Hedayat Abdollahpour
Undated image of Iranian Kurdish political prisoner Hedayat Abdollahpour, who Iran sentenced to death in 2017. His family told VOA on June 24, 2020, that it obtained a death certificate indicating he was executed the previous month.

WASHINGTON - The family of an Iranian Kurdish political prisoner says it has obtained his death certificate after his apparent secret execution by Iran last month, but remains unable to locate his grave due to the government’s refusal to disclose what it did with the remains.

Farhad Abdollahpour told VOA Persian that he obtained the death certificate for his brother Hedayat Wednesday and shared an image of it. The document appears to have been issued by Iranian interior ministry officials in the predominantly Kurdish northwestern town of Oshnavieh, where Hedayat Abdollahpour had lived and worked as a car repairman.

A handwritten note at the bottom of the page says Iran’s National Organization for Civil Registration, an interior ministry branch, issued the death certificate at the request of the dissident's father, Abubakar Abdollahpour.

VOA could not independently confirm the document’s authenticity. There was no mention of it in Iranian state media.

The certificate says Hedayat Abdollahpour died from the impact of “hard or sharp objects” hitting his body. It specifies the place of death as the city of Urmia, north of Oshnavieh, and the date of death as May 11.

Abdollahpour had been on death row in an Urmia prison since 2017. He had been detained in Oshnavieh in August 2016 for suspected involvement in a local battle between Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) rebels on June 14 of that year.

2017 death sentence

The Kurdish dissident was accused of being a KDPI member and sentenced to death in 2017 after what Britain-based rights group Amnesty International (AI) called a “grossly unfair” trial. AI and Abdollahpour’s family said he consistently denied involvement with KDPI or its 2016 battle with the IRGC. They also said he lost hearing in one ear from apparent torture after his arrest and later retracted in court a confession that he had made under duress.

Prior to obtaining the death certificate, Farhad Abdollahpour, who is based in Iraqi Kurdistan, had told VOA last week that his father received a June 10 phone call from an official who asserted that Hedayat was executed on or around May 21 in Oshnavieh.

Farhad Abdollahpour had cited the official as saying that Hedayat had been transferred to Oshnavieh from the Urmia prison, which had moved him out of the facility earlier in May. He said the caller also told his father that the execution happened in the presence of relatives of IRGC soldiers killed in the 2016 battle with KDPI.

There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy between the previous account of Hedayat Abdollahpour’s apparent execution happening in Oshnavieh and the newly released death certificate showing his place of death as Urmia.

'Hard or sharp objects'

In his latest message to VOA, Farhad Abdollahpour said the death certificate’s description of “hard or sharp objects” hitting his brother’s body has led the family to conclude that Hedayat was executed by firing squad. The use of that form of capital punishment against civilians in Iran has been rare in recent decades. Hanging is the Iranian government’s most common method of carrying out the death penalty.

Hossein Ahmadiniaz, an Iranian lawyer who represented Hedayat Abdollahpour and who has lived in exile in the Netherlands since 2018, told VOA Persian that he agrees with the family’s assessment of how the dissident was killed. He said that he and two other Iran-based lawyers who worked with him on the case accepted the death certificate as legal proof that authorities carried out the death sentence against their client.

But speaking to VOA on Wednesday, Ahmadiniaz said the Iranian judiciary still had not sent a formal notification of the execution to his colleagues Maziar Tataei and Osman Mazayyan, more than a month after apparently taking the action against their client.

Iranian law requires the government to notify lawyers of a scheduled execution of their client 48 hours in advance and to grant family members the right to visit their condemned relative for the last time. It appears that Iranian authorities did not do so in Hedayat Abdollahpour’s case.

“His grave site still is unknown, and his family has not yet been able to see the body,” Ahmadiniaz said. “The Iranian judiciary is responsible for this illegal behavior.”

In a sign of the anguish facing Abdollahpour’s family, his father sent a voice message to Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights on June 15, pleading with Iranian judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi for information about the dissident.

“Shame on you. If you have executed my child, return his body. Set Islam aside and be a human,” Abubakar Abdollahpour said at the time.

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. Mehdi Jedinia of VOA’s Extremism Watch Desk contributed. Click here for the original Persian version of the story.