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Hashem Shaabani

Hashem Shaabani was a poet, activist and educator. Shaabani, also known as Hashem Shabaninejad, was an ethnic Ahwazi Arab citizen of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was a high school teacher of Arabic language and literature, a poet in both Arabic and Farsi (Persian), and an activist who promoted Arabic culture and literature. He was executed by the brutal, repressive government of Iran for the terrible "crimes" of thinking independently and speaking his mind and his heart.

executed Iranian poet Hashem Shaabani

Seven Reasons Why I Should Die
by Hashem Shaabani

For seven days they shouted at me:
You are waging war on Allah!
Saturday, because you are an Arab!
Sunday, well, you are from Ahvaz!
Monday, remember you are Iranian!
Tuesday, you mock the sacred Revolution!
Wednesday, didn’t you raise your voice for others?
Thursday, you're a poet and a bard!
Friday: You’re a man, isn’t that reason enough to die?

Human Rights Voices reported the execution of Hashem Shaabani as follows:

To those who knew him, Hashem Shaabani was a man of peace and understanding struggling to extend spaces of individual freedom within the despotic Khomeinist system … In one of his letters from prison, made available to use through his family, Shaabani says he could not have remained silent against "hideous crimes against Ahvazis perpetrated by the Iranian authorities, particularly arbitrary and unjust executions."

According to Human Rights Voices, Shaabani added:

"I have tried to defend the legitimate right that every people in this world should have which is the right to live freely with full civil rights. With all these miseries and tragedies, I have never used a weapon to fight these atrocious crimes except the pen."

Prior to his arrest, Shaabani resided in Ramshir (Khalafabad) in Iran's Khuzestan Province with his wife and child. He worked as a teacher of Arabic language and literature in a local high school. He was also known as a poet in Arabic and Persian, and as the founder of the Dialogue Institute, which promotes Arabic culture and literature in Iran. He held a bachelor's degree in Arabic language literature and education and a master's degree in political science from Ahwaz University.

In February 2011, Shaabani was arrested along with four other Iranian Arabs: Hadi Rashedi, Mohammad-Ali Amouri, and brothers Mokhtar Alboshokeh and Jaber Alboshokeh. Their arrests were  part of an Iranian government crackdown against Iran's Arab minority. According to Amnesty International, they were arrested and detained "apparently in connection with their cultural activities, such as organizing events in the Arabic language, conferences, educational courses, art classes, and poetry recital gatherings."

On December 13, 2011, Press TV, the English-language network of the government-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, broadcast a "documentary" featuring Shabani, Rashedi, and another Arab man, Taha Heidarian. In the program, Shabani and Rashedi confessed "to being part of an armed Arab terrorist group called the Al-Moqawama al-Shaabiya ('People’s Movement'), which was responsible for shooting at four government employees." Press TV claimed that the United States and the United Kingdom support this terrorist group. Human rights groups maintain that the confessions "were coerced under duress and torture during their detention at a local Intelligence Ministry facility, and that they denied the charges against them in court." Reported examples of torture are a broken pelvic bone suffered by Rashedi, and that Shaabani's feet being placed in boiling water to make him confess.

On July 7, 2012, a Revolutionary Court sentenced Shabani and the four other Arabs arrested in February 2011 to death on charges of Moharebeh (taking up arms for terrorism), for "sowing corruption on earth, propaganda against the Islamic Republic and acting against national security." Amnesty International said that the confessions of Shabani and Rashedi that aired on Press TV were "in violation of international standards for fair trial." In January 2013, the Iranian Supreme Court upheld their death sentences.

Shaabani was executed on January 27, 2012, by order of President Hassan Rouhani for “waging war on God,” “spreading corruption on earth,” and “questioning the principle of walayat al-faqih” (the Rule of the Jurisprudent).

On January 29, 2014, reports emerged that Shabani and Rashedi had been executed. In violation of Iran's own legal regulations, authorities had executed the men without first notifying their families or attorneys. The hangings allegedly took place in an undisclosed prison, after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani approved the sentences.

A statement by Freedom House released on February 5, 2014, condemned the execution, saying that Shaabani was severely tortured over the three years he spent  in prison. The Freedom House report stated that Shaabani’s death illustrates Iran’s continuous violent repression of ethnic minorities.

Shaabani was the founder of the Al-Hiwar (Dialogue) Institute, which works to promote an understanding of Arabic culture, literature and art in Iran. The institute, initially founded under the reformist mandate of former president Mohammad Khatami, was banned in 2005 after widespread protests in Ahwaz, the capital of the oil-rich Khuzestan province, by the Iranian Arab community.

Iran has stepped up its crackdown against its Arab minority in recent years, arresting activists en masse and handing down heavy sentences often in closed-door courts.

Justice for Iran, an Iranian human rights organisation, which has studied the struggle of Iranian Arabs for cultural identity, said Shaabani was married, had a three-year-old daughter and was studying for a master's degree in politics from Ahwaz University prior to his arrest. In university, he launched a literary journal called Aghlam-Oltalabe (Student's Pen), which published poetry in Arabic. A video posted on YouTube shows him reading poetry in 2002, Justice for Iran said.

Drewery Dyke, Amnesty International's Iran expert, told the Guardian: "The execution of Hashem Shaabani can't be separated from his role as an Ahwazi Arab teacher and poet, a figure who had attempted to nurture an independently minded minority culture in harsh circumstances. Tragically enough, his secret execution is just one of a long line of judicial killings of members of Iran's Ahwazi Arab minority. But one that came on the heels of President [Hassan] Rouhani's visit to the Ahwazi Arab region, where - ironically - Rouhani decried ethnic discrimination."

Faraz Sanei, of Human Rights Watch, said the execution of Shaabani and Rashedi was "a travesty of justice on multiple grounds."

"The government held these men in pre-trial detention for long periods of time, prevented them from mounting a proper legal defence, subjected them to severe physical and psychological abuse, hanged them in secret, and now refuses to hand over their bodies to their families for proper burial," he told the Guardian. "Beyond televised confessions that were in all likelihood extracted under torture, the government has provided no convincing proof that these men were anything but ethnic and cultural rights activists who were staunchly critical of the government's policies against Iran's Arab minority. Rashedi and Shaabani's executions are yet another tragic reminder of the brutal security environment that hangs over minority rights activists, and the terrifying pace of executions being carried out by Iran's judiciary."

Press TV has previously aired confessions believed to have been obtained under duress, including in the case of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian journalist and former Newsweek correspondent who was arrested in the aftermath of the 2009 disputed elections in Iran. When Bahari returned to London after freedom, he complained to Ofcom that the channel had broadcast confessions made under torture.

Ahwazi Arabs in Iran have long complained about state discrimination in areas such as education, employment politics and culture. In recent years, many members of the community have taken to the streets to protest at the discrimination against them. Groups advocating a separate Arab state have also been demonstrating, but not all protesters have been separatists.

PEN International condemned Shaabani's death sentence: "We condemn this execution as the ultimate violation of the right to life of a fellow poet," said Marian Botsford Fraser, chair of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee. "In addition, there are serious concerns that Hashem Shaabani was tortured after his arrest to pressure him to make a televised 'confession' which was subsequently shown on national television. His trial was thus grossly unfair."

She added: "While the releases last year of prominent writers such as lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and journalist Jila Baniyaghoub were welcome, the authorities must show that they are truly committed to respecting freedom of expression and other fundamental rights."

Iran has been among the countries with the worst records for execution in recent years, putting at least a few hundred prisoners to death each year. Despite Rouhani's moderate mandate, Iran's high rate of executions has continued.

"It is not 'all change' under Rouhani. The authorities in Tehran remain resolute in their efforts to clamp down not only political opponents, but also even those who express the slightest form of cultural independence," Dyke said.

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