“Too little, too late.” That is how one human rights activist describes the Dutch government’s offer to help Iranian-born Dutch citizen Zahra Bahrami. Ms Bahrami has been sentenced to death by a court in Iran on charges of the possession and sale of drugs. The only remaining hope for Bahrami is in the hands of the Dutch Foreign Ministry.
Sadegh Nageshkar is an Iranian citizen living in the Netherlands, and working for the NGO Human Rights Activist for Democracy in Iran. He says Dutch offers of legal assistance for Ms Bahrami come too late:
“It’s too late because there is no way Ms Bahrami can appeal. The case has been closed.”
In court, Ms Bahrami maintained her innocence, recanting a nationally televised confession. She says the confession was made under coercion. According to Iranian law, the possession of 30 grams or more of cocaine is a crime punishable by death, with no possibility for appeal. Iranian authorities claim Ms Bahrami had 450 grams of cocaine in her possession at the time of her arrest, in addition to 400 grams of opium.
The drugs charges against Ms Bahrami came on top of charges of membership in an armed opposition group, for which she could also face the death penalty. That portion of her trial must still take place.
As for the death penalty for possession of drugs, Ms Bahrami does have one more chance to get her punishment commuted in the Iranian legal system, through the co-called Committee of Forgiveness. If she is willing to admit to her crime, she can appeal to the committee for forgiveness. It is rare, if not unprecedented, for the committee to grant forgiveness in cases involving drugs.
The Dutch government says it has attempted to provide Ms Bahrami assistance, in the interest of trying to make sure she gets a fair trial, but has been prevented by the Iranian authorities, who do not recognize her Dutch citizenship.
A recent – and disappointing – precedent for Ms Bahrami’s case is that of Abullah al Mansouri, another Iranian national who became a Dutch citizen. Al Mansouri fled Iran in 1988 after a conviction on charges of terrorism and settled in the Netherlands. He was arrested in 2006 while visiting Syria, and tried again in Iran. He was sentenced in 2009 to 30 years in prison [for other precedents, see box].
Dutch authorities were also frustrated in their attempts to assist Al Mansouri, once again because Iran does not recognize the assumption of a second nationality.
Ms Bahrami feels she has not received a fair trial. Her daughter, Banafshef Najebpour, told Radio Netherlands how much her mother had counted on the Netherlands to help assure she got a fair trial. Ms Najebpour broke down as she recounted her disappointment in the Dutch government. She said,
“The last time I have seen my mother was Tuesday last week. She was doing quite well, and she was certain that she would receive help from the Dutch government because she knows she hasn’t done anything wrong. But we didn’t get any help.”
The Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Uri Rosenthal reacted in writing to the news of Ms Bahrami’s sentence. He says Dutch authorities are using every possible opportunity to bring up the subject with Iran.
The case of Ms Bahrami is an early test for Mr Rosenthal, who has been foreign minister for just a few months. He has already come under criticism for not prioritizing human rights in Dutch foreign policy.
Dutch politicians still have confidence in Rosenthal’s diplomatic capabilities. Coskun Çörüz, MP for the ruling Christian Democrat party, has called on Minister Rosenthal to do everything he can to make sure Ms Bahrami’s sentence is not carried out.
Time for pressure
Iranian activist Sadegh Nageshkar agrees. He says the only chance now to have Ms Bahrami’s sentence commuted is by applying political pressure. The legal process, says Negeshkar, has run its course.
source Radio Netherlands