An Iranian rights activist has denounced an Iranian court’s upholding of his eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence as unfair due to what he said were multiple injustices in the case against him.
“I object to the verdict and have done nothing wrong,” Arsham Rezaee told VOA Persian in a phone interview from his home in Tehran this week.
Rezaee, a 28-year-old construction worker, was referring to what he said was a Tehran appellate court’s decision Saturday to uphold the prison sentence handed to him last year after his January 7, 2019 arrest in the capital. He has been free on bail since November 13.
A lower Iranian court had sentenced Rezaee to an eight-and-a-half-year prison term on February 27, 2019, on charges of spreading propaganda against Iran’s Islamist ruling system, conspiracy to act against national security, insulting the nation’s leadership and alcohol possession. The Revolutionary Court judge who issued the verdict was Mohammad Moghisseh, whom the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned in December for overseeing what it said was “countless unfair trials, during which charges went unsubstantiated and evidence was disregarded.”
In a March 2019 interview with the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, the activist’s mother, Keshvar Rezaee, said her son, Arsham, was arrested for participating in peaceful anti-government protests, informing the Iranian public about the living conditions of political prisoners and meeting with their families.
Speaking to VOA Persian, Arsham Rezaee described how Iranian authorities filed bogus charges against him to justify his detention.
Rezaee said the charge of spreading antigovernment propaganda related to a picture of him that Iranian security agents found in his mobile phone, which they had confiscated during his arrest. He said the photo showed him holding up a sign saying “No to Execution” during a 2018 protest against a death sentence handed to Iranian Kurdish activist Ramin Hossein Panahi. Iran went on to execute Panahi in secret in September of that year.
As for the other charges, Rezaee said the security agents who seized his phone accessed it to search for his friends, arresting two of them and using the arrests as a pretext to accuse him of being part of a conspiracy.
Rezaee said the agents also claimed to have found a notebook, during a search of his home, containing the words “Death to the Dictator” — a popular chant of anti-government protesters venting their anger toward Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in recent years. That notebook entry was the basis for accusing him of insulting Iran’s leadership, he said. It was not clear if the activist had written the phrase in the notebook.
Another injustice cited by Rezaee was his assertion that the Iranian security agents who interrogated him last year pressured him to sign a written confession in front of a camera. He did not elaborate on whether he had signed such a forced confession.
Rezaee also noted that his lawyer, whose identity he did not reveal, was unable to access any files to help with his defense, despite the lawyer having made multiple visits to judicial offices.
The activist expressed hope that he ultimately would not have to serve a full eight-and-a-half years in prison. Article 134 of Iran’s penal code stipulates that defendants only must service the longest prison sentence in cases involving convictions on multiple charges. In Rezaee’s case, the longest sentence applied to the four charges against him was five years.
There was no word in Iranian state media about the appellate court’s upholding of Rezaee’s prison sentence or whether Article 134 would be applied in his case.
Defendants whose prison sentences are upheld by Iranian appeals courts typically must wait several weeks until the rulings are delivered to prison authorities, who then issue a summons for the convicted person to appear at a jail to start the sentence.