Amnesty International urged the Iranian authorities on Monday to immediately overturn the death sentences against five members of Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority.
The right group released the statement after the prisoners were moved to an unknown location over the weekend, indicating that they are facing imminent execution.
“The men were transferred out of the general section of Karoun Prison in the south-western city of Ahvaz on Saturday, prompting concerns their death sentences may be about to be carried out,” reported Amnesty.
Death row prisoners in Iran are generally transferred to solitary confinement shortly before their executions take place.
The group includes three brothers, Abd al-Rahman Heidari, Taha Heidari and Jamshid Heidari, their cousin Mansour Heidari and Amir Muawi.
All five men were arrested in April 2011 amid unrest in the Khuzestan province and were later convicted of “Moharebeh” (enmity against God) for killing a law enforcement official.
The charge of “enmity against God and corruption on earth” carries the death penalty in Iran.
“Iran must urgently halt any plans to execute these five Ahwazi men. The death sentences of all who languish on death row in Iranian prisons should be overturned or commuted,” said Ann Harrison, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Program Director at Amnesty International.
“Their families must be informed immediately of their whereabouts and fate, and they should be allowed access to lawyers of their choice. While held, they must be protected from all forms of torture or other ill-treatment and granted all necessary medical care,” she said.
Under Iranian law, lawyers must receive 48 hours’ notice of their client’s execution, but it is not clear whether these five men have ever been permitted legal representation, said Amnesty.
On March 5, 2012, Iranian Ministry of Intelligence officials informed the men’s families that the Supreme Court had upheld the death penalty for all five prisoners.
Amnesty questioned the dates of the men’s initial trials before a Revolutionary Court. Their families have said the men “confessed” to murder, but did so under torture or other ill-treatment.
Ahwazi Arabs, one of the country’s many minorities, – who are mostly Shiite Muslims like the majority of people in Iran – live mainly in the oil-rich south-western province of Khuzestan and often complain of being “marginalized and discriminated against in access to education, employment, adequate housing, political participation and cultural rights.”
In 2005, Khuzestan was the scene of mass demonstrations to protest Iran’s government policies.
In a similar case in early May 2011, the Iranian authorities reportedly executed at least eight Ahwazi Arabs - including Hashem Hamidi, believed to be 16 years old – “for their alleged role in the deaths of a law enforcement official and two others during clashes”.
“Ahwazi Arabs - like everyone else in Iran - have the right to peacefully express their opposition to government policies. Iran’s authorities must review legislation which discriminates against Ahwazi Arabs and other ethnic and religious minorities.
Otherwise, the cycle of grievance, protest and unrest will only continue,” said Harrison.
(Written by Rana Khoury)