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Situation of Iran's Minorities Raised at 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty

Public execution in Iran
ECPM (Ensemble contre la peine de mort) convened the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty on 21-23 June 2016 in Oslo, Norway, to discuss ways forward in the abolition of the death penalty. 

The event gathered around 1000 participants (ministers, diplomats, parliamentarians, academics, lawyers and members of civil society), among which Ms Monireh Shirani (Balochistan Human Rights Group, Sweden) who presented her view on the state of death penalty among migrants and minorities in Iran. 

Baloch, Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks and Turkmen are being systematically discriminated against and have less access to legal resources to defend themselves than the rest of the population, which results in minorities being the most threatened by executions. 

Iran is currently among the top countries when it comes to the number of executions in the past 5 years.

Below is the speech of Ms Monireh Shirani:

Ethnic minorities have long suffered discrimination as they have been viewed with suspicion and considered outsiders or foreign conspirators. The Amnesty report for 2015-16 states that "Iran's disadvantaged ethnic groups, Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen, continued to report that the state authorities systematically discriminated against them, particularly in employment, housing, access to political office, and the exercise of cultural, civil and political rights."

Executions are part of the state policy in dealing with the ethnic minorities, to punish any cultural or political act. The large-scale executions of political and ideological dissidents have resulted in Iran being in the top countries when it comes to number of executions during the last 5 years. Other reasons are that the ethnic minorities also have less access to the legal resources needed to defend themselves due to a discriminatory system, poverty, marginalization and living in militarized zone.

There is a clear over representation of the Ahwazi arabs, Baloch and Kurds on the death row and in executions. Iran executed nearly 1000 prisoners last year, the majority of these executions were prisoners' sentence to death for drug-related offenses. Under Iran's current drug laws possession of 30 grams of heroin or cocaine would qualify for the death penalty.

Iran views these number as a great victory and defends its acts because they claim that they are in a war on drugs. Some of those who were convicted for drug related offenses were actually political dissidents. In Balochistan entire adult male populations from singled out villages have been executed, the regime fully admit to this and refers to the war on drugs and drug trafficking as crimes which have to be met with mass execution. Some of them were executed without trials others had trials conducted behind closed doors, before biased judges and in absence of legal representations.

One can wonder how this is possible on a large scale.

Well, charges of act on national security and drug related offenses, are among the charges routinely used on ethnic minorities, fall within the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary court which is one for the strictest Judicial bodies.

The Revolutionary court consists of essentially closed meetings, the right of defense is ignored. The accused is not informed of his or her right to adequate defense. The right to assistance of interpretation of the proceedings in his or her mother tongue as Farsi is not the mother tongue of the ethnic minorities not given.

The family is prohibited to participate in the deliberations of the case. The courts is by law obliged to inform the accused of the verdict by sending a copy of the decision to his place of residence and from that time there is a 20 day appeal possibility. The Revolutionary court fails to follow its legal obligations and violates the accused's rights, because they don't send a copy, the family is not notified in time.

The accused are usually moved to different locations, in different regions as a strategy to isolate the accused. This places a challenge on the prisoner because it makes it hard for the family to visit and give adequate support.

In Iran there are thousands of minors in prison, often sentenced to death while underage and executed when coming to age. On the 27th of April Mohammad Sanchouli 22 years old was executed in Balochistan. He was arrested and convicted when he was 17 years old and spent 5 years in prison.

The obstacles confronted by minorities facing the death penalty is on the individual level impossible to tackle. The strategies and the ambiguity of the system is difficult for the individual and his/her family to overcome. Rather than finding reasonable evidence for the commission of a crime, judges generally rely on confessions, which have often been coerced through physical and psychological torture. Iranian television continue to broadcast self-incriminating testimonies of ethnic minority detainees even before their opening trial, undermining their fundamental rights of defendants to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Last year in Ahwaz 5 prisoners were arrested in April and on in June they were brought in front of state TV by the Ministry of Information to make public confessions. These public confessions are frequent used when lack of evidence. For example in 2012 in Balochistan ten people were arrested for an assassination.

Confessions were broadcast on state TV. Some of them received long sentenced others were sentenced to death. A few years after the security forces arrested another 18 people for the same crime for which the people in 2012 had been tried and convicted for.

Most of the minority prisoners have been arbitrary arrested. We have cases of security forces raiding homes and arresting people without warrants. In Ahwaz last year more than 75 people were arrested after a demonstration and for months their whereabouts were unknown to their families.

"Waging war against God" (Moharebeh) enmity against God is one of the leading charges used by the Iranian regime to justify the inhuman executions of ethnic minorities groups in Iran. Other common charges against minorities sentences to death are charges of corruption on earth (Mofsid fil-arz), drug related offences and acts against national security. Another vulnerable group is religious minorities such as the Bahai who are also usually charged with espionage and acts against national security.

A few weeks ago, the Iranian government executed 5 Kurdish prisoners in the northwestern city of Urmia. They were hung publicly on charges of "conspiring against the Islamic Republic of Iran". They were human rights activists who used to document violations by security forces against civilians in the Kurdish city of Urmia. The regime is quick to state examples by using public hangings to discourage any form of activity in the regions. Many of these hangings take up to 20 minutes, a slow and painful death. The body is often left for a time before removed from the scene.

We the diaspora and the civil society living outside Iran depend on the United Nations as a tool to challenge the ongoing oppression in Iran. The UN's office on drugs and crime, the anti-drug agency has a multi-million dollar funding package, which includes EU money, for Iran's counter narcotics trafficking program. Iran's war on drugs have not resulted in the population being less addicted to drugs but rather resulted in mass executions of ethnic minorities. The international community needs to raise concern over the lack of the administration of justice in this war on drugs.

This money should be conditional and the UN should demand that the capital punishment for drug related offense not be used, put pressure on the country to give the accused a fair trial and access to judicial system. The UN should at least demand that the Special rapporteurs be given access to the country as a condition.

The strategy is to continue to work against the death penalty. To work with wide networks of law makers, lawyers, NGO's and activists to create new strategies towards universal abolition of the death penalty.

Other tactics to challenge the status quo is Social media and media. Iran does not expose its execution records, it's quite hard to obtain full court records. Bridging the information gap is key. In Zahedan prison in April 8 men were executed. We still don't know the full identity of five of them. The civil society outside as well as in side Iran plays an important role in creating records and bring the information out. The state TV often dehumanize ethnic minorities in national media, promoting a discourse of uncivilized, barbaric, drug lord and illiterate people living in dangerous areas. People in the central part never see the regions of the minorities and so the only information that they have of us is the state's portrayal. That's why media coverage to is important so that the state narrative can be challenged.

Source: unpo.org, June 28, 2016

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