Iran: Five human rights defenders sentenced to prison for denouncing COVID-19 mismanagement

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Paris-Geneva, June 24, 2022 – The Observatory, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), and the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI) strongly condemn the prison sentences against five human rights defenders who were prosecuted and convicted for denouncing the Iranian authorities’ mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our organisations call for an end to the judicial harassment against them and all other human rights lawyers and defenders in Iran.

According to information received from one of the lawyers representing the five rights defenders, on June 20, 2022, four human rights lawyers and a civil rights defender and journalist were convicted by Branch 29 of the Islamic Revolution Court in Tehran in April and May 2022 for “gathering and collusion against national security” under Article 610 of the Islamic Penal Code and sentenced to prison sentences ranging from 95 days to four years.

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

All of them said they would appeal their convictions and prison sentences.

The five were arrested by 15 security forces officers 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 Khamenei, the country’s National Task Force Against Coronavirus, the Minister of Health and other officials responsible for the alleged mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ban on the import of US and UK-made COVID-19 vaccines in January 2021. [1]

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, after spending more than four months in arbitrary detention. 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 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 in relation to this complaint.

The Observatory and LDDHI strongly condemn the sentences 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, to drop all the charges against them and to put an end to any acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against all human rights defenders in Iran.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by 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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