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

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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor