Iranian Sunni worshippers pray during Friday prayers in Zahedan, Iran. (AP)

By Mahrokh Gholamhosseinpour

January 21, 2021

Two Sunni clerics facing execution, Amanollah Baluchi and Abdol Rahim Kouhi, who are being held in Zahedan Central Prison, have reportedly been transferred from the public wing to the quarantine wing. The quarantine wing is the last station where prisoners sentenced to death typically spend their final night. Amanollah’s brother Khalilollah Baluchi confirmed the news in a video.

Mustafa Nili, their lawyer, also warned of the imminent execution of the two prisoners and tweeted that the two families had been asked to visit them for the last time. Hours later, however, Nili wrote: “In the contact that the families had, it seems that a reprieve has been granted until Thursday.”

A human rights activist also told IranWire that “Due to the efforts of the families of the two prisoners and the negotiations they had with the relevant authorities, the pair were given a stay of execution. They have been returned to the normal wing and have told their families that the execution has been postponed until Thursday.”

Confessions Extracted Under Torture

Amanollah Baluchi and Abdol Rahim Kouhi were arrested in November 2015 and charged with political and security-related offenses. In September 2019 the Revolutionary Court sentenced each of them to 10 years in prison and then the death sentence, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in January 2020.

Khalilollah Baluchi says both his brother and Kouhi insist their death sentence was based on confessions obtained under torture: “The lawyer in the case says there are fundamental violations. But a retrial has unfortunately been rejected, and the prosecutor of Sistan and Baluchestan province still insists on the death penalty.”

The defense lawyer, Nili, joined the case in November 2020 and submitted a request for a retrial, which was rejected on January 5. The lawyer then applied for a ruling by the head of the judiciary under Article 477 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Amanollah Baluchi is 29 years old and married with no children. He was the imam of one of the villages of Kishkor Sarbaz, located in the south of Sistan and Baluchestan province. Kouhi is 30 years old, married and the father of three children. Both of them lived in the village of Kuhvan in the city of Sarbaz, 80km from Iranshahr.

The families of the two Sunni clerics did not know the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones for a long time after their arrest, and expressed concern about forced confessions having been extracted from them, which is particularly common among Sunni prisoners.

Their fears intensified when, before any trial or even the announcement of the charges had taken place, it was reported that a picture of Amanollah Baluchi was posted on the wall of a hall during a program called Unity Week in Tehran, and described as being the image of a “terrorist”.

Pressure on Sunni Students

In the first months after their arrest, the two prisoners did not face any serious charges and Baluchi was even scheduled to be released in April 2016, but remained in prison following an increase in bail and his family’s inability to pay. He was kept in prison until the case was sent to Zahedan Intelligence Office.

The human rights activist told IranWire that neither of the two men had any connection to the opposition groups they had been linked to, and the sentence was based solely on confessions they gave while under intense pressure during interrogation.

“Based on what is known locally about these two people, they are undoubtedly innocent and their arrest, accusation and death sentence happened to put pressure on Sunni students and implement a plan for reorganizing religious schools,” he said.

“They have been convicted of armed activity against the Islamic Republic of Iran and sedition, and under pressure during interrogations, they accepted these charges,” the activist continued. “But then under normal circumstances and during their trial, they repeatedly denied the allegations, saying that their statements had been obtained under duress and torture. We have even heard that at the same stage of the interrogation they were not willing to sign the confessions, but were forced to do so due to threats being made to their families. These two clerics were not arrested during an armed assault; their detention was based solely on the forced confessions of others.”

Both before and even in recent days, many senior provincial figures have called for the death sentence of the two Sunni clerics to be overturned.

The number of executions of prisoners in Zahedan Central Prison has reached alarming levels over the past two months. The executions of Behnam Rigi and Shoaib Rigi on December 19, 2020, and the executions of Hassan Dehvari and Omid Mahmoudzehi on January 3, 2021 are just some of the recent killings of prisoners of conscience. The latter two were executed on charges of having links with the Jaish Al-Adl militant group, but they denied such links until the last minute of their lives, saying that they, too, had “confessed” under torture.

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.