The co-defendants were never informed of specific charges until the first of the five trial sessions that have taken place so far. One of those defendants, Niloufar Bayani, has been absent from the last three sessions, after she objected to the prosecution’s efforts to build their case upon false confessions that were elicited under torture.
There is good reason for international observers to pay particular attention to these allegations of violent repression, since a ninth victim of last year’s mass arrests died under suspicious circumstances within weeks of being detained. Iranian officials quickly announced that the Iranain-Canadian Professor Kavous Seyed-Emami had committed suicide, but his family disputed this explanation and subsequently faced systematic government obstruction of their efforts to secure an independent inquiry into the circumstances of his death. In recent months, a number of other families have reportedly faced similar obstacles following a death in custody.
More detailed information about such cases might be forthcoming if not for the efforts by regime authorities to discourage political prisoners and their loved ones from speaking publicly about their experiences. This phenomenon has also received greater international attention recently, in light of reports regarding the re-arrest of Esmail Bakshi and Sepideh Gholian, two activists who were arrested and tortured for their involvement in the Haft Tapeh sugarcane factory protests, but then spoke out about their mistreatment. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have issued statements warning that these individuals are at severe risk of being tortured once again.
History shows that in situations that threaten to open the Islamic Republic up to greater scrutiny, such threats often extend to the close relations of the prisoners or, as in the case of Seyed-Emami, to their survivors. Not only has the widow of that deceased political prisoner been pressured to remain silent about her late husband’s death, but authorities have also reportedly shown up at her home in an effort to compel her to make false statements implicating Seyed-Emami in national security crimes. These actions proceeded from a judicial order barring the widow, Maryam Mombeini, from leaving the country to reunite with her sons outside Iran after their father’s death.
On Friday, Iran Human Rights Monitor reported that that order had been extended without explanation after reaching its original one-year expiration date, thus underscoring the apparent fact that the regime remains committed to its persecution of environmental activists and related persons. The report stated that it is unclear why the travel ban was extended, although it also pointed to one potential explanation, noting that a public statement by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had helped to bring greater international attention to Mombeini’s case and thus, to that of her husband.
“Iran must allow Maryam Mombeini to leave the country and travel to Canada to be with her family – and the regime must provide answers in the death of her husband, Kavous Seyed-Emami, in Evin prison,” Trudeau wrote on Twitter last March, according to IHRM.
By keeping her on Iranian territory and within view of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence, the regime may also be effectively keeping pressure on Mombeini’s sons to prevent them from speaking out in Western media. Indeed, threats against family members constitute a well-known tactic used by Iranian authorities to discourage public statements. Many individuals who have broken their silence over past cases have reported that the regime provided assurances of a speedy resolution to cases that were kept silent, only to drag many of those cases on for weeks or months after the fact.
In the meantime, the interrogation and torture of political prisoners can create the foundation for broader crackdowns. And in the case of the eight environmentalists arrested alongside Seyed-Emami, it is increasingly clear that they represent only the beginning of a much larger trend. On Thursday, Voice of America News reported upon the arrest of Yousef Farhadi Babadi, yet another environmentalist who is a resident of the Kurdistan region and a member of the Voice of Water Campaign. The report notes that with decisions still pending in the trial of the aforementioned activists, at least a dozen others have been arrested in Kurdistan Province alone since the end of 2018.
And these, of course, represent only a portion of the activists and dissenting voices that have been targeted for politically-motivated arrest in recent months. The Islamic Republic is widely regarded as being in the midst of a widespread crackdown, motivated in part by ongoing unrest related to the weeks-long anti-government uprising that began in December 2017. By various means, the regime has signaled a persistent commitment to political violence in response to that unrest, but the clearest such signals may be yet to come.
This was the implication of an article published on Tuesday by the Center for Human Rights in Iran. It points to the growing likelihood that former prosecutor general and hardline presidential candidate Ebrahim Raeesi will be appointed to replace the outgoing head of the Iranian judiciary, Sadeq Larijani. This move, CHRI says, would send the message that “the rule of law has no meaning in Iran” and that “repression in Iran is likely to intensify and will be aggressively protected by the state.” The primary reason for this is because of Raeesi’s direct involvement in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners. According to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which was the major target of the killings, the death toll over the course of just several months was 30,000.
As CHRI also notes, Raeesi is not the only participant in that massacre to climb upward in the ranks of the clerical regime since that time. Indeed, both the current and the former ministers of justice played a role in the “death commissions” that were responsible for interrogating political prisoners and scheduling the execution of those deemed to still oppose the theocratic government. Raeesi’s appointment as judiciary head would therefore represent “a reward for those involved in crimes against humanity,” according to CHRI.
This in turn would reaffirm the regime’s commitment to continuing and presumably escalating the current crackdown on activism and dissent. But it would also be sure to have broader consequences for human rights issues, in light of the longstanding controversies surrounding Tehran’s disregard for international standards in this area.
That trend was underscored on Thursday by the publication of a joint statement by United Nations human rights experts. In it, the chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the special rapporteur for torture and extrajudicial execution, and the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran all call for an immediate halt to the execution of Mohammad Kalhori, one of approximately 80 individuals sitting on death row in Iran for crimes they allegedly committed while below the age of 18.
As the Iran Human Rights website explained, Kalhori was convicted of murdering his teacher when he was only 15 years old, and it has been reported that the medical commission confirmed that he suffers from a mental disorder. Despite this fact, the judiciary disregarded a 2013 amendment to Iran’s Islamic Penal Code that allows judges to impose a sentence other than death in cases where there are questions about the mental development of the accused.
The amendment was arguably passed as part of an effort to deflect some of the international condemnation for Iran’s persistent use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders. In practice, the judiciary almost always ignores the provision, and in so doing it reaffirms its rejection of two international human rights laws that the Iranian government had previously signed: the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Under those documents, juvenile executions are categorically banned throughout the world, but Iran remains one of approximately a half dozen countries that are known to still carry them out. At least six such individuals were put to death in 2018, and according to Iran Human Rights Monitor, Kalhori is not the only one who is at imminent risk of execution right now. While his family has been instructed to make their final visit to the prisoner, another juvenile offender by the name of Shayan Saeedpour has recently been transferred, apparently in preparation for his death sentence being implemented as well.
Together with developments like the pending Raeesi appointment, Tehran’s decision to stand by its practice of juvenile executions casts serious doubt on the prospect of reforms that would defend children’s rights in other areas or bring the Islamic Republic into line with basic international standards. But CHRI pointed to the crucial need for such reforms on Thursday, when it reported upon the controversy that recently erupted around the case of an 11-year-old girl who had been given in marriage to a man of nearly 50, as is permitted under Iranian law.
Although this and related incidents have generated outcry even from government officials, the practice retains defenders among some of the nation’s highest decision makers, particularly the semi-religious bodies that are tasked with vetting laws for compliance with the regime’s fundamentalist understanding of Islam. Consequently, in the Iranian year ending in March 2017, there were nearly 1,300 legal marriages of girls under the age of 14 to men over 30. And in 2018, the Parliamentary Committee for Legal and Judicial Affairs rejected a proposal that would have curtailed the practice, thereby once again reaffirming the hardline identity of the Islamic Republic.