Harsh Sentences Condemned: Human Rights Watch
January 17, 2001
H. E. Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi
Head of the Judiciary
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Human Rights Watch condemns the arbitrary and harsh sentences handed
down by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran on Saturday January 13, 2001 against
seven of the seventeen defendants being tried for attending an international
conference in Berlin, Germany, in April 2000.
We believe there is no basis to the charges that they "conspired
to overthrow the system of the Islamic Republic" and that they are
victims of a politically-motivated prosecution intended to discredit the
cause of political reform, to punish leading reformists, to intimidate
independent thinkers, and to chill dissent.
The defendants participated openly in an international conference at
which they contributed information concerning developments in Iran. In
so doing, they were exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression
and to impart and receive information, rights that are protected under
international treaty law to which Iran is a state party.
Article 19 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR) states:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall
include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all
kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print,
in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
There has been no suggestion that the participants from Iran attending
the Berlin conference had any part in protests against the Iranian government
that took place at that time. Their statements at the conference were reported
in the Iranian media at the time.
In an open letter sent to Your Excellency on November 2, 2000, Human
Rights Watch expressed concern that the defendants would not receive a
fair trial in accordance with Article 14 of the ICCPR.
These concerns have not been allayed.
Many of the hearings in this trial took place in secret, and defense
lawyers were not provided with information about the prosecution case.
Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned by the severity of the
sentences handed down on these seven non-violent independent activists.
Investigative journalist, Akbar Ganji, received a ten-year sentence to
be followed by five years of internal exile in the south of Iran.
His jailing appears designed to punish him for his activities as a journalist
exposing the alleged involvement of leaders of the Islamic Republic in
acts of gross violations of human rights.
Two translators employed by the German Embassy, Saeed Sadr and Khalil
Rostamkhani, received ten and nine-year sentences respectively.
Mr. Rostamkhani did not even attend the Berlin conference, although
he was involved in its preparation.
His wife, Roshanak Darioush, a prominent translator of German literature
into Persian, served as a translator at the conference, but has not returned
to Iran to face charges.
Other prominent reformist figures subjected to prison terms include
student leader Ali Afshari, five years; veteran politician Ezzatollah Sahabi,
four and a half years. Both of them were already detained last month on
new charges relating to their criticism of government policy. Their families
are unaware of their places of detention.
Two women's rights activists, publisher Shahla Lahidji and lawyer Mehrangiz
Kar, each received four year sentences.
Ms. Kar, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, has sought to leave
the country in order to obtain treatment but has been banned from travel.
Another accused participant in the Berlin conference, Hojatoleslam Hassan
Youssefi Eshkevari, remains in prison awaiting sentencing by a Special
Court for the Clergy on charges of apostasy, which may carry the death
penalty. Two other writers, Changiz Pahlevan and Kazem Kardavani, have
not returned to Iran from Germany, having been informed that charges have
been prepared against them also.
Three other defendants were fined or given suspended sentences. Seven
were acquitted. The ten convicted defendants thus received highly divergent
sentences for essentially the same offense, indicating that the court employed
arbitrary criteria in deciding on sentences.
In conclusion, the charges against these individuals are transparently
political and should never have been lodged against them. Their conditions
of pretrial detention and the trials themselves were conducted in flagrant
violation of international standards. For these reasons, Human Rights Watch
urges Your Excellency you to rectify this travesty of justice by ensuring
that these convictions are appealable to a higher body whose procedures
comply with international standards and thus allow these unjust convictions
and sentences by the Revolutionary Court to be overturned.
We further call on Your Excellency to put an end to the manipulation
of Iran's judiciary for political ends, and to ensure that individuals
are not persecuted for exercising their protected right to freedom of expression.
Middle East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch