Citizen journalist and Telegram administrator and activist
Assembly and collusion against national security
Insulting Ayatollah Khomeini
Insulting the Supreme Leader
Propaganda against the regime
12 years in prison
Alireza Tavakoli, a citizen journalist and a Telegram channel administrator, was arrested on September 3, 2016 in Tehran. Another Telegram channel administrator, Mohammad Mehdi Zamanzadeh, was arrested on the same day, and another, Mohammad Mohajer, was arrested on September 10.
“These guys were posting articles and cartoons on Facebook and Telegram that criticized the political and religious situation, and also shared material from others,” an informed source told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “But most of the accusations against them are related to their posts on a Telegram channel where political and religious topics were discussed.”
The three were held in Evin Prison’s Ward 209, controlled by the Intelligence Ministry, where they were interrogated without being given access to a lawyer. They were then transferred to Ward 8 of the prison after two months in solitary confinement, despite the fact that the arrest warrants were only valid for three days before charges were pressed.
A source close to the defendants told the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) that during repeated interrogations, the interrogators and intelligence agents pressured the accused to give answers that would portray them as supporters of a certain counter-revolutionary group. As to what purpose, the source said that the intelligence agents intended to use the confessions to present the accused as an organized group and to implicate their friends and acquaintances so that the agents could achieve a propaganda victory. But, according to this source, the accused did not give in.
During their time at Ward 209, the three defendants were allowed to call their families once a week and talk to them for only five minutes. According to the source, the intelligence agents kept telling families that if the accused cooperated and gave the confessions that they were asked to give, they would be freed soon.
After the interrogations were over and the Examining Magistrate Ali Ghena’at finished questioning them, one of the charges against them was dropped and they were no longer found guilty of activities to overthrow the Islamic Republic. The charge was dropped due to lack of evidence and, equally important, the defendants’ refusal to confess to the crime.
On April 10, 2017, the three defendants were tried at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court presided over by Judge Abolghasem Salavati, known for his harsh sentences and his disregard for the rights of defendants. Each of the defendants was sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of blasphemy (five years), insulting the Supreme Leader (two years) and assembly and collusion against national security (five years).
The Five-Minute Trial
The hearing before Branch 36 of the Revolutionary Court of Appeals took place on August 2 after they appealed the verdict of Judge Salavati. At the trial, which lasted only about five minutes, Judge Hassan Babaee, another Iranian judge accused of gross human rights violations, refused to allow the three defendants or their lawyers to speak and told them that they should have written their defenses and notes and sent them to court before the hearing.
“You are apostates and anti-revolutionaries,” he reportedly told the defendants at the hearing. “I wonder why they have not yet executed you!"
The persecution and prosecution of these three young defendants, all aged under 24 when they were arrested, was not an isolated incident. The sentencing of the three was followed by the arrest of least 12 more Telegram channel administrators in March 2017. Many observers believed that the arrests were part of a larger agenda adopted by Iran’s hardliner factions in the run-up to presidential and local council elections that took place in May.
Initially it was unclear who had ordered the arrests of the administrators, and some media and Iranian lawmakers pointed the finger at President Rouhani’s administration, and in particular, Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi. But on April 5, Alavi announced that the government was not behind the arrests, and had not supported them. President Rouhani confirmed this on April 10. This led to verbal clashes between Iran’s judiciary and executive branches.
Regardless, Alireza Tavakoli and his two co-defendants are currently serving 12-year prison sentences.
Updated: February 15, 2018
“Three Young Men to Serve 12 Years in Prison For ‘Insulting’ Social Media Posts”, Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), April 27, 2017
“Citizen-journalists increasingly spied on, hounded in Iran”, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), June 22, 2017
سه فعال تلگرامی جوان در تهران به ۳۶ سال حبس محکوم شدند, Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), July 24, 2017
سی و شش سال زندان؛ نگاهی به آنچه بر سه فعال شبکه های اجتماعی گذشت, Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), July 25, 2017
پنج دقیقه فرصت دفاع؛ دادگاه تجدیدنظر سه فعال تلگرامی برگزار شد, Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), August 3, 2017