May 18, 2020
Social Media Activist
Seven and a half years in prison
Blogger, photographer and Facebook activist
Insulting Iranian officials
Insulting the sacred
Propaganda against the regime
Date of Birth
Soheil Arabi is a blogger and Facebook activist who was sentenced to death on the accusation of "blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and his companions". The ruling was later converted from the death penalty to a prison sentence for seven and a half years.
Prior to his arrest, Arabi managed eight different Facebook pages. On November 7, 2013, he and his former wife, Nastaran Naimi, were arrested by agents from the Revolutionary Guards, specifically from the Guards’ Sarollah Base. Arabi and Naimi, who had a daughter together, had divorced in 2017 due to the increasing pressure and coercion they were experiencing from security forces.
Naimi was freed after several hours after her arrest; however, Arabi was forced to remain in custody. He spent two months in solitary confinement in Section 2A of Evin Prison where he was interrogated. He was then transferred to Section 350 of Evin Prison.
On August 30, 2014, Branch 76 of Tehran’s Criminal Courts, presided over by Judge Modir Khorassani, with five other judges present, heard Arabi’s case. Arabi was sentenced to or the death penalty for "blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and his companions," with three votes in favor and two against, based on Article 262 of New Islamic Penal Codes of Iran.
According to Arabi’s lawyer, the court’s ruling was based on Arabi’s own confessions of guilt; however, the lawyer added that the confessions had been taken during interrogation, under duress, and that Arabi had withdrawn and denied his confessions in court. But the judges who issued the verdict did not accept the notion of a "denial after confession" and the confessions made during interrogation were the basis for their judgement.
The court issued its ruling despite the fact that, whenever an individual that is accused of blasphemy claims their remarks were taken unwillingly, or in a state of ignorance, mistakenly, in a state of intoxication or anger, anecdotally or without regard to the meaning and context of their words, then it should not be considered as "blasphemy” at all.
Based on a report by the Human Rights Activists in Iran group – in addition to the open case against Arabi at the Provincial Criminal Court, which issued the original death penalty – there were three other cases with similar accusations. However, due to varying jurisdictions in the trial, the accusations were being heard in different courts.
In one of these aforementioned cases, which was being heard in the Court of Government Employees, Arabi was accused of insulting a former president of the Allameh Tabataba’i University Gholam, as well as Ali Haddad-Adel, former president of the Islamic Consultative Assembly in Spring 2014. He was eventually given a fine of 500,000 tomans and sentenced to 30 lashes of the whip.
Arabi and his lawyers took his case to the Appeals Court of Tehran. On Septembre 3, 2014, Arabi appeared in Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Salvati. He was accused of "insulting the Supreme Leader" and "propaganda against the state," for which he was sentenced to two years in prison for the former charge and one year in prison for the latter.
In October 2014, Branch 54 of the Appeals Courts heard Arabi’s appeal against the judgement issued by Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court under Judge Salvati. According to a report by the website Kaleme, the Appeals Courts upheld the decision, less than a month after the original ruling had been issued.
According to a report by the HRA News Agency, Arabi’s fourth legal prosecution was heard in the General and Criminal Courts of Tehran on the accusation of "insulting the President of Iran."
In late November 2014, Branch 41 of the Supreme Courts of Iran reviewed the death penalty handed down against Arabi. Judges presiding over the case approved the sentence and referred Arabi’s case to Branch 76 of the Provincial Criminal Courts to enforce the death penalty ruling.
At the same time, Arabi’s lawyer rejected a new charge, of "rape," against the defendat, calling the accusation unmistakeably immoral. Amirsalar Davoodi, one of Arabi’s lawyers, condemned the charge as a lie propagated by websites close to Iran’s security agencies concerning his case. Davoodi also said he would file a complaint against these sites. According to HRA News Agency, Path of Wisdom, one of the news websites close to Iranian security forces, published a special report on Arabi’s case in which it disavowed the charge that he "insulted the Prophet" but instead claimed Arabi had been sentenced to death for "rape." This claim was soon shown to be incorrect, with the publication of Arabi’s court sentence.
On Monday December 1, 2014, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, then the spokesperson for Iran’s judiciary, announced there was no possibility for Arabi to be pardoned. According to a report by the Islamic Republic News Agency, in response to a question by reporters about the possibility of a pardon for Arabi, Mohseni Ejei said that “At present there is no pardon [for Arabi] and his sentence has been issued [according to Sharia stipulations] for [being] a corruptor on earth.” In spite of this, the spokesperson noted that Arabi’s death sentence had been sent for a retrial, meaning the case could be re-examined.
Prior to these reports, Arabi’s judgement had been upheld and confirmed in Branch 41 of the Supreme Court of Iran, presided over by Judge Ali Razini.
A day after Mohseni Ejei’s remarks about Arabi’s case, Human Rights Watch called for Iran’s judiciary to overturn the decision to sentence to death Arabi, a 30-year-old man, simply because of posts on Facebook pages linked to his account.
Eric Goldstein, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division for Human Rights Watch, said: “It is simply shocking that anyone should face the gallows simply because of Internet postings that are deemed to be crude, offensive, or insulting. Iran should urgently revise its penal code to eliminate provisions that criminalize peaceful free expression, especially when they punish its exercise with death.”
A few days later, on December 6, 2014, three of Arabi’s lawyers, Amirsalar Davoodi, Mohsen Yazdani and Vahid Meshkani Farahani, published a statement in which they called on political activists to refrain from politicizing the case.
On June 27, 2015, Arabi’s lawyer Meshkani Farahani confirmed news of the reversal of Arabi’s death penalty, saying to an HRA reporter: “I am very happy to annouce that Branch 34 of the Supreme Court of Iran has wisely overturned the death penalty against my client. It has now been sent to a branch of the lower courts for a retrial.”
Prior to this development, and following the publication of false news reports by three news agencies including Fars, Jahan News and Dana against Arabi and his lawyers’ complaints, prosecutors in the case issued a security order to one of these websites.
On Sunday September 6, 2015, Arabi’s retrial was heard in Branch 81 of the Criminal Court of Tehran Province, in the presence of his lawyers and the prosecutor’s representatives. The court heard the indictment against Arabi and his lawyers’ defense.
Later that month, Arabi was sentenced by the Supreme Court to 90 months in prison and two years of religious investigation to prove his remorse and avoid the death penalty.
As such, in addition to spending seven and a half years in prison, under the new ruling, Arabi was obliged to read 13 volumes of books on theology, Shi’ism and the elimination of religious doubts as part of the religious investigation against him. He was also required to contact a religious institution and the Imam Khomeini Institute to respond to questions on his religious doubts and to submit the results of these investigations with these institutions to the court, in writing.
Arabi was also required to prepare an article on theological and religious matters, in which he was to refer to five-to-10 different books as references. Over the course of the two years, he was required to submit reports on the religious investigation to the court every three months, in order to prove his remorse and show changes in his behaviour to the court after the reversal of the death penalty.
In mid-November 2015, Arabi’s 90 month prison sentence was reduced by 12 months to 78 months in prison. In an interview with the HRA News Agency, one of Arabi’s lawyers explained the reason for the reduction in his prison sentence, saying “It is predicted that under the new laws that, if an accused does not object against a lower court’s judgement and instead submits to the court’s decision, then it is possible that the court will reduce their sentence by up to a quarter. As we decided to comply with the court’s verdict, Soheil Arabi’s judgement was reduced by 12 months from the total 90 month sentence.”
Just over a year later, in early January 2017, Amirsalar Davoodi, Arabi’s lawyer, said in an interview that “My client is in a severe and life-threatening condition and he has been suffering from convulsions in Evin Prison.” Davoodi also asked the judicial officials that his client be transferred to hospital for treatment, as he had been serving his prison sentence in Evin Prison since November 2013 without any leave. Davoodi confirmed that his requests for leave on behalf of his client had been rejected numerous times.
Davoodi explained: “Unfortunately those who have been sentenced in relation to matters of security are not granted the benefit of leniency in the Islamic Penal Codes. When I ask for requests of this nature, they do not answer me.” Davoodi continued, saying that “According to the legal codes, prisoners that are sentenced to less than ten years can only request parole after having served more than a third of their prison setence. Arabi has made this request ... numerous times but he has not been successful.”
On July 31, 2017, when Arabi was serving the fourth year of his sentence, he was informed that his wife, Nastaran Naimi, had been arrested. On August 1, in response to her arrest, Arabi went on hunger strike. He was transferred to Section 2A of Evin Prison. This section is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, and was the same section in which his wife was being detained. He was subjected to brutal beatings and punishment. After eight days, Arabi was returned to the section of the prison in which he had been previously held, and his wife was released from prison on the payment of her bail.
Arabi was later informed that his wife had been arrested and accused of being an accessory to her husband’s crime of "propaganda against the state." Following Naimi’s release, Arabi ended his hunger strike. Despite this, on several occasions security forces contacted Arabi’s wife, who had just been released, threatening her by informing her that they would take actions against her husband.
In response to these pressures, Arabi wrote an open letter on August 24, 2017 in which he demanded an end to the harassment of his family. He also went on a second hunger strike. A part of Arabi’s letter reads:
“I, Soheil Arabi, was the cry of a generation who no longer wanted to be part of a burnt generation and a generation that has not lived; that was afraid of death, not free and that was afraid of your prisons. I spent four of my birthdays behind prison bars. My daughter is four years old and all of her memories of me are in meeting rooms in Evin Prison.
I have forgiven all the oppression that was inflicted on me. But I could never be silent in the face of the unjust and continued harassment of my family.”
On the seventh day of his hunger strike, Arabi was transferred to the medical ward of the prison twice in one day, due to stomach bleeding and his deteriorating general health.
A new case was opened against Arabi in the Holy Court of Evin Prison. On the twelfth day of his hunger strike, Arabi was transferred to the Evin Prison’s Prosecutor’s Office for questioning concerning this new case.
Arabi’s new accusations in the case included "propaganda activity against the state," "insulting the Supreme Leader" and "blasphemy." In response to these allegations, he emphasised their lack of evidence, especially regarding the later two charges. But Naimi’s posts on his Facebook page were put forward as evidence for the accusation of "propaganda against the state." The authorities issued a bail of a hundred million tomans.
On October 10, 2017, Branch 3 of Evin Prison’s Holy Courts summoned Arabi to take his defence statements. However, prison officials prevented him from being dispatched to the court because he refused to wear prison clothes.
In December 2018, Arabi wrote an open letter which spoke about the security forces’ pressure to separate him from his wife, and he called his accusations "unjust". He ended his letter by discussing the issue of divorcing his wife, saying, “Under Article 23 of the Iranian Constitution, no one should be subjected to judicial punishments due to having different opinions. However, I have been tortured for more than four years for the crime of having different opinions, which are that of wanting freedom and equality. When they saw that sentencing me to prison and even death could not stop me from continuing along this path, they forced my wife to divorce me.”
On December 31, 2017, Arabi was beaten and then transferred to the Greater Tehran Prison, known as Fashafoyeh Prison. While the prison guards at Fashafoyeh were beating Arabi, they said to him “This isn’t Evin Prison, the rules are different here.” They then destroyed or confiscated all of his books and personal items. This prison transfer came as Arabi had been told that he was going to be moved to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj. However, in spite of what he had been previously told, he was transferred to Fashafoyeh Prison.
In July 2018, Arabi was sentenced to another six years in prison by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, presided over by Judge Moghiseh, on the accusations of "propaganda against the state" and "blasphemy."
Nastaran Naimi, Arabi’s former wife, was also sentenced to one and a half years in prison by Judge Moghiseh, on the charges of of "blasphemy" and "being an accessory to [Arabi’s] criminal activity."
At the same time, yet another new case was opened against Arabi, which was heard on September 22, 2018 in Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Ahmadzadeh. In early Autumn 2018, Arabi was convicted of "propaganda activity against the state" and "disturbing the public opinion" and sentenced to three years in prison, three years of exile to the city of Borazjan and a fine of 4 million tomans. The court’s verdict was announced to Arabi’s lawyer on September 30, 2018.
One source close to Arabi spoke about the judgement to an HRA reporter, saying: “The reason for these new accusations against Arabi was because he sent voice recordings from within the prison and more specifically because he described the Greater Tehran Prison as a torture chamber.”
On July 22, 2019, Arabi’s mother, Farangis Mazloum, was arrested by security forces and transferred to the intelligence administration detention centre in Evin Prison. When agents had finished interrogating her, on October 8, 2019, she was released on a bail of 250 million tomans until her court case could be heard.
On October 26, 2019, Arabi was denied permission to be transferred to hospital despite having fallen into a life-threatening physical condition. Prison authorities objected to his transfer to hospital because he was required to be wearing prison clothes and to have both his hands and legs shackled for the transfer. Also, contrary to prison rules, he was told that he would be required to personally pay the cost of surgery for experiencing "blunt trauma," i.e. beatings, to the amount of 60 million tomans.
On October 29, 2019, Arabi was transferred to the Information Protection of the Judiciary’s offices to be interrogated. After several hours, he was returned to prison. Arabi is said to have been sent to the interrogation session in handcuffs and blindfolded, where he was threatened with new charges and a new legal case against him.
On February 29, 2020, the HRA News Agency reported on Arabi’s deteriorating health condition, saying that despite intense coughing and severe pain caused by blunt trauma injuries and infections, he was still being denied a transfer to hospital or any form of medical treatment.
According to the HRA News Agency, the coronavirus outbreak in Iran has meant that there are no doctors or nurses available in prisons to examine patients, prescribe or administer medicine, or to treat patients with painkillers. Many doctors and nurses have also refused to visit the Greater Tehran Prison infirmaries because of the coronavirus outbreak in the prison system. The Greater Tehran Prison medical officer, meanwhile, is himself also a prisoner and is not qualified to administer painkillers.