Prosecution of independent cleric condemned
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York, October 10, 2000 (HRW)--Human Rights Watch today condemned
the Iranian government's prosecution of a leading independent writer and
religious scholar, Hojatoleslam Hassan Youssefi Eshkevari. Eshkevari, who
has been held in solitary confinement and denied legal counsel since August
5, was tried behind closed doors on October 7, on a variety of charges,
including "being corrupt on earth" and apostasy, which carry
the death penalty. The verdict and sentence in his case is expected shortly.
"Hojatoleslam Eshkevari may be facing the death penalty for publicly
expressing his independent point of view," said Hanny Megally, the
Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human
"His prosecution appears to be based solely on his public statements
at an international conference and as such, is a violation of his basic
right to freedom of expression."
Hojatoleslam Eshkevari, together with several other leading reformist
activists, attended an international conference on the future of Iran in
Berlin, Germany in April, where he made a presentation entitled "Dictatorship
and its History."
In response to a question after his remarks he stated that, in his view,
the veiling and enforcement of a strict dress code for women had cultural
and historical origins in Iran, but was not required by Islam. His remarks
were publicly criticized by conservative clerics in Iran, including the
Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khamene'i.
Many of the Iranians who attended the Berlin conference were imprisoned
on their return to Iran. Conservative leaders opposed to the reformist
policies of President Khatami have criticized those who participated in
the conference, which was also attended by many exiled opponents to the
Iranian government, characterizing them as enemies of the state and as
working in collusion with foreign powers.
Hojatoleslam Eshkevari delayed his return to Iran until August 4, but
was arrested at his home the next day and taken to Evin Prison, where he
has been held in solitary confinement until last week. During this period,
he was not allowed access to legal counsel. On October 7, his family
was allowed to visit him and learned of his imminent trial before a Special
Court for the Clergy.
"Proceedings in these exceptional courts often fall far short of
international standards for fair trial," said Megally. "In Eshkevari's
case, the proceedings were closed, and his own lawyer was not permitted
to attend. He was forced to accept a court appointed lawyer."
Eshkevari was initially charged with five offenses: "endangering
the security of the state;" "propaganda against the state;"
"defamation of public officials in published articles;" "conduct
unbecoming of a clergyman;" and "denial of basic religious principles."
At the hearing he was charged with three additional offenses, including
"declaring war on God;" "being corrupt on earth" and
apostasy. These latter charges carry the death penalty.
Human Rights Watch calls for the dropping of all charges against Hojatoleslam
Eshkevari, and for his immediate release from detention. His and other
scholars' right to free expression and to participate freely in public
life in Iran should be respected.
For further information please contact:
Elahé Sharifpour-Hicks (in New York): 212-216-1233 (office)
Hanny Megally (in New York): 212-216-1230
Joe Stork (in Washington): 202-612-4327
Hania Mufti (in London): 44-20-7713-1995
Jean-Paul Marthoz (in Brussels): 32-2-732-2009