Even on Death Row, Sunni Prisoners Mistreated for Religious Beliefs
At Rajaee Shahr Prison in Karaj, 20 Sunni prisoners, facing charges such as “acting against national security” for their proselytizing activities, have been convicted of “moharebeh” [enmity with God], a capital crime, and face an unsuitable atmosphere in prison where they are constantly disrespected by prison forces for their beliefs, a source with knowledge of their situation told the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Asked whether the death row inmates have accepted the charges leveled against them, the source, who has experience as a minority prisoner in Iran, told the Campaign, “Most of them accepted under torture. When we are arrested, we are severely tortured. They even took some in front of the camera to, for example, say that they wanted to assassinate a state figure. These were mostly young men who had no experience and became victims of the regime’s policies, appearing on camera for fear of further torture. But these are policies of the Iranian regime, which wants to uproot Sunnis. A prisoner named Bahram Ahmadi was only 19 when he was executed at Ghezel Hessar Prison. Before his execution, he filmed himself and talked about his torture. The film was later broadcast on Sunni television stations. I believe that we had better conditions under the Shah, because he was a nationalist and didn’t eradicate anyone because of their beliefs. But this regime starts arrests with every small excuse and wishes there would be no more Sunnis in Iran.”
The source, who asked for anonymity on security grounds, described the mistreatment Sunni prisoners face. “Unfortunately, the Sunni prisoners go to the prison infirmary only when they have no other choice, because they are insulted a lot there. Some of the prisoners’ names are Omar, Abubakr, or Osman. They are ridiculed for their names, they make wisecracks at them, and they constantly shower them with nonsense. For example, one day they took Shahram Ahmadi to the hospital because he had suffered kidney bleeding for a while, and after a lot of effort, the officials had finally agreed to send him to a hospital. But when he returned to prison, they noticed that he was in a very bad shape and was nervous. He said that the prison forces insulted him en route, and when he wanted to defend his rights, asking them why they were insulting him for his beard, his belief, and the Prophet Companions, they beat him with a baton inside the hospital. When they were transferring him from the gurney to the hospital bed, they beat him, causing Shahram to pass out,” the source told the Campaign.
Choking up as he described Ahmadi’s experience, the source, who is also a member of the Sunni minority, told the Campaign, “He was told, ‘We will kill you like a dog, because you look like a dog.’ They told him, ‘Just as we hanged your brother, Ahmad Bahrami, we will kill you, too.’ My other friends who were sick started to cry when they saw Shahram. They are afraid to even ask for medical attention. We are suffocating here. It’s very hard for you to comprehend what I’m saying.”
The source told the Campaign that about 170 Sunni prisoners from different, predominantly Sunni-residing regions of Iran such as Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and Western Azerbaijan, have been transferred to this prison. Twenty of them face death sentences and many have remained in prison for several years without a trial or even knowing their charges.
“They faced charges of ‘acting against national security through contacts with regime enemy groups,’ were found guilty of ‘moharebeh’ [enmity with God], and were executed. The rest of them faced similar charges, like ‘acting against national security,’ ‘distribution and reproduction of ideological books and religious CDs with the intent to increase Sunni followers.’ But we only promoted Sunni ideas among Sunnis themselves and for the Sunnis in our own mosques and groups, and we did not aim to destroy the regime. We only wanted the rights of Sunnis to be observed. You know that as followers of the Sunni religion, we don’t have even one mosque in Tehran, whereas many Sunnis live in Tehran. They even accused some of terrorism, but none of them have any blood on their hands,” the source, who was himself imprisoned for his religion and religious activities, said.
According to the source, the 20 Sunni prisoners at Rajaee Shahr Prison who have been sentenced to death by Branch 28 of Tehran Revolutionary Court under Judge Mohammad Moghisseh are: Edris Nemati, Taleb Maleki, Behrouz Shahnamaki, Bahman Rahimi, Mokhtar Rahimi, Yavar Rahimi, Shahram Rahmati, Keyvan Rahimi, Omid Peyvand, Mohammad Zarrini, Pourya Mohammad, Varia Ghaderi, Kaveh Veisi, Kaveh Sharifi, Farzad Shahnazari, Kamal Mollaee, Hamed Ahmadi, Hadi Hosseini, Seddigh Mohammadi, and Jamshid Dehghani.
The source said that about 70 of the Sunni prisoners in Rajaee Shah Prison are university students and that most of them are from Western Azerbaijan Province. According to Sunni News Network, a Saudi-based news outlet dedicated to covering news about Sunni Muslims worldwide, currently there are 270 Sunni prisoners inside Rajaee Shahr and Ghezel Hessar Prisons in Karaj and prison facilities in Sanandaj, Hamadan, and other cities in Iran.
“We want the regime to stop insulting Sunni beliefs. The state television and newspapers insult the Prophet’s Companions, and say nonsense day and night, and then call themselves Muslims, too. They produce TV series such as Mokhtarnameh and Imam Ali, and then arrested our clerics who objected to these insults, and charged them with being ‘overthrowers.’ But we are decent people, we are not bad people. We expect our beliefs to be respected, too,” said the source.
“Since 2009, the arrests have accelerated and reached their height in 2011 when the Tunisian revolution began. Whenever something happens in Bahrain and Syria, more Sunnis are arrested in Iran. Sunnis mostly live in the regions of Kermanshah and towns such as Javanrood, Javansar, the city of Sanandaj and its surrounding towns such as Saghez, Baneh, in Western Azerbaijan Province, and cities including Bookan, Sardasht, Mahabad, and Piranshahr. The clerics were arrested at the altar of mosques. The students, teachers, and the rest, many of them without sentences, have remained in prison for years in a state of limbo,” the source told the Campaign.
“All Sunni [prisoners] are kept inside Hall 10. They are not allowed to have any cultural activities inside the prison. They suffer a lot of deprivations. For example, many of them have been in this prison for two years, but were only allowed to have access to a refrigerator and air cooler three months ago. They had to go on a strike before the officials took notice of them. They don’t even have beds. All of them sleep on the floor, side by side, whereas prisoners in the other wards have beds. The truth is that the Intelligence Ministry puts these prisoners under pressure in different ways. The relationship between these prisoners and the prison officials is not bad, but they take their orders from the Intelligence Ministry. They put them in long solitary confinement, or torture them and say that it’s on orders from the Intelligence Ministry,” the source told the Campaign about the conditions of Sunni prisoners inside Rajaee Shahr Prison.
“Political prisoners are kept inside Ward 12 of this prison, and because many of them are individuals who had a role inside the regime before, they have access to powerful media outlets and news about them is constantly published by the media. But the Sunnis are very weak when it comes to media coverage. Their families are under pressure not to talk to the media, and if ever a family talks, the prisoner is put under pressure inside the prison. Therefore the families choose silence so that the prisoner does not get a longer prison sentence or put under pressure. They don’t have news coverage like the other prisoners, because the Iranian people don’t know them well, either. The people of Iran don’t hear as much about the rights of Sunni followers, though they hear a lot about the rights of other religious minorities; they have no idea what happens to them,” the source said.