Mostafa Salehi, who took part in protests in Iran in December 2017 and January 2018, was executed on the morning of Wednesday, August 5, in Dastgerd Prison in Isfahan.
Judge Morad Ali Najafpour announced on February 28, 2019 that the verdict would be announced the following week, but nothing on Salehi’s case was published until August 4, 2020. However, the verdicts of Salehi and another defendant were not announced, nor was it specified when the case had been sent to the Supreme Court and whether Salehi had a chance to appeal.
Also on August 4, the Human Rights Activist News Agency reported that Salehi had not been able to see his family and that he may have been held in solitary confinement.
Finally, on the morning of August 5, Fars News Agency reported that Mustafa Salehi, who pleaded his innocence to the end, had been executed.
Salehi was arrested eight months after the protests and their suppression by Iranian authorities. He was charged with the murder of a Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officer. Despite facing persistent pressure and enduring long periods of torture while he was held at Isfahan Police Department and questioned by Isfahan Intelligence Agency, Salehi refused to confess, as the Najafabad prosecutor later confirmed. No weapons, ammunition or any other evidence were found on him. He pleaded not guilty in court.
Domestic media reported Salehi’s arrest on September 26, 2018, and accused him of shooting and killing a Revolutionary Guards officer during the crackdown on protesters on January 1, 2018 in Kahrizsang in Isfahan province's Najafabad county. Government officials maintained they had always believed the officer was killed by protesters.
Charges of Waging War Without Evidence
On Monday January 1, 2018, popular protests that had begun on December 28, 2017 continued across Iran. Large protests erupted in several cities in Isfahan province, and had such an impact they were covered by domestic news networks and Iran’s state media Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting group, outlets that would have traditionally shied away from reporting such incidents. According to the IRIB News Network, the clashes led to the death of six protesters in Ghadarijan, two in Khomeini Shahr, the death of a Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officer in Kahrizsang, and a police officer near Najafabad.
The identity of the Guard who was killed in Kahrizsang was announced on the morning of Tuesday, January 2 by Gholamreza Soleimani, the commander of the Saheb al-Zaman Corps in Isfahan. According to Soleimani, Sajjad Shah-Sanaei, a member of the IRGC Aerospace Force, was shot dead following clashes between protesters and police and security forces the night before. He also reported that another IRGC member was wounded in the clashes.
Eight months after Sajjad Shah-Sanaei was killed, on September 27, 2018, Najafabad Prosecutor Mohammad Reza Tavakoli announced that the killer of "Sajjad Shah-Sanaei, a martyr for the security forces in Isfahan province," had been identified and arrested. It had been confirmed to them, the prosecutor announced, that the killer “was connected to foreign spying agencies and had received the necessary training." According to him, the killer joined the protests in December with the "intention to overthrow the regime and act against national security and the Islamic government."
The Najafabad prosecutor also said a trial had not yet taken place, but that he had found the accused guilty. "He had not confessed to anything but according to existing evidence and based on the implicit confessions of the murderer," the charges of moharebeh [waging war against God], “corruption on earth,” premeditated murder, and deliberate assault on an officer had been proven.
Tavakoli did not name the accused, but claimed that he had been arrested "from the beginning,” but because he had not confessed to anything, they had to identify the evidence they needed to prove his guilt: "The killer is a trained criminal and this made it difficult for us and the forces to reach a conclusion and gather evidence. Because this person had received special training and it was not easy to make him talk, the forces tried very hard to gather these pieces of evidence."
In the same statement, Tavakoli refers to the killer being disguised, making it difficult for IRGC forces to identify him. “It has been confirmed that the killer was disguised that night and witnesses have testified that he had acted under special cover.”
During the court hearing, Judge Morad Ali Najafpour, head of the court’s first branch, corroborated Tavakoli's claims and said that Mostafa Salehi was also known as "Mustafa Fatal" and that he was "one of the directors of the riots" that took place in December 2017 and January 2018. Salehi, he said, participated in the protests in two stages: "In the first stage, he organized the riots. Then, after identifying IRGC, Basij, and police officers, he left the crowd, returned to the scene having changed his clothes. Wearing a dark Baluchi uniform, he shot at them with a hunting weapon."
Silence About the Case for Months, Followed by Bizarre Hearings
Between September 27, 2018 and February 19, 2019, no other news was published about the case. The first, second, and third hearings were held on February 17 and 18, 2019 in Branch One of Isfahan’s criminal court. The fourth and final session of the court was held February 28. Judge Morad Ali Najafpour announced at noon that day that the court's verdict would be announced the following week. But the verdict was never made public.
According to court reports, at all stages of the interrogation process, Mostafa Salehi denied the charge of shooting at the Guards officer and any involvement in his murder. He maintained his innocence throughout the prosecution and in court. He repeatedly asked the judge to check the security camera footage and called for witnesses to testify on his behalf. According to the Isfahan-e Ziba website, Salehi repeatedly told the court and the judge: "Bring a witness, check the cameras.” These requests were ignored.
According to court transcripts published on the Independent Mon News Agency website, Mustafa Salehi denied he possessed a weapon or any knowledge of how to use one. He said he also did not have the background or education to carry out intelligence work or to organize protests. The lawyer representing the dead man said Salehi’s supposed ignorance was proof of his "training and professionalism,” At any rate, the court ignored his statements, and based its allegations on bizarre evidence. The name of the lawyer for the officer who died is listed in the court documents, but there is no lawyer listed for the accused, not even the name of a publicly-appointed defense lawyer. It was only on February 28, 2019, when the president of the court announced that the case was coming to an end, that he obtained the final defense from Salehi’s defendant's lawyer.
A Second Salehi Involved in the Case
A lawyer by the name of Arab defended the family of Sajjad Shah-Sanai, the Guards officer who was killed. The lawyer demanded retribution (in Islamic law, qisas) from Mostafa Salehi for the murder of Shah-Sanai, and called for severe punishment for Amrollah Salehi, who was also alleged to have been involved in the murder. He was accused of destroying evidence and helping the defendant to flee the scene of the crime.
Accusations against Amrollah Salehi suggest that no evidence existed for Mostafa Salehi’s involvement in the murder. The trial of Amrollah Salehi or the sentence handed down to him were not reported in the media, and it is not clear whether the two men were related.
The Intelligence and Information Office of Isfahan Province continued to incarcerate Mostafa Salehi for several months, applying intense pressure on him to confess. According to his lawyer, his client had tried to commit suicide several times.
Salehi, who had worked as an electrical generator repairman, was charged in court with buying and selling illegal weapons, as set out by the prosecution, based on 524 calls he had made to Sistan and Baluchistan Province and visits to the province. But the prosecution was unable to provide evidence of any weapon or ammunition the defendant had allegedly used. There was no other available evidence to make a case against him.