If anyone doubts that torture is plain wrong and indefensible, I invite them to examine the cases of seven men in Iran who were severely tortured to force them to make “confessions” of their involvement in national security offenses. All have been sentenced to death by hanging and are at risk of imminent execution—that is, at any time.
Much has been written about the controversial depiction of torture in the film Zero Dark Thirty, and about the efficacy of the U.S. government’s shameful brutalizing of detainees in the so-called “war on terror”—including by my colleague, Zeke Johnson. While the debate is focused on the practices of the U.S., other governments around the world routinely use torture and also justify it on the grounds of “protecting national security,” yet these claims are always specious.
Five young Ahwazi (ethnic Arab) Iranian men: Mohammad Ali Amouri, Sayed Jaber Alboshoka and his brother Sayed Mokhtar Alboshoka, Hashem Sha’bani Amouri (also known as Hashem Shabaninejad), and Hadi Rashidi founded an organization called Al-Hiwar (“Dialogue” in Arabic), a scientific and cultural institute registered during the administration of Iran’s former President Mohammad Khatami. Al-Hiwar organizes seminars, educational and art classes, and poetry recitals. However, the government banned the organization in 2005 in the wake of unrest in Khuzestan, the Arabic-speaking province in southwestern Iran. All were educated—Hadi Rashidi was a chemistry teacher while Hashem Sha’bani Amouri taught Arabic literature.
They were all sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court after an unfair trial in July 2012, on vaguely worded charges related to national security including “gathering and colluding against state security,” “spreading propaganda against the system,” “enmity against God,” (moharebeh) and “corruption on earth,” (ifsad fil-arz). The government alleged that they were members of an armed Arab terrorist group responsible for shooting at several government employees. Their prosecution may be related to demonstrations that occurred in Khuzestan in 2011 and 2012; the men’s involvement in an Arabic cultural organization that promoted ethnic pride and awareness may have made the five men targets. No recognizable evidence was presented that could connect them with any specific crimes.
The men were subjected to gruesome torture in order to force them to confess to involvement in attacks on government officials on Iranian state-controlled television. Sayed Jaber Alboshoka’s jaw and teeth were broken during his detention, while Intelligence Ministry agents reportedly forced Hashem Sha’bani Amouri to confess to crimes he had not committed by pouring boiling water on him. Hashem Sha’bani Amouri and Hadi Rashidi were featured in a program aired by Press TV in December 2011. Hashem Sha’bani said he was a “member of the “Popular Resistance” (al-Moghavema al- Sha’bia)” which he said had ties to Saddam Hussein and Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, the former leaders of Iraq and Libya. Hadi Rashedi was described as “the leader of the military wing of al-Moghavema al-Sha’bia” and said he had participated in an attack against a house containing four government officials. Iranian courts frequently accept “confessions” extracted under duress as evidence.
While anyone in detention in Iran is subject to suffer severe torture—such as occurred in the tragic case of young blogger Sahar Beheshti who was apparently tortured to death in custody—members of ethnic minorities are at particular risk of being subjected to brutal torture while being detained for security-related offenses.
Zaniar and Loghman Moradi are ethnic Kurds who were sentenced to death in December 2010 for enmity against God (moharebeh) and the murder of the son of a cleric. The previous month their “confessions” were broadcast by Press TV. After their conviction, they wrote a letter maintaining that they were forced to confess after being subjected to torture consisting of beatings, including on the sexual organs, sleep deprivation, and threats of sexual assault, including rape.
Needless to say, the coerced confessions compromised the fairness of their trial, as it did the trial of the five Ahwazi Arab men. The Iranian government frequently targets members of ethnic and linguistic minorities who engage in peaceful activities to promote cultural awareness, accusing them of involvement in heinous security crimes such as involvement in “terrorist acts” or membership in armed groups. At least 40 political prisoners are awaiting executions for such offenses and at least 20 of them are ethnic Kurds. Their convictions are not based on actual evidence but rather on confessions that are extracted from them as a result of brutal torture.
Torture is a key weapon used by the Iranian government to achieve their propaganda goals—to broadcast confessions and convince the public that they are combating a serious threat to the nation in the form of armed insurrection. Torture leads to depicting earnest young men involved in peaceful cultural awareness movements as dangerous criminals and threats to public order, which leads to death sentences and tragedy.
Please take a moment to take these two actions—one on behalf of the five Ahwazis and the other on behalf of the Moradis. Also continue to challenge those who would defend the reprehensible practice of torture. It can never lead to anything resembling justice.