CHRI – A Tehran appeals court upheld a 7.5-year prison sentence against prominent political activist Hengameh Shahidi based on her social media posts in which she criticized former Chief Justice Sadegh Larijani and demanded a report on his 10-year tenure.
“State forces are threatened by Iranian women leading calls for peaceful reforms in the country and Hengameh Shahidi is the latest target,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“Judicial and security officials can say and do whatever they want to citizens with no accountability while people can be imprisoned for their mere words,” he added.
On December 10, 2018, Judge Abolqasem Salavati of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced her to 12 years and nine months in prison.
A Tehran appeals court issued its ruling six months later after applying Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code, which states that in cases involving multiple convictions, one should serve no more than the maximum punishment for the charge that carries the heaviest sentence.
“My client had been sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison, of which seven and half years will be enforced,” Hamedani told the state-funded Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA). “The sentence has been exactly upheld… by the revolutionary appeals court in Tehran Province.
The court also banned Shahidi from membership in political groups and activities on social media for two years as well as prohibited her from leaving the country for two years.
Once an advisor to former presidential candidate and Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi, who has been under extrajudicial house arrest since February 2011, Shahidi was convicted of “propaganda against the state,” “insulting officials” and “spreading falsehoods” for publicly criticizing former Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani.
On June 22, 2018, Shahidi tweeted a clip of her interview with Jamshid Chalangi, a TV political commentator based in the U.S., in which she accused Larijani of being “worse than” Judge Sadegh Khalkhali, known as Iran’s “hanging judge” for ordering thousands of political prisoners to be executed in the early years after the 1979 revolution.
“Mr. Larijani is accusing me of fighting against the state for a simple criticism and demanding a report on his 10-year tenure,” she said in the interview.
During Larijani’s tenure (2009-2019), at least 15 political prisoners died in state custody with no one held accountable for the deaths.
Journalists, activists, dissidents and others accused of criticizing state officials or policies were also handled with an iron fist, with thousands arrested and hundreds sentenced to prison for peaceful actions.
In an open letter to Larijani on February 1, 2018, Shahidi wrote: “Was it right to extend my temporary detention in solitary confinement for six months based on a lie? Was it not deplorable to set bail at 200 million tomans [about $63,000 USD at the time] for an innocent and defenseless woman?”
“The human rights community should pay attention to the fact that the judicial authorities succeeded in forcing me to confess to a crime I did not commit without any evidence under torture,” she added.
Prior to her sentencing, high-ranking hardline judicial officials angrily complained about the content of her social media posts.
“I watched her on social networks posting blatant insults against the judiciary and its officials every day and instead of surrendering herself, she posted a lot of criminal tweets,” said former Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi on June 26, 2018.
On April 4, a source with detailed knowledge of her case told CHRI that Shahidi’s health was “very poor” after being held in solitary confinement for months in Evin Prison’s Ward 241, under the control of the judiciary’s Security and Intelligence Center.
“Hengameh Shahidi is behind bars for attempting to peacefully hold powerful officials, including the judiciary chief, accountable to the public,” said Ghaemi.
“Her sentence is another confirmation that Iran’s revolutionary court system is an instrument of political repression that the state uses to suppress free speech and deter others from engaging in activism and dissent,” he added.
In interviews with domestic and foreign media outlets, Iranian officials claim that free speech is allowed in the Islamic Republic while activists, journalists, lawyers, and others continue to be arrested for making peaceful statements critical of state policies.
During a speech in March 2018, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated that “no one under the Islamic Republic is pursued or put under pressure for being opposed to the government.”
At least five women are currently serving lengthy sentences as political prisoners in Iran’s Evin Prison including prominent defense attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi.