August 21, 2019
The Islamic Republic of Iran often prides itself on its expansion of literacy and education across the country. Yet, instead of being proud of teachers who do their jobs, often under difficult conditions, authorities harass, threaten, prosecute and imprison them on trumped-up charges for standing up for their rights, being involved with independent trade unions or demanding salaries above the poverty line. This is despite the fact that their rights are enshrined in the constitution and under Iranian laws.
In some cases, the persecution goes even further, as in the case of Hashem Shaabani and Hadi Rashedi, two ethnic Arab teachers who were executed in January 2014.
Shaabani, also known as Shabaninejad, was born in 1981 in Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan Province, and taught Arabic at schools in the city before he was arrested. Besides teaching, Shaabani was also a poet, a blogger and a graduate student in political science at Ahvaz University.
Hadi Rashedi, 38, was born in Ramshir (Khalafieh or Khalafabad in Arabic) south of Ahvaz and, like Shaabani, was engaged in cultural activities in addition to his teaching career. He held a Master’s degree in applied chemistry and taught high school in the Khuzestani city of Sarbandar. On February 28, 2011, he and his brother Habibollah, the former president of Ramshir City Council, were arrested. Also arrested at the same time were student activist Mohammad Ali Amourinejad, 34, and two brothers, Seyed Mokhtar Alboshokeh, 25, and Seyed Jaber Alboshokeh, 27. All five were taken to the detention centers of Khuzestan’s intelligence bureau.
Hashem Shaabani and Hadi Rashedi founded the Al-Hiwar (“Dialogue”) Scientific and Cultural Organization, which promoted Arabic culture and literature in Iran through activities including poetry recitation nights and art classes in Ramshir.
In early 2012, a revolutionary court sentenced the two teachers and the others arrested to death on charges including “activities against national security,” “waging war on God” and “spreading corruption on earth.” They went on a hunger strike in prison to protest against the verdict but in late 2012 the Iranian Supreme Court upheld it.
Boiling Water, Chains, Electrical Cables
According to Kameel Alboshokeh, a cousin to the two arrested Alboshokehn brothers, intelligence ministry agents tortured the detainees with electric shocks, by hitting them with chains and electrical cables and by placing their feet in boiling water [Persian link]. They tied their hands and hung them from the ceiling to force them to confess before the cameras of Press TV, the Islamic Republic’s English-language network.
Hadi Rashedi’s pelvis was badly damaged and broken as a result of torture. Hashem Shaabani was also in need of emergency medical treatment but security agents did not allow him to be hospitalized.
In an interview before the execution, Mehdi Hashemi, a Khuzestani civil rights activist said: “During the trial, they told the judge that their confessions were coerced under torture and were false, but the judge rejected their claim because they could not produce evidence that they had been tortured in prison” [Persian link].
During the reform period [the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, 1997-2005], these young men engaged in extensive cultural activities,” said Hashemi. “During this period the political atmosphere in our province was relatively open and they tried to grasp the chance and communicate people’s demands to provincial and national authorities in a totally peaceful way.”
According to Hashemi, for a long time, the accused did not have a lawyer. When they were finally allowed to choose someone to represent them, they were not permitted to meet with them.
Rashedi and Shaabani were charged with a bombing in Ahvaz and the sabotage of oil fields. No evidence was produced to support these charges. Prior to this a separatist group had taken responsibility for sabotaging oil installations but, as of now, no group has claimed responsibility for the explosion in Naderi Avenue in Ahvaz.
“They were neither responsible for the bomb explosion nor they were in possession of any explosives or firearms,” said Hashemi. “It was claimed that they [authorities] had found files on their personal computers that showed they were communicating with [secessionist] groups outside Iran.”
Before his execution, Hashem Shaabani wrote a letter from prison, rejecting the charges against him and recounting his activities and his ordeal in prison.
“After I entered Ahwaz University of Chamran in 2000,” wrote Shaabani, “I edited and published Neda-ye Basirat [‘Call to Awareness’], a student newsletter in Persian, and tried to expose the miseries and deprivations suffered by people in general and the Ahwazi [ethnic Arab] community. I was also editor of Al-Basira, another student newsletter in Arabic, and the political coordinator of the Reformist Students’ Forum in the faculty of literature and sharia.”
The sufferings of Iran’s [minority] nationalities and particularly the Ahwazi Arabs preoccupied me at the time,” he wrote. “Therefore I encouraged my friend to establish an NGO by the name of Al-Hiwar [“Dialogue”] to express our concerns through peaceful cultural activities. We were hoping that we could use the openings provided by the regime to achieve the rights of all nationalities in Iran, in particular the right to study in our mother tongues as stated by Articles 15 and 19 of the Islamic Republic constitution. But we realized that this was a mirage.”
The Judge Refused to Listen
Shaabani went on to describe his arrests and his ordeal. “On February 11, 2011, while I was at home,” he wrote, “I was arrested by the Iranian intelligence service and accused of being a member of the popular resistance. I was subjected to physical and mental torture and I was forced to confess to acts that I had not committed…I spent five months in the detention center of the intelligence bureau and was then transferred to Karun Prison. I first appeared in court on May 21, 2012. I tried to tell the judge the truth and stated that there was no ‘popular resistance’ but only ‘Hashem Shaabani.’ I told the judge that I was forced under physical and mental torture by intelligence agents to implicate others. I repeated my statements before the judge three different times and I was shocked and went insane after I heard the final verdict that sentenced me and four of my friends to death.”
Human rights organizations took notice of this travesty of justice when the Islamic Republic’s English-language network Press TV broadcast the forced confessions of the two teachers and their codefendants. “This is not only in breach of Iran’s international obligations under the international covenant, which imposes an outright prohibition on torture, it is also in breach of Iran’s constitution, which explicitly forbids the use of all forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confessions or acquiring information,” said Juan E. Méndez, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture.
After the forced confessions were broadcast, Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, and Ahmed Shaheed, who was at the time the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, spoke against the death penalty handed down to Shaabani and his codefendants.
“Iran’s judiciary should immediately quash execution orders against five activists from Iran’s ethnic Arab minority and allow the men’s lawyers and family members to visit them in detention,” declared Human Rights Watch. “The judiciary has put forth no public evidence suggesting that these men should spend one more day in prison, let alone hang from the gallows,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The lack of transparency surrounding these men’s convictions and sentences is just one more reason why these execution orders should be quashed.”
Amnesty International, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Noble Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi and 29 other human rights organizations also called on the Islamic Republic to stop the execution of the five ethnic Arabs.
No Last Meeting with Family
But the pleas fell on deaf ears. On January 29, 2014, Karim Dahimi, a London-based Iranian human rights activist, reported: “After two months without any news about them, Hadi Rashedi and Hashem Shabaninejad were executed at an unknown location. Agents of the Intelligence Ministry have told their families that they have been executed three or four days earlier and that they would be informed later where they are buried.”
Even in death their rights were violated. By law, judiciary officials must notify the convict’s lawyer 48 hours before a death penalty is carried out and they must arrange a meeting between the convict and his family for a final time.
Human rights activists strongly condemned the executions. “The execution of Hashem Shaabani can’t be separated from his role as an Ahwazi Arab teacher and poet, a figure who had attempted to nurture an independently-minded minority culture in harsh circumstances,” said Drewery Dyke, Amnesty International’s Iran expert. “Tragically enough, his secret execution is just one of a long line of judicial killings of members of Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority.”
Faraz Sanei of Human Rights Watch said the execution of Shaabani and Rashedi was “a travesty of justice on multiple grounds. The government held these men in pre-trial detention for long periods of time, prevented them from mounting a proper legal defense, subjected them to severe physical and psychological abuse, hanged them in secret, and now refuses to hand over their bodies to their families for proper burial.”
“We condemn this execution as the ultimate violation of the right to life of a fellow poet,” said Marian Botsford Fraser, chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
Hashem Shaabani was the sole provider for his father and sister. He was survived by his wife and a daughter, who is now nine years old.