Iranian Kurdistan: Rising Conflict in Iranian Kurdistan
One of the most under-reported human rights issues in Iran is the current state of Kurdish political prisoners, and in particular, the current eighteen political prisoners who are on death row and may be facing imminent execution. Unfortunately, serious consequences and escalated conflict may be imminent if the conditions continue to be ignored.
While a few of the individuals on death row such as Farzad Kamangar, Zeynab Jalaliyan and Habibollah Latifi, have received some international attention, most of the Kurdish political prisoners facing execution are virtually unknown. There are currently eighteen Kurdish political prisoners on death row, two of whom are women. All of these individuals were subjected to torture and “tried” behind closed doors in sham trials, and in most cases, without the presence of their lawyers.
In the past two months, two Kurdish political activists have been executed by the Islamic Regime of Iran (IRI).
A young Kurdish activist, Ehsan Fatahiyan, was the first to be executed on 11 November 2009. In the weeks leading up to his execution, a number of international and national campaigns were initiated in order to try to pressure IRI authorities not to carry out the execution. According to his lawyer, Fatahiyan underwent torture during his incarceration and IRI authorities were regularly using brutal torture tactics in order to force Fatahiyan to confess. Fatahiyan, however, refused to confess to the allegations against him and was subsequently executed.
In his last letter before being executed, Fatahiyan wrote: “If the rules and oppressors think that, with my death the Kurdish question will go away, they are wrong…they will only add to the flame of this fire.”
Fatahiyan’s letter may have generated some anxiety among government officials in the IRI. Certainly his words seemed to foretell the violent clashes that ensued days after his execution between protestors in the Kurdistan province and riot police. Lawmakers in Iran sent a letter to the judiciary following Fatahiyan execution warning the judicial authority about the risks of further alienating the ethnic Kurdish population. However, the warnings were not heeded and IRI authorities continued to carry out the sentences handed down by the courts.
On 6 January 2010, another young Kurdish activist Fasih Yasamani was executed in the city of Saqqez. Yasamani was 28 years old and was convicted in a show trial of being a member of the Kurdish rebel group, Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK). Similar to Fatahiyan, Yasamani underwent brutal torture while in the custody of authorities, and according to his lawyer, had been forced to give a confession about the allegations against him.
Civil unrest in Iran has been a frequently reported news story in the last year. For Kurds, unrest in Iran is all but a new phenomenon as the Kurdish regions have been the constant hotspot for clashes between people and the regime despite often going unreported due to a number of circumstances. However, the risk that the clashes and violence may raise to much higher levels as a result of the executions of peaceful Kurdish activists is troublesome. Already, an active Kurdish rebel party has stepped up its attacks. Last week, PJAK rebels took responsibility for the assassination of an Iranian prosecutor, Vali Haji Gholizadeh. Gholizadeh was infamously known by Kurds for demanding lengthy prison terms and executions for political prisoners. He was also the prosecutor who had asked for the death sentence of Yasamani.
There is great concern that this recent assassination may lead to a backlash by the IRI and more executions of Kurdish political prisoners. Although there have been numerous assassinations of judges and religious figures in Iranian Kurdistan in the recent months, this is the first time that PJAK has taken responsibility for an assassination. The executions of activists by the IRI may only further generate support for and empower groups like PJAK. The impact of repression on conflict is certainly not a new concept. The result may be an increased propensity for rebellion in the Kurdish regions and an influx of support for armed resistance.