Nov. 12, 2020
Social Media Activist
Insulting the sacred
Reza Tabrizi is a bodybuilding instructor and a champion paralympian bodybuilder who lives in Mashhad. In November 2020, Tabrizi posted a story on his personal Instagram page in which he criticized a decision to close gyms and ban sporting activities, due to the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, while religious sites and shrines were allowed to remain open.
After he posted this Instagram story, religious hardliners attacked him online stating that he had committed an act of blasphemy. After the protests against his posts increased, Tabrizi deleted the post and issued an apology to his followers via Instagram. At the end of his message he asked for forgiveness and said that if someone had been hurt by what he had said then he asked for their forgiveness and pardon.
Tabrizi’s apology was not accepted by religious hardliners, and on November 5, 2020, after a protest rally in front of his sports club in Mashhad, hardliners arrested Tabrizi with the help of police officers and vandalized his premises.
Fars News Agency announced Tabrizi’s arrest on November 5, 2020, and wrote that he had been charged with committing “sacrilege” and “insult” against the “twelve holy Imams.”
But the protests and demands did not end with Tabrizi’s arrest. On the evening of November 8, and November 9, the hardliners organized a sit-in protest at the Mausoleum of Imam Reza, the eighth Shia Imam, in Mashhad. During the protest they called for Reza Tabrizi's execution. And online hardliners repeatedly demanded that judicial authorities order Tabrizi's death.
Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, a defence lawyer who has represented numerous Iranians who have been accused of “blasphemy,” spoke about Tabrizi’s case to Journalism Is Not A Crime saying: “Reza Tabrizi's comments about the risk of the transmission of [coronavirus] in religious shrines and buildings are the exactly the same as those used by many experts, doctors and directors in the Ministry of Health and Medical Education. The quarantine rules must be the same for all public places, and that it is 'discrimination' and a 'lack of support' in these kinds of decisions that cause protests and unrest among the working class.”
Aghasi also emphasized the lack of transparency or explanation concerning the charge of “blasphemy” in Tabrizi’s case, saying: “Certainly, a heavy sentence such as the death penalty should not be issued against [Reza Tabrizi] because [for it to be warranted] it must be obvious that there was a direct insult and offense against the holy imams and the people’s religious beliefs. It has been proven that in this legal case there was no explicit or clear intent to commit blasphemy. As Reza Tabrizi stated in his public statement of apology, which he will of course repeat during his legal defense in court, he did not intentionally insult the Imams. The judge must also handle this case in good faith to prevent anything unexpected from happening.”
No information is currently available on Tabrizi's condition. But he has not yet been released from detention and his sports club is still closed.