Imprisoned Leader of Spiritual Group on Hunger Strike
Mohammad Ali Taheri, the leader of a spiritual group who has been behind bars since 2011 on charges of “corruption on earth” and “blasphemy,” has been on a hunger strike since August 13, 2015 to protest his sentence and prison conditions, a member of his family told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
“Before he ends his hunger strike, we want the authorities to respect Mr. Taheri’s most basic rights as a human being and prisoner,” the relative said. “Secondly we demand a fair and open trial.”
Taheri’s case has been surrounded by uncertainty following contradictory reports on the views of three senior religious leaders regarding whether he has also committed apostasy, a charge that carries the death penalty.
“According to the court sentence viewed by Taheri’s lawyers, the death sentence is based on the judgement of three Grand Ayatollahs. Yet news agencies recently quoted the same Grand Ayatollahs that their views are not definite and the sentence can change. What kind of game is this? If they really don’t think he should be condemned to death, they should officially say so,” Taheri’s family member told the Campaign.
Mohammad Ali Taheri is the founder of the now-banned “Erfan-e Halgheh” (Spiritual Circle) arts and culture institute whose popular books on religion and spirituality have all been published with permission from the Islamic Guidance and Culture Ministry. He has also taught classes in alternative medicine at Tehran University.
On October 30, 2011, he was sentenced to five years in prison for “blasphemy,” 74 lashes for “touching the wrists of female patients,” and 900 million tomans in fines (about $300,000) for “interfering in medical science,” “earning illegitimate funds,” and “distribution of audio-visual products and use of academic titles.”
On July 13, 2015, Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei stated in a press conference that Taheri had been found guilty of “corruption on earth” in the lower court’s ruling, a charge that potentially carries the death penalty.
“Mr. Taheri is a researcher and author on alternative medicine. We want the Supreme Court to exonerate him. He has never accepted the accusations against him and there has never been any proof to back the charges in his case. The treatment he has been getting is a clear violation of his human rights,” said the family member.
In February 2014, Fars News Agency reported that the Judiciary had asked three religious authorities, Nasser Makkarem Shirazi, Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani, and Mohammad Alavi Gorgani, to give their opinion on Taheri and they had found him guilty of “apostasy,” and a “corruptor on earth.”
Yet on September 1, 2015, the state-run Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) published replies from the three religious authorities denying that Taheri’s “apostasy” had been absolutely determined.
“The life of a human being is in the hands of three religious authorities who have not clearly expressed their opinion. You cannot play with someone’s life like that,” Taheri’s family member told the Campaign.