Dissidents in Iran by Lucy Popescu

Lucy Popescu

Dissidents in Iran


Iran continues to dominate the news in the wake of its brutal crackdown on nationwide protests against the government. Female protestors first took to the streets after the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained by morality police on 13 September 2022 for allegedly not wearing her hijab ‘properly’. The demonstrations quickly grew, despite a violent backlash. In December, the United Nations raised the alarm about Iranian artists facing execution and urged Iran to abolish the death penalty. In a separate incident, the UK government expressed outrage at the ‘barbaric’ execution on 14 January of British-Iranian Alireza Akbari, who was arrested in 2019 and charged with spying for MI6.

Many protestors have suffered a similar fate. On 8 December, 23-year-old activist Mohsen Shekari was executed after the Islamic Revolution Court in Tehran reportedly found him guilty of ‘waging war against God’. Shekari was arrested and detained on 25 September for blocking Sattar Khan Street in Tehran and allegedly injuring a Basij Resistance Force member. Shekari’s death sentence was delivered in a trial that was not consistent with international standards and he was denied an appeal. Numerous similar trials, many leading to further death sentences and executions, have taken place since.

Public figures also face execution, including rap artists Toomaj Salehi and Saman Yasin, an ethnic Kurd, for writing lyrics and social-media posts criticising the regime. Salehi has been charged with ‘corruption on earth’, as well as ‘spreading propaganda, co-operating with a hostile government and incitement to violence’. In January, Salehi’s official Twitter account posted that, despite him being in danger of losing his eyesight, he was being repeatedly beaten. On 24 December, the Supreme Court accepted Yasin’s appeal against his death sentence, citing flaws in the investigation of the case without disclosing further details. He remains behind bars.

Taraneh Alidoosti, one of Iran’s most influential actors and also a literary translator, was arrested on 17 December for Instagram posts calling for solidarity with Shekari and for international action in response to the public execution of protesters. She reportedly wrote: ‘His name was Mohsen Shekari. Every international organization who is watching this bloodshed and not taking action is a disgrace to humanity.’ She had previously posted a photograph of herself without a headscarf voicing support for the protests. In another picture on Instagram, she appeared without the hijab holding a piece of paper reading ‘Women, Life, Freedom’. Alidoosti, thirty-nine, who starred in Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning film The Salesman (2016), has been charged with ‘spreading falsehoods’ about the anti-hijab protests. She was released on bail from Tehran’s Evin Prison in early January.

On 21 November, Bahá’í writer Mahvash Sabet (LR, October 2022) was sentenced to ten years in prison in Iran. Sabet is a teacher and prominent poet who has spent a decade in prison because of her religious beliefs. Sabet began her professional career as a teacher and worked as a principal at several schools. Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Sabet was fired from her job and blocked from working in public education, like thousands of other Iranian Bahá’í educators. Sabet was sentenced alongside Fariba Kamalabadi following a one-hour trial before the Revolutionary Court’s Branch 26 in Tehran. The judge rebuked the defendants for ‘not having learned their lesson’ before handing down his harsh sentence.

Another prisoner of conscience, whose case I have previously written about in these pages, is the award-winning writer, journalist and human rights defender Narges Mohammadi (LR, June 2012, March 2016, Sept 2020). In November 2022, Oneworld published White Torture, a collection of twelve interviews (translated by Amir Rezanezhad) which Mohammadi courageously conducted with jailed women, all prisoners of conscience. The women have all been subjected to extreme sensory deprivation, a form of punishment known as ‘white torture’. Mohammadi wrote her preface to the book during home leave. She remains in prison.

Readers may like to send appeals urging the Iranian authorities to quash all death sentences and abolish capital punishment and ensure that anyone charged with a recognisable criminal offence is tried according to international fair-trial standards; seeking assurances that principles of juvenile justice are observed for child defendants; demanding an end to the crackdown on protestors as well as the repression of the Bahá’í community in Iran; calling for the release of Mahvash Sabet and Narges Mohammadi and all those detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression; and urging that further measures be taken to safeguard the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as provided for under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.

Appeals to be addressed to:

His Excellency Mohsen Baharvand
Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
16 Prince’s Gate
London SW7 1PT
Fax +44 207 589 4440
Email: info@iran-embassy.org.uk

Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Eje’i
Head of the Judiciary
c/o Public Relations Office
Number 4, Deadend of 1 Azizi – Vali Asr Street
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Ebrahim Raisi
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Update: On 29 November 2022, news editor, reporter and poet Nedim Türfent (LR, March 2019, July 2021) was released from prison in Turkey. Türfent had spent over 2,400 days behind bars.

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