The execution of Habibollah Latifi, a 29-year-old Kurd, was halted this morning by the Iranian regime shortly before sunrise. In the darkness outside the prison, the temperature was below freezing, yet hundreds of family, friends, activists and sympathisers had been gathering there for hours hoping for news of a reprieve.
‘We do not have any other hope than reaching out to the international community,’ Latifi’s sister Elahe said in an interview yesterday. ‘Please help my innocent brother not to be executed while people of the world are celebrating Christmas.’
The three-day international campaign seems to have worked. One of Latifi’s lawyers, Nemat Ahmadi told the ISNA news agency early this morning,‘The verdict has been halted for the moment. The sentence has not been carried out and he has met with his family this morning.’
Amongst the frenzied Tweets yesterday was one that came shortly after 8am local time, @shadien wrote: ‘talking to Elaheh [sister] now. family is visiting with him now.’
The prison governor had came out and announced that the execution would not take place today, making references to the Islamic holy month of Muharram and stating the execution would not take place at this time. Iran executed seven prisoners the day before, notwithstanding references to the holy month of Muharram.
Sayeh Hassan, a Toronto based barrister and solicitor, said in a piece today in Canada Free Press: ‘While there was also a strong international campaign in support of Mr. Latifi, I strongly believe that it was the presence of brave people of Sanandaj in front of the prison that forced the Regime to back down and not carry out the execution.’
Whether it was the crowds of people at the prison, pressure from the international campaign, efforts by Latifi’s lawyers, or the holy month of Muharram that gave Habibollah Latifi this reprieve, the fact remains that he still remains at high risk of execution.
In a letter to the judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani on Saturday, Ahmadi said he had requested ‘a delay in carrying out the verdict, a fair and lawful investigation and commuting of the sentence.’ Larijani is a hard-line cleric with ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the intelligence agencies.
Latifi was arrested on 23 October 2007 in Sanandaj (Sine, in Kurdish) by Iranian security forces. He was sentenced to death on 03 July 2008 and the sentence was upheld by the Appeal Court in Sanandaj on 18 February 2009. He was transferred to solitary confinement on 16 January 2010. On 23 December 2010, judicial officials informed Habibollah Latifi’s lawyer that the execution would take place on Sunday, 26 December 2010.
Before his arrest, Latifi was a politically active student of law at Azad University, in the south-western province of Ilam.
Iran says he was a member of Kurdish Independent Life party (PJAK), an armed opposition group and convicted him of Muharebeh (enmity against God) but his family denies his connection with PJAK and claims the charges were fabricated. According to several media reports, Latifi’s family and sources close to his family have alleged that intelligence agents subjected Latifi to torture during the investigation phase.
‘This is nonsense, they’re just angry with his political activities as a student and have charged him with the false claim that he was a member of PJAK, that’s absolutely a lie, it’s just an excuse for them to execute him,’ his sister said.
According to Amnesty International, his trial was held behind closed doors and his lawyer was not allowed to be present to defend him.
Human rights advocate Peter Tatchell, who has campaigned in defence of Iran’s ethnic minorities, said: ‘Iran has a long history of persecuting its Kurdish ethnic minority population, including framing peaceful, lawful Kurdish rights activists on false charges. Habibollah Latifi was sentenced to death after an unfair trial in a closed court, where he had no legal representation – clearly in violation of articles 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.’
There are at least sixteen other Kurds on death row in Iran.
Iran: Political Prisoner Facing Imminent Execution. Amnesty International UK, 26 December 2010.
Farmani, Hiedeh. Iran halts execution of Kurdish student: lawyer. AFP/France 24, 26 December 2010.
Hassan, Sayeh. Brave People of Sanandaj were Successful in Stopping the Execution of Habibollah Latifi. Canada Free Press, 26 December 2010.
Human Rights Watch: Rescind Execution Order for Kurdish Student. Medya News, 25 December 2010.
Activists in Iraqi Kurdistan Protest: Save Habib Latifi! Persian2English, 25 December 2010.