The shocking 16-year prison sentence against prominent human rights defender Narges Mohammadi, who has several serious, chronic illnesses, represents an all-out attack on human rights defenders in Iran, and demonstrates how Iran’s abusive criminal justice system is used as a tool of repression, said Amnesty International.
Mohammadi, a distinguished human rights defender, a supporter of the anti-death penalty campaign Legam (Step by Step to Abolish the Death Penalty) and vice president of the Center for Human Rights Defenders in Iran, was sentenced by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran which convicted her of several trumped-up national security related offences in connection with her human rights work. The verdict was communicated to her lawyer on May 17.
“Narges Mohammadi’s sentence is yet another chilling example of Iran’s use of vaguely worded national security charges to crack down on peaceful freedom of expression. There is no doubt that she is being unjustly punished for her steadfast commitment to human rights. The authorities have made clear their ruthless determination to silence human rights defenders and instil fear in would-be critics of their policies,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.
“It is shameful for the Iranian authorities to treat as a criminal a prominent human rights defender who has been lauded as a beacon of hope. It exposes their lip service to human rights as utterly meaningless and shows their deep disdain for the basic principles of justice. Narges Mohammadi is a prisoner of conscience and the Iranian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release her and quash her conviction.”
Mohammadi is already serving a separate six-year prison sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison in relation to her human rights work.
In the most recent case against her, the court sentenced her to 10 years’ imprisonment on the charge of “founding an illegal group” for her involvement with Legam. She also received a five-year sentence for “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security,” and one additional year for “spreading propaganda against the system.” The court used as “evidence” interviews she gave to international media and her March 2014 meeting with the European Union’s then High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton.
If her conviction and sentence are upheld, she will have to serve at least 10 further years in prison on the most serious charge of “founding an illegal group.” This is under provisions in Iran's 2013 Penal Code, which stipulate that those convicted of multiple charges serve the lengthiest single sentence.
“Narges Mohammadi’s sentence [aims to] take revenge against a human rights activist who is opposed to the death penalty and seeks its gradual elimination… Indeed, sometimes the judgment of a judge is just a tool in the hand of the powerful,” said Mohammadi’s husband Taghi Rahmani.
The harsh prison sentence against Mohammadi comes after years of harassment punctuated by intermittent periods in detention, which have inflicted a devastating toll on her health and emotionally scarred her two young children. She is critically ill, suffering from a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in her lungs) and a neurological disorder that has resulted in seizures and temporary partial paralysis. She requires ongoing specialized medical care, which she cannot receive in prison.
The authorities have also denied Mohammadi the right to have access to her children. Her nine-year-old twins had to move abroad to live with their father as there was no one to look after them in Iran. She has only been allowed to have one phone call with her children since last summer.
“I am left wondering how to tell Ali and Kiana, who have only heard Narges’s voice once over the past year, that their mother has got another 10 years in prison. They are only nine and have been through hard days since they were three. But I have to prepare myself to tell them what has happened,” Rahmani told Amnesty International.
Mohammadi’s case was highlighted by Amnesty International in its annual Write for Rights campaign in 2012.
She is currently serving a six-year prison sentence for “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system” through her human rights activism. She began serving this prison term in April 2012 but was released three months later, on medical grounds to receive treatment for a health condition that caused partial paralysis, which was exacerbated by her imprisonment.
She was arrested again in May 2015 and taken to Tehran’s Evin Prison to resume serving her sentence. In October 2015, she suffered several seizures which eventually prompted the authorities to allow her to be hospitalized. Her treatment was, however, disrupted as she was returned to prison against her doctor’s advice after 17 days.
She also faces another separate charge of “insulting officers while being transferred to a hospital” in a separate case after she complained about her inhumane treatment by prison guards.