“If, as an analyst, I call an individual ‘a populist,’ or ‘an intellectual,’ or ‘a leftist,’ or ‘a rightist,’ I have not insulted anyone. But in the Islamic Republic, anything they don’t like is an insult. Therefore, I was informed of the charges of ‘insulting the Founder of the Islamic Republic,’ and I was sentenced to one year in prison,” Shojaee told the Campaign.
“Last year, I interviewed with the Nationalist-Religious website and with Rasam website, which belongs to the traditional clerics of Iran, about the 1953 coup. They asked me about Ayatollah Khomeini’s conduct during that time period, and I provided my analysis. My analysis was that Ayatollah Khomeini had a populist conduct at the time, and this offended the gentlemen. They thought ‘populist’ was a foreign profanity, and not a political class and approach. Of course, this argument had been made by others, such as Professor Basharieh, before, but I guess they didn’t expect me to say things like this as a cleric, and they perceived it as an insult. The Intelligence Ministry wrote a very scattered and disorganized report on this which included many different points. In a part of the report, they wrote that because I had gone on many furlough leaves, I had become emboldened and I had established questionable relations with questionable religious leaders and Ulama [Muslim jurisprudence scholars], and that in the end I had insulted Ayatollah Khomeini,” the cleric told the Campaign.
“The Special Clerics Court had previously sentenced me to lifetime defrocking. I told them that I had been granted the cleric’s robe by religious leaders and not the regime. Therefore, if the religious leaders asked me to, I would defrock myself, but they cannot sentence me to it. Last year, when I was granted furlough, I went to Qom and wore my cleric’s clothes and the religious leaders did not have any problems with it, but the court sentenced me to another three months in prison for violating the defrocking sentence,” Shojaee said about his other charges.
Arash Honarvar Shojaee suffers from epilepsy. “I have served more than half of my sentence. Therefore, I requested conditional release according to the law. The request had to be reviewed by the Prison Council, but before my letter was reviewed at the Council, it went to the Special Clerics Court and the judge ordered that my request not be reviewed and I was deprived of that right. Stranger than that, despite the Medical Examiner’s confirmation of my inability to endure my prison sentence [due to my health conditions], they kept me in prison and refused to review the Medical Examiner’s confirmation,” he added.
Dissident cleric and blogger Arash Honarvar Shojaee was arrested on October 28, 2010, and sentenced to four years in prison, 50 lashes, $800 in cash fines, and lifetime defrocking as a cleric on charges of espionage, propaganda against the regime, acting against national security, and disrespecting the clergy. He developed epilepsy during his interrogations and suffered a stroke.
Arash Shojaee is currently being held at the the Special Clerics Ward (Ward 325) at Evin Prison. “The hygiene and facilities problems in this ward are the same as in other wards, but my personal problem is that I am a seminary student and as such it is my job to debate, research, and review. I started classes for my cellmates, but prison officials threatened everyone and my classes ended. Whoever got close to me was sent to Ward 500, which is where cleric suspects are detained. When I was in Ward 350 [for political prisoners], my family brought me whatever books I asked for and the prison officials gave me the books. But in this ward, I can only ask for a maximum of five books and I have to first submit their names to be reviewed and only if there are no problems can my family bring the books to prison,” he added.
Asked how many inmates are currently in the Special Clerics Wards at Evin (Wards 500 and 325), Shojaee said, “The numbers fluctuate. Right now maybe four or five inmates are inside Ward 325, which is where convicted clerics are kept, and there are some people on furlough. In Ward 350, there are the same number of clerics who are suspects awaiting trial.” Shojaee added that most clerics at Evin Prison are there for family-related or financial reasons, and he and Ayatollah Kazemeini Borooujerdi are the only two clerics with political charges.