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Iran Internet Activist Defies Summons to Prison for Criticizing Government

Iranian internet activist Reza Mazaheri, who was sentenced in 2019 to two years in prison for posting online comments the government deemed subversive. As of June 26, 2020, he was resisting a summons to begin serving his sentence. (VOA Persian)

An Iranian dissident sentenced to two years in prison for engaging in online activities deemed subversive by the government says he is defying a summons to begin serving his prison term.

In a Friday message to VOA Persian, Reza Mazaheri, a Tehran-based computer repair technician, said he was rejecting a June 16 letter calling on him to appear at a security court in the Iranian capital for transfer to a prison where he would serve the sentence.

Mazaheri was arrested on December 29, 2018, and sentenced the following April by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, which handed him a two-year prison term on charges of spreading falsehoods and anti-government propaganda. An Iranian appeals court upheld the sentence this March.

The internet activist has been free on bail pending the outcome of his legal proceedings since June 2019, when he completed 50 days of detention following his original sentencing. He previously had been freed on bail in January 2019 after 10 days of detention in connection with his December 2018 arrest.

Mazaheri told VOA that he had rejected the Tehran security court’s initial summons to start his prison sentence on the advice of his lawyer, who he said urged him to wait for the court to mail him a second notice. He said his lawyer also was planning to fight the summons in court, but it was not clear how.

The dissident posted a copy of what appears to be the initial court notice on his Twitter account on June 16, along with a message to his friends and a hashtag identifying himself as a soon-to-be political prisoner. The letter asked him to present himself to the court within five days. VOA could not independently verify the document’s authenticity.

If a convicted person refuses to appear in an Iranian court in response to an initial summons to begin a prison term, judicial authorities can choose to send several follow-up notices over a period of weeks to give the individual additional time. But that person also is liable to be arrested at any point after the end of the first notice grace period.

Mazaheri has been active on Twitter since 2015, commenting and sharing other people’s comments about the plight of fellow Iranian activists under government prosecution for peaceful activities designated as national security crimes.

In an earlier phone conversation with VOA on Wednesday, Mazaheri said Iranian authorities had used his online activism as a pretext to also prosecute him for alleged subversion.

“I’ve been critical of the government and the high prices in the country and expressed my belief that people have a right to protest and go on strike. I have not committed a crime,” he said.

'Sentences are predetermined'

Mazaheri also said his trial was unfair.

“In national security cases [like mine], a defense lawyer can do almost nothing,” he said. “Sentences are predetermined by intelligence services, and judges usually confirm them without question. There also is no jury.”

Iran’s constitution and law ostensibly guarantee a defendant the right to a fair trial, to be presumed innocent until convicted, to have access to a lawyer of his or her choice, and to appeal convictions in most cases that involve major penalties.

But the U.S. State Department’s latest annual report on Iran’s human rights situation, issued in March, cited human rights groups and international observers as saying Iranian revolutionary courts that typically prosecute political prisoners “routinely employ grossly unfair trials without due process, handing down predetermined verdicts, and rubber-stamping executions for political purposes.”

This article originated in VOA’s Persian service. Click here for the original Persian version of the story.