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Ahmad Montazeri Will Appeal “Ugly” Six-Year Prison Sentence

The six-year prison sentence handed down to Ahmad Montazeri for publishing an audio tape on the mass execution of political prisoners in the 1980s by a clerical court system headed by one of the men incriminated by the audio file, reflects a profound conflict of interest and arbitrary ruling that renders the verdict completely illegitimate.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran strongly condemns the prosecution of Montazeri, which demonstrates the lack of freedom of expression, and the verdict, which reflects the lack of an independent judicial process and rule of law in Iran.

Ahmad Montazeri was issued the prison sentence on November 26, 2016, after he published a 1988 audio file in which Grand Ayatollah Hosseinali Montazeri, who was his father and one-time heir to the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Khomenei, bitterly condemned the execution of thousands of political prisoners in the summer of 1988.

“It is a travesty of justice that Montazeri was put on trial to begin with,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Campaign. “But this complete disregard for the most basic standards of an independent and fair judicial proceeding makes a mockery of justice in Iran.”

“I was charged with three offenses for publishing the audio file and condemned to 21 years in prison. Then they commuted [“takhfeef”] my sentence [to six years] because my brother [Mohammad Montazeri] was a martyr but I don’t think commuting a sentence for being the brother of a martyr is part of the law. All together this sentence and commutating it is very strange and unfair,” Montazeri said in an interview with the Campaign right after the ruling.

The extraordinary sentence was handed down by the Special Court for the Clergy in Qom, a court formed by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 to discipline clerics, which is independent of the Judiciary and under the direct authority of the supreme leader—now Ali Khamenei.    

Compounding the arbitrary nature of the ruling was a clear conflict of interest: Ebrahmi Raeesi, who is now the lead Prosecutor of the Special Court, was one of the members of the special tribunal that oversaw the extrajudicial execution of thousands of prisoners in 1988.

In the audio recording, Grand Ayatollah Hosseinali Montazeri condemns the executions, directly warning Raeesi and the other members of the tribunal who had ruled to execute an estimated 4,000-5,000 prisoners, that they would be remembered as “cruel criminals.”

The Court sentenced Montazeri to 10 years in prison for “acting against national security,” another 10 years for “publishing a secret audio file” and one more year for “propaganda against the state,” and then commuted the sentence to six years, “taking into account his age and lack of prior criminal record,” the judge said in his verdict. The Court also demanded that Montazeri defrock, but suspended the order for three years.

Montazeri represented himself without a defense lawyer in the Special Court, in a trial that lasted four hours, on October 19, 2016, because he was prevented from choosing his own lawyer. 

“I will submit my objection to the verdict within the 20-day appeal deadline,” Montazeri told the Campaign. “I hope by then officials will realize their mistake in issuing such an unfair verdict, otherwise it will be a very ugly page in their judicial record… This verdict is indefensible.”

“I was very optimistic about the trial,” he added. “The judge listened to my defense and accepted my logic. I thought I would be acquitted. But unfortunately, I must say that the judgment appeared to be dictated to the judge. I have a copy of the six-page verdict which I will publish soon. It contains things that were never mentioned during the trial.”

Montazeri continued, “The law says that the classified nature of an audio file is determined by those who produce it and we at the office of Ayatollah Montazeri never marked the recording as secret. Yet the Intelligence Ministry representative in Qom has expressed the view that the recording was classified as secret. This is not a lawful position.”

In addition, Montazeri had noted in an earlier interview with the Campaign that all of the content contained in the audio recording had long been known and available in his father’s published memoirs.

“What I’m insisting on is that eventually the state manage and settle the issue about the 1988 executions instead of trying to hide it,” continued Montazeri. “If the Islamic Republic is transparent about it, and forms a truth commission, as suggested by [Member of Parliament] Ali Motahhari, and possibly rectifies any wrongdoings, it would be a big step in restoring the greatness of the Islamic Republic.”

Ahmad Montazeri posted the 40-minute audio file on his father’s official website on August 9, 2016. In the August 15, 1988 meeting, the grand ayatollah told the tribunal, which consisted of Raeesi, then-Judge Hosseinali Nayeri, then-Tehran Prosecutor Morteza Eshraghi, and then-Intelligence Ministry’s representative in Evin Prison Mostafa Pourmohammadi, “I don’t want Mr. Khomeini to be judged and called a bloodthirsty, cruel and brazen figure 50 years from now.” The tribunal reported directly to Ayatollah Khomeini.

“I believe this is the greatest crime committed in the Islamic Republic…and history will condemn us for it. This action has been carried out by you, good and pious figures in the judicial administration,” Hosseinali Montazeri is heard saying.

Between July and September 1988, thousands of prisoners, mostly affiliated with Mojahedin-e Khalgh (MEK) and Fadaian-e Khalgh opposition groups, were executed and buried in mass graves, including Khavaran cemetery in south Tehran.

In September 2016 more than 100 prominent Iranians living outside Iran called on the United Nations Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court to recognize the massacre as a crime against humanity.

“Until the Islamic Republic is able to come to terms with its past acts and wrongdoings—whether it’s the mass executions of the 1980s or the violent repression of the 2009 presidential election protests,” said Ghaemi. “it will not be able to achieve the national reconciliation the country needs.”

*This article was edited on February 23, 2017 to reflect the reason Montazeri was sentenced to prison.