Iran must quash death sentences against protestors: UN experts



A man holds a smartphone connected to a Wifi network without internet access at an office in the Iranian capital Tehran on November 17th, 2019. Access to the internet was restricted when demonstrations broke out two days prior, and was restricted again on Thursday (July 16th) during new protests. [Atta Kenare/AFP]

A group of UN rights experts on Thursday (July 16th) called on Iran to overturn death sentences imposed on three people for participating in protests, after they were allegedly tortured into making confessions.

Iran's Supreme Court earlier this week upheld the death penalty against the three -- Amir Hossein Moradi, Saeed Tamjidi, and Mohammad Rajabi -- for criminal actions during November protests sparked by a hike in gas prices.

"Today we join hundreds of thousands of Iranians on social media who condemned these death sentences," said the more than a dozen independent UN experts, on issues like arbitrary executions, freedom of assembly and torture.

"We urge the head of the judiciary to immediately quash this decision and to grant a prompt and independent judicial review," they said in a statement.

The experts, who are appointed by the UN but who do not speak on behalf of it, also called for an "independent and impartial investigation into the allegations of torture".

The three men were charged with taking up arms to take lives and property and for participating in vandalism and arson during the protests, something they have denied, the statement said.

They were initially sentenced to death in February by a court that also imposed prison and flogging sentences against them on other charges.

Allegations of torture

"From the outset, their arrest and detention and subsequent trial is replete with allegations of denial of their due process rights," the experts said.

They said the three had confessed after being subjected to torture, including beatings, electric shocks and being hung upside down by their feet.

They were denied medical care and access to a lawyer during interrogations, and their chosen lawyers were not allowed to represent them in the Supreme Court and were blocked from accessing their case files during the trial, they said.

The experts stressed that imposing the death penalty "on the basis of over-broad national security charges would amount to an egregious violation of Iran's human rights obligations".

"International law limits the imposition of the death penalty to the most serious crimes and precludes its imposition if a fair trial has not been granted and if other rights have been violated," they said.

At least 304 people were killed as the protests were violently suppressed by state security forces, the UN experts said.

They called on Iran to conduct an independent, impartial and transparent investigation into the events of November, to prosecute state officials involved in rights violations and to set free anyone detained for peacefully protesting.

Police break up new protest

Iranian police on Friday said they had forcibly dispersed a protest by a crowd chanting "norm-breaking" slogans in the south-west over economic hardships.

According to a local police chief, some Behbahan residents gathered Thursday night to protest the economic situation, state news agency IRNA reported.

The police first tried to talk to the crowd, which did not disperse and started shouting "norm-breaking chants" -- a term usually used by Iranian authorities to refer to anti-system slogans.

Security forces broke up the protest with "firmness", the police chief said, adding that "calm" was restored without casualties or damage to properties.

Unverified social media posts showed images and videos of dozens of people gathered in a street of the city in Khuzestan province.

Netblocks, a website that monitors shutdowns, said internet access was restricted and disrupted for about three hours in Khuzestan around the time of the protest.

Khuzestan is a key oil-producing region that has often complained of official neglect. Bordering Iraq, it is one of the few areas in Iran to have a large ethnic Sunni Arab community.

Protests were not limited to Behbahan. People took to the streets in the capital, Tehran, as well as in Tabriz, Shiraz and Orumiyeh. Government security has been ramped up across the country in response to the protests, and a number of protestors have reportedly been detained.

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