(Beirut) – Iran’s judiciary should abandon charges and quash the verdicts against 11 members of a Sufi sect convicted in unfair trials and informed of their sentences in July 2013. Those in detention should be freed immediately and unconditionally.
The evidence suggests that all 11 were prosecuted and convicted solely because of their peaceful activities on behalf of the largest Sufi order in Iran or in connection with their contributions to a news website dedicated to uncovering rights abuses against members of the order.
“The Sufi trials bore all the hallmarks of a classic witch hunt,” said Tamara Alrifai, Middle East advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “It seems that authorities targeted these members of one of Iran’s most vulnerable minorities because they tried to give voice to the defense of Sufi rights.”
On July 18, four of the defendants learned that Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz had sentenced them to prison terms ranging from one year to three years, followed by periods of internal exile, which bars them from living in their hometowns. The four are out on bail.
On July 10, a revolutionary court in Tehran announced prison sentences against seven Sufis ranging from seven-and-a-half to ten-and-a-half years. They were banned from social, legal, and journalistic activities related to the Sufi order for five years after their release. All are in Tehran’s Evin Prison.
The Majzooban-e Noor website, to which some of the defendants contributed, said the defendants in the Tehran case have refused to file appeals in protest against numerous pre-trial irregularities and ill-treatment in detention by Intelligence Ministry agents. The four defendants in the Shiraz case plan to file appeals.
Branch 2 of Shiraz’s Revolutionary Court convicted the four defendants of membership in an “anti-government” group intent on endangering national security, a reference to the website, and of disseminating “propaganda against the state.” According to the judgment, the court sentenced Saleh Moradi to three years in prison and three years of internal exile in Hormozgan province, Farzaneh Nouri to two years in prison and three years in Khuzestan province, Behzad Nouri to two years in prison and three years in Bushehr province, and Farzad Darvish to a year in prison and three years in Sistan and Baluchistan province.
Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court convicted the seven others of “membership in a sect endangering national security,” “propaganda against the state,” “insulting the Supreme Leader,” “disturbing the public mind,” “establishing and membership in a deviant group,” and “disrupting the public order,” the judgment said. The court sentenced Hamid-Reza Moradi to ten-and-a-half years, Reza Entesari to eight-and-a-half years, and Amir Eslami, Afshin Karampour, Farshid Yadollahi, Omid Behrouzi, and Mostafa Daneshjoo each to seven-and-a-half years.
Eslami, Yadollahi, Daneshjoo, and Behrouzi write for the web site and are lawyers who defended clients affiliated with the Nematollahi Gonabadi Sufi order.
The Nematollahi Gonabadis consider themselves followers of Twelver Shia Islam, the official state religion in Iran. The Iranian government, however, considers them members of a “deviant group,” and has increasingly harassed, arrested, and prosecuted them. At least seven other members of the order are in Evin Prison and Shiraz’s Adel Abad Prison on politically motivated national security charges related to their website activities.
Farhad Nouri, the son of Farzaneh Nouri and an administrator for the website, told Human Rights Watch that of the four defendants sentenced in Shiraz, only Moradi and Behzad Nouri contributed to the site, and the others were apparently targeted because they were affiliated with the Nematollahi Gonabadi order.
Family members of some of the defendants said that the group sentenced in Tehran boycotted the court proceedings and did not attend their trial because the court prevented them from meeting with their lawyers or reviewing the Intelligence Ministry’s case against them both before and during their trial, and intelligence agents physically and psychologically abused them during pretrial detention.
In January, the seven defendants wrote a letter to the chief judge of Branch 15 of the court, Judge Salavati, calling the court illegitimate and submitting numerous reasons why they chose not to appear or defend themselves. The mother of one of the detainees and the wives of two others told Human Rights Watch that the defendants would not appeal the lower court’s decision because they view the entire process as illegitimate.
The wife of one defendant said that her husband and the other defendants also lodged a complaint against the judge for irregularities and abuses they experienced in detention. She said that the judge then ordered prison guards to cut off family visits and transfer the defendants to solitary confinement in the Intelligence Ministry-controlled Ward 209 of Evin Prison for nearly three months, during which they were harassed and beaten. The family members said that the defendants were returned to Ward 350 in mid-April and have since been allowed family visits.
The website said the judge also prevented Daneshjoo and Hamid-Reza Moradi from leaving Evin Prison to receive critical treatments for blocked arteries and asthma that doctors had ordered.
Both Iranian law and international law require prison authorities to provide basic necessities to all prisoners and to treat them with dignity and respect. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party, prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In 2004, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention criticized Iran’s systematic use of solitary confinement and noted, “