Three Kurdish men were executed on September 8 after they were transferred to the Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj, near Tehran.
Cousins Zanyar Moradi and Loghman Moradi and Ramin Hossein Panahi faced a range of charges, including murder, armed activity against Iran and membership to an armed guerrilla group. They denied the charges, and the Moradi cousins said they had been tortured and forced to confess. Their families were given little notice of their executions and they were not allowed to be present as they were killed.
On the night of September 7, as the lawyer Saleh Nikbakht was having dinner with a friend at a Tehran restaurant, he looked at his phone and noticed that Osman Moradi, the father of Loghman Moradi, had been trying to reach him. “In the years since I got involved in the case of Zanyar and Loghman Moradi, Osman had never called me after 9pm,” Nikbakht said. “He is a very considerate man. I knew that bad news was coming.”
Nikbakht, who has been the lawyer for Kurdish cousins Zanyar and Loghman Moradi since early 2014, is no stranger to persecution from Iranian authorities. He spent time in prison both under the shah and in the 1980s following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
When he called back, Osman Moradi told him that a prison official had called the family, telling them to go Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj near Tehran the next day to visit their son. He asked the lawyer for guidance. “I insisted that they must set out for Tehran immediately,” Nikbakht told me. “I left, leaving my dinner half-finished.”
Loghman’s father, Zanyar’s brother and a few of their close relatives set out for Tehran from where they lived in Marivan in Kurdistan, over 600 kilometers away, the same night. His mother was ill and could not accompany the rest of the family. Loghman was allowed to meet with his father for five minutes on Friday afternoon and Zanyar’s brothers also met with him. After these short meetings, the cousins told their families that they had a feeling that bad news was on its way.
On the same day, Amjad Hossein Panahi, brother of Ramin Hossein Panahi, another Kurdish political prisoner who has been sentenced to death, tweeted that his family has been told to go to Rajaei Shahr Prison for a last visit. He wrote that since the day before the prison official called him, other prisoners did not know where the three men had been taken and guessed that they had been moved to solitary confinement in preparation for their execution.
The families of the three prisoners were forced to spend an excruciating night outside the prison walls without being given any news of their loved ones.
“An hour after midnight, the family of Loghman and Zanyar and I were waiting outside the closed gates of the prison,” Nikbakht said. “Right then Anvar Hossein Panahi also arrived. Anvar himself had been sentenced to death and after six years in prison the appeals court revoked the death sentence. I was his lawyer during the appeal. Shortly after and late into the night, Bahman Ahmadi Amouee, his wife Jila Baniyaghoob and a few other human right activists arrived, very distraught.”
The prison agents told those gathered outside that they had no executions on their list for that night and that the two cousins had been handed over to Intelligence Ministry officials after the visits. The agents suggested that the families go to the local bureau of the Intelligence Ministry for more information. “In the middle of the night we set out for the Intelligence Bureau of Alborz Province,” Nikbakht said. “Somebody answered on the intercom, complained about the time, said that they had no information about the two prisoners and that we better go back to prison to get information. We again set out for the prison, hoping that this time we would get some info.”
Diar Moradi told IranWire a few hours before agents announced the execution of his brother Zanyar that at dawn a prison official came out and told the families: “We have no information about the execution of the sentences. We were only keeping your son here and we have no authority to execute them because they were transferred here from Sanandaj [the capital of Iranian Kurdistan].”
They spent the night outside the prison gates, Diar Moradi told IranWire, but nobody told them anything helpful. “One of them came out and said that they were not there and that they had been handed over to the Intelligence Ministry,” he said. “So we went to the Revolutionary Court on the corner of Panzdah Khordad Avenue. But we did not get any news there either.”
No Pity for the Families
According to Diar Moradi, nobody had mentioned anything about execution during the meeting they had on Friday, but on Saturday morning news of the executions emerged, first on social media and then via official news agencies. Now the families of Loghman Moradi, Zanyar Moradi and Ramin Hossein Panahi are left with the gruesome task of finding the bodies of their loved ones — which will be left for Nikbakht to carry out, given that the families don’t live near Tehran.
“Some news agencies reported that the executions took place in the presence of lawyers and the families,” Nikbakht said, “but I was with the families until dawn and we had no idea what was going on. The families have gone back to their own towns, and I must try to, perhaps, find their bodies.”
However, this might not be possible. Amjad Hossein Panahi told the London-based Manoto TV channel: “They officially told my family that they have buried Ramin and there is no question of turning over his body.”
On August 27, the lawyers of Ramin Hossein Panahi announced that their client had sewn his lips together and had begun a hunger strike in protest against the violation of his legal rights. He was sentenced to death for “armed action against the Islamic Republic” and “membership to the Komala Party,” an armed Kurdish communist group that has been waging a guerrilla against the government of Iran for many years.
Cousins Zanyar and Loghman Moradi, who have been in prison since 2009, were sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 on charges of moharebeh (enmity against God), “membership to the Komala Party” and “murdering the son of the Marivan’s Friday Prayers Imam.” In 2012, the appeals court upheld their sentences.
The two had written many open letters alleging that they were tortured in prison and were forced to make false confessions.
Sentencing without a Hearing
Saleh Nikbakht was the lawyer for the Moradi cousins, and defended them against the charge of murdering the son of Marivan’s Friday Prayers Imam. He says the charge is baseless. “There were eight very questionable items in the investigations report,” he said. “I explained these eight points in my defense presentation but they were ignored. The charge of murder by these two cousins was never proved and no hearing about the charge was held.”
The assassination of Friday Prayers Imam’s son and two other young men by the names of Hadi and Abdollah took place in the summer of 2009. “The day that assassinations took place, Loghman was working on a construction crane in Sarvabad, 35 kilometers from Marivan,” Nikbakht said. “He left the town for Marivan at least one hour or so after the assassinations. Zanyar was too young and had nothing to do with it. They insisted on the confessions by the defendants but on the very day that the Moradi cousins were transferred to Rajaei Shahr Prison after going through horrifying interrogations at Sanandaj and Tehran, they wrote a letter to the head of the judiciary. I cried when I read it. My office manager asked me why I was crying. ‘You must question my humanity if I do not cry by reading this,” I said. ‘They were treated so horribly to force them to confess that I feel ashamed even to repeat it.”
The hangings took place just hours after UN rapporteurs urged Iran to halt the executions. The rapporteurs insisted the prisoners “were severely beaten, tied up in restricted stress positions and threatened with rape, in order to force them to confess to the murder...They were sentenced to death in a trial that apparently lasted only 20 minutes.”
Iran Executes Gonabadi Sufi, June 18, 2018
How the Iranian Judiciary Ruins Lives, April 20, 2018
Why is Iran’s Judiciary Rushing to Execute More People?, July 19, 2017
Imprisoned for Waging War Against God, May 30, 2017
A Revolution of Dignity, May 4, 2017
Execution Fever at Rajaei Shahr Prison, August 26, 2016