Iranians Denounce Acquittal of Quran Reciter Accused of Sexual Abuse
Reformist MP Releases Info Linking Acquittal to Supreme Leader’s Office
Iranians have widely condemned the acquittal of well-known Quran reciter Saeed Toosi over charges involving the sexual abuse of minors.
Information released about how the judiciary handled the case alleges that the office of the supreme leader intervened before the four-year sentence that was initially handed down to Toosi was dismissed.
“Evidence appears to show that the child-molesting Quran reciter has the support of a person or persons within the supreme leader’s office,” tweeted Member of Parliament (MP) Mahmoud Sadeghi on January 26, 2018.
“In blatant interference in the judicial process, Branch 56 of the Tehran Appeals court nullified the four-year prison sentence against the voice coach [Toosi] without the signature of the presiding judge,” added Sadeghi.
In July 2012, Toosi, whose full name is Mohammad Gandomzadeh Toosi, was charged with two “acts of public indecency” and “making immoral statements to encourage corruption and depravity and to sexually arouse teenagers.”
In addition to statements by the accusers, the court was presented with Toosi’s written “apology” and recordings of telephone conversations wherein he allegedly discussed attempts by officials to cover up his crimes.
In December 2016, Branch 15 of the Court for Government Employees acquitted Toosi of committing “acts of public indecency” but sentenced him to four years in prison for “making immoral statements to encourage corruption and depravity and to sexually arouse teenagers.”
But Branch 56 of the Appeals Court ultimately shot down the second charge as well, noting in its written statement that the charge has no merit.
“The alleged acts, including crude and indecent jokes, or even giving massages for the purpose of sexual arousal, if proven, are not considered crimes,” stated the judgement.
The court also dismissed the phone conversation recordings as insufficient evidence of criminal activity and rejected Toosi’s apology, claiming it was “written under threat from the accusers.”
On January 26, MP Sadeghi posted a copy of a letter written by MP Davood Mohammadi, a member of the parliamentary investigative committee, that Mohammadi had allegedly sent to Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani in September 2017.
The later stated that in 2012, one of Larijani’s advisers and Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi had refused to press charges against Toosi “for lack of evidence and because of his special status as one of the country’s prominent Quran reciters.”
Hours after his acquittal was announced, Toosi publicly denied the reformist MP’s allegations.
“I don’t even know this man. Whoever he is, he is certainly lying and his claims are baseless. If he has a problem, he should contact my lawyer,” Toosi told the conservative Ensaf News on January 26.
The hardline conservative Mashregh newspaper also accused Sadeghi of heading “sensationalist attacks against the judiciary in step with anti-revolutionary channels, the BBC and Voice of America Persian services.”
Iranians Denounce Toosi’s Acquittal
Some Iranian media outlets have published photos of Toosi shaking hands with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Toosi’s assembly hall, where he would recite the Quran in the presence of the supreme leader and his guests.
Social media users have meanwhile widely condemned Toosi’s acquittal, with many comparing his case with USA Gymnastics national team doctor
Larry Nassar, who was sentenced in Michigan on January 24 to a minimum of 40 years in prison for molesting dozens of female athletes.
“[Olympic gymnast] Aly Raisman, one of Larry Nassar’s victims, said the sentence would terrify all those who think sexual abuse is okay. On the other hand, we are terrified by Saeed Toosi’s acquittal,” tweeted journalist Nahid Molavi on January 26. “We knew our children could face thousands of dangerous situations but now they don’t even have the protection of the law.”
Civil rights activist Maryam Abdi tweeted, “The court has determined that massaging, touching and telling crude jokes are not crimes. In this country, you have to get pregnant to prove a crime was committed. Even then [you will be told] it was your own fault because your hijab wasn’t right.”
Reformist Shargh journalist Mohammad Mosaed tweeted: “The Appeals Court ruling states that he committed no crime even if he touched the minors for sexual arousal. What exactly should he have done to be considered a criminal?!!”
Researcher and journalist Hossein Bastani tweeted sarcastically on January 27: “It should be admitted that the state and the judiciary’s handling of this case was incomplete. It will be completed after the judiciary prosecutes MP Mahmoud Sadeghi and the authorities celebrate Toosi’s acquittal at a big party.”
Iranian twitter user “Dr. Shyn” tweeted, “1) Atena Faraghdani was charged with indecency for shaking hands with her lawyer. 2) Saeed Toosi found not guilty of ‘massaging’ the genitals of minors. 3) Islamic Republic of Iran is the defender of the world’s oppressed.”
Politicians Take Sides
Ensaf News reported that one of the alleged victims’ fathers had declined to comment on the judgement but said that “MP Mahmoud Sadeghi’s statements are entirely correct.”
Conservative MP Ahmad Tavakoli also said he was “shocked” by Toosi’s acquittal, adding, “the immoral act and corruption involved in this case are too widespread.”
However, Hassan Norouzi, the spokesman for the parliamentary Committee for Legal and Judicial Affairs, criticized Sadeghi for commenting on the case.
“Just like the accusers, the accused also have rights that must be respected. We must not discuss matters for personal publicity and give ammunition to foreign radio stations,” said the MP in an interview with the conservative Nameh News on January 27.
Hardliners Point Fingers at Foreign Media
Toosi’s case received public attention after one of his alleged victims told Voice of America’s (VOA) Persian television service on October 14, 2016, that his lawsuit had not progressed four years after it had been filed.
VOA also aired an audio file allegedly showing Toosi saying that “Agha [Khamenei] himself is completely aware of this case … and has ordered [Chief Justice] Larijani to wrap it up.”
On October 16, 2016, Judiciary Spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei rejected the VOA report as “attempts by the anti-revolutionaries to take advantage of these situations.”
On October 17, Chief Justice Sadegh Larijani described the revelations as “strange lies aimed at the supreme leader, the judiciary chief and the judicial system” and without naming Sadeghi, warned politicians not to allow their comments to play into the hands of foreign media outlets.
“Those who help the foreign media from inside and outside the country should be pursued by the courts as collaborators so that the line between revolution and anti-revolution become clear,” he added.