Draconian Prison Sentences Doled Out for Activists
Judge Should Be Suspended for Politicized, Incompetent Rulings
(20 May 2010) The continuing sentencing of activists to long prison terms by the Iranian Judiciary, in politically-motivated trials and based on unfounded charges, should be immediately halted and all the rulings should be reviewed by an independent and impartial committee, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.
Bahareh Hedayat and Milad Asadi, both distinguished student activists, were sentenced to prison terms of nine-and-a-half and seven years, respectively, by Judge Moghisseh. The Campaign demanded an investigation of their trials and the suspension of presiding Judge Moghisseh.
“These obviously politically-motivated sentences are, unfortunately, consistent with Judge Moghisseh’s record of rulings against activists arrested in the past year, rulings that have completely ignored defense motions and facts in order to impose pre-determined outcomes designed to repress dissent,” stated Aaron Rhodes, a spokesperson for the Campaign.
“It is the responsibility of the Judiciary to take corrective action, to reverse baseless and illegal rulings, restore falsely convicted citizens to freedom, and discipline the Judge,” he added.
Iranian authorities such as Mohammad Javad Larijani, Head of the Iranian Delegation to the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva (February 2010), have stated that no one is imprisoned in the Islamic Republic of Iran for his or her beliefs and opinions. The two recent sentences, like most issued for detained journalists and political and student activists, were based on suspects’ general activities and expressions of their beliefs.
Hedayat’s husband, Amin Ahmadian, told the Campaign, “Unfortunately, Bahareh Hedayat and Milad Asadi were informed of their sentences in the absence of their lawyers. Their trial was held in a closed court. There was no evidence or reasoning in their case files. They had refuted their charges during interrogations and had defended themselves. We don’t know based upon what documents these sentences were issued.”
Ahmadian called the heavy sentences political. “This ruling has no legal basis and has been issued on a political basis. On the threshold of the anniversary of the elections and the attack on the Tehran University dormitories, I think they wanted to issue heavy sentences for two distinguished student activists,” he added.
Last week a lower court’s death sentence for Mohammad Amin Valian, 20, who was charged with moharebeh (enmity against God), was reduced to three years in prison. At that time, the Campaign demanded the suspension of Judge Moghisseh, who according to lawyers defending political prisoners consistently issues sentences dictated by intelligence and security officials. The issuance of similar sentences could illegally place the lives of other reform-oriented political and student activists in serious danger.
After Valian’s sentence was overturned, however, not only was Judge Moghisseh not suspended, he has continued to hand down patently unfair sentences that the Campaign believes make a mockery of justice and fair trials in the Iranian Judiciary.
“Nobody knows about this judge’s background. What we have observed in our numerous meetings with him indicates that he is incapable of understanding the most basic judicial concepts and only serves as a signature machine for baseless and heavy sentences. No decent judge would uphold his decisions,” a lawyer representing political prisoners told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
“Unfortunately, a few judges who carry out the orders of intelligence organizations issue political rulings without regard for the file’s evidence and the defense provided by suspects and their lawyers. This trend has turned the Iranian Judiciary into a subsidiary of the Ministry of Intelligence,” added the lawyer.
Milad Asadi’s seven-year in prison sentence is for “actions against national security, and “propaganda against the regime,” (five years) and “insulting the Supreme Leader,” (two years). Bahareh Hedayat was sentenced to two years in prison for “insulting the Supreme Leader,” six months for “insulting the President,” and five years for “actions against national security, propagation of falsehoods, and mutiny for congregation.” An earlier suspended sentence of two years in prison for participating in a women’s rights protest against anti-women laws was added to make Hedayat’s total sentence 9.5 years in prison.
Hedayat’s trial was held on 5 May 2010, at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Courts, with Judge Moghisseh presiding. She was represented by her lawyers Houshang Pourbabaei and Mehdi Hojjati, and the trial lasted more than two hours. Hedayat has been detained in Evin prison’s Women’s Ward since 30 December 2010. Milad Asadi was arrested on 30 November 2009, and has been at Evin prison’s Ward 350 during this time.
One of the reasons for the court ruling was stipulated as “membership in Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat” (Office for Strengthening Unity), a nationwide student organization that was determined to be illegal by Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology. Members of the organization insist that its activities are completely legal.
Several student activists who were members of the organization’s Central Council and were arrested after the elections told the Campaign that intelligence officers inside the prison told them that the condition for their freedom was to denounce the organization’s activities and confirm its illegal status. Mohammad Hashemi, Ali Nikou Nesbati, Mehdi Arabshahi, Bahareh Hedayat, Hanif Yazdani, and Ali Vefghi are members of the Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat’s Central Council, all arrested after the elections.
“We will definitely object to this entire sentence and request an appeal. We still have time to file our objection. This ruling is not fair and does not have a proper foundation. Student activities are transparent and everybody has normal criticism, whether they are students or many ordinary citizens, even members of the same regime. Expressing criticism alone cannot be the basis for such sentences and charges such as ‘propaganda against the regime,’ and ‘actions against the regime,’ or ‘dark portrayal [of the regime].’ They don’t deserve this ruling at all and we will file for an appeal. This ruling is not only cruel, it is fundamentally insulting to the Islamic Republic of Iran. I mean sentencing two student activists who are acting transparently in criticizing the government through civil means to years in prison is insulting to the regime,” Amin Ahmadian said.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran believes that the sentences issued for Bahareh Hedayat and Milad Asadi are in clear violation of fair trial procedures and in contradiction with Iranian and international laws stipulating that sentences must be proportionate to the charges. They demonstrate the grave condition of freedom of expression in Iran, and the Iranian Judiciary’s lack of independence that has prevented fair trials.