End Prosecution of Student for Exercising Freedom of Speech
Ali Nikounesbati will be prosecuted for the third time on 15 February 2009
(14 February 2009) The Iranian Judiciary should end its multiple prosecutions of Ali Nikounesbati solely for his writings and speeches, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.
Nikounesbati graduated from Mofid University in Qom two months ago. He was the spokesperson for the Office to Foster Unity, a nation-wide students union. He has been arrested twice and five cases have been filed against him since 2007.
Nikounesbati’s latest trial will be held on 15 February 2009, at Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, which is charging him with “gathering and conspiring,” “acting against national security” and “disturbing public order.”
Previously, Branch 1083 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court prosecuted Nikounesbati in his absence and sentenced him to three months and one day imprisonment on 5 November 2008. The case against him was brought by the legal department of the Higher Education Ministry. He was charged with defamation according to article 697 of the Islamic Penal Code, based on public statements about several incidents involving university students. The court based its decision on Nikounesbati’s public advocacy regarding the sexual abuse of a female student by a university security agent in Kermanshah, as well as publicly discussing the murder of a female student allegedly by a member of the Basiji militia in Sabzevar, and protesting the barring of several graduate students from continuing their education.
“The Ministry of Higher Education should welcome monitoring by the student union, rather than prosecuting students who investigate and publicize such offenses,” said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesperson for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Abdolfattah Soltani, a human rights lawyer who represents Ali Nikounesbati, informed the Campaign that he had appealed the latest sentence and hoped Nikounesbati would be acquitted by the appeals court.
Nikounesabati was arrested for the first time on the early morning of 9 July 2007, as he was holding a sign protesting the detention of three students at Amir Kabir University. Security agents arrested him along with five other members of the central council of the Office to Foster Unity. He was released after one month in detention. He will be prosecuted for this case under the charges of “gathering and conspiring”, “acting against national security” and “disturbing public order” by the Revolutionary Court, branch 15, on 15 February 2009.
He was arrested for the second time on 8 November 2007, and held in detention for a month. According to Nikounesbati’s colleagues, this case was filed against him and other members of the student union due to a letter they wrote to President Ahmadinejad. Following Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University in which he claimed Iran as the freest country, the student union challenged him in this letter and asked for a meeting. As a result, Nikounesbati was charged with “acting against national security” and “disturbing public order.” In May 2008, a lower court sentenced him to a prison term, but the appeals court changed it to a $500 fine.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran calls on Iranian authorities to respect international human rights standards and treaties, and to end persecution and prosecution of students solely for their writings and public statements. The authorities should respect the students’ rights to free expression and free speech. The Ministry of Education should withdraw its law suit against Ali Nikounesbati and other students, and the Judiciary authorities should guarantee the students’ right to fair trials.