The Iranian authorities must urgently commute the death sentence of Ehsan Shah Ghasemi, a 24-year-old man who faces imminent execution amid a flawed trial that cast overwhelming doubts over his guilt, said Amnesty International.
Ehsan Shah Ghasemi was sentenced to death for stabbing Ali Khalili in the neck in July 2011, causing injuries that allegedly led to his death almost three years later in April 2014. The Supreme Court approved Ehsan Shah Ghasemi’s execution despite the absence of any conclusive evidence that the stab wound caused Ali Khalili’s death. The Chief Justice of Iran is expected to endorse the death sentence in the next few days.
“Ehsan Shah Ghasemi is caught in the agonizing grip of a nightmare as he faces the gallows. His life is now in the hands of the head of the judiciary who must decide on putting a young man to death after a deeply flawed trial,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
“The death penalty is always a cruel and inhuman punishment but Ehsan Shah Ghasemi’s case is so riven with doubt that it makes the possibility of his execution even more horrific.” Ehsan Shah Ghasemi was initially arrested in July 2011 for stabbing Ali Khalili during a street fight after he tried to stop Ehsan Shah Ghasemi and his friends playing loud “illegal” music in their car.
After his arrest, Ehsan Shah Ghasemi was held in Kahrizak Detention Center for two weeks where he says he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. While in custody he attempted to hang himself with his bedsheets. His fellow inmates said that prison officials beat him all over his body with batons when they found him unconscious in his cell.
A criminal court in Tehran subsequently sentenced him in 2012 to three years’ imprisonment and ordered him to pay “financial compensation”(diyah). Later in 2012, Ali Khalili and his father pardoned Ehsan Shah Ghasemi and the case was closed.
However, Ehsan Shah Ghasemi was re-arrested when Ali Khalili passed away in March 2014. Following a speedy trial he was sentenced to death in October 2014 under the principle of “retribution-in-kind” (qesas).
Esan Shah Ghasemi was not permitted to hire a lawyer of his own choosing and was only allowed legal representation after the prosecution submitted its case for trial. However, it is believed that following intimidation his lawyer withdrew before the first trial session. He was then provided with a court-appointed lawyer whom he met for the first time at his trial.
“If the Chief Justice of Iran were to fail to ensure that this sentence is commuted it would be an irreparable mistake resulting in the hanging of a young man where there are so many alternative explanations and no clear and convincing evidence. Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani must ensure that a retrial takes places in strict compliance with international fair trial standards and without recourse to the death penalty,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
Significantly, Ehsan Shah Ghasemi was rearrested in 2014 around the same time that Iran’s Parliament was considering the Law to Protect Promoters of Virtue and Preventers of Vice. The law authorizes members of the public to confront conduct or behavior deemed “un-Islamic”. The authorities have since publically called Ali Khalili a “martyr” who was killed promoting the tenets of Islam.
“There are serious fears that Iranian authorities have high-jacked this personal tragedy to serve political ends,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of who is accused, the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life.