Friday 28 October 2016

Iran executed three Turks days after visit of President Erdoğan

Iranian authorities executed three Turkish nationals for drug trafficking last year only 11 days after a high-profile visit to Tehran by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it has emerged.

Iran – which executed nearly 1,000 people last year, more than any other country apart from China – usually refrains from sending foreign nationals to the gallows, especially in cases involving countries with which Tehran has maintained friendly relations.

The family of a 46-year-old man, Faruk Güner, a father of nine children, confirmed to the Guardian that he was executed. He was a lorry driver working between Afghanistan and Turkey who passed through Iran. “We tried for four years to save him. They didn’t tell us that he was going to be executed. They hanged him in the morning; we got the news in the afternoon,” Güner’s brother said.

The information about the executions was first received by the Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR), which closely monitors Iran’s use of capital punishment. The group said two other Turkish nationals, identified as Mehmet Yilmaz and Matin, whose surname is not known, were executed at the same time. Activists say drug traffickers do not usually receive a fair trial in Iran.

Most executions in Iran are for drug offences. As a neighbour of Afghanistan, a leading supplier of the world’s drugs, Iran faces big challenges at home, with a young population susceptible to an abundance of cheap and addictive drugs. However, the alarming rate of executions has sparked a debate inside the country and parliamentarians are considering a proposal to replace the death penalty in such cases with imprisonment.

The three Turks were executed in April 2015, a little more than a week after Erdoğan met with Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Tehran.

The countries, which have maintained good ties for several decades, have been at odds over regional issues in recent years and relations were frosty at the time of Erdoğan’s visit. However, they have since improved. Iran firmly backed Erdoğan against the failed coup attempt earlier this year and Turkey is realigning itself towards Russia, Tehran’s main ally.

IHR said the convicts were executed at Vakilabad prison in the eastern city of Mashhad after being arrested separately for alleged drug trafficking. “These three prisoners were reportedly not granted their last prison visit with family members before they were executed,” it said. “Additionally, close sources say that the Iranian authorities did not inform their families of the executions” until late April but “their bodies were reportedly returned to Turkey” in May.

Güner’s brother said his family’s pleas to Iranian as well as Turkish authorities fell on deaf ears. “We asked help from many places; nobody helped us,” he told the Guardian via telephone. “We found a lawyer and we went to Iran; we tried to prove that he was innocent, but one day they just executed him. This is inhuman. He had nine kids.”

The Turkish foreign ministry did not respond to emails seeking its reaction on the news and on why it did not publicise the executions at the time.

“They think that they are Muslim, but they are not. If my brother were in Israel, even in Israel, he would be alive,” Güner’s brother said. “We asked help from Turkish authorities; they didn’t help. We couldn’t even see him for the last time,” the brother added. “There are no laws in Iran. If he were in another country, at least we would be able to see my brother for the last time. They just executed him without telling us. Everything happened suddenly.”

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, IHR’s spokesman, said it was not clear if the cases were discussed by the Turkish president in Tehran. “It’s also unclear whether the Turkish government took any action to help save their lives. [The] timing of the executions and lack of public reactions by the Turkish government is highly questionable,” he said.

Michael, Mehmet Yilmaz’s son, told the IHR: “I travelled to Iran seven times in order to deliver my dad’s medication to him. The Turkish authorities did nothing for my dad. All they did was introduce our family to a lawyer. The Iranian authorities confiscated my dad’s truck, which was worth 80,000 Turkish lira (£21,000). My family is currently still paying off the truck through monthly instalments.”

Madyar Samienejad, who monitors the human rights situation in Iran, said more than 450 people have been put to death in the country this year. He said at least 264 of them were executed for drug offences. Iran has also been reported to have executed at least seven people who committed their crimes while they were under the age of 18 - two of those executions have been confirmed.The execution of juveniles is prohibited under international law.

“More than any other time, people in Iran, including those in the government and the judiciary or media, are debating whether to abolish [the] death penalty,” Samienejad told the Guardian.

“On 26 October, [reformist newspaper] Etemaad ran a front-page editorial on abolition of [the] death penalty, which talked about how ineffective this punishment has been. It’s the first time this debate is taking place at such a national level and it’s a positive development highlighting the work of abolitionist activists.”


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