Iran Releases Several Political Prisoners

In a welcome bit of news, a number of Iranian labor activists and journalists have been released from prison. This includes: Sepideh Gholian, Atefeh Rangriz, Marzieh Amiri, Sanaz Allahyari, Amir Amir-Goli, and Amir Hossein Mohammadi-Far.

These activists were a mix of labor protestors, journalists, and women’s rights activists. They were previously given heavy sentences and have now been released on large bails.

Earlier, a number of parliamentarians wrote a letter to Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi appealing for the release of some of these prisoners and others. They mentioned Rangriz, who had been sentenced to 11 years in prison and 74 lashes, and Amiri, who had been sentenced to ten-and-a-half years in prison and 148 lashes, among other political prisoners.

Rangriz and Amiri were arrested after being present during May Day labor protests in front of parliament this year. Amiri is a journalist for the reformist Shargh newspaper, while Rangriz is a women’s rights activist. (Read more about the May Day protests in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.)

The MPs stated Rangriz and Amiri had a constitutional “right” to join the demonstration and a duty to “report” on it. The signatories included MPs Ali Motahari, Elias Hazrati, Mahmoud Sadeghi, Mostafa Kavakebian, Parvaneh Salahshouri, Tayebeh Siavoshi, Fatemeh Saeedi, Hamid Zarabadi. 

Days after these activists were released, labor activist Esmail Bakshi was also released on a heavy bail. Read more about the cases of Bakhshi and Gholian in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Many of these now-released labor activists were handed heavy sentences in September. At the time, Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi said the sentences would be revised after widespread outcry.

Raisi has attempted to portray himself as a supporter of worker rights, stating recently: “The grievances of laborers in the country are not small and we are in the process of addressing them. Hearing the grievances of those who have problems is our duty. The concerns of workers are understandable, and the responsible institutions must resolve the problems.”

He added: “However, sometimes some people under the cover of labor issues, have other aims they are seeking. We must not blame their actions on workers.”

While the release of these activists is welcome news, Iranian authorities must continue in this vain and allow for a free space for activists to express their grievances. 

 

NIAC Statement on Politically Motivated Sentencing of Prominent Human Rights Lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh

NIAC is deeply concerned by reports that prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh reportedly faces up to a 38-year prison sentence and 148 lashes on fabricated, politically motivated charges. NIAC unequivocally condemns the Iranian government for its arbitrary and politically motivated detentions in contravention of Iran’s human rights obligations, and reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of Sotoudeh, along with all prisoners of conscience.

Sotoudeh has for years defended those who have suffered rights abuses at the hands of the Iranian government. From her defense of Iran’s 2009 Green Movement protestors to her support for the anti-compulsory hijab activists of last spring, Sotoudeh remains one of Iran’s staunchest human rights advocates. Sotoudeh was released in September 2013—in what was widely seen as a good will gesture ahead of President Hassan Rouhani’s first trip to the UN General Assembly—after more than two years of imprisonment on politically motivated charges following her work highlighting juvenile executions in Iran and her defense of human and civil rights protestors.

News of Sotoudeh’s sentencing comes only days ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8th—and serves as a stark reminder of the restrictions and costs Iranian women continue to pay in their fight against compulsory hijab and systemic gender inequality. Since her arrest last June for representing three activists protesting compulsory hijab, Sotoudeh has endured two hunger strikes and refused to participate in her trial after being prevented from selecting her own lawyer. Her husband, fellow imprisoned human rights activist Reza Khandan, noted that she is being prosecuted on seven charges, most of which relate to her opposition to Iran’s compulsory hijab laws.

While the fault for Sotoudeh’s incarceration lies squarely with Iranian authorities, U.S. policymakers must carefully weigh the impact of pressure policies on empowering Tehran’s most reactionary forces and reducing our ability to hold Iran accountable to its human rights obligations. The Trump administration’s abrogation of the nuclear deal, imposition of inhumane sanctions, and ratcheting up of tensions with Iran has further emboldened Iran’s hardline forces that are not accountable to elected institutions. As hardliners seek to match Trump’s bellicosity and undermine moderates and the will of the Iranian people, human rights proponents like Sotoudeh often become the first victims.

Political Prisoners Sentenced

On Saturday, Abolqasem Salavati, the head judge of Tehran’s infamous Revolutionary Court Branch 15, handed out 6-year sentences against political prisoners Farhad Meysami & Reza Khandan.

Their lawyer says the ruling is not final & they will appeal it.

On January 5th, Meysami had written a letter criticizing both the Revolutionary Court 15 & the Trump administration’s policies.