Scapegoats? Officers to hang for Iran's prison murders

This week an Iranian military court convicted a number of officers accused of torturing and killing three men detained during the protests that followed last year’s controversial presidential election. The officers were accused of murdering Amir Javadifar, Mohsen Roohol-amini, and Mohammad KamraniRamin Aghazadeh also died as a result of injuries he sustained in the detention centre, located south of Tehran. However, the Iranian authorities denied they were responsible for his death.

The prison was closed on the order of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after details of torture, rapes and murders leaked into the public domain. At the time officials denied allegations of abuse and the only reason given for closing Kahrizak was “non-standard” conditions.

Now one year on, a military court in Tehran has issued verdicts on 12 officers who were accused of beating prisoners to death. Two of them were sentenced to death and nine other officials were sentenced to jail. Those found guilty will be lashed and forced to pay blood money fines. One man was acquitted. The verdicts are designated “not final” and can be reconsidered in the court of appeal.

So do the sentences satisfy the victim’s family and the opposition movement? Certainly not. They have a number of questions about the trial.

First, why were the trials held in secret? Was it to ensure the victim’s family and reporters could not take part? Second, why were the soldiers’ names and ranks not mentioned in the verdicts? Third, what about the commanders who gave the orders?

A special committee of parliament has already declared that former Tehran prosecution attorney Saeed Mortazavi was in charge of moving these prisoners to Kahrizak. However, nothing was mentioned about him or the chief of police during the trial.  As details of the charges against the officers are not known, it is  still  not clear what happened there,  and why.

Opposition websites call it a “dummy trial” with “unreal convicted officers”; they regard it as an attempt to placate the anger of society. Other activists and journalists say: ignore the crimes the officers committed, if we oppose the death penalty we must oppose their execution. They are tagging their blogs and Facebook pages: “Say no to the execution of Kahrizak criminals!”

Those who oppose execution refer to Parvin Fahim. Her 19-year-old son, Sohrab Arabi, was killed in last year’s demonstrations; yet she says she does not want her son’s murderers to hang. She doesn’t want scapegoats. She wants justice and for the senior officers responsible for her son’s death to be exposed.

Not all the other families agree. Ali Kamrani, father of Mohammad Kamrani, wants to see the execution of his son’s killers. He does not want blood money as he says it cannot bring his son back..

So this trial has opened up a much wider debate than expected. Fighting to stop executions in Iran is one of the big challenges for the opposition now. Maybe it’s time to stand firm against the death penalty even if this time the rope is around our enemy’s neck!

Maral Mehryari is a freelance journalist living in Iran, writing under pseudonym