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Source: RFE/RL

Mar 12, 2023

Iran's hard-line judiciary says its Supreme Court has upheld a death sentence against a Swedish-Iranian dissident who went missing from a Turkish airport two years ago before turning up in Iranian custody accused of terrorism.

The defendant, Habib Chaab, a founder and former leader of a separatist group called the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), lived in Sweden for 14 years until he was apparently lured to Turkey by Iranian intelligence agents.

The Iranian judiciary's official website, Mizan Online, issued a statement on March 21 announcing confirmation of the sentence.

It included an acknowledgement that Chaab had been duped into his apprehension "after leaving Sweden by intelligence ploys."

In an e-mail to the AFP news agency, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom blasted the death sentence, saying it was "an inhumane and irreversible punishment and that Sweden, together with the rest of the EU, condemns its use in all circumstances.”

He added that Sweden's Foreign Ministry and embassy in Tehran "are now working intensively to get further clarity into the information."

Before the trial, Iranian officials accused Chaab of leading a "terrorist group" called Harakat al-Nidal and organizing and carrying out bombings and terrorist operations in the southwestern Khuzestan Province.

The Supreme Court, the judiciary said on March 12, approved the death sentence "for Habib Farajollah Chaab on charges of corruption on earth through the formation, management, and leadership" of the group and violence carried out by it.

It cited a bomb attack on an annual military parade in the southwestern city of Ahvaz in 2018 that killed at least two dozen people and injured scores more.

It blamed the group for the deaths of 274 Iranians in all, as well as bombings and armed robberies.

It was unclear when the sentence against Chaab might be carried out.

But Iranian authorities routinely avoid disclosing basic information about detentions, trials, and other legal proceedings, including through the punishment phase in many capital cases.

Chaab, also known as Habib Asyud, went missing during a visit to Turkey in October 2020.

A month after his disappearance, he was shown in a video on Iranian state television in which he claimed responsibility for launching an attack and working with Saudi intelligence services.

Former prisoners and rights groups say Iran systematically uses torture and forced, televised confessions against alleged criminals and political detainees.

Iran's foreign minister at the time of the Ahvaz attack, Mohammad Javad Zarif, later blamed that bombing on foreign enemies and their "U.S. masters."

Chaab's former wife, Hoda Havashemi, told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda in January 2022 that she didn't believe he was involved in the Ahvaz bombing and feared he wouldn't get a fair trial.

She said Swedish authorities were not being granted access to Chaab. Iran does not recognize dual citizenship.

ASMLA is primarily based in the Netherlands and Denmark. Its leadership has been accused by Danish authorities of financing and promoting terrorism in Iran with Saudi Arabia's backing.

In late October 2018, the Danish intelligence service accused the Iranian intelligence service of plotting to assassinate at least one of the three leaders of the group's Danish branch, which Tehran denied.

In November 2017, a leader of the ASMLA was shot dead in The Hague in an attack that the Dutch government said was linked to Iran.

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