Iranian-Canadian Web Developer in Danger of Imminent Execution

Saeed Malekpour

(3 February 2011) Iranian officials should base convictions on reliable evidence and due process instead of televised confessions and dramatic re-enactments, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.

The Campaign added that coerced confessions are being used to convict criminal and political defendants alike, while state media is used to sell dubious death sentences and verdicts to the Iranian and international public.

The Campaign also expressed its grave concern about the execution sentence of Saeed Malekpour, an Iranian-Canadian dual national and web developer, accused of establishing “pornographic websites.” He has been reportedly tortured to confess to these charges.

On 1 February 2011, state television’s Channel One evening news, known as “20:30,” broadcast a “confession” by Zahra Bahrami, a Dutch-Iranian woman, one day after her execution on drug charges. In the video Bahrami “admits” to drug trafficking and re-enacts some scenes in her home showing how she hid cocaine and heroin. The program commented extensively on how international and Dutch outcries over the execution were misled, in an apparent attempt to justify Bahrami’s execution after the fact.

“The issue is not whether crimes occur in Iran, but whether death sentences are based on real trials, with real evidence, and real cases presented by lawyers,” said Aaron Rhodes, a spokesperson for the Campaign. “Staged-for-TV confessions that reek of coercion are no substitute for due process,” he added.

In the last few weeks, Iran has been on an execution binge, putting to death 83 people in January 2011 alone. This is to be compared with a total of 86 executions during all of 2005, before Ahmadinejad assumed the presidency.

The Campaign has called on the Iranian Judiciary and Parliament to immediately institute a moratorium on executions and take meaningful steps to abolish it. On 2 February 2011, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, reiterated this call, urging the Iranian Government “to immediately declare a moratorium on the death penalty in view of the gravity of the situation and the regular disregard of due process guarantees.”

Heyns noted that, “any death sentence undertaken in contravention of a Government’s international obligations is tantamount to an arbitrary execution.” The UN experts also noted secret executions taking place in Mashad’s Vakilabad prison, which the Campaign has been reporting on for the past several months.

Authorities executed at least three political activists in January 2011. At least three other post-election protestors remain on death row and are in danger of imminent execution, including Mohsen Daneshpour, Meysam Daneshpour, and Abdolreza Ghanbari. The Campaign has documented numerous allegations of political prosecutions based on coerced testimonies, including several televised confessions, since June 2009. In many cases defendants had little to no access to lawyers or their case files.

Similarly, sources report large numbers of secret executions in Vakilabad Prison, where most of Iran’s drug-related death sentences are taking place without any official acknowledgments. Authorities also consistently fail to inform lawyers and family members of their clients’ executions.

The Campaign is also receiving reports of mass secret executions in Birjand Prison that are not being reported by state media. However, the country’s Prosecutor General, Mohseni Ejei, on 31 January 2011, admitted to such executions during a press conference saying, “this morning a number of drug traffickers were executed in Birjand Prison.”

The Campaign believes that the total number of executions in January 2011 could be higher than the officially announced 83 cases, given that such secret executions are taking place.

Iran has increasingly resorted to televised confessions in cases where the credibility of the government’s evidence and the fairness of the trial incur public scrutiny. The State-controlled broadcast media has become an accessory to grave human rights violations and its officials must be held accountable as human rights violators.

Zahra Bahrami had a 2003 drug conviction in the Netherlands. In Iran she was originally arrested for participating in an anti-government Ashura Day demonstration. Her daughter told the Campaign that Bahrami was originally interrogated for her participation in demonstrations and for being interviewed by media abroad, but was later pressured to make “confessions” related to drug charges. Bahrami’s security charges were never addressed, although she had an open prosecution in that regard.

On 10 December 2010, Press TV, the government’s English language news network, aired a confession by Sakineh Ashtiani, whose pending execution by stoning for adultery provoked international condemnation of Iran’s judiciary. On Press TV, Ashtiani re-enacted her part in the murder of her husband. Her jailed son also appeared in the program playing the role of his father.

Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist and Newsweek contributor, spent three months in prison after the Iranian election in 2009. Bahari told the Campaign that authorities forced him to tape a confession that was staged and scripted by security officials.

“Three teams of reporters came into the prison—Press TV, IRIB’s Persian service, and Fars News Agency. The interrogator said, ‘We will give some of the footage from your confession to be broadcast on the 8:30 program,’” Bahari said. “Each [reporter] had a set of questions and I gave the answers I was supposed to give. When I made a mistake, just like an interrogator, the reporter would say, ‘It’s better if you say it this way.’”

“Iran must put in place a moratorium on executions now. If the current pace continues, we could be witnessing massive executions in 2011 and previous years’ record numbers of executions will pale in comparison,” Rhodes said.

Iran executed at least 350 persons in 2008; at least 388 in 2009; and over 442 in 2010, including 242 officially announced, and over 200 secret executions reported to the Campaign at Vakilabad Prison. On a per capita basis, Iran executes more people than any other country.