November 2019 Protester In Iran Sentenced To Death

Author: Maryam Sinaee

A protester accused of shooting a Special Riot Force commander in Mahshahr, southern Iran in the nation-wide November 2019 protests has been sentenced to death.

The foreign-based Iranian Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported Friday that authorities informed the family of Abbas Shelishat (Driss), 45, that he has been sentenced to death on a number of charges including taking up arms against the Islamic Republic and shooting a commander of the Special Anti-Riot Forces, Reza Sayyadi, during protests in Mahshahr in November 2019.

A source close to the family told HRANA that the judicial authorities gave a verbal notice of the sentence to the family four months ago and have since refused to provide any official confirmation of the sentence to them or Shelishat’s two lawyers who have also not even been allowed to read the case files.

The Judiciary has also sentenced several others to death for the protests in November 2019 including three young men whose death sentences have been confirmed by the Supreme Court but not carried out yet.

Abbas Shelishat, sentenced to death. Undated photo

Abbas Shelishat, sentenced to death. Undated photo

Shelishat’s brother, Mohsen, who has also been accused of complicity in the killing of the anti-riot officer, has been sentenced to life in prison, the family have said.

Karim Dahimi, Iranian Arab activist, told Iran International Saturday that this case has been sent to the Supreme Court for approval. According to Dahimi, a second expert has testified to the court that Shelishat could not be responsible for the killing of the officer as Shileshat’s position at the time of the killing made it impossible for him to shoot the officer in the back.

Sources close to the family have told HRANA that Shelishat’s wife died of a brain stroke after finding out about the sentence. In the past four months the family apparently kept the news of the death sentence secret waiting to get official confirmation.

A few weeks after the protests, the state-run television aired a video of Shileshat and other prisoners whose faces were obscured and presented as “confessions of armed terrorists”. The state media described the Mahshahr protesters as terrorists and Arab separatist groups.

In the video, a man allegedly Shileshat, said with his brother’s complicity he had shot an officer in a green uniform during the protests from the roof of his house.

In the same program, two other prisoners spoke about the events at the time of the killing with one of them claiming that two protesters who arrived on motorcycles shot at police officers while the officers were praying together.

The events described in the program happened during a bloody crackdown by the Revolutionary Guards and other security forces against largely unarmed protesters in the southern city of Mahshahr and its suburbs after protesters gained control of the city’s transit roads.

The port city of Mahshahr is in the oil-producing Khuzestan province and close to large petrochemical plants and other oil facilities.

The crackdown on protesters seeking refuge in the marshlands on the outskirts of the city security forces reportedly opened fire indiscriminately. The lethal attack has come to be widely referred to as the Mahshahr Massacre among Iranians.

President Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, on December 11, 2019 confirmed the reports about the killing of protesters in Mahsharhr but claimed that a group of armed individuals were responsible for the violence and shooting at both the protesters and the security forces.

Two weeks after the incident in Mahshahr, the New York Times reported that between 40 to 100 protesters were killed during the crackdown based on multiple interviews with eyewitnesses including a nurse at a hospital where the wounded were treated.

The Extra-Territorial Assassination of Mousa Babakhani

Human Rights Activists in Iran’s Spreading Justice team (HRA-SJ) has identified and profiled Sarmad Nazerfard as the individual responsible for the assassination of Mousa Babakhani in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Mousa Babakhani was a member of the Central Committee of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), a known opposition party of the Islamic Republic. Nazerfard is believed to have assassinated Babakhani before fleeing to Iran.

The Assassination

According to sources close to HRA, it is believed Nazerfard was commissioned by the security services of the Islamic Republic, namely the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization.

Erbil police and third party news sources have confirmed that Nazerfard shot and killed Babakhani in an Erbil hotel on August 6th, 2021. An informed source stated to HRA-SJ, The room where Mousa Babakhani’s body was found is a room registered to Nazerfard, who is also wanted by the Erbil police.”

Sources revealed to HRA-SJ that Babakhani traveled to Erbil to meet with Nazerfard. The two were in contact the night preceding the assasination.

Nazerfard allegedly stayed at the Goli Soleimani Hotel for eight months and had been in contact with Mr. Babakhani for several years, working to gain his trust. According to Ismail Sharafi, a member of the Central Committee, Mr. Babakhani believed that Nazerfard was a friend.

Hotel staff testified that Mousa Babakhani entered the hotel on his own and reported directly to Nazerfard’s room. Nazerfard reportedly confiscated Babakhani’s personal belongings, including  his mobile phone. Sourced believe Nazerfard carried the belongings with him upon fleeing to Iran.

Nazerfard Flees to Iran

It is believed that Nazerfard entered Iran via the Iraq-Iran border at Khanaqin. According to the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Security Agency, in Erbil, Sarmad Nazerfard travelled to the border town of Khanaqin after leaving Babakhani.

According to the KDP, “Nazerfard was not a member of the Peshmerga or even a member of the party and his relationship with Mousa Babakhani was not a party affiliation at all.” The source continued,  “Sarmad’s name does not exist in any of the party’s organizational records.”

Who is Sarmad Nazerfard?

Born in Baghdad, Nazerfard, immigrated to Iraq at least four years before fleeing to Iran. Kamal Karimi, a member of  leadership of the KDP, confirmed in an interview with the judiciary that the history of Sarmad Nazerfard’s presence in Erbil dates back at least four years. According to Karimi, “Sarmad Nazerfard, also known as Saman Abdi and Sarmad Abdi in Erbil, had been in friendly relations with Mr. Babakhani after arriving in Erbil and had met him regularly.”

According to Kamal Karimi, Sarmad Nazerfard regularly traveled to Iraq and Khanaqin and always claimed that he was going to Baghdad to visit his father. According to Karimi, Sarmad even told the hotelier when he was about to leave the hotel after Babakhani’s assassination that he had to go to Baghdad immediately to visit his father.

The Role of the IRGC

There is a long history of IRGC commission murders in Iraqi-Kurdistan.

A member of KDP leadership stated, “Although we do not have reliable information about Nazerfard’s relationship to Iran’s security agencies, the Revolutionary Guards have previously carried out such work, and through this agency, people from Iran are given missions.” “They have previously come to Kurdistan to carry out sabotage and assassination.” Nazerfard, and those believed to have commissioned his services must be held accountable.

Extra-Territorial Assassinations

Extra-territorial targeted killing outside of war is a violation of international human rights law prohibiting the arbitrary deprivation of life. “Iran has long practiced extra-territorial assassinations against dissidents abroad. This illegal practice of state-sanctioned targeted killing must be condemned by the international community and perpetrators must be brought to justice,” said Skylar Thompson, Senior Advocacy Coordinator at HRA-SJ.

More information on Nazerfard can be found via this link to his unique Spreading Justice profile. If you have any additional information on Nazerfard you can anonymously submit to HRA-SJ  here. 


For media inquiries please contact HRA Senior Advocacy Coordinator Skylar Thompson at [email protected]FacebookTwitterEmailShare