Three Iranian anti-government protesters who had been sentenced to death in Iran but who won the right to a retrial last week face indefinitely more time in prison as their lawyers try to secure their release on bail in the face of major obstacles, according to a knowledgeable source.
In a Saturday ruling, Iran’s Supreme Court said it vacated the death sentences handed to the three men and ordered a lower Revolutionary Court to retry them on charges related to their involvement in Iran’s nationwide anti-government protests of November 2019.
Amir Hossein Moradi, Mohammad Rajabi, and Saeid Tamjidi, all in their mid-20s, had been sentenced to death in February for alleged vandalism, arson, waging war against the state and armed robbery. The trial was overseen by Revolutionary Court judge Abolqasem Salavati, whom the United States sanctioned last December for delivering “harsh sentences, including many death sentences, to scores of political prisoners, human rights activists, and peaceful demonstrators.” The retrial of the three men will be conducted by a different Revolutionary Court judge, the Iranian Supreme Court said in its latest ruling.
The top Iranian court previously had upheld the men’s death sentences in July, putting them at imminent risk of execution, but suspended the ruling days later. The suspension followed an outcry from Iranians who posted millions of social media messages with the Persian hashtag #DoNotExecute and similar appeals from U.S. President Donald Trump and other international figures. The upholding of the death sentences also prompted the men's lawyers to immediately appeal to Iranian judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi to order a retrial.
In a Monday interview with VOA Persian from Iran, the informed source, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter, said the next step in the case of Moradi, Rajabi and Tamjidi is for the Supreme Court to decide which Revolutionary Court branch will conduct the retrial. That decision was expected to be made in the coming days, according to a Saturday tweet by Babak Paknia, a lawyer for one of the men.
“When the status of the three men reverts to being defendants facing trial, their lawyers can ask the judiciary to release them on bail and intend to do so,” the informed source said.
But any such request faces significant obstacles. For defendants who face national security related charges, the Iranian judiciary can deny release on bail or set the bail amount at $48,000 or higher, beyond the ability of many Iranians to pay.
Moradi has been in detention since November 2019, when he was arrested as part of the Iranian government’s violent crackdown on the nationwide protests against its 50% increase in subsidized gasoline prices in a recession-hit economy. Rajabi and Tamjidi were arrested in December 2019 when they were extradited to Iran from neighboring Turkey, where they had fled after joining the Iranian protests the month before.
VOA’s source said the lawyers for the three men believe the retrials will not result in renewed death sentences and hope to obtain acquittals for some of the charges.
The lawyers, in a July 1 open letter published by state-approved news site jamaran.ir, denounced the judiciary’s case against their clients as based on “confessions that were extracted under aberrant conditions.” They also criticized what they said were irregularities in legal procedures, such as the judiciary’s persistent refusal up to that point to grant them access to the case files.
In a July 10 interview with jamaran.ir, Paknia also said the three defendants “absolutely did not set fire to banks and cars” while participating in the November 2019 protests.
While some of the demonstrators looted and set fire to banks, gas stations and stores, London-based rights group Amnesty International has said most were peaceful. The group also has said it documented the killings of at least 300 people by Iranian security forces who suppressed the protests.