A young Iranian man set to be hanged on 19 February gave a harrowing account of how, as a teenager, officials tortured him for 97 days to make him “confess” to a crime, before sentencing him to death.
In a letter seen by Amnesty International, Saman Naseem, now 22 years old, described how he was kept in a 2 x 0.5 metre cell and constantly tortured before being forced while blindfolded to put his fingerprints on “confession” papers. He was forced to admit to acts that lead to his conviction for membership of an armed opposition group and taking up arms against the state. He was 17 years old at the time.
“That the Iranian authorities are preparing to put to death a young man who’s been tortured for 97 days to ‘confess’ when he was 17 years old beggars belief. With less than a week left before he is due to be executed, there is no time to waste. Saman’s execution must be immediately stopped and his case thoroughly reviewed,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“This is the reality of the criminal justice system in Iran, which makes a mockery of its own statements that it does not execute children and upholds its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
In the letter, Saman said:
“During the first days, the level of torture was so severe that it left me unable to walk. All my body was black and blue. They hung me from my hands and feet for hours. I was blindfolded during the whole period of interrogations and torture, and could not see the interrogation and torture officers.”
“They repeatedly told me that they had arrested my family members including my father, my mother, and my brother. They told me that they would kill me right there and would cover my grave with cement. When I wanted to sleep during nights, they would not let me rest by making noises using different devices, including by constantly banging on the door. I was in a state between madness and consciousness. I could not have any contact with my family during this time. During the trial, even the presiding judge threatened me with more beatings a number of times and my lawyers were removed under pressure.”
Saman was arrested on 17 July 2011 after a gun battle between Revolutionary Guards and the armed opposition group Party For Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), in the city of Sardasht, West Azerbaijan Province. After his arrest, he was held in a Ministry of Intelligence detention centre without any access to his family or a lawyer.
His family members were not informed of his arrest and first learned about it through a video clip of Saman aired on state TV, in which he “confessed” to taking part in armed activities against the state. Court documents indicate that during the fight, a member of the Revolutionary Guards was killed and three others wounded.
In January 2012, Saman was sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court after being convicted of “enmity against God” and “corruption on earth” because of his alleged membership of PJAK and taking part in armed activities against the Revolutionary Guards.
During the trial, he retracted his earlier “confession” and said that he fired into the air and not towards the Revolutionary Guards. He also told the judge he was tortured but he dismissed this and relied on his “confessions” as admissible evidence. His lawyers have been prevented from pursuing his defence.
In August 2012, the Supreme Court had overturned the death sentence and sent his case to a lower court for a retrial on the grounds that he had been under 18 at the time of the crimes of which he had been convicted. However, Saman was sentenced to death in April 2013 by a criminal court. The Supreme Court upheld this death sentence again in December 2013.
The prison authorities verbally informed Saman that his execution is scheduled for 19 February. Amnesty International understands that a doctor visited him on or about 10 February in Oroumieh Prison, West Azerbaijan province, where he is imprisoned. It is feared that the check-up may be an assessment prior to his execution.
“Iran’s deplorable practice of torturing people into ‘confessing’ to crimes before sentencing them to death must stop immediately. Imposing the death penalty on someone who was a child when the alleged crime took place goes against international human rights laws that Iran has committed to respect,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
Under the Islamic Penal Code, the execution of offenders under the age of 18 is allowed for qesas (retribution-in-kind) and hodoud (offences and punishments for which there are fixed penalties under Islamic law). However, Article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code excludes the death penalty for crimes that fall under these categories of punishment, if the juvenile offender did not understand the nature of the crime or its consequences, or if there are doubts about the offender’s mental capacity.
On 2 December 2014, the Supreme Court issued a “pilot judgment,” ruling that all individuals currently on death row for crimes they allegedly committed when they were under the age of 18 can submit judicial review requests to the Supreme Court on the grounds of Article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code.
The use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders – those convicted of crimes committed when they were below 18 - is strictly prohibited under international law, as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), both of which Iran has ratified.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime, the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the offender or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.