Monday, December 27, 2010

First the execution threat, then the family arrested

IRANIAN police have arrested the whole of a man's family within hours of postponing the man's execution. Relatives of Kurdish student Habib Latifi had gone to Sanandaj prison where his execution was due to have been carried out on Sunday.

"My client was scheduled to be executed this morning but it was not carried out in order to allocate more time to further investigate the case," his lawyer Nemat Ahmadi said.

Habib Latifi, an active member of the banned Iranian-Kurdish rebel group Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), was sentenced to death in 2008. Latifi was first arrested on October 23 2007 and was sentenced to death by a short court session lasting only a few minutes after enduring four months of interrogation and torture on June 30 2008. His trial was held without family members being allowed to be present.

He had been accused of connection with a number of bomb explosions. But he was found guilty on the somewhat vaguer charge of "emnity towards God" - in the Islamic Republic a "security" crime. An appeal court upheld the verdict in 2009. Just before the scheduled execution, Ahmadi had once again written a letter to the head of the judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, asking for the sentence to be revised.

The execution was eventually postponed and Latifi allowed to meet his family members, the lawyer added.

Earlier, the condemned man's sister Elahe Latifi had said Habib's case had seemed to be going positively, and then Saleh Nikbakht (the family lawyer) was informed of this sentence on Friday "while most government organizations are closed down and our hands are tied.”

“Mr Nikbakht called yesterday around 2 p.m. and stated the execution sentence has been faxed to him by authorities and my brother is to be executed on Sunday. “Today Mr Saleh Nikhbakht left Tehran to Sanandaj and follow up on my brother’s case. But in reality the timing of issuance of the sentence only gave us a short window to follow up since we only have tomorrow to try and sustain the sentence.”

Asked about the reaction of judicial officials of Sanandaj and Representatives of the province, Elahe stated: “Nobody from officials nor representatives have answered us. Nobody is taking responsibility, we do not know what to do. The sentence was delivered yesterday and our only hope is for Mr Nikbakht to be able to speak with authorities.”

At least 12 Kurds, all reportedly members of PJAK, are on death row after being found guilty of armed confrontation with Iranian forces.

Iranian Kurds, are estimated to number around 7 million, mainly live in the north-western and western provinces of West Azerbaijan, Kermanshah and Kurdistan which border Turkey and northern Iraq. There has been a Kurdish struggle with the regime in Tehran for decades, although Iranian regimes have sometimes provided support to Kurds in Iraq.

Kurds in Iran have been relatively integrated into the wider society, although there are religious as well as cultural differences. Movements like PJAK want autonomy, and possibly self-determination along with the Kurds of neighbouring Turkey, Iraq and Syria.

Mossad and CIA projects in Iran may be exploiting minority struggles as a cover, a suspicion aroused by recent terror attacks in Baluchistan, and referred to in documents released by Wikileaks. But foreign agencies did not invent these people's aspirations, which predate the Islamic regime. With Turkey a NATO member, its western allies remain cautious about encouraging the Kurdish struggle, and the movement is currently in a de facto alliance with those fighting for democracy in Iran.

About the actions of international Human Rights organizations trying to stop her brother’s execution, Elahe Latif said: “I ask all Human Rights organizations and anyone who is able to help to come froward. But I still think what needs to be done has to be from inside the country.”

I thought in honor of the month of Moharram, no executions will be carried out, but apparently that does not matter to the authorities. Our last hope is god.”

Moharram is the first month of the Muslim calender, when fighting is said to be forbidden, and Shia are supposed to mourn the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. The Iranian authorities may have considered that on the other hand, a Christmas weekend when international organisations' offices and college campuses were closed was a good time to announce an execution.

For now the threat has been postponed, but not lifted. And the arrest of Latif's family may have been seen as one way of limiting protests. But now should be the time for these to be stepped up.

The Iranian government has rejected calls from the British Foreign Office to improve civil rights, and pro-Islamic regime journalist Yvonne Ridley says Britain should put its own house in order before criticising others. That's fine. But we are not bound by imperialist diplomacy. The British government does not speak for us, and we do not speak for the British government. We are not only entitled, but duty bound to speak up for political prisoners and those threatened with execution, in Iran or anywhere else.

We should also demand that Yvonne Ridley and others who claim to be friends of the Iranian people do the same.



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