Callous Border Security Guns Down 70 Couriers in Iran
Government Should End Pattern of Illegal Use of Lethal Force in Northwest Border Provinces - Iranian Kurds and Unemployed Resort to Dangerous Black-Market Work (27 April 2012) The Iranian government should immediately investigate the numerous cases of border security forces killing couriers in the northwestern provinces of West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Kermanshah, and hold accountable those responsible for such callous use of unlawful force, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.
The government should also review its border security measures and the growing pattern of excessive use of lethal force, and should adopt clear polices to stop unlawful and unnecessary killing, the Campaign added.
“The ongoing cold-blooded killing of cross-border couriers (often called kulbar) by security officials is unacceptable, and the Iranian government must put an end to it,” Campaign spokesperson Hadi Ghaemi said. “The use of lethal force against these people, who are unarmed and are simply avoiding authorities, is unjustifiable, violates international law, and must be investigated.”
The Campaign has documented 74 deaths and 76 injuries to individuals working as kulbar, couriers that carry illegally-imported goods, such as tobacco, electronics, and tires, on their backs, and kasebkar, tradesmen who transport similar goods into larger towns. These individuals live and work in the predominantly Kurdish northwestern border provinces of Iran’s West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Kermanshah. These killings and injuries, featured in a full list on the website, all occurred between March 2011 and April 2012 within the cont ext of a new government border control program.
Of the 74 deceased kulbar and kasebkar, 70 were allegedly shot and killed by government border forces, and four reportedly died as a result of landmine explosions, avalanches, and exposure to severe cold. Among the 76 injured, eight were hurt during landmine explosions, and the rest by border security. These numbers only represent individuals whose identities and case particulars the Campaign was able to verify independently or through reliable local sources. There may be many more cases; however, due to the economic and geographic isolation of the kulbar these cases are likely underreported.
“Iranian law regards the activities of the kulbari as a crime that is punishable by several months of detention or a fine equal to the value of the seized commodities,” explains a March 2012 report by UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed. “[H]owever … Iranian border guards [reportedly] indiscriminately shoot at these individuals, thereby killing and wounding dozens of kulbari annually, as well as their horses.”
A local expert on the kulbar told the Campaign that, in practice, fines can be several times the value of the seized goods. “These kulbar are unarmed—if they were armed it would aggravate any charges they might face. If they encounter the authorities, they simply try to run away to avoid what would be a hefty fine. Because they usually cannot afford such an amount, they would be thrown in prison,” the expert added.
The border region near the town of Sardasht, in West Azerbaijan, has seen the most alleged killings of border couriers and tradesmen by the Iranian police, followed by the Marivan and Baneh border regions in Kurdistan.
A kulbar who has worked almost 10 years in the border town of Baneh told the Campaign, Because of the border closing project, during the past several years, without regard for our lives, the police have been waiting in mountainous and hard-to-pass areas for us. After warning us to stop, without firing a warning shot, they shoot at us directly…. Several times during these past few years, bullets have flown by the side of my head and hands….
Kulbar carry goods such as cigarettes, textiles, and video equipment. Even if we were to escape, we would not cause heavy damage to the government, warranting their wanton direct targeting of us….
Several of my friends, who were their families’ breadwinners, were killed by the police and military forces…. The people of this region have no other option of employment. They are taking risks with their lives in order to feed their families.
Another local source told the Campaign,
As an example, on 22 March 2011, during confiscation of goods from several border tradesmen in the town of Nosood, the Deputy Border Commander of Nosood shot at several kulbar inside the town’s Moallem Square. A young Kurdish man by the name of Pourmand Madhatnia was murdered during the shooting and three other citizens were injured.
The killing of Madhatnia triggered protests by locals of the town. The police initially detained the officer involved in the shooting, then transferred him to a post in another town. Later, however, the police attacked and arrested several of those who had participated in the protest, the source said.
In an earlier example of excessive force, in February 2010 (thus not mentioned in the list below), police severely beat Mohammad Reza Khalidi, a 60-year-old Kurdish-Iranian bulldozer operator in the border region of Chalehcheremi in Nosood, leading to his death. Authorities had mistakenly thought Khalidi was a kulbar.
A close friend of Khalidi told the Campaign, “After his family filed a lawsuit with the military court, the police denied the incident, even though several locals testified to it, and after several months, under pressure from the police, the case was shelved.”
Some kulbar and their families and friends have reported that border security have intentionally shot and killed their horses and other beasts of burden used to transport goods. Sources in the towns of Marivan and Sardasht also claim that police have set fire to several animals carrying smuggled fuel into Iraqi Kurdistan, burning them alive.
According to sources, police kill the animals to increase the cost of the trade for couriers, tradesmen, and their families, aiming to deter this type of work in the border areas.
“The government is basically punishing poverty. Attacking the kulbar, who are from some of the poorest areas of Iran, is using lethal force against people relegated to this activity by their economic circumstances,” Ghaemi said. “Furthermore, killing the animals they use for their trade amounts to imposing a punishment without due process.”
Ghaemi added, “The high number of unwarranted kulbar deaths requires an immediate change in government policy and the international community’s sustained attention.”