Iran has taken another punitive action against the outspoken family of a protester killed by security forces who crushed nationwide anti-government demonstrations last year, handing the protester’s uncle a suspended prison sentence for criticizing the nation’s Islamist rulers.
In a Monday interview with VOA Persian from Iran, an informed source said Mehrdad Bakhtiari, uncle of slain activist Pouya Bakhtiari, learned that he had received a five-year suspended sentence when authorities released him from 47 days of detention on December 16.
The source said the verdict issued by a Revolutionary Court in the northern city of Karaj comprised a four-year suspended sentence for the charge of assembly and collusion against national security and a one-year suspended sentence for the charge of spreading anti-government propaganda. Bakhtiari would have to serve the sentences in the future if authorities deem him to have repeated the offenses.
As an extra punishment, Bakhtiari is banned from leaving Iran for two years, the source added.
Mehrdad Bakhtiari’s brother Manouchehr, the bereaved father of Pouya, confirmed Mehrdad’s release and five-year suspended sentence in a Saturday Instagram post but gave no other details.
A video also posted to social media on Saturday showed Mehrdad after his release, embracing Pouya’s bereaved mother Nahid Shirbisheh.
Authorities had detained Mehrdad Bakhtiari on October 31, according to a video statement recorded by his mother, Zahra Bakhtiari, and posted to social media several days later.
Days before his detention, Mehrdad Bakhtiari spoke to several overseas-based Persian news outlets, including VOA Persian, highlighting the Iranian government’s ongoing harassment of his family for seeking justice for his nephew’s killing.
Pouya Bakhtiari, 27, was killed by a gunshot to the head in Karaj on November 16, 2019 as he joined nationwide protests against the government’s 50% increase in subsidized gas prices at the time. The killing drove Pouya’s parents and his uncle Mehrdad to become outspoken government critics who raised Pouya’s profile domestically and internationally.
In his October 29 interview with VOA, Mehrdad Bakhtiari said the prosecutor’s office in Karaj initially called the family and asserted that it opened a case to find Pouya’s killer. But he said authorities later declared that those responsible for killing Pouya and other young protesters were anti-government agents who came from outside Iran rather than its security forces.
“They have been lying for 41 years,” Mehdrad Bakhtiari said, referring to the length of time Shiite clerics have been leading Iran since seizing power in its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iranian authorities also have imprisoned Manouchehr Bakhtiari twice for his activism in response to his son’s killing.
He was released on bail from his latest imprisonment on December 5, according to rights activists, almost five months after his July 13 arrest while he was visiting Iran’s Kish island.
Manouchehr Bakhtiari was first arrested with Nahid Shirbisheh, his ex-wife, on December 23, 2019, three days before a public gathering they were organizing at Pouya’s grave in a Karaj cemetery to mark the end of a traditional 40-day mourning period for their son.
Pouya’s parents had used Instagram to appeal to the public and journalists to join them at his gravesite. But on the day of the gathering, security forces dispersed mourners who heeded the call and made arrests.
Iranian authorities released the grieving father, whom they had charged with national security offenses, on bail on January 25. Shirbisheh was released on January 7.
The Bakhtiari family’s activism and the Iranian government’s attempts to suppress it have captured the attention of the Trump administration. In a March 11 speech unveiling the annual U.S. report on international human rights practices, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Bakhtiari family was “living in fear under house arrest.”
“I want great Iranians like the Bakhtiaris to know America remembers those lost and stands for their freedom,” Pompeo said.