Iran's judiciary system may execute a young Baluch citizen tomorrow morning, a human rights activist has warned.
Ismail Shahbakhsh, a 25-year-old Baluch citizen, was sentenced to death on April 24 and subsequently moved from the general ward of Zahedan Central Prison to solitary confinement, in preparation for his death sentence to be carried out.
He has been charged with "intentional murder," a charge that he has denied.
Alongside Shahbakhsh, in a separate case, at least one other Baluch citizen has been transferred to solitary confinement and sentenced to death.
The increased threat of execution for these citizens prompted Baluch activists to launch a Twitter campaign against the death sentence and to call for the suspension of Ismail's execution.
In April 2020, Ismail Shahbakhsh was arrested with seven others, two months after a mass brawl erupted in Keshavarz Square in Zahedan.
He was initially charged with "participation in murder," but during the trial process, the charge was changed to "intentional murder with a cold [bladed] weapon."
Despite Shahbakhsh's denial of the murder accusation, human rights activist Mohammad Saber Malek Raisi, founder of the Haalvsh human rights organization, said that the court ultimately concluded that he was the main perpetrator.
Shahbakhsh asserts that he was present during the altercation and was angry, but he did not have a knife or any other weapon weapon with which he could have killed someone.
According to Malek Raisi, the court disregarded Shahbakhsh's defense and sentenced him to death.
Although the judge acknowledged that there was not enough evidence to support the charge of intentional murder, the death sentence was still issued, and Shahbakhsh is currently awaiting execution.
Saber Malek Raisi suggests that the government is eager to close judicial cases as quickly as possible due to the costs imposed on the judiciary.
"We have received multiple reports regarding this matter. In Baluchistan, there are always 30 to 40 on death row and they send them all together for execution, and they [the judiciary] demand that the executions be carried out within two months. This is the execution procedure in Baluchistan,” he said.
Why is Ismail in imminent danger of execution?
Malek Raisi explains that, according to their sources inside the prison, during a recent visit of the Chief Justice of Sistan and Baluchistan province, Ali Mostafavinia, to Zahedan Central Prison, he ordered the head of the prison and the judge overseeing prison sentences to determine the status of prisoners who had been sentenced.
“This included releasing those who were due to be released and executing those who due for execution, as soon as possible. At that time, 31 people from the execution list were executed,” Malek Raisi said.
Referring to Mansoor Khavaran, a 38-year-old Baluch citizen who was recently transferred to solitary confinement, for his death sentence to be carried out, Malik Raisi said that Zahedan prison usually executes on Saturdays and “they will probably execute him at dawn on Saturday [April 29].”
According to Malek Raisi, Khavaran's charge is murder and he has been imprisoned in Zahedan for the past seven years.
Malek Raisi believes that the government is trying to reduce its costs and make room for new prisoners, as well as to reduce the cost of open cases, which is causing a rush in implementing death sentences.
"In general, they try to prepare the prison for new prisoners,” he said.
He emphasizes that the judicial system is not concerned with whether the verdict was issued correctly or incorrectly. Officials want to close the case “as soon as possible, even if it means executing death sentences faster,” Raisi said. He added that, as someone who spent his teenage years in prison, he felt a sense of urgency in seeking justice for those condemned to death.
Twitter storm against Ismail Shahbakhsh's death sentence
On the evening of April 24, hours after the call from Baluch activists on Twitter, thousands of tweets with a hashtag using Ismail Shahbakhsh’s name were posted in both Persian and English.
The storm started quickly and without prior planning, as soon as the news of the transfer of the Baluch prisoner to solitary confinement was confirmed.
"The decision to launch a Twitter storm was impromptu, and we had to decide to launch it within a few hours because this citizen's life was in danger,” Raisi told IranWire.
Malek Raisi notes that the storm was well-received by Iranian citizens and users.
"In the first hour, there were 11,000 tweets about Ismail Shahbakhsh and the call to stop his impending death sentence. By morning, the Persian hashtag had been used about 28,000 times and the English hashtag 26,000 times."
Previously, the Haalvsh news agency had reported that Ismail's sponsorship was taken over by Tice Rutten, a representative of the Netherlands to the European Parliament.