Reuters: Iran hanged 13 members of a Sunni rebel group on Tuesday for killings and attacks in a volatile southeastern area, but they were put to death in prison and not in public as initially planned, official media reported.
By Fredrik Dahl
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran hanged 13 members of a Sunni rebel group on Tuesday for killings and attacks in a volatile southeastern area, but they were put to death in prison and not in public as initially planned, official media reported.
The execution of a 14th member of Jundollah (God's soldiers), a brother of its leader Abdolmalek Rigi, was postponed for a few days in order to get more information from him, the judiciary said.
Predominantly Shi'ite Muslim Iran says Jundollah is part of the Sunni Islamist al Qaeda network and backed by the United States, Tehran's arch foe. Jundollah says it fights for the rights of the Islamic Republic's minority Sunnis.
The hangings took place in the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province, Zahedan, where a bomb attack on a Shi'ite mosque killed 25 people in late May. A few days later clashes broke out between supporters and opponents of a Sunni cleric in the city.
Sectarian violence is relatively rare in Iran, whose leaders reject allegations by Western rights groups that the country discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.
Those executed were convicted as "mohareb," or one who is waging war against God, for crimes including murder, kidnappings and attacks on police, the official IRNA news agency said.
"This morning the executions of some members of the Jundollah terrorist group … were carried out in prison," provincial judiciary chief Ebrahim Hamidi told Fars news agency.
IRNA quoted a court as saying 13 people were put to death.
Human rights group Amnesty International had called on Iran not to go ahead with the executions, saying the accused did not receive a fair trial.
Media had reported on Monday that 14 Jundollah members would be hanged in a park, including a brother of Jundollah's leader.
But Hamidi told radio state the execution of Abdolhamid Rigi had been put off on the request of an intelligence official seeking "necessary information" from him for a related case. No reason was given for the change in location.
The list of Tuesday's executions included Yahia Rigi but it was not clear whether he was also a family member.
Fars reported in June that two Jundollah members, including a man it also named as Abdolhamid Rigi, were hanged in Zahedan.
Tuesday's media reports did not mention the Zahedan mosque bombing in May. Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television had reported that Jundollah claimed the attack. On May 30, three people were hanged in public for involvement in the blast.
Most people in Sistan-Baluchestan are Sunni Muslims and ethnic Baluchis. Close to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the region has seen frequent clashes between security forces and heavily armed drug smugglers, as well intermittent rebel attacks.
Murder, adultery, rape, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking are all punishable by death in the Islamic state.
The European Union earlier this month denounced Iran for a spate of executions. Iran says it implements Islamic law and rejects Western allegations of human rights violations.
In late June, a hardline cleric called for leading "rioters" who took part in last month's post-election street protests to be charged as "mohareb," a crime punishable by death.
Amnesty has listed Iran as the world's second most prolific executioner in 2008 after China, and says the Islamic state executed at least 346 people last year.
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)