CHRI – Iran’s Appeals Court, which met last week to review satirist Keyomars Marzban’s appeal against a preliminary court’s harsh sentence against him, is expected to issue a ruling next week without hearing his defense, a source with detailed knowledge of his case told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on October 9, 2019.
In August 2019, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Marzban to 11 years in prison for his peaceful writing activities under the charges of “contact with U.S. enemy state,” 7.6 years for “insulting the sacred,” three years for “insulting the supreme leader,” one year for “propaganda against the state,” and nine months for “insulting officials.”
If he loses his appeal, the 28-year-old would have to serve 11 years behind bars according to Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code, which allows defendants to serve only the longest sentence in cases involving multiple convictions.
Marzban was accused of writing for U.S.-funded websites. No law that specifically bans Iranian citizens from writing for American websites, but people in Iran can be prosecuted for “collaborating” with the U.S. government—which does not have diplomatic relations with Iran—by writing for websites that are funded by it.
The Iranian government actively works to block citizens from accessing news and content from U.S.-funded sources.
In his defense, Marzban argued that he didn’t know that a project he had written satirical content for had received funding from the U.S. government.
“One of the main accusations against Keyomars… was that he worked with [Washington-based] Freedom House, which is a human rights organization, ” said the source who asked not to be identified. “That’s because for a time, he published his heartfelt writings on a satirical website [separate from Freedom House’s website] that, according to the authorities, was funded by the U.S. Treasury.”
The source added: “According to his lawyer, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, Keyomars… never knew that the website that he and many others were writing for was funded by the U.S. He was hoping that by stating this fact in the Appeals Court, he would be cleared of this charge. But unfortunately, the Appeals Court convened without his presence or his lawyer and now his family is very worried about the verdict that is due to be issued to his lawyer next week.”
The satirist’s mother recently wrote on her Instagram page that her son’s writings were not politically motivated.
“In his public posts on Facebook and Instagram, my son, Keyomars Marzban, repeatedly declared that he is not a political person; ‘I’m a writer,’ he said,” Soheila Mahernia wrote on October 9, 2019.
“Keyomars has published three books that are available to the public in Iran,” she added. “All three books that are about his childhood memories contain pure feelings of love and affection. Ninety percent of his writings in domestic and foreign media have been about the same things from his childhood, love and affection.”
Marzban’s mother added that her son was not expecting to be persecuted upon returning to Iran: “Like all of us, from time to time he criticized social conditions with his humorous but loving commentary via domestic and foreign media. His biggest mistake was that because of his love and deep feelings for his country, he threw himself into the fire by returning to Iran. He never imagined that he was going to be imprisoned and sentenced to 23 years behind bars simply for his satire and cultural and literary work.”
Marzban was arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Intelligence Organization on August 26, 2018, about a year after he had returned to Iran to visit his ailing grandmother.
He had been living in Malaysia since 2009, during which time he had published online commentaries regarding Iran’s mass street protests against that year’s disputed presidential election.
Read this article in Persian.