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Mahmood Fazal and Rachael Brown for Background Briefing and 7:30

Sydney man campaigning to save cousin, Majid Kazemi, from death row after Iran protests

Sydney man, Mohammed Hashemi, is part of a desperate campaign to save his cousin, Majid Kazemi, from execution in Iran.

Mr Kazemi is among four men accused of being involved in the deaths of three Basij militia members during anti-government protests in the Iranian city of Isfahan.

He was in prison for a month before his cousin, northern Sydney's Mohammed Hashemi, learnt of the arrest.

"After they arrested Majid [Kazemi], they arrested his brother just because he was with him [at the time of the arrest]," says Mr Hashemi.

"They tortured his brother so Majid would confess, otherwise they threatened to execute his brother as well."

In a phone call made from inside Dastgerd prison to his fiancee last week after he was sentenced, Mr Kazemi maintained his innocence and claimed he was tortured into giving a false confession. 

A recording of the conversation was published on social media.

In it, Mr Kazemi can be heard saying: "They beat [us] again, and we were told to say these [things] in court, all of it under torture. I had no gun and committed nothing.

"Under torture, I said 'yes' to everything."

Human rights advocates claim the trials of Iranian protesters like Mr Kazemi are unlawful, citing a lack of legal representation, and the prevalence of "coerced confessions".

Mr Hashemi says it was heartbreaking to hear Mr Kazemi's plea to his fiancee. 

"He was asking his fiancee, please do as much as you can, please help me, if you could do anything I'll bring flowers for you, and if not, maybe you'll need to bring flowers for me [to his grave]." 

Mr Kazemi has told family members he's in a bad way.

"He has some stomach issues and he can't see the doctor. He asked for treatment. He needs treatment. His nose is broken. His arm is broken. His family visited him and he wasn't able to walk," says Mr Hashemi. 

Mr Kazemi's brother, who didn't attend the protest but was kept in jail for 40 days, has shown Mr Hashemi photos of his own bruising and a broken tooth, and told him he has broken ribs and some head injuries.

The clock is ticking

On January 9, around two months after his cousin's arrest, Mr Hashemi was scrolling Instagram after work when suddenly the news dropped — his cousin had been sentenced to death. 

"I was shocked, just crying. It was the hardest moment in my life."

Mr Hashemi shares a close bond with Mr Kazemi. 

"Majid [Kazemi] was born two days after me, we were incredibly close growing up. He's really cheeky, funny and full of energy."

He last saw his cousin when he visited their hometown of Estefahn last March. 

"He was really kind. He brought me some sweets. He asked me about Australia, and that he wants to come here, and how he could do that."

Mr Kazemi had a successful business in the town making kitchenware from copper. 

"He gave me a cup that he had made. I still have it. It's my closest memory of him."

Now, Mr Hashemi can barely sleep.

"Every day we go 'OK, are there any updates on the execution? It's around 2-3pm, the time here that we know there will be something … Have they done anything today or not?' That's really sad, really hard, imagining if they have another day to live."

"I need to be on my phone every second but any time I receive a text or call, it really scares me."

This week Mr Kazemi was moved to solitary confinement, which his family and experts fear is an indication he will be executed soon.

"The reason he was moved was because his voice was published and he said he confessed under torture. The situation is becoming really urgent," says Mr Hashemi.

Mr Hashemi says the family has also been threatened since the phone conversation was published on social media. 

"His family are in a really bad situation. They are under pressure not to speak. The government are trying to keep him quiet."

Mr Hashemi met with advisers to Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Labor MP, Josh Burns last Friday. 

He says he hasn't been updated since the meeting, and is pleading for Minister Wong to pressure the Iranian government for the release of Mr Kazemi and the other political prisoners or, at a minimum, to call for free and fair trials.

"Australia is a country that believes in human rights, so this is an opportunity for them to be international leaders."

"Even if Majid [Kazemi] is not an Australian citizen, Minister Wong please, do something for basic human rights for the people of Iran. I think we have 80,000 Iranian Australians, and over 30,000 in NSW, and 10,000 attended protests on the 10th of December, so listen to them and what they are saying. 

"I know there's been some communication with the Iranian embassy but that's not honestly enough ... The only thing that could stop the Iranian government is international pressure."

During the trial, Mr Hashemi says Mr Kazemi wasn't allowed to choose his own lawyer and the appeal period was halved without notice. 

Mr Kazemi has since appealed his death sentence, but Mr Hashemi says everyone is in the dark.

"If they [can] change 20 days to 10 days we can't trust anything.

"Honestly, I'm scared anything could happen right now, or in the next few days, I really don't know … I'm always just checking my phone, checking the news. I think it's more than 20 people they are sentenced to execute now."

'We haven't sanctioned nearly enough'

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an academic who spent more than two years imprisoned in Iran on espionage charges, has been working with Mr Hashemi's family, backing the campaign for Mr Kazemi to be spared.

"Particularly during the current unrest, the use of torture to extract confessions seems to have really increased … Once you make a false confession, it's almost impossible to retract, even if you try to retract it in court."

Dr Moore-Gilbert concedes Australia is limited in what it can do, because Mr Kazemi is not an Australian citizen. 

But she says the federal government could play its part in saving this man's life, by naming him specifically.

"If we stand up, the Australian government and all of us in the community stand up, and say that Majid Kazemi matters to us … and that we're taking a particular concern in his welfare, I do think it might make them think twice about carrying out the execution."

In December, Penny Wong announced sanctions against Iran, including asset freezes and travel bans for some Iranian individuals involved in protest crackdowns. 

But Dr Moore-Gilbert says Australia needs to introduce more robust sanctions. 

"We haven't sanctioned nearly enough people. If you look at what some other countries are doing, countries like Canada have sanctioned thousands of human rights abusers in Iran.

"I personally would like them to take far greater action, mirroring that of some of our international allies, like the US, Canada, UK, European Union … And I think they should also consider proscribing the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror organisation, a trend that we're seeing emerge throughout Europe as well as in Canada and the US."

The ABC has contacted the Iranian ambassador's office and Penny Wong for comment.

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