Iran: Prisoners of conscience, at risk of death sentence

Press release
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Mr. Mohammad Ali Taheri, an Iranian prisoner of conscience, may be facing charges that are punishable by death under the provisions of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code of Iran.

FIDH and its member organisation in Iran, the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI) have learned that there are renewed attempts on the part of the Iranian judiciary to bring vague charges such as ‘corruption on earth’ and ‘apostasy’ against him. Considering the recent execution of a prisoner of conscience for similar charges, Mr. Taheri’s life is at risk.

Mr. Taheri is the founder of a group that believes in healing patients through “complementary and alternative medicine” which he calls Psymentology. He was first arrested in 2010, and spent 67 days in solitary confinement before being released. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) arrested him again on 4 May 2011 and he was charged with apostasy, moharebeh (fighting God), cursing the prophet, and insulting the Islamic sanctities. During his trial by Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolution Court, he was convicted for insulting the Islamic sanctities, illegal interference in medical affairs, and other lesser charges, and was sentenced to five years in prison as well as 74 lashes for holding one of his female disciples by her wrist. Ever since his arrest in May 2011 Mr. Taheri has been held in solitary confinement.

Mr. Taheri is detained in Section 2A of Evin prison which is under the administration of the IRGC. In a letter he wrote to Mr Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, which was published on the Internet on 8 July 2014, Mr. Taheri reported in detail the pressure he was facing from the authorities, including requests by his interrogators to several supreme religious authorities to condemn him as an apostate.

Our organisations recall that several prisoners of conscience have recently been condemned to death on vague religious charges in Iran:

  • Mr Mohsen Amir-Aslani Zanjani was executed in Rajaishahr Prison located near the city of Karaj on 24 September 2014. He had been arrested and charged with ‘heresy’ in 2006 for unorthodox interpretations of Islamic tenets and verses of the Koran. The most controversial of these was that he had denied the Koran’s version for allegedly stating that Prophet Jonah had not been swallowed by a fish. He was executed for his “crimes” although the Supreme Court had ruled out the death sentence in his case and he was serving a prison sentence at the time of his execution.
  • Mr Rouhollah Tavana was condemned to death in August 2013 by a court in Khorasan-e Razavi Province for ‘cursing the prophet’. In February 2014 the Supreme Court upheld this sentence, even though he had made the allegedly denigrating remarks under the influence of alcohol on private video footage, and according to Article 263 of Iran’s highly flawed Islamic Penal Code he should have been sentenced to flogging for this act, but he is now on death row at risk of execution.
  • Mr Soheil Arabi was also sentenced to death in Tehran in August 2014 for ‘cursing the prophet’ on Facebook. The Supreme Court upheld the sentence in November 2014, and he is currently on death row at risk of execution.

Our organisations urge the Iranian authorities to comply with their obligations under international human rights law, in particular the right to life and the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the ICCPR, to which Iran is a State party. Based on these obligations, the authorities must drop all charges related to freedom of expression and belief, such as ‘cursing the prophet’, corruption on earth, and apostasy.

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