Iran’s dead poets society: The execution of Hashem Shabaani shows the pen can be mightier than the sword

For writing poetry, a pacifist, father and carer, was accused of ‘spreading corruption’ and executed

Share

In Iran, there should be a Dead Poets Society. Or perhaps a Martyred Poets Society, with its newest member a certain Arab-Iranian from Ahwaz, in the far south-west of the country, on the Iraqi border.

He has been hanged for “spreading corruption on earth”, one of hundreds put to death by the Islamic revolution since 1979. Everything about Hashem Shabaani cries out in shame against his executioners: his pacifist poetry, his academic learning, his care for his sick father – a disabled soldier seriously wounded in the 1980-88 war against the Iraqi invaders of his country – and his love for his wife and only child. Already, of course, he has become a political corpse. His killers, the Iranian interior ministry and a revolutionary tribunal judge called Mohamed-Bagher Moussavi, must be the first culprits.

Then come the Iraqi opposition groups which have spent almost as much time smearing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for Shabaani’s death as they have mourning his loss. And then, of course, history comes clanking into third place as the executioner.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and interior ministry mandarins have been cut down by bombs in the Arab-majority province of Ahwaz for more than two years. Their revenge is absolute. Shabaani, needless to say, was accused of helping the “resistance”, presumably writing poetry in Arabic – and even translating Farsi poetry into the Arabic language – qualifies a writer as a subversive in Iran these days. In a letter from prison, Shabaani said that he could not remain silent against the “hideous crimes against Ahwazis perpetrated by the Iranian authorities, especially arbitrary and unjust executions… 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.”

Perhaps that was Shabaani’s undoing. In Iran, the pen can indeed be mightier than the sword, especially when the nation’s security services are growing increasingly paranoid about the danger of separatism, not only in Ahwaz, but in Baluchistan, Iranian Kurdistan and among the country’s other minority communities.

Hashem Shabaani during in a television interview in 2011 Hashem Shabaani during in a television interview in 2011
Ironically, the Shah’s pseudo-secular regime, overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, had placed a veneer of nationalism over the Persian tribal and religious leaders inside the new and “modern” state of “Iran”.

And although Iranian scholars might object to this, Islam itself “secularised” the people of the Middle East by helping to smother traditional tribalism. This was of no help to 32-year-old Hashem Shabaani. He and a friend – two of 14 human rights activists sentenced to death by Moussavi last July after two years in custody – had been tortured in prison.

In December 2011, he appeared on Press TV, the grim international Iranian satellite channel, where he “confessed” to “separatist terrorism” and supporting Baathism. Even more preposterously, the television station claimed Shabaani had been in contact with the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, and with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi – though presumably before the overthrow of the first and the murder of the second.

Iranian opposition groups, while condemning Shabaani’s murder, have blamed President Hassan Rouhani, the new Iranian President – and the West’s new best friend in the Islamic Republic since he offered assurances that Iran did not plan to develop nuclear weapons – for the execution.

Rouhani paid a swift visit to Ahwaz last month when, according to opposition figures, he confirmed the death sentences originally passed under the presidency of his unbalanced predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Blaming the President for state hangings is a common enough practice in the politics of Iran. Some opponents of the regime claim dozens of artists, academics and writers were murdered under the regime of the extremely moderate Ayatollah Mohamed Khatami, even though Khatami was outraged by the deaths of these men, almost all of whom – far from being sentenced to death – were assassinated.

In reality, far more intellectuals met their deaths under Khatami’s presidential predecessor, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard, whose cadres were slaughtered in a massive bus bombing in the Arabi Khuzestan province, were not going to have qualms about the “legal” murder of Iranian Arab human rights activists.

Iran several times claimed that the British intelligence services were behind the attacks on government authorities in Khuzestan.

Shabaani himself should have been feted in his native Iran. Born in Ahwaz, he published poetry in both Persian and Arabic, got an MA in politics and led marches in protest at the arrest of students and the expulsion of professors.

The prominent Iranian writer and journalist, Amir Taheri, has written of Shabaani’s poetry – much of it non-political – and quoted from Shabaani’s verse within days of his judicial killing.

“For seven days they shouted at me:/You are waging war on Allah,” Shabaani wrote of his trial in a poem he called “Seven Reasons Why I should Die”.

“Saturday: because you are an Arab!/Sunday, well you are from Ahwaz … Tuesday: You mock the sacred revolution … Friday: You’re a man, isn’t that enough to die?”

Although held for months in the Ahwaz prison called Karoun – after the river about which Shabaani wrote lovingly – he was moved to an unknown destination before his hanging.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Richard Attenborough, who died on 25 August, attends a film premiere  

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

DJ Taylor
Women were excluded from the decision-making progress in Rotherham  

Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal - the lessons: Asian women's voices go unheard

Joan Smith
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution