Eight men convicted of theft and presently held at Greater Tehran Prison are at imminent risk of finger amputation, according to information received by Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC) and Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN). The eight include Hadi Rostami, Mehdi Shahivand, and Mehdi Sharafian, transferred from Orumieh Central Prison.[1] Another has been identified as Yaghoub Fazeli.[2]

Amputation is a cruel, degrading, and inhuman punishment that flagrantly violates Iran’s international human rights commitments. It inflicts lifelong stigma and disability and defies fundamental norms surrounding the purpose of criminal punishment. The Islamic Republic authorities, who have no convincing justification for the punishment, most often keep its implementation secret to avoid international scrutiny and accountability.

ABC and KHRN are especially concerned by credible reports that a device recently installed in a room of the clinic at Evin Prison in Tehran has been used to conduct at least one amputation in recent days.[3] ABC has been able to confirm that on the morning of June 8, the eight men had been summoned to be transferred out of Greater Tehran, but the transfer was postponed for unknown reasons. However, the prisoners transferred from Orumieh were told upon their arrival at Greater Tehran that their sentence would be implemented when the device is ready in Evin.[4]

“If the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to conduct amputations four decades after the punishment was introduced in the country’s law, it is because the political cost for such blatant disregard for universal human rights norms has been negligible. Carrying out such a cruel and inhuman punishment violates the minimum standards of humanity and decency, let alone in a country where the use of torture to coerce confessions is systemic and economic crisis and inflation are rampant” said ABC Executive Director Roya Boroumand. ABC has collected reports on at least 356 sentences of amputation issued since 1979, but the real number is believed to be much higher.[5]

The three men sentenced to amputation come from impoverished backgrounds. Hadi Rostami, the father of two boys, one of whom has a chronic illness requiring medical care, is a case in point. He left high school to work as a construction worker to help his family. After getting married, he relocated to Tehran to work for a cabinet maker. A serious car accident that left him unable to bend his left arm and partially lame in his left leg, cost him his job as a cabinet maker and prevented him from doing physically demanding jobs, for which he was skilled. According to an informed source interviewed by ABC, it is only after this that he turned to theft.[6]

Long-standing failures of due process in the Iranian judicial system compound the arbitrariness of amputation sentencing. In far too many cases documented by ABC, interrogators have extracted outright false confessions under torture. In many others – notably theft cases – interrogators have coerced defendants to accept guilt for acts other than those they have committed.[7]

According to an informed source, Rostami, Shahivand, and Sharafian were interrogated for more than a month in police investigation bureaus in Orumieh, Ardebil, and Bandar Anzali and were severely beaten and tortured. They reported having been kicked, beaten, flogged with a cable, and hung from their wrists and feet. The youngest was threatened with rape. Rostami reported that officers of the theft department of the provincial Police Investigations Office beat him until he signed a blank paper, on which were later written theft cases he had not committed. His co-defendants also claim to have been coerced to confess to burglaries they had not committed and to testify to the involvement of Rostami in those burglaries.[8] At no point during these interrogations were they allowed to contact an attorney.

According to an informed source interviewed by ABC, Rostami showed the cable flogging marks on his body to the investigative judge, who nonetheless dismissed the allegations. The same allegations were made with no result to a representative of then-Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi during the latter’s visit to West Azerbaijan in March 2021. The fact that serious and thorough investigations of allegations of torture have not been conducted in these and other cases documented by ABC, raises grave concern that sentences of Rostami, Shahivand, and Sharafian were issued following judicial procedures that did not fulfil the minimum standards of fair trial and due process.

On March 5, 2018, Branch 112 of Criminal Court 2 of Orumiyeh sentenced the three defendants to prison, lashes and to repay to plaintiffs the value of the stolen property for 27 counts of theft.[9] Shahivand and Sharafian admitted to 11 of these counts, and Rostami to 6.[10] In doubt about their guilt, the court did not sentence them for the burglaries that carried the hadd punishment of amputation,[11] citing Article 37 of Iran’s constitution.

Branch 18 of West Azerbaijan Province Appeals Court (judge Gholam Haydar Hashemzadeh and assistant judges Hamid Shekarchi and Hamze Ali Ahmadi) nullified the judgment on the request of three of the 27 plaintiffs, who insisted on hadd prosecution. It held a session without informing the defendants and their lawyers and ruled on June 7, 2018 that some of the thefts amounted to hadd and referred the case to Branch 1 of Criminal Court One of West Azerbaijan. On November 19, 2019, the latter (headed by judge Latif Zareh and assistant judge Hossein Mohseni), citing Article 302 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, issued an amputation verdict.

Anticipating an amputation can be excruciating.[12] While awaiting his amputation, Rostami has attempted suicide twice. Most recently, on January 18, 2021, he was taken to the hospital after swallowing broken glass to protest the renewal of his detention in a high-security ward, where he had been held for a month.[13]

Beyond the trauma of the procedure itself, those subjected to amputation have to live with chronic pain, anxiety, and extreme difficulty with everyday tasks.[14]

“One implemented hadd sentence is more beneficial than 40 days of rain” – Mohammad Ashorloo of the Branch 1 Court in Arak, from amputation verdict of Reza Safari

Amputation is also self-defeating as a punishment. Multiple people subject to amputation have reported to ABC that the resulting disability and stigma, which is also carried by their family members, make gainful employment, rehabilitation, and integration into society impossible.[15] This intensifies the poverty which drives many to theft, especially in Iran’s context of economic distress.[16] This aspect is especially absurd in cases like the present one where defendants are ordered to either return stolen property or pay compensation of equal value, and are often held in prison for years if not decades, until they do.[17]

As a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran is obligated to refrain from “torture [and other] cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishments” (Article 7) such as hand amputation.[18] In his report to the 60th session of the General Assembly (2005), the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has noted that States cannot invoke provisions of domestic law to justify violations of their human rights obligations under international law, including the prohibition of corporal punishment and called upon States to abolish all forms of judicial and administrative corporal punishment without delay.[19] This position was reaffirmed in the 2012 report to the General Assembly of the Special Rapporteur against torture.[20]

More recently, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran has also called on Iran to abolish all provisions which authorize such punishments, noting that “the right to be free from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment can never be limited or interfered with.”[21]

Families of some of the eight men have called for the intervention of international human rights groups and the United Nations, to halt the implementation of these sentences.[22] Rostami has been punished for attempting to bring attention to the case: on February 14, 2021, he was given 60 lashes[23] for a conviction of “disturbing prison order,” for reasons including a hunger strike he undertook to bring attention to his case.[24]

“Risking retaliation and punishment, activists, lawyers, journalists, families, and prisoners themselves have tried to bring visibility to arbitrary, cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishments such as amputation. The international community can and should react urgently to stop the implementation of these amputations. It should also hold Iran accountable for not removing corporal punishments from its laws by increasing their visibility and their political cost,” said Boroumand.

[1] Kurdistan Human Rights, May 18, https://kurdistanhumanrights.org/fa/?p=18173
[2] Kurdistan Human Rights, June 8, 2022, https://kurdistanhumanrights.org/fa/?p=18270
[3] Twitter account of Arash Sadeghi, June 2, 2022, https://twitter.com/Arash_sadeghii/status/1532413210103533570
[4] Kurdistan Human Rights, June 8, 2022, https://kurdistanhumanrights.org/fa/?p=18270; ABC interview with an informed source, June 9, 2022.
[6] Interview with source with knowledge of individuals sentenced to amputation at Greater Tehran Prison, June 8, 2022
[7] Mohsen Sabzichi, for example, who was subjected to amputation in Arak in 2011, told ABC of being hung from the ceiling by interrogators, and pressured into accepting 20 counts of theft, when he had in fact committed one. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9YQAXYUY8s
[8] Letter addressed to the head of the judiciary on September 20, 2020, (on file with ABC); ABC Interview with an informed source, June 9, 2022.
[9] Verdicts cited throughout on file with ABC
[10] The court sentenced Shahivand and Sharafian, who had no criminal record, to three years in prison, 74 lashes, and paying the plaintiffs an amount equal to the value of the stolen property. Rostami who had a previous conviction, was sentenced to four years in prison, four instances of 80 lashes, and paying the plaintiffs an amount equal to the value of the stolen property.
[11] In Iranian law, hadd are a special class of punishments for criminal law understood to be divine prerogatives. They are harsher than other kinds of punishments, and include the death penalty for consensual same-sex sexual relations and alcohol consumption, in certain conditions. Article 278 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code foresees “amputation of the full length of four fingers of the right hand of the thief in such a manner that the thumb and palm of the hand remain” for a first conviction of the crime of theft, where it meets the conditions for hadd.
[12] A farmer from a poor family who faced imminent amputation in 2017 while held at Arak Prison for a theft conviction, recounted that he would wake several times in the middle of the night panicking about the impending loss of his fingers. He had to take anti-anxiety medication, and dreaded the shame of returning to his small town physically marred, where he would face employment discrimination and social stigma. He also noted that prison mates who were serving after being amputated needed help to get dressed, to wash their clothes and for other daily tasks. Case information on file with ABC.
[13] HRANA, January 19, 2021, https://www.hra-news.org/2021/hranews/a-28401/
[14] Mohsen Sabzichi, subjected to finger amputation, recounted difficulty and need for assistance with manual tasks, including the buttoning of his shirt, tying shoes, and eating, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9YQAXYUY8s
[15] Mohsen Sabzichi recounts that, after his fingers were amputated, people in his community shunned him and gossipped about his injury: he would therefore conceal his hand when going out. No employer would hire him, and even close family members refrained from shaking his hand. Ibid.
[16] Emblematic is the case of Reza Safari, subject to finger amputation in August 1997. Unable to find employment after being released three years later, he turned again to crime. He was arrested again in 2001 and was subjected to a toe amputation on another theft conviction in September 2009. In a 2014 letter from Prison, Safari explained how : “Anywhere I went people were watching me. When I entered a place everyone became visibly nervous. I could not even escape among strangers because I now had a stamp on my forehead because my fingers were cut off. I tried for six months and could not find a job…. I had no job, no income and due to my family’s devastating poverty and hunger I had to resort to robbery once again.” https://www.iranrights.org/newsletter/issue/64
[17] Reza Safari was still in prison nine years after his second amputation for theft.
[18] In its 1997 Concluding Observations on Sudan’s ICCPR review, the Human Rights Committee stated categorically that “Flogging, amputation and stoning, which are recognized as penalties for criminal offences, are not compatible with the Covenant.” https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G97/193/39/PDF/G9719339.pdf?OpenElement
[19] para.28, A/60/316, 2005
[20] para. 28, A/67/279, 2012
[21] March 2018 report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, https://www.iranrights.org/library/document/3354
[22] Kurdistan Human Rights, June 8, 2022, https://kurdistanhumanrights.org/fa/?p=18270
[23] Amnesty International, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/02/iran-suicidal-inmate-subjected-to-60-lashes-and-at-risk-of-amputation/
[24] HRANA, November 17, 2020, https://www.hra-news.org/2020/hranews/a-27503/. Rostami was arraigned on November 15, 2020, at Branch 2 of the Assistant Public and General Prosecutor’s Office Orumieh. A source close to Rostami told HRANA the case was meant to punish him for his efforts to bring media attention to his amputation case: a hunger strike he undertook to this end was mentioned among the charges, said this source.