Parastou Forouhar: Iran’s Intelligence Ministry Filed Charges Against Me Based on a Photograph
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry pressed charges against activist Parastou Forouhar based on a photo of one of her artworks that created a stir on social media, she told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on November 13, 2017.
Forouhar was referring to a photo posted online in May 2016 showing human rights lawyer Shadi Sadr holding a glass of wine and sitting on one of Forouhar’s artistic creations: a beanbag made of fabric with Arabic script pertaining to Shia Islam.
Muslims are forbidden from consuming alcohol or desecrating Islamic script. In Iran, people can be prosecuted for these actions.
“After this photo was posted on the Internet, there was a wave of insults and accusations against me on social media and that’s when the Intelligence Ministry accused me of [the charge of] ‘insulting the sacred’ and took me to court,” said Forouhar.
Forouhar continued: “During the past year , I went to the courthouse in Evin Prison three times to explain that I had not insulted ‘the sacred.’ But it seems they were not interested in what I had to say. The fact is that they are using that photo as an excuse to punish me. I told them that this photo has nothing to do with me. I’m not responsible for what people do with my artwork.”
Forouhar, who lives in Germany, visits her birth country of Iran annually to hold a memorial ceremony for her parents, Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, who were murdered on November 21, 1998, by agents of the Intelligence Ministry during a political purge that came to be known as the “chain murders.”
Forouhar is due to appear at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran on November 25, 2017, to face the charges of “propaganda against the state” and “insulting the sacred.”
“The [Intelligence Ministry] also charged me with ‘propaganda against the state’ because they said I gave interviews [to foreign media] and condemned the security establishment for murdering my parents,” Forouhar told CHRI. “Well, it’s a fact that the security establishment murdered my parents. They said themselves that they did it.”
Forouhar said the Intelligence Ministry has been trying to intimidate her to prevent her from holding memorials for her parents in Tehran.
“[The Intelligence Ministry] also complained that every time I return to Iran to hold an event, others take advantage of it,” she said.
“Their accusations are baseless, and I was hopeful that the oral and written statements presented by my lawyer as my final defense would lead to an acquittal,” she said. “But then they asked me questions about why I was continuing to follow up on my parents’ murder. Eventually, they referred the case to Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court for prosecution.”
Excluded From Rouhani’s Charter on Citizens’ Rights
Forouhar noted the irony of the Intelligence Ministry filing charges against her around the same time President Hassan Rouhani signed the Charter on Citizens’ Rights—widely touted by his government—in December 2016.
“The same government that issues a Charter on Citizens’ Rights and talks about respecting the people’s rights then sends its Intelligence Ministry to file charges against me—the same Intelligence Ministry whose 18 employees were charged with killing my parents,” she said. “How is that possible? It’s mind-boggling.”
“The examples they cited as evidence for the charge of ‘propaganda against the state’ are all related to my efforts aimed at seeking justice,” Forouhar told CHRI. “I will protest the injustice against my parents and I will inform the public about it. Why should that be considered propaganda against the state? Do you want the murders to be forgotten? Your Intelligence Ministry admitted the crime.”
Forouhar said the Rouhani government had devised new ways to ban the commemoration ceremonies for her parents without leaving a footprint.
“Since Mr. Rouhani came to power, the authorities don’t even bother to respond to my requests. They just ban the event. That way there’s no evidence for me to be able to file a formal complaint. Before, they used to summon me and tell me that my event is banned. In those instances, I could at least react to them and complain in person. But now they just make a phone call and say it’s banned. That means they don’t want to take responsibility. I have no idea which judicial or security authority issues these bans.”
Asked about the status of her quest for justice for her parents, Forouhar said former Intelligence Minister Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi has not been charged for his role in their murder and the civil suit she wanted to file against him never made it to court.
“I wanted to file a civil suit against the former minister as the person who ordered the murders, but the judiciary would not even register my complaint,” she said. “I also tried to follow up by seeking help from legislators but they did not even issue a written response.”