Iran: Appeals by five human rights defenders convicted for denouncing COVID-19 mismanagement rejected

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Akbar Nemati

Paris-Geneva, August 19, 2022 – An Iranian court upheld the prison sentences against five human rights defenders who had been convicted for denouncing the COVID-19 pandemic’s mismanagement by the authorities. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI) strongly condemn this decision and call for an end to the judicial harassment against them and all other human rights lawyers and defenders in Iran.

On August 14, 2022, Branch 36 of the Court of Appeals in Tehran upheld all prison sentences that had been imposed by Branch 29 of the Islamic Revolution Court against four human rights lawyers and a civil rights defender and journalist after hearings in April and May 2022 for “gathering and collusion against national security”, under Article 610 of the Islamic Penal Code.

The Court of Appeal upheld all sentences as follows:
 four years in prison and a two-year ban on practising law and activities in the media for Mr. Mostafa Nili, a human rights lawyer who represented many political prisoners, including student activists and unionists, in the past;
 two years in prison and a one-year ban on practising law for Mr. Arash Kaykhosravi, a human rights lawyer who previously defended numerous human rights defenders and political activists;
 six months in prison for Mr. Mohammad-Reza Faqihi, a human rights lawyer;
 95 days in prison for Ms. Maryam Afrafaraz, a lawyer and civil rights defender and a member of the now-banned Imam Ali Charity Association;
 four years in prison and a two-year ban on activities in the media for Mr. Mehdi Mahmoodian, a civil rights defender and outspoken journalist who denounced civil rights violations.

All above-referenced defenders except Mr. Mehdi Mahmoodian remain free at the time of publication of this statement. According to the sentences that were communicated to the defendants on August 16, 2022, their previous periods of detention will be accounted for and deducted from the prison sentences. Accordingly, all five defendants could be arrested at any time to serve the remainder of their sentences.

The five were arrested by 15 security forces personnel on August 14, 2021, during a meeting at the office of the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights in Tehran, when they gathered together with two other human rights lawyers, Mr. Mohammad Hadi Erfanian Kaseb and Ms. Leila Heidari. They met to draft a complaint against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the country’s National Task Force Against Coronavirus, the Minister of Health, and other officials for alleged mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ban on the import of US and UK-made COVID-19 vaccines in January 2021. Before being arrested, they received threats by unknown individuals but refused to back down. During the arrest, some of the defenders’ personal belongings, including their mobile phones, were confiscated by the security forces. They were taken to an undisclosed location and then detained in Tehran’s Evin prison, under the supervision of the intelligence service of the Judiciary. Mr. Mohammad Hadi Erfanian Kaseb and Ms. Leila Heidari were released after a few hours of detention.

Ms. Maryam Afrafaraz and Mr. Mohammad-Reza Faqihi were released on bail on August 29, 2021. Mr. Mostafa Nili was released on bail on December 18, 2021, and Mr. Arash Kaykhosravi was released on bail on December 25, 2021. Mr. Mehdi Mahmoodian had already been sentenced to one year in prison for “spreading propaganda against the system” and four years in prison for “gathering and collusion with intent to disrupt the national security” in a different case in September 2020 in relation to previous civic actions. His sentenced was upheld. At the time of publication of this statement, he is serving his prison sentence in Tehran’s Evin prison.

On February 27, 2022, Arash Kaykhosravi and Mohammad-Reza Faqihi jointly filed a complaint against 18 high-ranking officials, including the Supreme Leader and then President Hassan Rouhani for “causing unintentional killing of more than 100 thousand compatriots, abuse of power and authority, failure to enforce the laws, offering untrue reports to the people and spreading lies.” The Observatory and LDDHI fear further retaliatory actions might be undertaken against the five defenders.

The Observatory and LDDHI strongly condemn the upholding of the sentences in appeal against Mostafa Nili, Arash Kaykhosravi, Mohammad-Reza Faqihi, Maryam Afrafaraz, and Mehdi Mahmoodian, as they seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities, and urge the Iranian authorities to quash the sentences against them, drop all the charges against them, and put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against all human rights defenders in Iran.

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  • Co-signatories

    The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

    The League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI) was founded in Paris in March 1983, following the forced closure of the “Iranian Association for the Defence of Human Rights and Liberties” (established in 1977) in 1981, and the departure of its leaders into exile. Since its establishment, LDDHI has consistently reported and campaigned against human rights violations in Iran, concentrating on the abolition of the death penalty in Iran, women’s rights, freedom of political prisoners, rights of religious and ethnic minorities, freedoms of expression, assembly and association among others. LDDHI has been a member of FIDH since 1986.

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