During the protests by Dervishes, five members of security forces were killed in two separate incidents. Salas’ arrest supposedly stemmed from his having been identified as the driver of a bus that plowed into a group of police officers, killing three. However, the Amnesty statement notes that several witnesses insisted that Salas had already been placed in detention before the event in question. He also pointed out that the bus he had been driving was undamaged, and cited this as evidence that another vehicle and driver were responsible for the deaths in question.
This potentially exculpatory evidence was reportedly discounted from a trial that has been described as unfair, a miscarriage of justice, and an exercise in revenge against the Dervishes, rather than a genuine effort to enforce the law. According to Amnesty, the only evidence that was presented in order to secure Salas’ conviction in March was a confession that he had signed. But up until his execution, Salas continued to insist that the confession had been elicited under torture – a tactic that is frequently employed by Iranian interrogators, particularly in politically motivated cases.
On the basis of these various concerning elements of his case, Amnesty had previously issued an urgent call to action when it was reported that Salas’ execution was imminent. However, judiciary authorities moved ahead with the implementation of his sentence promptly at dawn on Monday. They also saw to it that Salas was buried quickly, in defiance of the wishes of his family, who were not present and had expressed the desire that he be returned to Tehran for funeral services.
This measure has been described as a means of preventing an independent examination of his body, which would have almost certainly revealed signs of torture. The CHRI quoted Salas son Alireza Azami as saying that when Salas was at trial, “his head was covered with stitches,” which authorities had attempted to conceal with makeup.
The effort to quickly bury Salas may also have been motivated by anxiety over the possibility of public demonstrations coinciding with his funeral, especially in the wake of the revelation of new evidence for his mistreatment and possible innocence. This anxiety might also have prompted a quicker implementation of his death sentence if not for the holy month of Ramadan, which ended last week. During that month, executions are typically suspended, although the judiciary has been known to quickly implement large numbers of executions in the days immediately following Eid al-Fitr, the post-Ramadan holiday that took place between June 15 and 17 this year.
According to Iran Human Rights, the Salas execution was only one of six to be carried out on Monday, June 18 in Rajai Shahr Prison. As well as highlighting the Iranian judiciary’s propensity for mass executions, this report also pointed out that although all six cases involved murder charges, at least one of them highlighted the problem of the lack of classifications for different degrees of murder and manslaughter, which results in persons being put to death for killings that may not have been intentional, or may have been subject to other extenuating circumstances.
Even supposing that Salas is responsible for the deaths of the three policemen during the Dervishes’ protest, no real evidence was presented to demonstrate that the bus had driven into them deliberately. Despite being forced, the defendant’s confession still maintained that the killings had been the result of his trying to flee the clashes between protesters and security forces.
And in the other case highlighted by Iran Human Rights, the defendant reportedly made at least some effort to prevent the death for which he was deemed responsible. That is, he informed police of the location of a car he had stolen, unaware that there was an infant in the back seat. Even the Tehran prosecutor acknowledged that the care probably should have been recovered earlier, suggesting that the thief may have had diminished responsibility for the child dying from excessive heat and lack of oxygen. In other words, it is doubtful that such cases would rise to the level of “most serious crimes” whereby the death penalty may be justified along international standards.
But Iran is notoriously unforgiving about its application of the death penalty, and thus maintains a record as the nation with the world’s highest per-capita rate of executions, year after year. This record appears secure in spite of the fact that the Iranian parliament took measures last year to raise the standards by which non-violent drug crimes qualify for mandatory death sentences. Reports indicate that although the number of such executions has indeed gone down, the judiciary may be partially compensating by expediting the implementation of other types of death sentences.
In light of the crackdown on dissent following the January mass uprising, it is also possible that these expedited executions include executions of political prisoners. In fact, the judiciary publicly warned that persons deemed responsible for that uprising would likely face the death penalty. And the National Council of Resistance of Iran has determined that upwards of 8,000 Iranians were arrested as a direct result of those protests.
That crackdown continues to this day, as evidenced by the June 13 arrest of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a renowned Iranian human rights lawyer who in recent weeks has been an outspoken advocate for participants in the “Girls of Revolution Street” women’s rights protests, as well as for political prisoners subject to hardline interpretations of Article 48 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which has allowed the judiciary to deprive political prisoners of access to any lawyer other than a select group of 20 regime-approved attorneys.
Sotoudeh is currently being held at Evin Prison on unspecified charges. The absence of formal charges often suggests that Iranian authorities are attempting to fabricate a case against the person in question, and this fact was presumably a contributing factor in the protests that erupted outside of Evin to call for Sotoudeh’s arrest. This predictably resulted in several more individuals being detained, according to IranWire.
Fortunately, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a 2012 recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, can expect considerable support from both inside and outside the country. But as the Salas case makes clear, vigorous external pressure is not always effective. What’s more, that pressure will surely continue to be distributed across a number of cases.
On Sunday, Iran Human Rights Monitor pointed out that Amnesty International had issued another call to action, regarding the torture and denial of medical care for Iranian Kurdish political prisoner Zeynab Jalalian, who is serving a life sentence as a result of “grossly unfair trial.” Jalalian is in urgent need of dental treatment for a three-month-old infection, and is also suffering from heart, intestinal, and kidney problems, and is in danger of losing her eyesight.
The denial of medical treatment is a commonly used pressure tactic in Iranian prisons, and according to IHRM, authorities have alternately rejected Jalalian’s requests for release to hospital and declared that they would be granted if she would record a videotaped confession.
Another IHRM report points to the possibility of authorities denying treatment to a number of prisoners who were recently wounded in clashes with prison guards. Notably, though, the riot in question, at Sanandaj Prison, was reportedly the result of inmates coming to the defense of Ramin Hossein Panahi, another Kurdish political prisoner and an object of urgent attempts at intervention by international human rights defenders.
CHRI noted on Monday that United Nations human rights experts had again spoken out about Panahi’s case after it was reported that prison guards were attempting to transfer him to solitary confinement in preparation for his execution on the grounds of his supposed membership in a Kurdish separatist group.
International statements regarding Jalalian, Panahi, and others tend to reflect the same concerns regarding the lack of due process which failed to convince Iranian authorities to vacate the death sentence for Mohammad Salas.