|Mass accused in a rioting case waiting for justice to be meted out in Iran [EPA]|
Iran has halted the execution of Habibolah Latifi, a Kurdish student who was due to be hanged on Sunday for allegedly backing a separatist rebel group, his lawyer told local media.
“The verdict has been halted for the moment,” Nemat Ahmadi said on Sunday.
“The sentence has not been carried out and he has met with his family this morning.”
A court in the western city of Sanandaj in Kordestan province, had notified Latifi that he would be hanged Sunday morning, Ahmadi said.
Latifi, a law student, has been convicted of “waging war against God” for allegedly supporting PJAK, the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan, a banned Iranian-Kurdish rebel group.
In a letter to the judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani on Saturday, Ahmadi said he had requested “a delay in carrying out the verdict, a fair and lawful investigation and commuting of the sentence”.
The announcement came as rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on Iranian authorities not to go ahead with Latifi’s execution.
Latifi was originally sentenced to death in 2008 for allegedly taking part in armed acts in the western province of Kordestan – a ruling upheld on appeal in February 2009.
He was detained in November 2007 and charged with taking part in an assault on the car of the prosecutor in Sanandaj, the capital of Kordestan, and attacking a police station the same year.
According to his lawyer, Latifi had admitted being a PJAK supporter but denied committing acts of violence. The student told the court he was not in Sanandaj when the attacks took place.
Latifi’s family told the Guardian newspaper in an article that appeared on Saturday that he is being punished for his political activism, and that he has no link to the PJAK.
“This is nonsense, they’re just angry with his political activities as a student and have charged him with the false claim that he was a member of PJAK, that’s absolutely a lie, it’s just an excuse for them to execute him,” his sister Elahe was quoted as saying.
On Saturday, the London-based Amnesty International urged Iran to commute the sentence.
“While we recognise that governments have a responsibility to bring to justice those who commit crimes, this must be done according to international standards for fair trial,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director.
“It is clear that Habibolah Latifi did not receive a fair trial by international standards, which makes the news of his impending execution all the more abhorrent.”
The New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a similar statement on Friday, calling on Iran’s judges to rescind the execution order and suggesting that Latifi had not had a fair trial.
“The circumstances surrounding Latifi’s arrest, detention, and conviction strongly suggest that the Iranian authorities have violated his fundamental rights,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
In Paris, a group of between 20 and 30 demonstrators picketed the Iranian embassy in the early hours of Sunday, with some protesters chaining themselves to the railings outside, organisers and police said.
Officers eventually moved in to cut the chains of the protesters and break up what they said was an unauthorised demonstration, according to a police spokesman.
Meanwhile, Iran has sentenced a suspect to death on a charge of spying for Israel, the state-run Mehr news agency reported on Sunday.
Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, Tehran’s chief prosecutor, was quoted as saying the identity of the suspect will be announced after approval of the verdict by Iran’s Supreme Court.
However, other hangings scheduled over the weekend did take place. A convicted rapist and five men who were found guilty of drug trafficking were hung on Saturday, newspapers reported.
The latest hangings bring the number of executions in Iran to at least 169 so far this year, according to an AFP count based on media reports. At least 270 people were executed in 2009.
Along with the United States, China and Saudi Arabia, Iran has one of the highest numbers of executions each year.