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Torture and Coercion: Fresh Information Surfaces on the Nightmarish Trial of Three Young Protesters

June 25, 2020
Shahed Alavi
10 min read
News of the confirmed death sentences of three young demonstrators in the protests of November 2019 was published on June 23, 2020 - but contested by the Young Journalists Club a day later
News of the confirmed death sentences of three young demonstrators in the protests of November 2019 was published on June 23, 2020 - but contested by the Young Journalists Club a day later
Lawyers in the case have refused to talk about the denial. This silence has made it difficult to provide accurate information about the prisoners and their current situation
Lawyers in the case have refused to talk about the denial. This silence has made it difficult to provide accurate information about the prisoners and their current situation

Harrowing details have emerged about the treatment of three young Iranians who were reportedly sentenced to death for their presence at the November 2019 demonstrations.

The confirmation of death sentences for Saeed Tamjidi, Mohammad Rajabi and Amir Hossein Moradi was widely reported on Tuesday, June 23.

Just one day later, Iranian news agency the Young Journalists Club denied the claims, in a post that since appears to have been taken down. But this denial has been slapped down by human rights activists and, given the poor record of the YJC and the Islamic Republic's dark record of executing its most benign of critics and political opponents, it has done nothing to allay fears about the fates of these three young men.


Confusion Reigns Over Final Sentencing

"They are in shock and do not know why they have been convicted,” a former political prisoner and fellow inmate of the three has said. "They can't believe the government really means to execute them.

“Meanwhile, the team of lawyers for the three prisoners and their families has not been able to obtain independent information about them, which has made it difficult to provide information about the detainees to others.

“A friend of mine, calling from the prison, told me the lawyers of the three had gone to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, June 23. But the branch in charge did not allow them to enter. In the end only Amir Hossein Moradi's lawyer was allowed to attend.

“Apparently, inside the building, she was verbally informed of the death sentence of all three prisoners in the case. This lawyer had then informed Amir Hossein.

“But the same prisoner friend told me that on Wednesday, June 24, Mr. Mahmoudian, Mohammad Rajabi's lawyer, stated the denial of the Young Journalists Club in a telephone conversation with him in prison, and said that upholding their death sentence in the Supreme Court could not be true, because nothing had been reported to lawyers yet."

This testimony could, in principle, inspire hope that Tuesday's reports of the sentencing of these could be incorrect. But the unwillingness of the lawyers to speak publicly about the case is worrying – and it has made it difficult to provide accurate information about these prisoners or to understand their case.

It is not yet clear whether the Supreme Court has ruled on the case or not. It is also not clear whether the denial of Rajabi’s lawyer is based solely on the non-disclosure of the verdict, or whether a direct conversation has taken place with branch officials in the Supreme Court.


Who Are the Three, and What Happened to Them?

Amir Hossein Moradi is just 25 years old. He was born on August 6, 1994 and has two sisters. He has a computer science diploma, and worked as a mobile phone, computer and software vendor before his arrest in Tehran.

Mohammad Rajabi, also 22, was born on 12 August 1994 and is the youngest in his family. He has four brothers and was a rental expert at a real estate agency before his arrest. Saeed Tamjidi, 28, was born on May 22, 1992. He has one brother and is an electrical engineering student.

The details about these young men are sparse. According to one account of events they were all from the district of Nezamabad; others say they lived in Khazaneh, near the Tehran Airport southern terminal, and all three worked in the Punak area.

Their former inmate says the three were targeted after joining a protest one afternoon, at the height of the November 2019 demonstrations. "Saeed told me he was from Nezamabad and that he was returning from work that day,” he said. “They gathered near Sadeghieh Square and joined the protesters.

“It seems that because they were from Nizamabad, but were seen at a rally in Sadeghieh, the court and security forces used this as an excuse to say they had gone to Sadeghieh with a deliberate plan to cause trouble. Saeed said that in the indictment, it was stated that they had traveled from the south of Tehran to carry out sabotage."

After reviewing the security cameras, agents of the Ministry of Intelligence identified Amir Hossein Moradi and arrested him on 19 November 2019. He was first transferred to Gisha police station and then to Evin Prison.

The interrogation of Moradi took place while he was being held in solitary confinement at wards 240 and 209. It lasted for nearly a month, after which he was transferred to Greater Tehran Penitentiary, also known as Fashafuyeh.

Amir Hossein Moradi had previously lived in Germany for three years. At that time, he is thought to have suffered from loneliness, nervousness and restlessness for his family.

This was reportedly the reason for Moradi’s having developed psoriasis: a chronic autoimmune skin disease that is exacerbated by stress. The shedding of his skin had intensified in prison. His illness, his cellmate says, became a tool in the hands of interrogators to put pressure on him.

Amir Hossein Moradi is reported to have been put under significant pressure during the interrogation, and was tortured and severely beaten to make confessions. “Amir Hossein's illness was used to break him,” his fellow inmate said. “In the end, they dictated everything they wished and recorded a TV confession from him."

The day after Moradi’s arrest, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi fled the country with one of their friends, known only as named Shima R, on 20 November 2019: On arrival in Turkey they were apprehended by Turkish police in the city of Antalya.

At Antalya police station, the two young men presented documents to the police about their political activities and participation in the November 2019 protests in Tehran, and then and there applied for asylum. Police introduced them to a UN representative who examined their evidence in the presence of an interpreter. The police eventually told them that their request would be processed, but they would have to remain at a camp in Turkey for up to 12 months.

However, just 36 days of uncertainty later and despite their application for asylum, the Turkish government deported both of them along with 30 other Iranian nationals. This came just a few days after President Hassan Rouhani's return from a visit to Ankara. Iranian guards at the Bazargan border handed them over to police in Maku, West Azerbaijan province.

After being transferred back to Tehran, Tamjidi and Rajabi were first transferred to Gisha police station, and after several days of violent interrogation they appeared at Shahid Moqaddas Court at Evin. From there, they too were transferred to Greater Tehran Penitentiary. Like other detainees of the November 2019 protests, they were placed on ward 2.

Rajabi and Tamjidi were also beaten and tortured at Gisha. In the end, their cellmate says, they were forced to confess to setting banks on fire and destroying public property, “and even to confess being members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization. Now we know the interrogators have taken their confession about this membership as an excuse for their execution."


A Disastrous Court Hearing Abetted by Lawyers?

During the interrogation, the case was handed over to investigator Reza Jafari in Branch 6 of the 33rd District Court of Shahid Moqaddas. It was later referred to the Revolutionary Court and the trial of these three young men, alongside two others who had been linked to their case, Mojgan Eskandari and “Shima”, opened on January 25 and 26, 2020 at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, presided over by the infamous Judge Abolghasem Salavati.

During the trial, Moradi told the judge that he had been forced to confess under torture. "Amir Hossein,” his cellmate said, “thinking that Saeed and Mohammad had left Iran and were not in danger, had confessed to the same lies that the interrogators dictated. On the day of the trial, he told Judge Salavati they were all innocent and everything he had confessed to was a lie."

At least two of the three lawyers assigned to these men were selected from a pre-approved pool, under a rule known as Note 48. A note to Article 48 of the Islamic Republic’s penal code states: “In crimes against internal or external security as well as organized crime, in the preliminary investigation stage, the parties to the lawsuit shall choose their lawyer or attorneys from among the official attorneys approved by the Chief Justice.”

Although these lawyers are called "chosen", they are in practice imposed on prisoners – in this case by Judge Salavati. This means they are free to deceive their clients and not rigorously defending them in court, but simply try to mitigate a guilty verdict.

Saeed Tamjidi's lawyer, Dabir Daryabeigi, is one of the Note 48 lawyers. In court he did not defend Tamjidi but expressed regret for what his client had done – implicitly inferring that he was guilty. The lawyer, Tamjidi reportedly told his cellmate, had told him not to say anything in court and simply appear remorseful so that they might negotiate a lighter sentence for him. In essence, his lawyer had accepted both the charge and the confession extracted under torture.

Daryabeigi previously served as defense counsel for Ahmad Reza Jalali, an Iranian doctor living in Sweden who is also currently facing a death sentence. Jalali’s wife later alleged that Daryabeigi had “betrayed” his client and fatally undermined his case.

According to the former prisoner, Saeed Tamjidi eventually took the advice he was given on trust. At the end of the hearing, when he finally had an opportunity to speak, he said he would accept the charge of attending the rallies and regretted it, but not the charge of attempted sabotage. Rajabi also only admitted to having attended the rally.

The initial sentences of these prisoners were communicated to their lawyers on February 20, 2020. Mojgan Eskandari was sentenced to three years in prison and is currently being held in ward 1 of Qarchak Prison in Varamin. Shima's case is still pending, while three other people have also been sentenced to death, flogging and imprisonment.

The three were reportedly sentenced on charges of "participating in the destruction and arson in order to confront the regime of the Islamic Republic." Moradi was sentenced to 15 years in prison and Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi to 10 years in prison, with all three also sentenced to 74 lashes for "armed robbery." The two who fled were also sentenced to one year in prison on charges of "leaving the country illegally."

The armed robbery charge, which came alongside accusations of harassment, was included as it had been alleged that the three prisoners had tried to steal officials’ cameras during protests in Tehran's Sattar Khan Street, so as to prevent them from identifying the protesters. It was further alleged that Moradi had had a taser or stun gun in his pocket.


"His Skin was Falling Out": Inmates Shocked by Sentence

Their former inmate says all three are now horrified by the death sentence. "Because they didn't really do anything, they thought they would end up in prison for a year or two and be released soon,” he said. “All the prisoners were shocked. Everyone believed this sentence was purely to intimidate other inmates, and the people.”

He added that Amir Hossein Moradi’s health has been deteriorating of late. He was recently sent to the prison clinic, and was due to be dispatched to hospital.

“The interrogator went to the clinic and said that he did not need to go to a hospital, because his sentence will be implemented next week,” the ex-prisoner reported. “On hearing this, Amir Hossein became so ill that he was taken to hospital in a wheelchair. I could barely recognize him when I saw him. He was like someone being taken out of a fire. When we lifted him up to put him on the bed, his skin was falling out."

Speaking about the case on February 18 this year, Iran’s judiciary spokesman Gholamreza Esmaili provided a telling comment on the potential invalidity of the entire case and trial. "In this case,” he said, “an indictment has been issued and the trial will be held on 3 March, and these people are currently in prison."

But the three had their sentences communicated to them just one day later. The trial had been adjourned, and at the time of Esmaili’s comments, their sentences were already being drafted.



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