Ruling of Combined 127-Year Sentence for Facebook Users Violates Iran’s Own Laws
A source knowledgeable about the case of eight young Iranians sentenced to heavy prison sentences for their activities on Facebook told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that in an illegal ruling, Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court under Judge Moghisseh has issued verdicts that are up to three times longer than allowable under Iran’s own laws. The judge in the case has combined the old and the new Islamic Penal Codes in arriving at the unusually long sentences, totaling 127 years combined, said the source.
The source who requested anonymity on security grounds told the Campaign that Judge Moghisseh and the investigative judge in the case have not yet agreed to the release of most of these individuals on bail, while an appeals court reviews the case. All six male convicts in the case are currently inside Ward 350 of Evin Prison. One female convict is held under deplorable conditions at the Gharchak Prison outside Tehran, and one of the female convicts with two young children was released on bail.
IRNA reported on July 13, 2014, that eight young individuals active on Facebook were sentenced to a combined total of 127 years in prison on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” and “blasphemy, insulting Heads of Branches, and insulting individuals.” The report indicated that the IRGC’s Sarallah Base had pursued and identified the eight individuals and had ultimately arrested them in July 2013. The case was reviewed at the Evin Prison Courts and was forwarded to Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court on February 16, 2014.
If the case had been handled according to the law, even at “maximum sentence,” none of them should have received more than 7.5 years in prison, according to the source. However, the suspects have received 21 years, 20 years, 19 years and 91 days, 18 years and 91 days, 16 years, 14 years, 11 years, and 8 years in prison.
All charges that were brought against these individuals were based on content and photographs they had posted on their Facebook pages,” said the source.
“Some of them also face the charge of ‘possession of vulgar CDs.’ When the agents went to their homes for their arrests, they found some original, uncensored CDs of Hollywood films. In the charges it is stated that they published vulgar photographs in cyberspace, and the example provided was the photograph of a man and a woman embracing,” added the source.
“From what I saw, not only are these individuals not political activists, they don’t even know the alphabet of politics! They were isolated individuals from different layers of society who merely had some activities in cyberspace. One of them even had a Facebook page under his/her own name where he/she published most of his/her poems. How can this individual be a political activist who colluded to overthrow the state?” said the source.
Asked why these individuals received such heavy sentences, the source told the Campaign, “Unfortunately, Judge Moghisseh combined the old and the new [Islamic Penal] Codes in this case. First, he ruled according to the new code, and then he added up the sentences according to the old code. This is totally illegal. This is why some of the suspects have received as much as three times more than the sentence they should have received. According to the old Islamic Penal Code, when a suspect faced several charges, the judge should add up all the punishments and determine the final punishment for the suspect. But according to Article 134 of the New Islamic Penal Code which should have been implemented beginning in May 2014, if a suspect faces three or more charges, the judge must only rule for the maximum punishment of one of those charges. For example, the punishment for “assembly and collusion” is between two to five years, or ultimately 7.5 years [especially harsh punishment as determined by the judge]. In this case, Judge Moghisseh first decided on the maximum punishment for each of the charges, and then added them all up, according to the old Penal Code. We can now only hope that the appeals court will overrule these sentences.”
The eight suspects lived in different cities in Iran, including Shiraz, Yazd, Kerman, Abadan, and Tehran, and were transferred to Tehran, where their cases were established at the Tehran Revolutionary Court.
Human rights lawyer Mahnaz Parakand, who is a Norway resident, told the Campaign that there were numerous shortcomings in the cases against these Facebook users. “First, it should be proven in court that these individuals really intended to ‘act against national security’ through Facebook. It would then have to be proven that they ‘colluded’ with each other on Facebook. Proving ‘collusion’ only through content and photographs posted on Facebook is a very difficult task. Also, every suspect has to be tried in the location where the crime was committed and he/she was arrested. If someone started a Facebook page in Shiraz, he/she must be tried in Shiraz courts, not in Tehran courts after being transferred there. Such actions question the qualification of courts in other cities,” she told the Campaign.