One of the most serious crimes in the Islamic Republic of Iran is the crime of “waging war against God,” or moharebeh. In 2016 at least 44 people were executed on this charge, most of them accused of being “rebels” or of “spreading corruption on earth” — and most of them belonged to ethnic or religious minorities.
A person accused or convicted of this crime is called a mohareb or “belligerent against God.” Whenever the international community challenges Iran over this charge, Iranian officials defend it by saying that it is only used against people accused of terrorism.
Article 279 of the Islamic Penal Code states: “Moharebeh is defined as drawing a weapon on the life, property or chastity of people or to cause terror as it creates the atmosphere of insecurity.” And according to Article 281, “robbers, thieves, or smugglers who resort to weapons and disrupt public security or the security of roads shall be considered as a mohareb.” Article 504 goes further, stating: “Anyone who effectively encourages combatants or those in military forces to rebel, escape, surrender, or disobey military orders, with the intention to overthrow the government or to defeat national forces against the enemy shall be considered as mohareb.”
To punish a mohareb, Article 282 empowers the judge to hand out one of the four specified punishments at his own discretion: Death by hanging, crucifixion, amputation of the right hand and left foot, or banishment.
Before early 2013, the charge of moharebeh was reserved for political opponents and individuals connected to banned groups that the Islamic Republic classified as “subversive,” even if they had expressed their opposition through peaceful means. The New Islamic Penal Code, passed in 2013, further defines these groups as “rebels” and “corrupters on earth.” According to Article 287, “Any group that wages armed rebellion against the state of the Islamic Republic of Iran shall be regarded as a mohareb, and if they use [their] weapon, its members shall be sentenced to death.”
In 2016, at least 44 people were executed in line with this definition. Of these, 29 were charged with political offenses and crimes against national security. And most of them belonged to ethnic or religious minorities — 26 Kurds and three Arabs from Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan Province, which has a sizeable Arab minority. Of the remaining 15, one was executed for “espionage” and the other 14 were put to death for “armed robbery” or other violent crimes. According to a report by the organization Iran Human Rights, many of them were sentenced to death after trials “lasting only a few minutes, [with] no jury, no defense lawyers and death sentences based on no evidence other than confessions extracted under torture.”
Sham Due Process of Law
The judicial process for those accused of moharebeh is mostly a sham. If a defending lawyer brings up the question of torture, his objections or request for review are ignored. Interrogations of the accused are carried out by security agencies, mainly the Intelligence Ministry and the Intelligence Units of the Revolutionary Guards. No lawyer is present during the interrogations, and lawyers have limited access to the details of their cases for “security reasons.” The cases are handled by the Revolutionary Courts with no jury and mostly behind closed doors.
Although the law considers being armed as one of the deciding factors for accusing somebody of moharebeh, many of those who have been executed on this charge were not armed. For example, Farhad Kamangar, who was hanged on May 9, 2010, was a high school superintendent and an ethnic and civil rights activist. Shirin Alam Holi, a 28-year-old Kurdish woman accused of bombing a vehicle at a Revolutionary Guards compound in Tehran, was executed alongside Kamangar. Before her execution, she had described, in a series of letters written from prison, the numerous instances of physical and psychological torture suffered at the hands of her captors, including beatings with cables and electric batons. As with the other prisoners who were executed on that date, she was hanged without her family or her lawyer being informed. Prison authorities have yet to return her body to her family.
According to the Islamic Republic’s penal code, supporting a banned group is not grounds for death penalty by itself. But there are several examples where prisoners have been executed for their support for proscribed organizations. For example, in August 2016, Mohammad Abdollahi was executed for supporting a Kurdish group. “There are many things which are wrong with this case,” his lawyer told Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) before his execution. “My client was never treated legally and fairly. He has never taken up guns.” Again, as with other similar cases, his body was never delivered to his family after his death — most likely to cover up evidence of torture — and he was denied a last meeting with his family.
The terms moharebeh and “corruption on earth” entered the legal lexicon of the Islamic Republic soon after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the shah’s secular government. In 1991, the terms were embedded into Iran’s Islamic Penal Code. The scriptural basis for these charges rests on Koranic verses 33-34 of the Surah al-Ma’edeh, which state: the “punishments of those who wage war against Allah and His Prophet and strive to spread disorder in the land are to execute them in an exemplary way or to crucify them or to amputate their hands and feet from opposite sides or to banish them from the land. Such is their disgrace in this world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom save those who repent before you overpower them.”
In most cases, those accused of moharebeh are given death sentences, but women are often exempt from this punishment. Instead, they are given long prison sentences, or the appeals court commutes their sentences from execution to prison terms.
At the moment, there are at least 26 prisoners held at Rajai Shahr and Evin prisons who have been accused of moharebeh. They are either on death row or are serving long prison terms. And across Iran, many more are in prison for the same charges.
Some of the inmates accused of moharebeh and currently held in Rajai Shahr Prison include:
In 2013, the lower court sentenced Hooshang Rezaei to death and the appeals court upheld the verdict, but the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the sentence.
Mohammad Nazari was sentenced to death in 1973 by both lower and appellate courts but in 1999, on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
Khaled Fereydooni was sentenced to death by the lower court, but in 1998 his sentence was commuted to life in prison by the appeals court.
Omar Faghihpour was sentenced to death by the lower court but in 1998 his sentence was commuted to life in prison by the appeals court.
All of the above are accused of working with Kurdish Parties and held at Rajai Shahr Prison.
Saeed Masoori and Afshin Baymani are accused of working with the People’s Mojahedin Organization (MEK) and held at Rajai Shahr Prison. They were sentenced to death, but in 2000 the appeals court reduced their sentences to life in prison.
Khaled Hardani, Farhang Pourmansouri and Shahram Pourmansouri were all accused of airplane hijacking and are held in Rajai Shahr Prison. They were sentenced to death by the lower court, the appeals and the Supreme Court, but in 2000 their sentences were commuted to life in prison.
Hamzeh Savari is accused of activities threatening national security and held at Rajai Shahr Prison. He was sentenced to death by the lower court but in in 2005 the appeals court reduced his sentence to life in prison.
Mohammad Ali Mansouri is accused of working with the People’s Mojahedin Organisation (MEK) and was sentenced to 17 years in prison by the lower court in in 2007.
Ahmad Karimi is held on charges of working with the Monarchist Assembly of Iran. He was sentenced to death by the lower court but in 2009 the appeals court changed the sentence to 15 years in prison.
Mohammad Akramipour is accused of posing a risk to national security. In 2013, authorities sentenced him to 15 years in prison; he is currently waiting for the appeals court’s decision.
Abolghasem Fouladvand is accused of working with the MEK. He was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment in 2013. The appeals court upheld the verdict.
Hasan Sadeghi, also accused of working with the MEK, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2015 by both the lower and appeals courts.
Jafar Eghdami is also accused of working with the MEK. The lower Revolutionary Court sentenced Eghdami to five years in prison — but his sentence was increased to 10 years by the appeals court.
Some of the inmates accused of moharebeh and currently held in Evin Prison include:
Zahed was sentenced to death by both the lower and appeals courts, and in 2008 his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
Reyhaneh Haj Ebrahim Dabagh was sentenced to death by the lower court. Her sentence was commuted to 15 years in prison by the appeals court.
Zakeri Ansari was sentenced in 2011 to 10 years in prison by both the lower and the appeals courts.
Zehtabchi was sentenced in 2013 to 10 years in prison by both the lower and the appeals courts.
Also read: A Revolution of Dignity: How Anti-Death Penalty Campaigns are Gaining Ground in Iran