golrokhCo-Defendants Forced to Unexpectedly Begin Prison Sentences

Four months after her husband was unexpectedly forced to begin serving his 19-year prison sentence for his peaceful activism, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee has refused to abide by a verbal order via telephone to report to Evin Prison to begin serving a six-year prison sentence for writing an unpublished story about burning the Koran and for her Facebook posts. Co-defendant Navid Kamran was also unexpectedly forced to begin serving his sentence on October 4, 2016.

“On Tuesday, October 4 [2016], without receiving a written summons, I got a phone call from someone who introduced himself as court ruling enforcement agent, and said I must report to prison or else I would be taken into custody from wherever I am,” Iraee told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran on October 6. “I don’t believe it’s legal to summon someone over the phone, so I told him to send me a written summons, but I haven’t gotten one yet.”

Iraee, an accountant and the wife of civil rights activist Arash Sadeghi, said she had been convicted of “insulting the sacred” and “propaganda against the state” for writing a fantastical story she had never published and for a “few” of her Facebook posts. The story, which she had written in a notebook that was later confiscated during a search of her home by the Revolutionary Guards, is about an enraged woman who burns the Quran after watching a film about stoning in Iran. 

“My stories and poems were confiscated the night agents searched our home. After the third day of questioning, the interrogators put me under pressure and accused me of insulting the sacred. I was interrogated dozens of times about the burning of the Quran in my story,” Iraee told the Campaign. “Each time I explained that it’s only a story. I told them and I wrote [in my defense statement] that if what I did was a crime, then many scriptwriters and novelists should be arrested for committing the same crime. But they didn’t care, and in the end they gave me the maximum punishment.”

“They put my husband in a situation where he could hear my interrogation sessions about the burning of the Quran and how I was put under pressure [to confess under] threats of execution. They caused a lot of psychological anguish for both of us,” she added.

Forced “confessions” in politically motivated cases, often extracted under the threat of or actual torture, are a common practice in Iran.

“When they came to search our house, they took away my handwritten notes. There were some stories and poems that I had not published anywhere, not even on the Internet. On the basis of these writings, and a few posts on Facebook in support of [dissident rapper] Shahin Najafi, I was charged with ‘insulting the sacred’ and given a five-year prison sentence. In addition I was given another year in prison for ‘propaganda against the state’ because I was in contact with families of political prisoners,” said Iraee in an interview with the Campaign in July 2016.

“I had some photos and video clips of the 2009 protests that I had not published anywhere. Not even on Facebook. But they included them as evidence of ‘propaganda against the state.’ During the Appeals Court hearing, my lawyer, Mr. Amir Raeesian, printed a copy of Supreme Leader [Ali] Khamenei’s decree stating that if an insult takes place in a private space, it does not amount to a crime in any legal sense. But the judge ignored it and gave me the maximum sentence.”

Iraee was arrested with her husband and two friends Navid Kamran and Behnam Mousivand on September 6, 2014 at the couple’s stationary store in Tehran by agents from the Revolutionary Guards’ Sarallah Headquarters. In addition to the charge of “insulting the sacred,” she was accused of “encouraging Iranian women to remove the veil,” “opposing retribution laws,” “signing petitions against the death penalty” and “participating in rallies in support of political prisoners.”

The four were put on a mass trial in May and July 2015 at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court presided by Judge Abolqasem Salavati. Iraee was sentenced to six years in prison while Sadeghi received a 15-year and four-year prison sentence and Mousivand and Kamran each received an 18-month prison sentence. Upon appeal the court upheld the sentences against Iraee and Sadeghi but reduced Mousivand and Kamran’s sentences to one year each.

Iraee added that she felt that she had been convicted in absentia since she was not present at the two court sessions of her preliminary trial. The presiding judge barred her from attending the first session and she was in the hospital when the second session was held.

Asked by the Campaign if she knew why the Revolutionary Guards had targeted her and her husband, Iraee said: “Our activities were mostly concentrated online. We were in contact with the families of political prisoners. The inmates who had access to a phone would call and talk about things that were happening, and Arash would [post their statements] on his Facebook page, if, for example, a prisoner was not transferred to the hospital as scheduled or if he was not given medical furlough (temporary leave).”

“The authorities considered these [posts] lies that were being spread in cyberspace and insisted that he was trying to disturb the peace and so forth. They said we were trying to paint a black picture. They could not tolerate the pictures we posted of the people who had been killed [in political protests] or of the ceremonies held in their honor. It was too much for them,” she added.

In 2009 peaceful protests against that year’s widely disputed presidential election in Iran were met with violent state repression. The pro-democracy Green Movement arose out of those protests and is still a highly sensitive topic in the Islamic Republic. It is referred to by hardliners as the “sedition.”