Copyright Amnesty International



(This report covers the period January-December 1997)

Hundreds of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, were held. Some were detained without charge or trial; others were serving long prison sentences imposed after unfair trials. Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported. Judicial punishments of flogging were carried out. Several “disappearances” and possible extrajudicial executions were reported. At least 143 people were executed, including possible prisoners of conscience, and an unknown number remained under sentence of death, some after unfair trials.

In May Hojjatoleslam val Moslemin Sayed Mohammad Khatami was elected President. In his first press conference, he was reported to have said: “We hope to gradually witness a more legal society. with more clearly defined rights and duties for citizens and the government”.

The government continued to face armed opposition from the Iraq-based People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) and organizations such as the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), Arab groups in Khuzestan, and Baluchi groups in Sistan-Baluchistan.

The UN Special Representative on the Islamic Republic of Iran stated in his report to the UN General Assembly in October that “There are certainly many areas in which change is required in order to meet existing international norms and. to respect the freedom and dignity of the Iranian people”. He noted the apparent continuing sharp increase in the use of the death penalty and called on the government, “as a matter of urgency”, to reverse this trend.

Incidents of civil unrest were reported in several parts of the country. In February scores of oil workers were arrested, following apparently non-violent protests in Tehran, the capital, over pay and conditions. Most were later released, but two oil workers died in custody and several dozen oil workers, and up to 50 workers from the food and textile industries who were arrested subsequently, were believed to remain in detention at the end of the year.

Prisoners of conscience held during the year included at least 12 members of the Baha'i religious minority, four of whom were under sentence of death. In January the Supreme Court confirmed the death sentences against Dhabihullah Mahrami and Musa Talibi. Reports suggested that although they had been charged with apostasy, they were convicted of espionage (see Amnesty International Report 1997).

Faraj Sarkouhi, a magazine editor who “disappeared” for about seven weeks in 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997), was released from unacknowledged detention in December 1996 and rearrested at the end of January 1997. He was tried in camera in September by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran on charges of spreading “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran”, and was sentenced to one year's imprisonment. He was a prisoner of conscience.

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri was reportedly arrested in mid-November by the security forces, after making a speech which apparently criticized the leadership of Iran and which provoked widespread demonstrations against him in several cities. He was believed to have been held under house arrest in Qom for several years (see Amnesty International Report 1997). After his arrest, his son was reported to have been badly beaten and his offices ransacked, allegedly by the security forces. By the end of the year, there was no indication of his whereabouts nor any details of the charges against him.

Ebrahim Yazdi, leader of the Iran Freedom Movement, an opposition group, was reportedly called for questioning by revolutionary prosecutors, then arrested and taken to Evin prison. The day before his arrest, Ebrahim Yazdi had signed a petition in support of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. He was released on bail in late December. Akbar Ghanji, publisher of the literary magazine Rah-e Now (the New Way) and a member of the Iran Freedom Movement, was reportedly arrested in December. He remained held without charge at the end of the year.

Shi'a religious leaders opposed to government policies, and scores of their followers, continued to be detained. Most were possible prisoners of conscience. Some were held without trial; others were imprisoned following unfair trials. At least three Grand Ayatollahs were believed to remain under house arrest, including Grand Ayatollah Sayed Hassan Tabataba'i-Qomi, who was reportedly denied access to medical treatment for heart disease. Ayatollah Ya'sub al-Din Rastgari also reportedly remained under house arrest (see Amnesty International Report 1997).

Several followers of Grand Ayatollah Sayed Mohammad Shirazi were detained during the year. In January Sheikh Mohammad Amin Ghafoori, a well-known religious figure and writer, his wife, and Sayed Hossein Fali were arrested in Qom. There were reports that they were beaten during arrest and tortured in detention. Sayed Hossein Fali was reported to have been released in June. Sheikh Mohammad Amin Ghafoori was said to have been sentenced in July to two and a half years' imprisonment by the Special Court for the Clergy, whose procedures fell far short of international standards. In October, five other followers of Grand Ayatollah Shirazi, including Reza Sultani, were reported to have been arrested and they remained held incommunicado at the end of the year.

Seven students arrested in November 1995, apparently on account of their links with Grand Ayatollah Shirazi (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997), were released in June. However, two of them, Aman Allah Bushehri and Sheikh Mohammad Qahtani, were reportedly rearrested in July and August respectively.

Several followers of Grand Ayatollah Shirazi were released during the year, including Mohammad Fazel Mohammad al-Saffar and Mohammad Ghaffari, who were conditionally released in January.

Members of minorities continued to be arrested. For example, Dimitri Bellos, a church worker, was reportedly arrested in August in Isfahan, days before he was due to leave Iran, and held incommunicado until October when he was reportedly allowed one family visit. He was reported to have been conditionally released in December pending further inquiries.

Other political prisoners, arrested in previous years and held without charge or trial, included scores of people arrested following demonstrations in Tabriz (see Amnesty International Report 1997) and hundreds of others arrested on suspicion of offences such as espionage, “propagating pan-Turkism” or “counter-revolution”.

Political prisoners continued to be unfairly tried (see previous Amnesty International Reports). Detainees were reportedly denied access either to any legal counsel or to a lawyer of their choice, despite legislation providing for the right to legal representation. Trials before special courts, such as the Special Court for the Clergy, fell far short of international standards.

    Political prisoners serving long prison terms after unfair trials included supporters of the PMOI; at least 10 members of the Mohajerin movement (followers of Dr 'Ali Shari'ati); members of left-wing organizations such as the Tudeh Party, Peykar, and factions of the Organization of People's Fedaiyan of Iran; supporters of Kurdish groups such as Komala and the KDPI; and supporters of other groups representing ethnic minorities such as Baluchis and Arabs.     Former Deputy Prime Minister 'Abbas Amir Entezam, a possible prisoner of conscience, who had been held in a government-owned house in Tehran (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997), was reportedly told in May that he was free to leave the house.

    Reports of torture and ill-treatment continued throughout the year. Most of the detained followers of Grand Ayatollah Shirazi, including the five arrested since July, were reportedly tortured. Methods included beatings, severe burns, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, threatened executions and threats to relatives.

    At least two people arrested following the protests by oil workers in February (see above) were reported to have died in custody as a result of torture. Hashem Kameli, who was said to suffer from a heart condition, reportedly died as a result of torture. Gholam Barzegar reportedly died after being beaten with rifle butts by Revolutionary Guards. No independent investigations were known to have been carried out into these deaths or into deaths in custody in previous years.

    Judicial punishments amounting to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, including flogging and stoning, continued to be imposed. Sentences of flogging were reported for a wide range of offences, sometimes in conjunction with prison sentences or the death penalty (see below).

    “Disappearances” continued to be reported. Morteza Firouzi, the editor of Iran News, “disappeared” for over 10 weeks following his arrest in June. In November an Iranian newspaper reported that he had been arrested on espionage charges. The whereabouts of 'Ali Tavassoli, who went missing in Azerbaijan in 1995, remained unknown (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997).

    Several people were killed in circumstances suggesting that they may have been extrajudicially executed. In February the body of Abraham Zalzadeh, a magazine editor, was found, reportedly with multiple stab wounds. His magazine, Me'yar, was said to have been forced to close after it published an article criticizing the government. Reports suggested that he may have been arrested and killed by members of the Iranian secret service. The authorities apparently failed to investigate his death.

    Further evidence emerged that the Iranian authorities were responsible for the killings of Iranian dissidents, both inside Iran and abroad, in previous years. In April, four men were convicted by a German court of killing three leaders of the KDPI and an interpreter in the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin in 1992. The court found that the killings had been ordered by Iran's political leadership through a “Committee for Special Operations”, whose members were reported to include the Leader of the Islamic Republic, the President, the Minister of Information and Security and other security officials. The Iranian authorities continued to deny involvement in the killings.

    The trial in Turkey continued of two men accused of killing a PMOI member in Turkey in 1992 on the orders of the Iranian authorities (see Amnesty International Reports 1993 and 1997).

    The threat of extrajudicial execution continued to extend to many Iranian nationals abroad, as well as to non-Iranians. Prominent individuals and institutions in Iran, including the head of the 15 Khordad Foundation, Ayatollah Sheikh Hassan Sanei, continued to call for the death of British writer Salman Rushdie and to offer rewards for his killing (see previous Amnesty International Reports). The UN Commission on Human Rights, in its resolution on the situation of human rights in Iran, called on the government inter alia to “provide satisfactory written assurances that it does not support or incite threats to the life of Mr Rushdie”. The government failed to condemn, or put an end to, such threats.

    The death penalty continued to be used extensively. As in previous years, it was imposed for a wide range of often vaguely worded offences _ including political offences and those relating to freedom of belief _ sometimes after unfair trials. Some executions were carried out in public. At least seven people, including five women, were sentenced to death by stoning; three men and three women were reportedly stoned to death in October in Khazar Abad. At least 143 executions were reported, although the real number was believed to be considerably higher.

    Hedayatollah Zendehdel and Abolghasem Majd-Abkahi, who were sentenced to death in July 1996 after an unfair trial on mainly political charges, were reportedly hanged in January. There were unconfirmed reports that Sheyda Khoramzadeh Isfahani, the wife of Abolghasem Majd-Abkahi, was executed in September. Of the four others tried in the same case, one, 'Alireza Yazdanshenas, was executed and three were sentenced to long prison terms and to 110 to 200 lashes (see Amnesty International Report 1997).

    In August Zoleykhah Kadkhoda was reportedly arrested, charged with having sexual relations outside marriage, and sentenced to death by stoning. She was buried up to her waist in a ditch and stoned within 24 hours of her arrest. She was reportedly confirmed as dead by doctors, but revived in the morgue and was taken to hospital. There were reports that she could face execution if she recovered. The outcome of her appeal for clemency was not known at the end of the year.

    Gholamreza Khoshrou Kouran Kordieh, who was convicted of multiple kidnap, rape and murder, was publicly hanged from a crane in Shahrak Rah-Ahan in August after receiving 214 lashes.

    Also in August, Mohammad Assadi, a lawyer sentenced to death in March after an unfair political trial, was executed. The UN Special Representative stated in his report to the UN General Assembly (see above) that he deplored the failure of the government “to respond to his request for full details of the charges brought against Mr Assadi and the conviction entered against him, and its refusal to grant clemency in a case that, according to the information available to the Special Representative, may have involved no serious criminal activity”.

    Amnesty International repeatedly called for the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience; for a review of legislation which allows for the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience; and for a review of the cases of political prisoners, so that those unfairly tried or held without trial could be promptly and fairly tried on recognizably criminal charges or released.

    The organization called on the authorities to ensure impartial and thorough investigations into allegations of torture, “disappearances” and extrajudicial executions, and to bring those responsible to justice. It also appealed for cruel, inhuman or degrading judicial punishments and death sentences to be commuted. In an open letter, Amnesty International urged the President to give urgent consideration to the patterns of serious and widespread human rights violations.

    Amnesty International continued to investigate reports that some opposition groups were holding detainees.

    In May Amnesty International published Iran: Eight years of death threats _ Salman Rushdie, and in June Iran: Human rights violations against Shi'a Religious leaders and their followers.     Amnesty International received some replies from the authorities on individual cases, but these failed to address the organization's serious concerns and its delegates continued to be denied access to the country.



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