Iran must halt hanging of Ahwazi Arab men after forced TV ‘confessions’

The planned execution, on 22 May, of two members of the Ahwazi Arab minority who were forced to “confess” on TV and are being held in an unknown location is an absolute mockery of justice which must be stopped immediately, Amnesty International said.

Ali Chebieshat and Sayed Khaled Mousawi were sentenced to death on 9 September 2013 by a Revolutionary Court in Ahvaz on the charge of “enmity against God” (moharebeh). They were forced to “confess” on TV in relation to the explosion of a natural gas pipeline close to their native village.

“The harrowing stories of Ali Chebieshat and Sayed Khaled Mousawi show how justice in Iran is seriously flawed. People are routinely forced to ‘confess’ to crimes they didn’t commit and face deeply unfair trials before being marched to the gallows,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

“The Iranian authorities are violating every rule in the book, including failing to give defendants a fair trial, presume their innocence or even share with them the verdict sentencing them to death. These executions must be halted.”

Ali Chebieshat and Sayed Khaled Mousawi were arrested in November 2012 without an arrest warrant. They were held in solitary confinement in a Ministry of Intelligence detention centre with no access to the external world for over seven months. They are believed to have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated. In court, the two men denied all the charges brought against them and their allegations of torture or other ill-treatment are not known to have been investigated.

In mid-2013, Ministry of Intelligence officials told the men’s families that they could meet with the detainees in a mosque in the village of Jarieh. When they arrived, they were told that if they agreed to be filmed while watching their relatives’ recorded “confessions”, the authorities would consider reducing their punishments.

Footage showing Ali Chebieshat and Sayed Khaled Mousawi “confessing” to their role in the explosion of a natural gas pipeline close to their native village was aired on Iran’s state-controlled Press TV and Channel 3 of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting in November 2013.

Their “confession” was used despite the fact that the director of the state-owned Khuzestan Gas Company had described the explosion as an accident.

In March 2014 officers of the Ministry of Intelligence took the two men to an unknown location, away from lawyers and their families, where they would be held in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance.

Their families had no information about Ali Chebieshat and Sayed Khaled Mousawi’s whereabouts until they received information that the Supreme Court had upheld the men’s death sentences and scheduled their execution.

Although under Iranian law lawyers must receive 48 hours’ notice of their client’s execution, the two men have not been permitted to have any contact with the outside world since March 2014 and their lawyer’s request for information has been denied.

Ali Chebieshat and Sayed Khaled Mousawi are cultural rights activists who advocated for cultural and linguistic rights of Ahwazi Arabs, one of Iran’s many minorities who live mainly in the oil-rich south-western province of Khuzestan. Ahwazis are commonly marginalized and discriminated against in access to education, employment, adequate housing political participation and cultural rights.

Iran is the second biggest executioner in the world, after China – with more than 360 people hanged in 2013 alone.