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Fears Rise Over Afghans in Iranian Jails

HERAT, Afghanistan, Nov 27 2012 (IPS) - It appears that Iran has hanged Afghan prisoners on death row despite pending mercy pleas from their relatives.

The Wolesi Jirga (Upper House) has condemned the hanging of Afghan nationals in Iranian prisons as immoral and against good neighbourly relations. The office of Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin has described it as a “massacre”.

While there has been no official confirmation of the number of executed prisoners, it is reported that 1,200 of the 5,800 Afghans in Iranian prisons have been sentenced to death.

Recently relatives of some of the condemned men, living along the border with Iran, requested the Iranian authorities to release the prisoners to Afghan custody. They said 50 of their relatives were hanged, and the Iranian government has taken payments in Iranian Tomans (the rial is the official currency of Iran but the older Toman – 10 rials to a Toman – is used by many people in everyday transactions) for the return of the bodies, some of which have been received mutilated.

News agencies report that 20 bodies of Afghans were handed over to relatives in Herat and Nimroz provinces.

Mohammad Akbar, a resident of Kohsan district in Herat province, received his brother’s body two months ago after he paid the sum of roughly 50 dollars in Tomans. He told Killid his brother had left for Iran in search of work a year back, but just a few months later, he was arrested, and accused of smuggling by Iranian security forces. He said his brother had never been involved in smuggling narcotics, and he was hanged though he was innocent.

Mohammad Akbar said the family is facing acute financial problems. “What will happen to the family of my brother,” he lamented.

Mohammadullah who is from Ghorian district, Herat province, said he recovered his son’s body from Iran after six months of immense effort.

“My son went illegally to Iran along with six friends last year. Since they did not have visas they were arrested by Iranian authorities,” he said. “All of them were hanged for ‘illegal work’ that was never explained. Their bodies were handed over after paying the money,” he added.

According to Mohammadullah, body parts of the deceased men had been cut off, harvested of “internal organs” that may have been smuggled “to other countries”.

Abdul Qader Rahimi, the head of AIHRC (Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission) in western Afghanistan, said based on the reports filed by people in Herat, 10 bodies of Afghans hanged in Iran were handed over to their relatives in Kohsan district. Border police in Nimroz have confirmed this, and said the relatives have paid “huge amounts of money” to Iranian authorities.

Tension has been rising in the province over the fate of Afghans facing capital punishment in Iran. Protestors led by civil society organisations have urged the government to take the complaint to the UN. Thousands of Afghans work illegally in Iran. Most have crossed the porous border through checkpoints at Islam Qala in Herat and Tanga Abrishom area of Nimroz province.

An official at the border who did not want to be named said most of the executed prisoners were residents of western Afghanistan who had gone for work to Iran.

“The trend of hanging Afghans may increase in the future,” he warned.

AIHRC’s Rahimi’s considers the lack of access to just courts the biggest hurdle for Afghans in custody in Iran. Mohammad Reza Khoshak, Member of Parliament from Herat, said in many cases Afghans have been convicted even though they are innocent. “We have received complaints that our people have gone to Iran for work, but dossiers have been fabricated with false accusations that they were criminals, and they were hanged, which is a big concern for us,” he said.

MPs from Herat have requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation to get the prisoners back from Iran. “Their dossiers should be investigated in Afghanistan,” urged Khoshak.

However, Mir Farooq Husani, a tribal and religious leader in Herat, thinks the execution of Afghan prisoners in Iran is a political issue. “Iran is trying to put pressure on Afghanistan in different ways to make it more difficult for the international community in the country,” he said.

In his opinion Afghan prisoners have limited access to their attorneys, and also, there is little transparency in the investigations. The Afghan government must urgently take up the issue with its counterparts in Iran to “prevent the repeat of the hangings,” he warned.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed it has not received any specific information on the hangings but has asked Iranian authorities to deal with Afghan prisoners justly and according to agreements between the two countries.

On Oct. 14, in a joint press conference with deputy foreign minister Ludin, Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for Asia and Oceana Affairs, said,  “According to law, Afghan refugees who have perpetrated big crimes would not be exempted, they would be executed.”

Araqchi claimed Afghan prisoners were not being made political pawns. According to Ludin, two Afghan diplomats from the embassy in Tehran have been assigned for the Afghans in Iranian jails.

*Shoaib Tanha writes for Killid, an independent Afghan media group in partnership with IPS.

 
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