Human Rights Watch condemns the arbitrary and harsh sentences handed down by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran on Saturday January 13, 2001 against seven of the seventeen defendants being tried for attending an international conference in Berlin, Germany, in April 2000.

We believe there is no basis to the charges that they "conspired to overthrow the system of the Islamic Republic" and that they are victims of a politically-motivated prosecution intended to discredit the cause of political reform, to punish leading reformists, to intimidate independent thinkers, and to chill dissent.

The defendants participated openly in an international conference at which they contributed information concerning developments in Iran. In so doing, they were exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression and to impart and receive information, rights that are protected under international treaty law to which Iran is a state party. Article 19 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states:

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

There has been no suggestion that the participants from Iran attending the Berlin conference had any part in protests against the Iranian government that took place at that time. Their statements at the conference were reported in the Iranian media at the time.

In an open letter sent to Your Excellency on November 2, 2000, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the defendants would not receive a fair trial in accordance with Article 14 of the ICCPR. These concerns have not been allayed. Many of the hearings in this trial took place in secret, and defense lawyers were not provided with information about the prosecution case.

Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned by the severity of the sentences handed down on these seven non-violent independent activists. Investigative journalist, Akbar Ganji, received a ten-year sentence to be followed by five years of internal exile in the south of Iran. His jailing appears designed to punish him for his activities as a journalist exposing the alleged involvement of leaders of the Islamic Republic in acts of gross violations of human rights.

Two translators employed by the German Embassy, Saeed Sadr and Khalil Rostamkhani, received ten and nine-year sentences respectively. Mr. Rostamkhani did not even attend the Berlin conference, although he was involved in its preparation. His wife, Roshanak Darioush, a prominent translator of German literature into Persian, served as a translator at the conference, but has not returned to Iran to face charges.

Other prominent reformist figures subjected to prison terms include student leader Ali Afshari, five years; veteran politician Ezzatollah Sahabi, four and a half years. Both of them were already detained last month on new charges relating to their criticism of government policy. Their families are unaware of their places of detention.

Two women's rights activists, publisher Shahla Lahidji and lawyer Mehrangiz Kar, each received four year sentences. Ms. Kar, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, has sought to leave the country in order to obtain treatment but has been banned from travel.

Another accused participant in the Berlin conference, Hojatoleslam Hassan Youssefi Eshkevari, remains in prison awaiting sentencing by a Special Court for the Clergy on charges of apostasy, which may carry the death penalty. Two other writers, Changiz Pahlevan and Kazem Kardavani, have not returned to Iran from Germany, having been informed that charges have been prepared against them also.

Three other defendants were fined or given suspended sentences. Seven were acquitted. The ten convicted defendants thus received highly divergent sentences for essentially the same offense, indicating that the court employed arbitrary criteria in deciding on sentences.

In conclusion, the charges against these individuals are transparently political and should never have been lodged against them. Their conditions of pretrial detention and the trials themselves were conducted in flagrant violation of international standards. For these reasons, Human Rights Watch urges Your Excellency you to rectify this travesty of justice by ensuring that these convictions are appealable to a higher body whose procedures comply with international standards and thus allow these unjust convictions and sentences by the Revolutionary Court to be overturned. We further call on Your Excellency to put an end to the manipulation of Iran's judiciary for political ends, and to ensure that individuals are not persecuted for exercising their protected right to freedom of expression.

Sincerely,
/S/
Hanny Megally
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division