Iranian authorities hanged Kurdish activist Ehsan Fattahian, 28, on Nov. 11 in Sanandaj Central Prison, Kordestan province. He was accused of “armed struggle against the regime” and “enmity against God.” An Internet campaign had gathered over 10,000 signatures in recent days calling on Tehran to stop the execution. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and several Iranian human rights organizations issued statements calling to halt the execution. Despite reportedly being tortured, Ehsan refused to admit to participating in armed activities. It was only during the appeals process was he declared as an “enemy of God” and sentenced to execution.
Ethnic groups in northern Iran have stepped up their opposition activities since protests against the regime broke out earlier this year. At least four senior officials in Sanandaj—a leading Sunni cleric who supports President Ahmadinejad, the city’s representative to the senior clerical body of the Assembly of Experts, a judge, and a member of the city council—have been assassinated in the past months.
Amnesty International called the death sentence against Fattahian—and two other Kurdish men now feared to be at imminent risk of execution—a reprisal for the spate of assassinations and attempted assassinations of officials in Kordestan province in September. At least 10 other Kurdish men and one woman are believed to be on death row in Iran in connection with their activities in support of illegal Kurdish organizations.
No group has claimed responsibility for the September attacks. Authorities have variously blamed the Kurdistan Independent Life Party (PJAK) and “hard-line Sunni fundamentalists” linked to foreign intelligence services.
Death for atheism?
Ehsan Fattahian was detained in July 2008 and said in a letter he wrote from prison that he was regularly beaten in detention. He also said he was a member of Komala, a Marxist Kurdish opposition group. Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Sanandaj initially sentenced him to 10 years’ internal exile, after a trial in which he was denied access to a lawyer. Both Ehsan Fattahian and the prosecutor appealed, and in January 2009 Branch 4 of the Kordestan Appeal Court overturned the initial verdict, sentencing him to death for “enmity against God.” This new sentence was never subject to an appeal, as is required by international law. He said the new sentence was issues because he refused to agree to “confess” on film and publicly reject his beliefs. Two other men, Habibollah Latifi, arrested in October 2007, and Sherko Moarefi, detained in October 2008, remain on death row in Sanandaj prison. (Amnesty International, Mideast Youth, NYT, Nov. 11)