(New York) – An 80-year-old activist who was prominent in Iran’s Islamic revolution has been ordered to surrender to serve an eight-year prison sentence, Human Rights Watch said today. Ebrahim Yazdi, a leader of the Freedom Movement party, was convicted in December 2011 on charges solely relating to the exercise of his rights to freedom of association and speech. He suffers from both cancer and a heart condition.
On April 16, 2012, Evin prison authorities informed Yazdi through his bail bondsman that he had 20 days to surrender to serve the sentence, imposed on December 11, 2011, by a revolutionary court in Tehran on national security charges. Authorities had arrested Yazdi three times after the disputed 2009 presidential election and held him in pretrial detention for months, which included solitary confinement. They later released him for medical treatment.
“Yazdi’s prosecution is emblematic of the government’s utter lack of tolerance toward any opposition,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities haven’t provided any evidence that Yazdi, one of the country’s most prominent political leaders, has done anything but run an opposition party and speak out against the government – actions that should never subject him to prosecution in Iran or anywhere else.”
Human Rights Watch called on Iran’s judiciary to quash Yazdi’s sentence and immediately free all members of his Freedom Movement party who are serving prison terms because of their exercise of their right to freedom of association, or of other political rights.
Yazdi was one of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s closest confidantes during the country’s Islamic revolution and accompanied him during his triumphant return to Tehran in February 1979. Yazdi briefly served as deputy prime minister and foreign minister, and was one of the earliest members of the Islamic Revolutionary Council set up by Khomeini to run Iran’s internal affairs after the revolution and prior to the establishment of a permanent government. He was one of the earliest members of the Freedom Movement party, which was founded by former Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan and several others in 1961.
Yazdi’s conviction in Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court was on charges including “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the regime,” and “establishing and leading the Freedom Movement party.” The court also barred him from participating in any political activities for five years.
Yazdi refused to acknowledge the validity of the charges against him and did not offer a defense in court, his son told Human Rights Watch. Yazdi’s son said that authorities had summoned his father to prison despite earlier assurances to his father’s lawyer, Mohammad Ali-Dadkhah, that the judiciary had not yet reached a final ruling on the case. Yazdi’s family believes that the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling in recent days, but had not properly informed Yazdi or his lawyer of the decision.
The Freedom Movement party, of which Yazdi was secretary-general, has been increasingly critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Security and intelligence forces intensified their targeting of the party and its members following the 2009 presidential election by summoning and arresting several of its members, including Yazdi. As a result of mounting pressures, the party decided to suspend its activities. In March 2011, simultaneous with his release from jail on bail, the authorities announced that Yazdi was stepping down as secretary-general of the party. According to his son, authorities forced Yazdi to do so under extreme pressure.
According to information received by Human Rights Watch, five Freedom Movement members are currently serving prison terms. They are Amir Khorram, a central committee member serving a six-year sentence; Emad Bahavar, head of the youth branch, serving a 10-year sentence; Mohsen Mohagheghi, central committee member, serving a four-year sentence; Mohammad Farid Taheri-Ghazvini, serving a three-year sentence; and Mohammad Tavassoli, head of the political office, currently in pretrial detention. Yazdi’s son told Human Rights Watch that Tavassoli is in poor health and his family is worried about his continued detention under isolation and harsh conditions.
In addition to Yadzi, seven other members of the party are free on bail and are either awaiting appeal verdicts or orders to surrender for prison terms. They are Mehdi Motamedi-Mehr, head of the educational committee, sentenced to five years’ imprisonment; Solmaz Alimoradi, education committee member, sentenced to 18 months in prison; Sara Tavassoli, sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment; Hashem Sabaghian; Mohammad Bani-Asadi; Khosro Ghashghaei; and Mahmoud Naimpour.
Yazdi is one of several dozen opposition members and political activists who have been tried, convicted, and sentenced, or detained by Iranian authorities since the 2009 presidential election. The Interior Ministry’s Article 10 Commission, which registers and oversees the activities of political parties, has brought a series of complaints against opposition parties, many of which are aligned with Iran’s reformist movement, in an effort to disband them. On September 27, 2010, for example, the general prosecutor and judiciary spokesman announced a court order dissolving the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution.
Iran’s current political parties law allows the Interior Ministry and the judiciary great discretion to regulate the activities of registered parties. Article 14 of the law requires groups applying for permits to “directly express their allegiance to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” and article 16 allows officials to revoke a party’s registration if members engage in actions that “damag[e] national unity,” “damag[e] Islamic principles and the fundamentals of the Islamic Republic,” or promote “anti-Islamic propaganda.” The law requires, however, that courts issue final verdicts regarding registration disputes pursuant to article 168 of the Iranian Constitution, which calls for all political and press offenses to be tried by a jury.
Human Rights Watch is not aware of any cases, including Yazdi’s, which have been tried in the presence of juries.
Authorities have held the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard, as well as Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest since they called for demonstrations in February 2011 in support of the wide-scale protests following the 2009 election. On April 24, 2012, the reformist and anti-government website Kalame.com reported that for more than two weeks “the families of Mr. Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard have absolutely no information regarding their condition.”
“An eight-year prison term may easily amount to a sentence to die in prison, given Yazdi’s age and health,” Whitson said.