Hamid Yazdan Panah is an attorney focused on asylum and immigration in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also a human rights activist focused on the Middle East and Iran.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that Iran has secretly executed Kurdish political prisoner Saman Naseem, despite a global campaign to save his life. Naseem, was a member of the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), a Kurdish resistance organization in Iran, and arrested when he was still a minor. He was convicted of moharebe, or, “enmity with God” and sentenced to death. Although there has been no official announcement by the Iranian government, reports indicate that the regime informed Naseem’s family that he had been hanged on Friday, and ordered them not to hold a funeral. The execution serves as another example of the Iranian regime’s willingness to flout international law during its ongoing war against Kurds and other ethnic minorities in Iran.
The Iranian regime continues its campaign to maintain control over population that has grown increasingly weary of dissent and repression, including the denial of basic rights to ethnic minorities. Many of these minorities have organized themselves in resistance groups which have been banned by Tehran, as a means of organizing against the regime and fighting for self determination. The Iranian regime has responded by increasing its repression of these minority groups and using execution as weapon against dissidents.
Execution of Juvenile Offenders
Iran remains the only country in the world that continues to execute minors. In 2011, when he was just seventeen years old, Naseem was arrested for his alleged participation in armed activities. Naseem’s death sentence and subsequent execution were illegal under international law. The execution of juvenile offenders is strictly prohibited under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which have been ratified by Iran.
According to Amnesty International, Naseem maintained that he was beaten during interrogations and had his fingernails removed, in order to pressure him into signing documents. In his first court session, he told the judge that he had been hung upside down from the ceiling while blindfolded. He also stated that his interrogators placed his fingerprints on confession documents whose content he was not aware of.
In letters from prison, published by Amnesty International, Naseem recounts the horrors of imprisonment in Iran, “During the first days, the level of torture was so severe that it left me unable to walk. All my body was black and blue. They hung me from my hands and feet for hours. I was blindfolded during the whole period of interrogations and torture, and could not see the interrogation and torture officers.”
Since 1990, Iran has reportedly executed at least 51 people who were convicted of crimes committed when they were under the age of 18. For example, 17-year-old Alireza Molla-Soltani was publicly hanged in the city of Karaj, near Tehran on 21 September 2011 Amnesty International has compiled a list of more than 144 juvenile offenders on death row in Iran.
Repression of the Kurdish People
The execution of Naseem also serves as an ongoing reminder of Iran’s repression of its Kurdish minority, which has fought for decades for increased rights and autonomy in Iran. In recent years this has included Kurdish groups using armed struggle as a means of resistance.
Two other Kurdish political prisoners were also executed the same week as Naseem. Habibullah Afshari, 26 and his brother Ali Afshari, 34, were hanged on February 19th for their support of Komala, another banned Kurdish resistance group. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmad Shaheed, noted more than 15 Kurdish individuals on death row for their political affiliations.
Kurds, who are one of Iran’s many minorities, continue to face discrimination in the enjoyment of their religious, economic and cultural rights. According to the last census conducted in 2006, the four Kurdish-inhabited provinces in Iran, West Azerbaijan (2,873,459), Kermanshah Province (1,879,385), Kurdistan Province (1,440,156), and Ilam Province (545,787) have a total population of 6,738,787. Despite the large number of Kurdish people in Iran, this sizable population continues to face repression and discrimination by the regime in Iran.
According to a 2012 report by Minority Rights Group International, Kurdish properties are confiscated at a higher rate and there is pervasive governmental neglect in the Kurdish regions of northwest Iran – Iranian Kurdistan, Kermanshah and Ilam provinces. The Kurdish regions are abundant in water resources and though dams have been built by the Iranian government to facilitate water irrigation and for hydroelectric power generation, the Kurds are generally excluded from the benefits of these investments. Instead, they experience poor housing and living conditions because of forced resettlement, and the expropriation of rural land for large-scale agricultural plantations and petrochemical plants which pollute the surrounding environment.
Kurdish activists are also subjected to a higher rate of incarceration and execution in Iran. Farzad Kamangar, a teacher and member of the Kurdish ethnic group, was also sentenced to death on charges of “enmity against God.” His mother believed that her son’s only crime was his ‘Kurdishness’ and his lawyer Khalil Bahramian maintained that “there was not a shred of evidence” against him.
During his four years in prison, Kamangar was subjected to torture and mistreatment. Kamangar faced severe physical and mental torture to break his resistance. Kamangar’s letters and articles about the inhumane conditions inside prison brought international condemnations by many organizations including UNICEF and Education International, an organization which represents teachers across the globe. He was executed on May 9th 2010, along with three other Kurdish prisoners: Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alam-Holi.
Systematic Discrimination of Ethnic Minorities
The Kurdish issue is just one example of Iran’s systematic war against ethnic minorities, including ethnic Arabs, Azari’s, Baloch, and Kurdish minorities. Nearly half of all Iranians are of non-Persian descent and yet the Iranian regime continues to implement state sponsored policies of discrimination and repression against these groups.
Ahmad Shaheed’s 2014 Report on Human Rights in Iran, expressed concern about the situation of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran, as well as extrajudicial killings by Iranian border patrol against Baloch and Kurdish minorities, among other areas of concern.
“As at January 2014, at least 50 ethnic rights defenders, 28 civic and cultural activists and 200 ethnic political activists were reported detained or imprisoned, many convicted of association with armed opposition groups. Sources challenge the legality of these detentions and convictions, alleging torture and denial of fair trial standards for a majority of these individuals.”
As the Iranian regime continues its diplomatic push abroad, it has continued to wage a war at home, targeting those who dare to defy its rule, particularly ethnic minorities who have formed an organized resistance. The importance of defending the rights of these disenfranchised groups cannot be understated as it relates to wider a struggle for human rights and democratic change in Iran.