2012 begins with 1 execution every 4 hours & more death sentences

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Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a young American of Iranian descent, charged with ‘spying’ for the US, was found guilty by Branch 15 of the Islamic Revolution Court (IRC) of moharebeh (fighting God) and sentenced to death on 9 January 2012. He had been arrested in August 2011 while visiting his relatives. On 18 December 2011, the authorities broadcast his televised ‘confessions’, where he appeared to incriminate himself and accept all the charges, well before his trial on 27 December.

It is a usual practice of the authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran to coerce or deceive detainees to make confessions and broadcast them. Iranians of dual nationality have been particularly targeted with long incommunicado detention, charges of spying and coerced confessions in the last few years, especially when the Iranian authorities need bargaining chips in their dealings with the West over nuclear or other issues. Some of the victims have been lucky to achieve their freedom after long ordeals, including two journalists Maziar Bahari and Roxana Saberi. Not everybody was so lucky, however. Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, died after blows to her skull in Evin Prison in 2003, when former Tehran Prosecutor Judge Mortezavi tried to force her to confess to spying. Mr Mortezavi is still enjoying impunity.

On the other hand, according to a 10 January report of the ‘Human Rights House of Iran’, the Iranian Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of a web designer by the name of Ahmad-Reza Hashempour. Branch 15 of the IRC sentenced Vahid Asghari, another web designer, to death on 7 January 2012. A third web designer, Sa’eed Malekpour, had already been sentenced to death for the second time in late October 2011 after the Supreme Court turned down his first death sentence. All three have been detained since 2008. In an open letter in March 2010, Messrs Asghari and Malekpour, and a third defendant – Shahrouz Vaziri – had provided details of the tortures that forced them to make false confessions.

During the first week of 2012, the Iranian authorities achieved a new record by hanging 1 person in every 4 hours. They executed 39 people in different cities, including three in public in the western city of Kermanshah. According to Amnesty International, more than 600 executions were carried out in Iran in the first 11 months of 2011. This is a marked increase over at least 553 executions recorded in the whole of 2010 and is likely to make 2011 the worst year in two decades since 1991, when at least 775 executions were recorded.1

Karim Lahidji, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and president of the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHI), said today: “In addition to the inhuman and cruel execution of hundreds of death-row prisoners in 2011, the Iranian judicial authorities have seriously violated the standards of due process and fair trial through the use of concocted charges that do not exist in modern law. We recall that in November 2011, the Human Rights Committee strongly criticised the use of ‘vaguely worded charges such as moharebeh’, coercion of defendants ‘into testifying against themselves or others or to confess guilt’ and called on the Islamic Republic ‘to consider abolishing the death penalty or at least revise the Penal Code to restrict the imposition of the death penalty to only the “most serious crimes”’ and ‘conduct all legal proceedings in full accordance with article 14 of the ICCPR.’”

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