Pen International announced that the execution of a poet from Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority shows the gap between Iranian attempts to improve its international relations and the human rights situation in the country. The organisation urged the Iranian authorities to halt all executions and to release all writers, poets, journalists and bloggers held solely in connection with their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
Relatives of Hashem Shaabani, a 31-year-old father of one from Ramshir (known as Khalafabad by the Ahwazi Arab community), were reportedly told on 29 January 2014 that he had been executed “three or four days before”. He had been transferred on 7 December 2013 to an unknown location from Karoun Prison in Ahvaz city where he had previously been held.
‘We condemn this execution as the ultimate violation of the right to life of a fellow poet. In addition, there are serious concerns that Hashem Shaabani was tortured after his arrest to pressure him to make a televised “confession” which was subsequently shown on national television. His trial was thus grossly unfair,’ said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
‘While the releases last year of prominent writers such as lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and journalist Jila Bani Yaghoub were welcome, the authorities must show that they are truly committed to respecting freedom of expression and other fundamental rights.’
Shaabani was executed alongside fellow teacher Hadi Rashedi after conviction on 7 July 2012 of “enmity against God”, “corruption on earth”, „gathering and colluding against state security” and “spreading propaganda against the system” by Branch Two of the Ahvaz Revolutionary Court. The sentence had been upheld by the Supreme Court in January 2013.
Both men were arrested in early September 2011, along with three other men, Mohammad Ali Amouri, Sayed Jaber Alboshoka and his brother Sayed Mokhtar Alboshoka, who were tried with them, apparently in connection with cultural activities on behalf of Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority. All five men had no access to a lawyer or their families for the first nine months of their detention and are reported to have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated before and after the verdict.
Hashem Shaabani was a member of al-Hiwar (dialogue), an Ahwazi Arab organisation which promoted Ahwazi Arab culture and campaigned for the right to mother-tongue education in Iran. The organisation’s meetings were held in public, and Shaabani read his poetry at some of them. The organisation was banned by the Iranian government in May 2005, shortly after wide spread anti-government protests broke out among the Ahwazi Arab community.
Iran’s state-controlled English-language television station, Press TV showed a programme on 13 December 2011 which featured Hashem Sha’bani Amouri and Hadi Rashidi. Hashem Sha’bani was shown admitting that he was a member of the “Popular Resistance” – a group which he said had ties to Saddam Hussein and Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, the former leaders of Iraq and Libya. Hadi Rashedi was described as “the leader of the military wing of the Popular Resistance” and was seen saying that he had participated in an attack on a house containing four government officials.
In a letter alleged to have been written by Shaabani in prison, he denied having used or advocated violence, said that he had been tortured to make his “confession” and that his three attempts to retract his “confession” in front of a judge were ignored.
PEN International is monitoring the cases of well over 20 writers detained, imprisoned or facing imprisonment in Iran.