Prominent Lawyers: Judiciary Ad Announcing Prison Time for 10 Iranians in Absentia Unlawful
A classified newspaper advertisement by the judiciary announcing prison sentences for 10 Iranian citizens currently outside the country has no legal merit, two prominent lawyers told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Nasrin Sotoudeh and Farideh Gheirat, both based in Iran, said a classified ad placed by the judiciary in its official newspaper, Hemayat, announcing the sentences is unlawful if it was not preceded by a proper summons.
“If the judicial authorities did not do that, the verdicts would be illegal,” said Sotoudeh, a former political prisoner who is still facing harassment for her peaceful defense of human rights.
“One of the most important things for a fair judicial process is to get a lawyer so you are able to defend yourself,” she said. “Now, we should ask this question: Are activists sentenced in absentia capable of getting a lawyer in Iran and defending themselves?”
“I myself have been officially told that I am not allowed to accept cases tried in the Revolutionary Court,” she added. “I doubt if other lawyers inside the country would be able to represent these activists either.”
“In other words, given the current conditions and even if the activists were informed that they were being put on trial, they wouldn’t be able to get a lawyer to defend themselves,” said Sotoudeh. “Therefore, one of the most important and fundamental conditions for a fair trial has been violated and these sentences cannot have legal merit.”
The sentences, ranging from one to 16 years in prison, were issued to the 10 citizens in absentia by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in an ad published on January 28, 2017. The 10 were given two months to file an appeal.
Farideh Gheirat, a member of the Committee for the Defense of Prisoners, told CHRI that before a person can be sentenced, they must first receive a proper summons to court at either their place of work or residence.
“The law does not require you to read Hemayat newspaper to be informed about a summons against you,” said Gheirat, adding that the summons could have instead been sent to the defendants’ residential address in Iran.
“These individuals had judicial records in Iran and the authorities knew where they lived and could have sent them a summons,” she said. “But that did not happen and publishing a classified ad is not sufficient.”
“I don’t think the verdicts should be taken seriously,” she added. “They were wrong and out of order.”
According to Article 303 of Iran’s Criminal Procedure Regulations, “The court verdict shall be issued in person unless the defendant or his or her lawyer or legal representative do not appear in any court sessions, or fail to present a defense in writing, or a summons has not actually been issued.”
CHRI has learned that only one of the 10 people sentenced in absentia received an official summons ahead of their trial.
Formerly imprisoned student activist Amin Anvari—who according to the judiciary’s ad was convicted of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic, committing a crime against the security of the country and insulting the supreme leader,”—told CHRI that a summons was delivered to his home in Iran in May 2016 ordering him to appear at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court on June 14, 2016.
Anvari fled to Turkey in November 2015 while free on bail following a preliminary trial that resulted in a sentence of two and a half years in prison, suspended for five years, for “propaganda against the state,” “insulting the supreme leader,” and “insulting Mohammad Taghi Mesbagh Yazdi” (a member of the Council of Experts).
“When I left Iran, I asked my lawyer Mr. Amirsalar (Davoodi) not to follow up on my case anymore,” he said. “When the summons was sent to my home, I refused to appear in court and I have no intention of going back to Iran and I will not fight this sentence in absentia either.”
Faegheh Atashin, better known as Iran’s Pop music icon Googoosh, who has been touring outside Iran since 2000, was given a 16-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the state, committing a crime against national security, creating centers of corruption and causing people to become corrupt.”
U.S.-based journalist Fereshteh Ghazi was sentenced to a year in prison for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic and disturbing public opinion.”
Saeed Karimian, who according to a BBC Persian report at one time owned the “Jam TV” Persian channel in California, was issued a six-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the state and committing a crime against national security.”
Photographer Tara Inanloo was issued a one-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the state.”
Civil rights activist Marzieh Armin was given four years in prison for “insulting (the founder of the Islamic Republic] Imam Khomeini and the supreme leader and disturbing public opinion through spreading falsehoods.”
Cartoonist and political commentator Nikahang Kowsar was issued a four-year prison sentence for “insulting Imam Khomeini and the supreme leader and disturbing public opinion through spreading falsehoods.”
The identity of the following citizens sentenced in absentia is unknown: Sohrab Amjadi was issued a one-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic and religious sanctities and Islam;” Arman Haghighatnazar was given a nine-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the state and insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic and spreading falsehoods intended to disturb public opinion;” and Farhad Nikooie was sentenced to six years in prison for “insulting Islamic sanctities and Imam Khomeini.”
“Given the odd mix of individuals sentenced in absentia, it seems the action was more political than anything else,” a lawyer in Iran, who asked to remain anonymous, told CHRI.
“By publishing the sentences in a classified ad, the judicial authorities just want to scare the activists abroad and discourage them from returning to Iran,” added the source. “There can’t be any other interpretation, especially as we are approaching the next presidential election in just a couple of months.”
The Revolutionary Guards and Intelligence Ministry have arrested several activists and journalists ahead of the May 19 presidential election in what one journalist described as a “campaign” by hardliners to undermine President Hassan Rouhani.