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Weekly Review of Censorship: Humorist Released After Two Years in Jail

February 26, 2021
Niloufar Rostami
6 min read
Satirist Kiumars Marzban was released from Evin Prison on Wednesday, February 24, 2021, after being detained for two years, six months and three days
Satirist Kiumars Marzban was released from Evin Prison on Wednesday, February 24, 2021, after being detained for two years, six months and three days
Marzban’s six-year sentence has been suspended for a year and a half following numerous appeals and requests
Marzban’s six-year sentence has been suspended for a year and a half following numerous appeals and requests

Satirist Kiumars Marzban was released from Evin Prison on Wednesday February 24, 2021 after serving two years, six months and three days of his six-year sentence. 

In an interview with Journalism is not a Crime, IranWire’s sister site, his lawyer Mohammad Hossein Aghasi confirmed the young humorist had been released from prison and given a suspended sentence.

"Kiumars is in my office now," he said. "I have not yet been able to see the document, but he has seen it and it says that the verdict has been suspended for a year and a half."

The lawyer said Kiumars Marzban is determined not to give up writing.

Kiumars Marzban, 28, was arrested, sentenced to prison and released. Throughout this time, the details of his charges were never clarified.

After his client’s release, Aghasi tweeted that the sentence was hugely disproportionate. “All he did is write,” he said.

Nonetheless, Marzban was sentenced to 23 years and nine months in prison on five charges, 11 of which were enforceable under Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code.

Kiumars Marzban left the country after the popular protests in 2009 and spent some time in Malaysia. He returned to Iran in the summer of 2017 to visit his ailing grandmother and was arrested in September 2018 by the Revolutionary Guards' intelligence department.

He was sentenced to a total of 23 years and nine months in prison at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, presided over by Judge Abolghasem Salavati, on charges of "colluding with hostile states,” "insulting religious sanctities,”, "insulting the [Supreme] leader,” "insulting the authorities,” and "propaganda against the regime."

In addition, he was sentenced to a two-year ban from leaving the country, a two-year ban from social media and a two-year ban on all media activity. The sentences were communicated to his lawyer in September 2019, one year after Marzban's arrest.

In an interview with IranWire, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi said he made it clear he rejected the accusations leveled against his client, but the court dismissed his defense. "I did not accept the accusations against my client [of him having a] relationship with hostile states and insulting sanctities and I submitted this to the court while in court, but unfortunately the verdict was issued."

The verdict was confirmed in Branch 36 of the Court of Appeals. According to the Islamic Penal Code, Marzban had to serve the maximum sentence for 11 years in prison for his alleged links with hostile states.

Marzban was condemned for having links with hostile governments, but according to an official document published by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on December 14, 2013, Iran does not consider any country other than Israel as a hostile state and an "enemy" of the Islamic Republic.

"Unfortunately, the revolutionary courts do not accept this document and say that the United States is a hostile enemy state," Mohammad Hossein Aghasi said.

Shortly after the news of Kiumars Marzban's arrest broke in the media, the extremist website Justice Seekers claimed that Marzban had traveled to the United States to sign a contract to set up "networking in Iran," a trip that, according to his relatives, never took place. Marzban never went to the United States, they said.

Finally, in December 2019, Kiumars Marzban, along with several other prisoners, was pardoned by the Supreme Leader:  five years of his final sentence of 11 years in prison were commuted. This meant he still had to spend another six years in prison.

Marzban was granted temporary leave from Evin Prison on April 7, 2020 following numerous requests from his lawyer and family. But the leave period was short, not lasting more than a few days, after which he was transferred back to Ward 4 of Evin Prison.

After being given a suspended sentence, Marzban was finally released on February 24, 2021.

"While the release of Kiumars Marzban is a welcome step, he should have never been charged and imprisoned for his professional work and for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression,” said Saloua Ghazouani, Director of ARTICLE 19’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “His case is emblematic of the Iranian authorities’ zero tolerance for freedom of expression and the Judiciary’s lack of independence.”

Arrest of Noushin Jafari

However, six days before Marzban’s release, Noushin Jafari, an art photographer and journalist, was arrested on February 16 to begin serving her four-year prison sentence at Qarchak Prison.

A day after her transfer to prison, her lawyer Amir Raeisian told the news site Emtedad that Jafari had been notified of her sentence three days before her arrest on February 16, but she had not been told when she had to start serving the sentence. Instead, security officers arrived at her house.”Without any notice, she was summoned at her door and arrested to carry out her sentence."

Previously, Jafari was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards on August 3, 2019 and kept in solitary confinement for 72 days until her release on bail on October 14, 2019.

Several Iranians posted on Twitter that Jafari's arrest was linked to a Twitter account called Yar-e Dabestani, which published articles that allegedly insulted religious "sanctities" in Iran.

Following her arrest, there were widespread reactions from colleagues and the artistic community, all of whom questioned the allegations. People close to her and her friends denied Jafari had any connection with the account.

"According to unofficial rumors and news, she was arrested in the Velenjak neighborhood in a special party attended by some British embassy staff and several well-known film and television actors," Mashregh News Agency reported.

Judge Gholamhossein Esmaeili, a spokesperson for the judiciary, also confirmed the news on August 13, 2019, in response to a reporter's question about her detention. "She is being prosecuted for insulting the sanctities, Imam Hossein, and the mourning of that Imam, as well as propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the published article."

Gholamhossein Esmaeili claimed that during the inspection of Jafari's technical equipment and devices, a collection of new documents were found that were described as being "far from the dignity of the individuals and professionals working in our society."

However, a year and a half later, the exact reason for her arrest was not clear.

A few days after her arrest, Noushin Jafari released a voice message in which she could be heard crying and begging her friend Shiva Nazarahari, a women's rights activist, to save her.

"Dear Shiva! I'm under a lot of pressure here," Jafari said in the voice message."Please provide Yar-e Dabestani's account username and password and email. They will put pressure on their families if you do not do this. Please help me get saved sooner. Everything has fallen on my neck. Save me from here."

Her arrest and the subsequent release of the voicemail provoked strong reactions from artists and journalists, and they drew attention to her distress and the said the clip was clear evidence that she was being harassed during interrogations. What happened during her 72 days in solitary confinement is still unclear, they said.

But the security apparatus' harassment did not end there. They also briefly detained Shahrzad Jafari, Noushin's sister and the only family member who reported her detention on Twitter. Her incarceration was thought to be authorities' attempt to further information and criticism getting out.

Noushin Jafari was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of "insulting sanctities" and "propaganda against the regime," and the sentence was upheld by an appeals court. According to the Islamic Penal Code, four years of this sentence is enforceable.

The young photographer arrived at Qarchak Prison to begin serving her sentence on February 16. According to her friends’ and colleagues’ posts on social media, it had never been clear what danger she posed to the country's security, and it is not known why authorities decided she should start carrying out her sentence.



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