Iran Human Rights (IHRNGO); July 20, 2023: The lawyer of November 2019 protester, Abbas Deris has filed a request for a retrial and stay of execution at the Supreme Court based on flaws in the case that she says the Court previously ignored.
Stressing the history of the Islamic Republic’s Judiciary in carrying out executions while retrial and judicial review requests are still under consideration at the Supreme Court, Iran Human Rights repeats its warning about the grave risk of Abbas Deris’ secret execution and urges the international community to pressure the Islamic Republic to overturn his sentence immediately.
According to interviews with state media, Fereshteh Tabanian, the lawyer representing Mahshahr protester Abbas Deris, filed a request for a retrial at the Supreme Court on 15 July 2023. Based on the Note to Article 478 of the Code of Criminal Procedures, a stay of execution must be granted when a retrial is requested in death penalty cases. The request is based on a series of flaws in the case that she says were ignored in the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold his death penalty on 5 July.
50-year-old Abbas Deris is a father of three children who was arrested on 8 December 2019 along with his 30-year-old brother, Mohsen Deris in the aftermath of the Mahshahr canebrake crackdown during the November 2019 nationwide protests where at least 60 people were killed according to eyewitnesses and up to 100 people per other sources. They were charged with “moharebeh (enmity against god), disrupting public order and participating in the murder of a special unit officer.”
Abbas and Mohsen were denied access to lawyers until the case was referred to the Revolutionary Court. Their “confessions” to the murder were aired by state media prior to any legal proceedings. Abbas Deris later stated in court that he had made self-incriminating confessions under torture and pressure in solitary confinement. In the summer of 2021, the Deris family were verbally informed that the brothers were sentenced to death prior to the commencement of any legal proceedings. Upon hearing the news, Abbas’ wife suffered a stroke and tragically passed away leaving their three children as de facto orphans. The family were pressured to obtain forgiveness from the victim’s family per qisas laws which they refused at the time, insisting on their innocence.
Abbas Deris with his late wife, Kefayeh Hazbavi who died of a stroke upon hearing the false news of his death sentence
Fereshteh Tabanian was allowed to represent the brothers after the case was referred to the Revolutionary Court. The first session of their trial took place in Mahshahr Prison due to “security reasons” on 10 May 2022 and the second session at Branch One of the Mahshahr Revolutionary Court on 13 September 2022. On 22 October 2022, Abbas was sentenced to death for the moharebeh charges by the Revolutionary Court and Mohsen was acquitted. According to Article 279 of the Islamic Penal Code, moharebeh is defined as: “drawing a weapon on the life, property or honour of the public or causing them terror, in a way that creates an environment of insecurity.”
The brothers also faced murder charges at the Criminal Court. However, as the plaintiffs in the case, the victim’s family stated that they do not hold Abbas and Mohsen responsible. They are therefore no longer facing murder charges but as the victim has small children, the Deris brothers are legally required to pay diya (blood money). A copy of the family’s statement was also submitted to the Supreme Court, which was ignored.
According to Fereshteh Tabanian, the Supreme Court ignored key flaws in the case in confirming his death sentence. As well as Abbas Deris stating in court that his confessions were extracted under torture in solitary confinement, the only evidence connecting him to the gun allegedly used to kill the officer, is the testimony of a neighbour who was caught with the gun themselves. Furthermore, as no bullet was found on the victim’s body, there is no evidence proving the bullet was fired from the gun attributed to Abbas.
In the case, Abbas is alleged to have shot the officer from the top of a building. A weapon expert report commissioned by the court determined the distance between the victim and the building Abbas was standing on to have been 40 metres, which the lawyer says was gravely underestimated. At the time, defence filed an objection and a three-person expert panel was formed by the state. They determined the distance to have been between 130-150 metres, which the brothers’ lawyers also rejected as they stated the distance was even more. Per Ms Tabanian, a five-person expert panel should have been formed which the court ignored.
Moreover, according to the lawyer, Abbas Deris has poor eyesight, struggling to see even with his glasses on. Trees are also lined in front of the building in question, which would have impaired his vision even further. This crucial fact was ignored by the Court.
Three eyewitnesses also testified not to have seen the brothers committing the alleged shooting and stated that they did not know who the victim was shot by. Informed sources previously told Iran Human Rights that the second expert brought in the case had opined that the victim was shot from the back, not from the protesters he was facing which has also been ignored.
Abbas Deris’ mother and three children have shared public pleas to help save his life. In one video, his 16-year-old son, Ali says: “Our mother had a stroke and died after hearing the news, we have nobody but our father left.” In a letter shared on 15 July, he writes: “I had to leave school to look after my younger brothers who’ve never been to school. If I go out to work, my brothers will be left alone. My grandmother is elderly and unfortunately blind…We haven’t been able to visit my mother’s grave for a year because she was buried in Ahvaz which is too far away from Mahshahr. I haven’t seen my father since he was jailed.”
The Mahshahr canebrake crackdown which took place in November 2019, is considered one of the most bloody crackdowns in the Islamic Republic. According to eyewitnesses, security forces opened fire at the unarmed protesters who had blocked the street in Chamran (Jarahi), northern Mahshahr, killing many people. When protesters ran towards the canebrake next to the street to take cover, security forces fired heavy artillery and set parts of the canebrake on fire, killing more people. An eyewitness told Iran Human Rights: “At least 20 people were killed on the street and 40 killed in the canebrake.”