A week full of trials and tribulations, where many of Iran’s political prisoners remain in a haze, waiting for a verdict from the notoriously unforgiving courts of Iran. Verdicts that will form their immediate futures.
News came that Ghoncheh Ghavami finally went on trial, on 14 October, after over 100 days of detention. The confirmed verdict remains as “propaganda against the state” which is strongly believed to be solely connected to her involvement in the peaceful protests outside Azadi Stadium in June, demanding equality rights for women to watch volleyball matches. Yet, Iran’s judiciary has denied that her detention is in relation to her attempt to watch the Iran-Italy match.
Due to the conditions of her imprisonment (including 41 days in solitary confinement), the lack of information of the charges she was arrested under and limited access to her lawyer and family, Ms. Ghavami went on a two-week hunger strike. She went on a ‘dry’ hunger strike with her cellmate in Evin’s ward 2A – the Revolutionary Guard ward of the prison. Her cellmate, Atena Farghdani, is reported as being an artist and children’s rights activist. She was arrested on September 22, yet without any clear indication of the charges against her.
During one of the limited arranged visits from her family, on 11 October, Ms. Ghavami’s brother reported (on twitter) that their parents were instead met with “cameras asking them to deny 11 days of hunger strike” which they refused and left without seeing their daughter. The practice and bullying the family of prisoners into false confessions or denials of the realities of their loved ones’ imprisonment is quite common, where many family members feel it will be better for the safety and court proceedings to give in. Despite the pressure, Ms. Ghavami’s family have remained defiant thus far.
We will now wait to see the final verdict of the judiciary on Ms. Ghavami’s case next week. You can read more about the background of the case here.
From the arrest of equality rights activists to Iranian physicists, Iran has no set demographic of who it will target for arrest. Omid Kokabee who was doing his PhD as an experimental laser physicist at the University of Texas was arrested in January 2011 in Tehran’s International Airport after returning to visit his family. International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) notes, that he was sentenced under the charges of “communicating with a hostile government,” and receiving “illegitimate funds”- again without substantiating evidence for either charge. He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment as a result. He has repeatedly denied all charges. ICHRI reports that Kokabee’s open letter from Evin Prison in April 2013, stated that his “imprisonment is the result of his refusal to heed pressure by Iranian intelligence agents to collaborate on a military research project”.
Kokabee suffers from various illnesses and the concern for his health grows as he has been refused medical treatment he so requires. He is a prisoner of conscience who must be released immediately. Amnesty International declared that Kokabee is “held solely for his refusal to work on military projects in Iran and as a result of spurious charges related to his legitimate scholarly ties with academic institutions outside of Iran.”
Yet, some promising news has emerged about his case: Peyvand News reports that Kokabee has been granted a retrial. His lawyer, Saeed Khalil, stated that the case has been accepted by Branch 36 of the Supreme Court. Khalili posted on his Facebook page that: “Acceptance of the retrial request means that the top judicial authority has deemed Dr. Omid Kokabee’s [initial] verdict against the law”. The outcome of this case will soon be seen.
Following Iran’s pattern of arrests without charge, Mohammad Reza Pourshajari, who had recently finished a 4 year sentence for his blogging activities has also been rearrested on his way to Urmieh on the 30 September. The authorities are yet to provide information about the charges he has been arrested under – although it is most likely to be connected to his blogging activities. During his previous detention he suffered from various extreme health complications. Amnesty reports that this included two heart attacks, which are believed to be connected to the torture he endured in prison. There is currently no information about his state of health. His family now await his charges to be released and a court date to be set.
Similarly, Nahid Gorji, a resident of the city of Mashhad, was arrested on October 11 which is believed to be in connection to her activities on social media networks – such as Facebook, Viber and Whatsapp. Soon after her arrest, her house was raided and her computer, cell phone and camera confiscated. We will now have to await to see the charges Ms. Gorji was arrested under.
With increasing arrests without charge, disregard for international law, executions and intimidation of those exercising their free expression, Iran has come under fire on the international stage. This has led to many questions on whether Iran can be trusted to guarantee a nuclear agreement free from arms development.
It is unfortunately clear that President Rouhani has limited power to assist prisoners such as Ghoncheh Ghavami and Omid Kokabee, who both have international connections. Thus, whether this will be able to ensure that Iran delivers on the nuclear deal agreements and Iran’s human rights promises have become interlinked.
Impact Iran has recently released a video highlighting the 126 human rights promises Iran made in its previous UPR review*, which to date it has failed to deliver on. This video highlights the impact of these failed promises through the harrowing stories of those it affects. 9 prosecuted Iranians in exile tell snippets of their stories and their experiences of “repression, harassment, detainment and torture in their own words”.
Campaigns like this that bring a voice and face to those affected highlight the urgency for change and action to uphold human rights for all in Iran and are especially timely with Iran’s increasingly important diplomatic affairs. Iran’s trial to see whether it is willing to deliver on all its promises has been ongoing for a number of years, and it will continue until progress is seen.