Friday, March 24, 2006

Sanctions on Iran May Trigger Executions

Alison Langley, Inter Press Service:
A United Nations Security Council (UNSC) vote imposing sanctions on the Tehran government for its nuclear programme could result in retaliatory executions of some seven condemned prisoners, the rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) believes.

Iranian prison officials reportedly have told the men -- all of whom claim to be political prisoners -- they soon will die in retaliation for possible UNSC sanctions, said Kate Willingham, a staff member for AI with the Iranian portfolio. READ MORE

The seven are members of the armed Peoples Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI), which, in turn, is the largest constituent of the National Council of Resistance Iran (NCRI), an umbrella organisation of dissident groups.

NCRI, in August, 2002, handed the Vienna-based, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) secret papers documenting Iran's secret nuclear programmes in Natanz and Arak.

The documents were the first indication the world had that Iran was working on a secret nuclear programme. The Iranian government claims its work is to produce nuclear energy but IAEA officials worry that there is a secret plan to develop nuclear weapons.

NCRI later revealed that the Iranian government also was working on a nuclear programme in Abe-Ali and that it had spent at least 10 billion U.S. dollars on nuclear projects over the last 18 years.

In 2003, the IAEA confirmed the existence of an uranium enrichment programme in Iran.

As signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran is allowed to develop a fuel cycle for nuclear power, but only under IAEA supervision.

Because it hid its enrichment programme for nearly two decades, IAEA member states say they no longer trust the Iranian government and reported the matter to the UNSC.

"The Iranian government links the PMOI to the nuclear controversy," said Willingham, a London-based campaigner on Iran for AI in an e-mail." In this context, certain PMOI prisoners have claimed that they have been told that if Iran is referred to the UNSC over its nuclear programme, they will be executed."

None of the men is believed to have been involved in the leaking of the secret documents, Willingham said. Still, she added, because of their membership in PMOI, she believed their lives are at risk.

In February, Hojjat Zamani, a PMOI member accused of planting a bomb outside a revolutionary court in Tehran in 1998, was hanged in Ghor Dasht prison, located just outside of Tehran.

Zamani was charged with 'corruption on earth' (mafsad fil arz) and 'enmity against God' (moharebeh), under Articles 183, 186 and 187 of Iran's penal code. AI said it believed both charges to be "vaguely worded".

According to a PMOI statement, Zamani was severely tortured in detention. After Zamani's hanging, other prisoners have reportedly been told that they were next, Willingham said.

Among prisoners AI believes to be at risk are: Sa'id Masouri, a PMOI member who has been held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison since late 2004; Khaled Hardani, Farhang Pour Mansouri and Shahram Pour Mansouri -- all of whom were involved in a 2001 plane hijacking.

In addition, Gholamhossein Kalbi and Valiollah Feyz Mahdavi, both PMOI members, and Alireza Karami Khairabadi also are believed, by AI, to be at risk of imminent execution.

Of particular concern is the fate of Shahram Pour Mansouri because he was a minor, aged 17, when he allegedly committed a crime. Under international law, to which Tehran is a signatory, minors may not be executed.

Western diplomats in Tehran said they had not heard of any direct threats to PMOI prisoners. One European diplomat added, that if Iran did retaliate by executing prisoners, "we will react very strongly''.

AI claims that state executions continue "at an alarming rate" in Iran. The human rights group recorded 94 executions in 2005, although the organisation added that the true figure could be higher. So far, in 2006, the rights lobby has recorded some 28 executions in Iran.

This week, the UNSC failed to reach an agreement on the wording of any statement. Western members, led by Britain and France, want the council to list Tehran's failures to comply with IAEA demands and urge Iran to suspend any activity that could lead to nuclear weapons production.

Russia and China, both permanent members of the UNSC, prefer a shorter document that would simply underline UN support for the IAEA.

A senior Iranian official said Wednesday that U.S. pressure on the UNSC to penalise his country for its nuclear policy would not succeed. News agencies quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying that the "the irrational American view" would not prevail in the council.

Iran has repeatedly denied it is trying to build nuclear weapons. "Iran will not agree with any UNSC resolution on our nuclear programme," Iran's powerful religious leader Ali Khamenei stated on an Iranian website.