Iran: Horrifying plan to amputate fingers of four men convicted of robbery must be stopped
The international community must do everything in its power to stop Iranian authorities from amputating the fingers of four men convicted of robbery following forced “confessions” and grossly unfair trials, said Amnesty International today.
According to information obtained by the organization, the sentences against the four men, Hadi Rostami (33), Mehdi Sharfian (37), Mehdi Shahivand (42) and Kasra Karami (40), have been upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court and referred to the Centre for the Implementation of Sentences. The sentences may be carried out at any moment.
Carrying out such unspeakably inhumane punishments is not justice and underlines the cruelty of Iran’s criminal justice system.
The four men, currently held in Urumieh prison in West Azerbaijan province, are sentenced to “have four fingers on their right hands completely cut off so that only the palm of their hands and their thumbs are left”, as per the punishment stipulated for certain types of robbery under Article 278 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code.
“Carrying out such unspeakably inhumane punishments is not justice and underlines the cruelty of Iran’s criminal justice system. Amputation constitutes torture, which is a crime under international law, and an abhorrent assault on human dignity,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“We call on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally stop such shocking acts of cruelty. The international community must urgently act to ensure the sentences are quashed. The prosecution and judicial authorities responsible for ordering and executing such practices should know that they are liable to face criminal prosecution under international law.”
As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and also under customary international law, Iran is legally obliged to prohibit and punish torture – including amputation, flogging, forced blinding and stoning – in all circumstances and without exception.
Torture and unfair trials
Kasra Karami was first sentenced to having his fingers amputated by Criminal Court 1 in West Azerbaijan province on 12 February 2017. According to information obtained by Amnesty International including court documents, Branch 27 of the Supreme Court initially quashed the sentence on grounds that the complainant had not sought the punishment of amputation, and returned the case to the same court of first instance for further examination. Criminal Court 1 in West Azerbaijan province reinstated its sentence on 23 September 2017and, this time, Branch 27 of the Supreme Court upheld it on 10 December 2017. A subsequent request for judicial review was rejected by the Supreme Court.
Amputation constitutes torture, which is a crime under international law, and an abhorrent assault on human dignity.
Kasra Karami has said that, following his arrest on 12 October 2015, he was denied access to a lawyer and tortured in a detention centre in Urumieh run by the Investigation Unit of Iran’s Police (agahi) to give a “confession” that was later unlawfully used as evidence against him in court.
Hadi Rostami, Mehdi Sharfian and Mehdi Shahivand were all sentenced on 19 November 2019 to having their fingers amputated, after Criminal Court 1 in West Azerbaijan province found them guilty of breaking into the houses of four individuals and robbing safes containing gold and cash. Their trial was grossly unfair and similarly relied on forced “confessions” obtained while they were detained, without access to their lawyers, in a police detention centre run by the agahi.
Based on information obtained by Amnesty International, at least one of the men, Hadi Rostami, has repeatedly denied the charges brought against him and retracted his “confession” in court, stating that it was made under torture. Both Criminal Court 1 in West Azerbaijan province and Branch 13 of the Supreme Court failed in their obligations to exclude the “confession” as evidence and order investigations, even though the verdict of the Supreme Court, reviewed by Amnesty International, explicitly refers to Hadi Rostami’s allegations of torture.
We call on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally stop such shocking acts of cruelty. The international community must urgently act to ensure the sentences are quashed.
In a letter written to the head of the judiciary on 20 September 2020 and seen by Amnesty International, Hadi Rostami said that, during the investigation phase, agahi interrogators punched, kicked and beat him with various instruments. He also said the interrogator demanded that he sign a blank piece of paper and that he did so only when he reached the point of physical and mental collapse. Prosecution authorities subsequently added, without his knowledge, the details of his charges to the blank paper to make it appear that he had accepted the charges.
Hadi Rostami ended his letter by saying that he and his family are poor and, since his arrest four years ago, his wife has been left with no means to care for their child, who has a permanent serious disability.
Court documents reviewed by Amnesty International indicate that Kasra Karami and Mehdi Shahivand have also stated in court that they and their families are poor and they committed theft due to poverty and extreme financial needs.
Harrowing track record
The Iranian authorities have consistently defended amputation as the best way to deter theft, expressing regret that it cannot be practised in public and on a widespread basis without international condemnation.
According to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, a US-based human rights organization working on Iran, from 1 January 2000 to 24 September 2020, the Iranian authorities sentenced at least 237 people to amputation and carried out these cruel sentences in at least 129 cases. The real number of the victims is likely to be higher as many cases are believed to go unreported.
The prosecution and judicial authorities responsible for ordering and executing such practices should know that they are liable to face criminal prosecution under international law.
Dozens of prisoners are currently feared to be at risk of amputation across the country.
The victims of amputations are overwhelming from poor, vulnerable backgrounds. By deliberately maiming them, the Iranian authorities often leave them with fewer means to find work and sustain themselves, particularly in a society where people with physical disabilities face widespread discrimination.
Amnesty international is renewing its calls on members of Iran’s parliament to initiate long overdue reforms to Iran's Islamic Penal Code to put an end to all forms of corporal punishment, and move towards a criminal justice system that is focused on rehabilitating prisoners and enabling them to return to the community to lead dignified lives.