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Iran Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence For Kurdish Opponent

Ramin Hossein Panahi, member of Komala.

A branch of Iran’s Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of a Kurdish citizen, his lawyer said in an exclusive interview with Radio Farda’s Mahtab Vahidi Rad.

In a statement on February 5, Amnesty International (AI) said, “Ramin Hossein Panahi, from Iran’s Kurdish minority, started a hunger strike on January 27 after he learned that he had been sentenced to death in connection with his membership in the armed Kurdish opposition group Komala.”

According to AI, “Panahi’s trial, which took place on January 16, was grossly unfair and lasted less than an hour. His family told Amnesty International that he appeared before the Revolutionary Court in Sanandaj with obvious torture marks on his body, but the court failed to order an investigation.”

Panahi, 24, was arrested in June 2017 in Sanandaj after being wounded in an ambush by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) forces of the outlawed Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, an armed separatist organization.

Three other Komala activists who were present -- Sabbah Hossein Panahi, Hamed Seif Panahi, and Behzad Nouri -- were killed in the attack.

Panahi was the only survivor of the attack and has maintained he was unarmed at the time of the IRGC’s ambush.

His lawyer, Hossein Ahmadi Niaz, told Radio Farda that the court sentenced his client to death for “taking up arms against the state” based on his membership in Komala but provided no evidence linking him to acts involving intentional killing, which is the required threshold under international law for imposing the death penalty.

According to Ahmadi Niaz, his client has never taken up arms against the Iranian regime.

“Courts are expected to be impartial, fair, and independent,” he said. “How can a court be independent when it is part of the ruling system?”

Panahi’s lawyer also insisted his client has testified about being tortured and the court should have investigated his allegation before upholding the death sentence.

Meanwhile, Ahmadi Niaz argued that when his client and his three companions entered Iranian territory from neighboring Iraq, they were under IRGC surveillance.

“Nothing happened until my client and his companions’ vehicle entered the city of Sanandaj, where a trap laid by IRGC forces was waiting for them,” he said. “There, the IRGC personnel ambushed their vehicle with a barrage of gunfire. Three were dead; Ramin was wounded and passed out, while none of the IRGC forces was hurt. This shows that the whole clash was a one-sided shooting.”

The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported, “Panahi was only allowed one brief meeting with his lawyer, which took place in the presence of intelligence officials. This violates the right to consult with one’s lawyer in confidence. The judicial authorities also refused to disclose to either him or his lawyer the details of the evidence brought against him before the hearing. His lawyer is planning to appeal his sentence.”

Ahmadi Niaz noted, “On January 31, an Intelligence Ministry official visited him in prison and said his death sentence would be commuted to imprisonment if he agreed to make televised confessions denouncing Kurdish opposition groups as terrorists. When he refused, the intelligence official apparently became enraged and said he would pay with his life for his stubbornness.”

In his interview with Radio Farda, Ahmadi Niaz also said, “If being a member of Komala is a crime, its punishment is imprisonment not a death sentence.”

Komala describes itself as an Iranian-Kurdistan political party that stands for a democratic, secular, pluralist Iran where the rights of Iranians and Kurds are preserved and safeguarded.