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Iran executes Kurdish prisoner, sparking rare protests

Heidar Ghorbani’s trial deemed unfair due to forced confessions; crowd gathers in his hometown of Kamyaran in western Iran, chanting ‘martyrs don’t die’

Screen grab of a video apparently showing a protest in Kamyaran, Iran after the execution of Heidar Ghorbani, Decemebr 19, 2021 (Screen grab)
Screen grab of a video apparently showing a protest in Kamyaran, Iran after the execution of Heidar Ghorbani, Decemebr 19, 2021 (Screen grab)

PARIS — Iran has executed a Kurdish man for armed rebellion despite international pressure for his life to be spared, activists said Monday, after a trial that was alleged to be unfair with forced confessions.

Heidar Ghorbani was executed on Sunday morning in Sanandaj prison in western Iran’s Kurdistan province, the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) organization said, adding that neither his family nor his lawyer had been given prior warning.

UN human rights experts had in September urged Iran to repeal his death sentence over “serious concerns” that he did not receive a fair trial and was tortured during pre-trial detention.

Amnesty International had also called for his life to be spared, saying that there had been “numerous violations” in his trial, which it said was “grossly unfair.”

Campaign groups say that Ghorbani was convicted and sentenced to death in 2020 in connection with the killing in 2016 of three men linked to the pro-government Basij militia. He had been jailed since October 2016.

He was convicted of providing transport and logistical support for the killings. But the court verdict acknowledged he had never been armed.

Videos posted on social media showed crowds gathering on Sunday for a memorial ceremony for him in his hometown of Kamyaran in western Iran, chanting “martyrs don’t die.”

“Heidar Ghorbani was subjected to torture and sentenced to death without due process and any evidence against him,” said Iran Human Rights director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam.

“Heidar’s death penalty is unlawful even under the Islamic Republic’s own laws.”

The group said his case was still under consideration at the Supreme Court and his relatives had not been warned in advance of the execution and merely pointed toward his grave after it was carried out, it said.

Amnesty International had also previously raised concerns about Ghorbani’s appearance after his arrest in a so-called documentary broadcast in 2017 by Iran’s state-run English language channel Press-TV about the killings.

Activists have repeatedly complained over Iranian state media’s continued practice of broadcasting “confessions” from convicts under the guise of interviews, fearing that they were obtained through torture.

They also fear that disproportionately large numbers of members of Iran’s non-Persian ethnic minorities are being executed, particularly Kurds and Arabs in the west and Baluch in the east who largely belong to the Sunni strain of Islam rather than the Shiism dominant in the country.

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