Khalil Bahramian: Defending Kurdish Rights in Iran

Bahramian: 'If the reported news about the enforcement of Zeinab Jalalian’s execution is true, the only way to save this Kurdish prisoner is by contacting the UN Secretary General and asking for his direct intervention.'

Khalil Bahramian has been practising human rights law for more than 40 years. As a lawyer in Iran defending human rights, his job is isolating and dangerous. He has been threatened. He has been arrested. His car was set on fire. But he continues. Bahramian knows it is a high risk position with severe pressures but, he says, ‘[human rights lawyers] should stand with the people and defend citizens’ rights.’

His latest ‘case’ is that of Zeinab Jalalian. Bahramian has been trying to file papers on her behalf for some time now. Iranian authorities, however, have refused to allow him access to her.

Jalalian was sentenced to death in 2009 for ‘enmity against God’ because of her alleged ties to PJAK, the Free Life Party of Kurdistan. Her trial lasted only a few minutes and she was not allowed to have a lawyer represent her. She is now being held incommunicado in Evin Prison. See Kurdistan Commentary’s report from November 2009 for background.

Zeinab Jalalian

In an interview on 30 June with Radio Farda (Iranian Branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, broadcasting from Prague) Bahramian said that is was ‘only a few days ago I found out that Zeinab is detained in section 209 of Evin prison. [On Wednesday] I went to Evin prison but they didn’t let me visit her or draw up power of attorney papers.’ He also said that the fact that Jalalian is now in Section 209 and not in the public area increases concerns about her situation.

Bahramian had previously represented Farzad Kamangar and Shirin Alam Houli, two of the four Kurdish activists executed in Iran on 09 May 2010. Those death sentences, carried out without prior notice to either lawyers or families, drew international criticism.

Since their executions, Bahramian has conducted numerous interviews with different foreign and Iranian media defending Kamangar’s innocence and exposing the various judicial irregularities leading to the hangings. Bahramian had stated clearly that all Iranian officials knew full well that Kamangar had been innocent, but was finally executed in violation of many judicial norms and practices. Neither the families nor the lawyers of the executed prisoners were notified about the planned executions beforehand.

Shortly after the May executions, the Iranian opposition website Jaras reported that Bahramian had been arrested by security agents and taken to an unknown location due to his outspoken criticism of the regime. Bahramian, who was one of the lawyers defending jailed Kurdish journalists Adnan Hassanpour and Hiwa Boutimar, was also arrested in 2007 while trying to board a flight to Italy. He was to attend the 2007 ISF (Information, Safety & Freedom) Freedom of the Press award ceremony, where Hassanpour and Boutimar had been named recipients of the award.

Bahramian says that with more and more hardliners in positions of power and influence within the Iranian judicial system, the situation of political prisoners in Iran has become increasingly difficult. So too has Bahramian’s job. Kurdistan Commentary applauds Khalil Bahramian’s tireless efforts on behalf of these activists in Iran fighting for human rights and dignity.

At present there are 17 Kurds facing execution in Iran. They are: Rostam Arkia, Hossein Khezri, Anvar Rostami, Mohammad Amin Abdolahi, Ghader Mohammadzadeh, Zeynab Jalalian, Habibollah Latifi, Sherko Moarefi (represented by Bahramian), Mostafa Salimi, Hassan Tali, Iraj Mohammadi, Rashid Akhkandi, Mohammad Amin Agoushi, Ahmad Pouladkhani, Sayed Sami Hosseini, Sayed Jamal Mohammadi, and Aziz Mohammadzadeh.

Many are held in the infamous Evin Prison, named after a neighbourhood in northwestern Tehran. It is cruelly ironic that Evîn in Kurdish means Love.


Lawyer of executed prisoners Khalil Bahramian arrested. The Green Voice of Freedom, 20 May 2010.

Fathi, Nazila. Relatives of Kurds Executed in Iran Are Denied the Remains, and 2 Are Arrested. New York Times, 11 May 2010.

Lawyer Fears Kurdish Prisoner Faces Imminent Execution In Iran. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 01 July 2010.

Emotional Interview with the Lawyer of Executed Prisoners: “I Am Speechless”. Persian2English, 13 May 2010.

Iran: Executed Dissidents ‘Tortured to Confess’. Human Rights Watch, 11 May 2010.

Iranian activist calls Mottaki a “murderer” for executing Kurdish political prisoners

Iranian opposition activists heckled and threw eggs at Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s Foreign Minister, on a trip to Dublin.

On a recent trip to Dublin, Ireland, Manoucher Mottaki was heckled by Iranian activists, calling the Iranian Foreign Minister a “terrorist” and “murderer”.

As the video below shows, Mottaki’s bodyguards assaulted the activists kicking one down a flight of stairs and punching another.

One of the protesters pointed his finger at the Iranian Minister shouting “shame on you, shame on you. You’re a murderer” and continued “why did you execute 5 Kurdish political prisoners?”

Iran recently executed 4 Iranian Kurds, one of them a woman, and another Iranian man on charges of “moharebeh” which is an Iranian term meaning “enmity against God”. The Iranian Kurds were sentenced to death on charges of being members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), two Kurdish opposition rebel groups fighting Turkey and Iran respectively.

Iran is second only to China in terms of capital punishment, but can be considered number one in the world for the number of people it executes in proportion to its population.

Amnesty - Death Penalty in 2009

Mottaki was giving an address to the Institute of International and European Affairs regarding the recent round of UN Security Council sanctions on Iran.

As he left the building more protestors were waiting outside to confront Mottaki by hurling eggs and chanting “Death to Khamanei, death to dictator”.

Irish news sources report that some of the protestors were members of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq or People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK/PMOI) dissident group, which up until January 2009 was designated as a terror organization by the European Union.

Farzad Kamangar: message from his mother

Farzad Kamangar is a 33-year-old Iranian Kurdish teacher and social worker from the city of Kamyaran, Iran. Farzad was arrested in July 2006. Since then, he has been held in various detention centres around the country.

For several months he was kept in solitary confinement and was not allowed any contact with his family or lawyer. The police also arrested Farzad’s girlfriend, as well as members of his family.

Prison authorities on different occasions during his detention have used torture to force him to confess to the charges against him. Farzad has denied the charges against him. For this denial, Kamangar was repeatedly tortured. Amnesty International reports that ‘Mr. Kamangar was repeatedly beaten, flogged, and electrocuted, and that he now suffers from spasms in his arms and legs as a result of the torture.’

Farzad Kamangar's mother holds up his photo

On 25 February 2008, Branch 30 of Iran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced him to death on charges of ‘endangering national security’ and the crime of ‘enmity against God’ or moharebeh. Prosecutors charged that he was a member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but provided no evidence to support the allegation. In July of that same year, the Supreme Court upheld his death sentence.

On Monday, 11 January 2010 at 10am local time, Farzad Kamangar was able to contact his family, albeit briefly. This is the conversation they had:

Farzad: Hi mom, I hope you are well.

Farzad’s Mother: Yes dear, I am very well and I am proud of you. Believe me I am doing well, as always.

Farzad: Mom, how are the kids (Farzad’s students) doing? What do they say? What are they up to? What is the media saying?

His mother’s response to these questions is brief and the phone is then suddenly disconnected.

Farzad’s mother wishes to deliver the following message:

Please send my best wishes to Mina Ahadi and tell her that she should send a message to all mothers who have lost loved ones and those whose loved ones are imprisoned like mine that we should do something for them ourselves.

All the youngsters who have been executed, are being executed, and those in detention, are all my brothers and sisters, just as my Farzad is a son to countless others. I have said this many times: He belongs to all people. Human beings are not different from each other, be they Persian, Kurd, Arab or Turk. We are all human beings and we want freedom and dignity. But who do we talk to? Where? How?

My message to mothers in the same situation is this: my dear sisters and my dear daughters, wherever we are, whatever our ideas and opinions, we need to join hands, stay in touch and protest in a unified manner. We need to rise together. What are they going to do to us? Execute us? Let us be executed so that we may never see the deaths of our children. Dear mothers, please let us join hands to free our young people. I know that these gentlemen (regime officials) are listening to these words. Let them hear me. Let them execute me. I will sooner set myself on fire than silence myself. Have they not seen what happened to the Shah? Have they not seen what happened to Saddam? They should not continue on this path or they will meet the same fate.

What do the youth want besides freedom? What crime has Farzad committed except seeking freedom? He has spent 4 years in prison. Lately his lawyer wanted to review his file and they have told him that the file is lost! His lawyer has suffered a stroke because of the stress caused by Farzad’s case and the tens of other similar cases, and is now hospitalized.

I am pleading with the Human Rights Commission, all political parties and organizations that are for humanity and all people who fight for human dignity. The situation is very dangerous. They are executing youngsters everyday.

If anyone can do anything, please do. Do not let them execute youngsters en masse. You and all the world shall be my defense. Please let the world hear my message.

Farzad worked for 12 years as a teacher in the rural areas of Kamyaran, in the Kordestan Province of Iran. He was also member of the Kurdish branch of the teacher union and was in charge of its public relations until it was outlawed. Farzad was also active in defending Kurdish minority rights, human rights and women’s rights.

Recently Kamangar participated in the hunger strike to protest the execution of Ehsan Fatahian.


Conversation With Mother of Kurdish Activist on Death Row. Persian2English, 12 January 2010.

Farzad Kamangar sentenced to death after five-minute trial. Education International, 19 August 2008.

Ehsan Fattahian and the Treatment of Kurds in Iran

ehsan fattahian

'If the rulers and oppressors think that with my death, the Kurdish question will go away, they are wrong. My death and the death of thousands of others like me will not cure the pain; they will only add to the flames of this fire. There is no doubt that every death is the beginning of new life.'

Ehsan Fattahian was put to death this morning in Iran.  He was hanged in Central Sanandaj Prison for the crime of ‘enmity against God’ or moharebehMoharebeh is the term used in Sharia law to describe a major crime committed against Islam and the state.  It is a charge used frequently against Kurds in Iran (e.g. Farzad Kamangar and Adnan Hassanpour, to name just two) who are deemed to be security threats.

Fattahian, a 27-year-old Kurd from Kermanshah, was arrested on 20 July 2008 in the city of Kamyaran.  Originally he was sentenced to ten years of ‘prison in exile’ by a court in that same city.  Fattahian appealed the sentence, but so did the Kamyaran Revolutionary and General Courts prosecutor.  The prosecutor cited amendment 3 of article 22 of the Revolutionary and General Courts code as well as articles 186, 190, and 191 of the Islamic penal code and demanded the death sentence for Fattahian.  The prosecutor won the appeal, Branch 4 of the Kordestan Appeals Court overturned the initial verdict, and Fattahian’s sentence was changed to death.

This morning chief justice of the Kordestan province, Ali Akbar Gharoussi, said that the death sentence had been carried out (between 6.30am and 7.00am local time) and that Fattahian was ‘found guilty of armed action against national security’ and admitting to being a member of Komeleh.

Ehsan had admitted to being a part of Komeleh, a Kurdish political opposition group fighting to eliminate the national oppression of Kurds in Iran. Fattahian’s lawyer said, however, that no proof was presented in court that Ehsan Fattahian had engaged in any armed operations whatsoever as part of that group.

When asked by Al Arabiya about why he thinks Ehasan was hanged, Komeleh group leader Abdullah Moh’tadi said: ‘the Iranian regime is trying to intimidate ethnic minorities from joining the Green Wave. One of the methods to deter people is stricter sentencing in ethnic provinces such as Kordestan, Baluchistan and Ahwaz.’  The ‘Green Wave’ refers to the movement started in Iran for democracy during the last presidential election.

During Ehsan’s long detention he was routinely beaten and brutally tortured.  During that time he refused to confess to the iran_sanandajallegations against him that he carried arms or that he participated in an armed struggle.  Intelligence Ministry interrogators had wanted to get a taped confession and have him show remorse for his actions.  Ehsan called them ‘illegitimate demands.’

Growing up, as Ehsan’s thoughts were developing about who he was, he came to see and feel the injustices and discrimination against the Kurds in Iran.  He ‘went in a thousand different directions’ to discover the reasons behind the injustice.  One of those directions led him to Komeleh, which he said he joined to find his ‘stolen identity.’

There are more than 10 million ‘stolen identities’ in Iran and those Kurds make up approximately 15 percent of Iran’s population.  Expression of Kurdish culture is somewhat tolerated and the Kurdish language is used in some broadcasts and publications.  However, political activity based on Kurdish identity is banned and linked to separatism.  Kurds, as a result, are disproportionately targeted using security legislation such as the capital offence of moharebeh.  Punishments (article 191) are often entirely at the discretion of the presiding judge.

There are at least twelve Kurdish political prisoners in Iran now facing the death penalty.  Many, many more are imprisoned for their beliefs and activities.


Iran: Halt Execution of Kurdish Activist.  Human Rights Watch, 10 November 2009.

Ehsan Fattahian was Hanged this Morning in Iran. MidEast Youth, 11 November 2009

Iran executes Kurdish Political Prisoner Ehsan Fattahian. Kurdish Alliance for Human Rights, 11 November 2009.

Iran Executes Kurdish Man. Amnesty International, 11 November 2009.

Ehsan Fattahian was executed today morning by the Islamic Republic… Revolutionary Road Blog, 11 November 2009.

Iran authorities hang young Kurdish activist. Al Arabiya, 11 November 2009.

For more information on Kurds in Iran, read:

–The Kurds in Iran: Past, Present and Future. Tanyel B. Taysi and Kerim Yildiz (Pluto Press, 2007).

–KHRP’s Briefing Paper ‘Human Rights and the Kurds in Iran’ from 26 August 2009.  Download here (.pdf, 207kb)

Iran: End Repression in Kurdish Areas

From Human Rights Watch…

(New York, January 9, 2009) – The government of Iran should amend or abolish broadly worded national security laws used to stifle peaceful dissent in the country’s Kurdish areas and end arbitrary arrests of Kurdish critics and dissidents, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.iran_0109_web

The 42-page report, “Iran: Freedom of Expression and Association in the Kurdish Regions,” documents how Iranian authorities use security laws, press laws, and other legislation to arrest and prosecute Iranian Kurds solely for trying to exercise their right to freedom of expression and association. The use of these laws to suppress basic rights, while not new, has greatly intensified since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in August 2005.

“Iranian authorities show little tolerance of political dissent anywhere in the country, but they are particularly hostile to dissent in minority areas where there has been any history of separatist activities,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division.

Kurds account for 4.5 million of the 69 million people in Iran, and live mainly in the country’s northwest regions. Political movements there have frequently campaigned for greater regional autonomy. The main Iranian Kurdish parties with a long history of activism deny that they engage in armed activity and the government has not accused these groups of any such activity since the early 1990s.

“No one would contest a government’s right to suppress violence,” Stork said. “But this is not the case here. What is going on in the Kurdish areas of Iran is the routine suppression of legitimate peaceful opposition.”

The new report documents how the government has closed Persian- and Kurdish-language newspapers and journals, banned books, and punished publishers, journalists, and writers for opposing and criticizing government policies. Authorities also suppress legitimate activities of nongovernmental organizations by denying registration permits or charging individuals working with such organizations with spurious security offenses.

One victim of the government’s repression is Farazad Kamangar, a superintendent of high schools in the city of Kamayaran and an activist with the Organization for the Defense of Human Rights in Kurdistan. He has been in detention since his arrest in July 2006. The new report reproduces a letter Kamangar smuggled out of prison describing how officials subjected him to torture during interrogation.

On February 25, 2008, Branch 30 of Iran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced him to death on charges of “endangering national security.” Prosecutors charged that he was a member of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but provided no evidence to support the allegation. In July, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence. Kamangar’s lawyer has appealed to the head of the judiciary to intervene, the only remaining option for challenging the sentence.

Download Report here (English version; .pdf 716kb)

Download Report here (Persian version; .pdf 636kb)

Iran: The latest open letter from Kurdish human rights activist

Farzad KamangarThis is a letter posted on about two days ago. It was written by Farzad Kamangar,  a 33 year old Kurd from Iran.  He is a teacher, journalist, human rights activist…and currently  a political prisoner.  He was sentenced to death by the Iranian Revolutionary Court on 25 February 2008 after a trial which took place in secret, lasted only minutes, and failed to meet any standards of fairness.

The following is Farzad’s latest letter to Mohseni Ejeie, the head of Iranian intelligence.  It was translated from the original by Kamal Soleimani.

Mr. Mohseni Ejeie,

I’ve been imprisoned for months now, in a prison that is supposed to tear down my will, my love, my humanity and to make me as obedient and docile as “an obedient lamb.” For months I’ve been confined in a prison with walls as high as history itself.

Those walls are supposed to become a distance between me and the nation I love; and to become an eternal distance between the children of my homeland and me. Nevertheless, every day I’ve gone out through the small crack in my cell and traveled to farmlands. I’ve found myself among people and have felt what they have felt as they have perceived their sufferings in my imprisonment. The prison has made our bonds much stronger than they were before.

The prison is supposed to take away from me the sense of light and the sun; however, in the prison I am observing the growth of a violet in the dark!

The prison is supposed to make me forget the meaning of time and its value; but I’ve lived outside of the prison for some moments and have brought myself back into the world to choose a new way.

I too have welcomed humiliations, insults, and assaults bit by bit and wholeheartedly, the way those before did it in here. I am hoping that I might be the last person from this afflicted generation who had turned the darkness of their cells into a life with their love for the dawn.

But, one day I was called muharib (the enemy of God) by those regime that thought I’ve fought their God; so they weaved their rope of justice to bring an end to my life one morning; and from that day on, I’ve unwillingly waited that morning. Now, since they are fervent in taking away my life with the love I hold for my fellow human beings, I have determined to donate my organs to those whom my death might grant them a life.

I want to donate my heart, which is full of mercy and love, to a child. It does not matter where the child lives: whether she is living on the shores of Kan or in the outskirt of Mount. Sabalan or on the edges of eastern desert or on the heights of Zagros where everyday she watches the sunrise. All I want is for my impatient and disobedient heart to keep beating in the chest of a child. A child who is more audacious than I am in talking of his childhood wishes at nights to the moon and the stars; and in asking them to watch her, to not betray her childhood wishes when she grows up. I want my heart to keep beating in someone’s chest who is concerned about those kids that lie down hungry at nights in their beds. I want it to go to a child who will remember Hamid, a 16 years old student, who wrote this before hanging himself, “The smallest wishes of mine did not come true.”

Let my heart keep beating in someone’s chest, whatever her language or her skin color. Let it be in a worker’s child, so that the roughness of her father’s calloused hands will revive the spark of rebellion against inequality in my heart.

Let my heart keep beating in the chest of a child who will soon become a teacher in a small village and every morning children come to him with beautiful smiles to share all their happiness with him. May the kids know nothing of poverty and hunger anymore; and have no grasp of words like “prison, torture, injustice, and inequality.

Let my heart keep beating in a corner of this big world. It is a heart of someone who has a lot of stories from his land and his people whose history is filled with pain and suffering.

Let my heart keep beating in the chest of a child, may she one morning sing this poem in my mother tongue:

Min demewi bibim be baye

Xoshewiti mrov berim

Bu gisht suchi em diniyaye

Meaning: I want to become a wind; to bring the message of “loving fellow human beings” to every corner of this world.

Farzad Kamangar,

The section of infectious diseases; the prison of Karaj

29/ 12/ 2008

Written: 26/ 12/2008, security section 209 Evin.