Three new convictions for amputation of the hand for theft in Iran have set off the alarms of local human rights defenders. The rulings, two of which have already been confirmed by the Supreme Court, are in addition to four others upheld last month. All of them have spoken in the city of Urmía, in the northwest of the country. Activists fear that punishment is being recovered that, although included in Iranian criminal law, had fallen into disuse due to its inhuman nature and the criticism it provokes.
"These are four different verdicts, the first of which dates back to 2017, but it has been throughout this year when the Supreme Court has ratified them, except for the last one that is pending," explains Rebin Rahmani to EL PAÍS from the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN), the non-governmental organization that has spread the word.
The sentences provide that the inmates "have four fingers completely cut off from their right hand, so that only the palm and thumb remain," in accordance with article 278 of the Iranian Penal Code. Sharia (Islamic law), on which this legal corpus is based, stipulates that the punishment of amputation must be limited to serious crimes. In the first instance, the right hand is amputated and in case of recurrence, the left foot.
“Amputation is based on Islamic jurisprudence, which means that different judges can apply it for different circumstances; What we have noticed is that in recent years it is mainly the West Azerbaijani courts that have resorted to this punishment, ”says Rahmani. All the cases reported by KHRN, a non-profit group that deals with human rights in the Kurdish regions of Iran, have come out of the Criminal Court of Urmía, the capital of that Iranian province.
The last three met in mid-October, when it emerged that 32-year-old Arash Ali Akbari had been sentenced in August to have “the four fingers of his right hand” amputated. It was learned then that, although his appeal is pending before the Supreme Court, this court had rejected the appeal of the brothers Shahad and Mehrdad Taimuri against a similar sentence handed down in April of last year.
"His sentence can be carried out at any time," warns Leili, the pseudonym of an activist who is convinced that "pressure from the media and human rights organizations (international) can stop it." On the contrary, he fears that "ignoring this crime will lead to the normalization of those punishments."
Although there is no official data, human rights sources documented 215 amputation sentences between 2007 and 2017, of which 125 were carried out, including at least six in public. It is not clear whether they have become rarer since then or whether the authorities, who defend them as the best deterrent against theft, have prevented them from transpiring to avoid the criticism they arouse. The last two known amputations occurred in October last year in Mazandarán province and January 2018 in Khorasan province.
Shahad and Mehrdad, 35 and 30, respectively, are not the only ones who have exhausted all resources. Just a month ago, activists warned that the High Court had given its approval to four other amputations. In May, it confirmed those of Hadi Rostami, 33, Mehdi Sharifian, 37, and Medhi Shahiwand, 42, convicted in November 2019. It also endorsed the same sentence imposed two years earlier on Kasra Karaami, 40.
“Carrying out such inhumane punishments is not justice and underscores the cruelty of the Iranian penal system. Amputation constitutes torture, which is a crime under international law, and an abominable assault on human dignity, ”said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International (AI), when these cases became known in September.
In addition to calling on the Iranian authorities to end the amputations, AI denounced the lack of guarantees of the trials. According to the organization, the inmates "were denied access to a lawyer" and their sentences were based on confessions obtained under torture. At least one of the men, Hadi Rostami, recanted in court without having his complaint considered.
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