irregularities during his detention. Mr. Mehrnahad was detained for 5 months in various detention centers of the Ministry of Intelligence and had no contact with his family or attorney. He was then transferred to Zahedan’s central prison where he was held for another two months. His first visit with his family probably took place in this prison, 5 months after his arrest. He was tried on December 25, 2007. Instead of receiving his sentence, expected 10 days after the trial, he was returned to the detention center of the Ministry of Intelligence to be interrogated again; he was again denied visits. (AUTNEWS, Feb 11, 2008).

On February 19, 2008, “Ya’qub Mehrnahad’s family was allowed to visit him for 10 minutes after 50 days [of not having any visits] (AUTNEWS, Feb. 20, 2008). During visits, Mr. Mehrnahad stated that he was pressurized to confess to the alleged charges. His family noticed that he had been tortured; he had lost a lot of weight and was unable to keep his balance (AI, Feb. 12, 2008). In one of the visits, they were warned against speaking Baluchi; they had to speak in Farsi (AI, Mar. 12, 2008).

Trial

Mr. Mehrnahad was tried on December 25, 2007 at the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal of Zahedan, without the presence of a jury, his attorney, or his family (AUTNEWS, Aug. 5, 2008). Amnesty International stated that it was an “unfair trial conducted behind closed doors” (AI, Feb. 12, 2008).

Charges

Mr. Ya’qub Mehrnahad was charged with “membership in and cooperation with the terrorist group of Jondallah” (ISNA).

Jondallah is an armed group calling for the respect of the rights of the Baluchi people, who make up 1-3 percent of the Iranian population and who are mostly Sunni Muslims. Jondallah has carried out a number of armed attacks against Iranian officials and has sometimes taken hostages and killed them. Iranian officials have accused its members of drug trafficking and many have reportedly been executed as such (AI, Feb 12, 2008).

The validity of the criminal charges brought against this defendant cannot be ascertained in the absence of the basic guarantees of a fair trial. International human rights organizations have drawn attention to reports indicating that the Islamic Republic’s authorities have brought trumped-up charges against their political opponents and executed them for drug trafficking, sexual, and other criminal offences. The exact number of people convicted based on trumped-up charges is unknown.

Evidence of guilt

No information is available concerning the evidence presented against the accused.

Defense

Mr. Mehrnahad was tried without the presence of his attorney. During a visit with his family, he reported to be under pressure to confess. He had stressed that “the objective of such pressures were to cover up the truth and the fact that he was prosecuted for his civil activities” (AUTNEWS, Aug. 5, 2008).

A Summary of the Defects of Mr. Ya’qub Mehrnahad’s Legal Proceedings

  • Analysis of the little legal information that exists in the late Ya’qub Mehrnahad’s case indicates that during the entire adjudication process, judicial and security authorities carried out significant illegal acts that also constituted breaches of human rights principles, thus rendering the death sentence issued in his case unjust. In addition to breaches of international human rights principles, a significant number of Iran’s domestic laws and regulations have also been disregarded. We will analyze these instances herein.
  • Based on existing official publications, Iranian judicial authorities charged Ya’qub Mehrnahad with cooperation with armed groups opposed to the Iranian regime, and with Moharebeh, whereas all the evidence shows that his activities were peaceful. He had started a society called “Sedaye Edalat” (“Voice of Justice”), which had been established with an official permit issued by the National Youth Organization. The legality of this society clearly shows that the late Mr. Mehrnahad’s activities within that framework were of a completely civil and peaceful nature and within the confines of Iranian laws. He was also the director of the Mardom Salari newspaper in Sistan and Baluchestan Province, which operated with a legal [and official] permit and had no military or armed agenda. He was also a blogger; this too was well within the framework of Iranian laws and regulations. A cursory look at his writings clearly shows that his objective was to raise awareness in the people of Baluchestan and to try to end their hardship, as well as end discriminatory policies in the region. There is not the slightest indication of advocating violence in any of his writings and speeches. To charge him with the crime of Moharebeh, therefore, had no legal basis, since the basic element of Moharebeh is armed action against the regime. At the time the sentence was issued in his case, Articles 186 and 187 of the old Islamic Penal Code [a code which has since been replaced] were the two provisions defining the crime of Moharebeh and Efsad fel-Arz, and Iranian judicial authorities condemned the late Mr. Mehrnahad to death on that basis. According to Article 186 “Members and supporters of any group or organization of people that raises arms against the Islamic regime, who are aware of the group or people or organization’s position, and conduct effective activities and efforts to advance its objectives, shall be Mohareb, so long as [the group or organization’s] core remains [intact], even though they have not participated in the military wing thereof.” Article 187 provides: “Any person or group that plans to overthrow the Islamic regime and obtains arms and explosives for that purpose, as well as persons who knowingly and willfully provide them with effective financial means and/or equipment and/or weapons, shall be Mohareb and Mofsed fel-Arz.” As can clearly be seen from these provisions, the crime of Moharebeh can be established only if an individual is a member of a group that is engaged in armed activities against the regime, or where the individual has raised arms in order to overthrow the regime, whereas all of the late Mr. Mehrnahad’s activities were civil and peaceful. Regarding certain judicial authorities’ claims of Mr. Mehrnahad’s connection to the Jondollah Group, it must be noted that, first, no evidence whatsoever to that effect has thus far been presented, and secondly, assuming that such a connection exists, it does not prove the crime of Moharebeh, since connection with an armed group cannot be considered cooperation with said group.Given the above, Iranian judicial authorities have disregarded existing Iranian law and have wrongly convicted Mr. Mehrnahad of the crime of Moharebeh and Efsad fel-Arz. 
  • Based on published reliable news, the late Mr. Mehrnahad was deprived of his right to an attorney, at least in many stages of the case. Pursuant to Iranian law, a defendant can have access to and benefit from the services of an attorney at all stages of the legal process, whereas Mr. Mehrnahad was absolutely forbidden to have an attorney during his time in the security detention center, and had limited access [at the investigation stage] at the prosecutor’s office, as well as in the courtroom at the trial stage. Based on existing reliable information, his trial was conducted without an attorney, which was completely against the law, since presence of an attorney for the purpose of defending the accused is mandatory for the crime of Moharebeh and Efsad fel-Arz. Pursuant to the Revolutionary and General Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure, Article 186, Note 1, “In the event that a defendant accused of crimes where the punishment is, by law, Qesas, execution, stoning, and life imprisonment, does not personally retain and introduce an attorney, the court shall appoint one for the defendant.” Therefore, as can be seen, where the crime consists of Moharebeh, which carries a death sentence, the presence of an attorney is mandatory, so much so that legislation has provided for a court-appointed lawyer in the event that the defendant does not retain one. Violation of this provision will undoubtedly render the trial and the court decision invalid. In the late Mr. Mehrnahad’s case, the court has conducted the trial and issued a sentence in violation of the legal requirement of the accused’s attorney presenting a defense on his behalf. The court’s action was illegal and its decision, regardless of its substance, is therefore utterly defective and without validity. 
  • In the course of a short visit with his family, the late Mr. Mehrnahad expressly and clearly stated that he had been forced to make a confession and admission [of guilt] under duress and torture, whereas under Iranian, duress and torture are illegal and considered a crime. Any admission and/or confession thus obtained is also illegal and without any validity. Principle 38 of the Iranian Constitution as well as other Iranian laws and international documents to which Iran is a signatory, have expressly alluded to that rule, going so far as to define obtaining an admission through torture as a crime, and people who perpetrate the same as criminals. Therefore, not only was security agents torture of the late Mr. Mehrnahad against the law, so was the court’s reliance on the admission obtained under duress and torture. 
  • Pursuant to Iranian law, including the Islamic Penal Code and the Revolutionary and General Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure, admissions and confessions are valid and effective only if made before the judge issuing the decision in the particular case, especially in serious crimes. Therefore, confessions made to the investigating judge and/or law enforcement agents cannot constitute the basis of a judge’s decision. The Revolutionary and General Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure, Article 59, Note 1, provides: “In cases where the defendant’s confession, a witness’ testimony and/or testimony to a witness’ testimony constitute the basis for the court’s decision, the judge making the decision in the case must personally hear [such confession and/or testimony].” Therefore, even assuming that the late Mr. Mehrnahad had confessed to the crime to the security forces, since the charge against him was commission of a serious crime, it was absolutely necessary that the court question him de novo, and ascertain the validity of the [previous] confession. Violation of the law renders the decision issued by [the city of] Zahedan Revolutionary Court invalid. 
  • Ya’qub Mehrnahad was deprived to a great extent of visitation with his family, whereas, according to the Prisons Organization’s Rules of Procedure, visitation is a prisoner’s right and judicial authorities cannot deprive him/her of the right to visitation without a valid legal reason. Not only is such deprivation a breach of the prisoner’s right, but in this particular case, the result was that Mr. Mehrnahad’s family had no information about his physical condition and his legal status; this was most certainly significant in intensifying the torture and in the unjust and secretive nature of the adjudication of his case. 
  • The Zahedan Revolutionary Court conducted a closed and secretive trial in the case of Ya’qub Mehrnahad’s. Pursuant to Iranian law, the rule is to conduct trials in public and there must be a valid legal reason to justify conducting a closed door trial. The result of Mr. Mehrnahad’s closed trial was that the judge was able to easily carry out his illegal acts with peace of mind and without fear of public scrutiny. In other words, the closed door nature of the trial exposes the injustice in the late Mr. Mehrnahad’s case more than ever. 
  • After the Revolutionary Court’s ruling, his family intended to retain a lawyer to represent him. Information Ministry agents, however, prevented them from doing so by way of ruse and threats, whereas no authority can prohibit an individual from carrying out lawful activities for the benefit of his/her case, including retaining a lawyer. 
  • The late Mr. Mehrnahad’s appeal of the Revolutionary Court’s decision to the Supreme Court, within the short allotted 20-day period, was not accepted and the Revolutionary Court’s ruling was upheld, which begs the following question: In a system where the appeal process takes months and even years, why was it that in as important and heavily charged a case as Mr. Mehrnahad’s, the authorities acted so swiftly and expeditiously? Is it at all possible to read, analyze, and render a decision in such a case in 20 days, some of which were certainly spent sending the case from Zahedan to Tehran and performing administrative formalities? This hasty move by judicial authorities was a complete violation of existing legal procedure in Iran and is indicative of their will to execute Ya’qub Mehrnahad. 

In conclusion, the late Mr. Mehrnahad’s execution was carried out outside the legal framework and in violation of the laws. It seems that in so doing, Iranian authorities were looking at the case from a security and political perspective. The above clearly indicates that the principles of fair trial were not observed in Mr. Mehrnahad’s case and that his execution was done hastily and in violation of the law.

Judgment

The Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal of Zahedan found Ya’qub Mehrnahad guilty of “being at war with God and corruption on earth through cooperation and membership in the terrorist group of Jondallah” and sentenced him to death. The verdict was delivered to his family on February 7, 2008. On February 11, the spokesperson of the Judiciary stated that Mr. Mehrnahad could appeal this verdict (AUTNEWS, Feb. 20, 2008). The appeal was scheduled on 17 February though, by law, defendants have a minimum of 20 days to prepare their appeal. (AI, Feb 12, 2008).

Based on the available information, the authorities pressured and intimidated Mr. Mehrnahad’s family when they attempted to contact attorneys in Tehran and publicize the case in the media. They promised his family that the sentence would be commuted (AUTNEWS, Aug. 5, 2008)

The Supreme Court approved the death sentence, however. Mr. Ya’qub Mehrnahad was hanged, along with another individual named Abdonnaser Taheri Sadr, in Zahedan’s central prison on August 4, 2008.

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