Education International
Education International

Kamangar appeal sidelined by notorious prosecutor

published 19 February 2010 updated 19 February 2010

An investigation by a courageous human rights lawyer has revealed that an appeal of the death sentence against Iranian teacher trade unionist Farzad Kamangar was sidelined by one of Iran’s most feared prosecutors.

Since February 2008, Kamangar has lived under the shadow of the death penalty, which was imposed after a trial that lasted less than five minutes. Although the authorities accepted his appeal, the case stalled when it should have been sent to the Supreme Court for review. After many frustrating delays and repeated enquiries, his lawyer Khalil Bahramian was told the file had been lost. “Two days ago, I went to the office of the Tehran prosecutor and insisted on clarification of Farzad’s case,” Bahramian told EI on 3 February 2010. “Finally we found Farzad’s file in the personal closet of the previous prosecutor, Saieed Mortazavi.” The former prosecutor-general of Tehran, Mortazavi has repeatedly been accused of grave human rights abuses. In January he was named by Iran’s parliament as the main culprit in the deaths of three demonstrators arrested at a post-election protest last year. He gained notoriety as “the butcher of the press” for imprisoning journalists and closing more than 100 newspapers. The Canadian government has called for his arrest in connection with the torture and murder of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who died in Evin prison, where Kamangar is being held. In Kamangar’s case, apparently Mortazavi simply decided to bury any evidence that an innocent man was unjustly convicted. The case goes back to July 2006, when Kamangar was first arrested and charged with endangering national security and "moharebe," or being in a state of enmity against God. The prosecution also claimed that he was a member of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). “Nothing in Kamangar’s judicial files and records demonstrates any links to the charges brought against him,” said Bahramian, who believes that his client’s troubles stem from his work defending Kurdish minority rights. Kamangar taught school for 12 years in a rural area of Kurdistan province, where he was active in the Kurdish branch of the teachers’ union until it was outlawed. Throughout 2007, Kamangar was held in various detention centres, where he endured ill-treatment, months of solitary confinement and repeated torture by prison authorities attempting to force a confession. His case came to court in February 2008. The trial took place in secret, and lasted less than five minutes. His lawyer was not allowed to speak. The judge issued the sentence without any explanation. Bahramian says the closed-door trial violated Iranian law that requires such cases be tried publicly and decided by a jury. Nonetheless, in July 2008 the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty. Since Mortazavi’s removal from the prosecutor’s office a different prosecutor is working on the file. While this may on the surface seem to be a positive development, nothing is assured. With more and more hardliners in positions of power and influence within the Iranian judicial system, the situation for trade unionists and other political prisoners has become increasingly difficult, Bahramian said. He reported that Farzad is being held in Tehran’s Evin prison in a public ward with a mix of common and political prisoners. Farzad’s cell has a window and a two-bunk bed. There is no facility for physical exercise, but he tries to work out in his cell. He is permitted to shower twice a week. Farzad’s overall state of health is poor for a number of reasons: the long-term physical effects of the torture he endured; the intense psychological stress of living under a death sentence; the poor quality of the prison food, which lacks protein and vitamins; and the often cold conditions, which allow contagious diseases to spread quickly among the detainees. In spite of all this, Farzad works hard to keep his spirits up. He is studying law through Payam e Nour University, which offers distance education programmes. However, access to information is very limited. Only selected books and pro-government newspapers are available in the prison. Visits from close family members are allowed once a week, but there is little opportunity for private conversation as a prison guard is present during all visits. Bahramian said he is careful never to let the guard come close enough to overhear his legal advice to Farzad. “It’s important to note that being held in prison is in itself a type of torture, especially in Farzad’s situation in that he fears the implementation of his death sentence any minute of the day,” Bahramian said. Asked whether public pressure from the international community is helping Farzad’s case, he replied: “Definitely, it has a big impact, one hundred percent. I am just one person and work as a lawyer, but the campaign movement by the teachers all around the world was very important to keep him alive. It should be continued.” Meanwhile, Khalil Bahramian continues the lonely and dangerous job of defending human rights in Iran. “There are only a few lawyers who take the risks and defend cases such as Farzad’s. It is obvious that we are at high risk,” he said. “There are severe pressures on human rights lawyers, but we should stand with the people and defend citizens’ rights. I don’t mind that my car was set on fire or any other pressure which is placed on me, but I should tell you that my family members suffer more than me.” Education International continues to call on the government of Iran to commute the death sentence against Farzad Kamangar, and has made representations to the United Nations Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review procedure. In addition, affiliates in the UK and the USA have written to their respective Secretaries of State, David Miliband and Hillary Clinton, urging them to take up Kamangar’s case with the Iranian authorities.

This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 33, March 2010.