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Why an Iranian Rights Violator Isn’t in Prison

Iran’s Judiciary Prosecutes Activists, Ignores Abusers

Tehran Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi speaks to journalists during a news conference in Tehran April 19, 2009. © 2009 Reuters

It seems that an infamous Iranian prosecutor – someone sentenced to two years in prison for complicity in the death of one person arrested during Iran’s 2009 anti-government protests – has vanished before he could even be arrested. At least, that is what a spokesperson from Iran’s judiciary said on Thursday.

“An arrest warrant has been issued but they have not found [Saeed Mortazavi] yet,” spokesperson Hojatol Eslam Mohseni Ejeyi said to a skeptical press gathering. “Now I do not know how this can be!”

A mind-boggling comment, as Iran’s judiciary is notorious for condoning arbitrary arrests. Moreover, intelligence authorities, once led by Ejeyi himself, regularly carry out abusive arrests of activists.

Saeed Mortazavi’s disappearance became even less plausible after an Iranian journalist noted on Twitter that when she called his cellphone in March, Mortazavi calmly said he was living at home in Tehran.

Mortazavi’s conviction dates to Iran’s 2009 contested presidential elections, which led to waves of protests and the arrest of some 4,000 demonstrators. Three of those arrested – Amir Javadifar, Mohammad Kamrani, and Mohsen Ruholamini – died in Tehran’s Kahrizak detention center. A 2010 parliamentary investigation implicated Mortazavi, the Tehran prosecutor at the time. After years of delay, judicial authorities opened a criminal investigation into Mortazavi’s role, and last November an appeals court sentenced him to prison.

Considering Iran’s abysmal record prosecuting human rights abusers, it would not be surprising that certain authorities want to shield Mortazavi from facing justice.

Comparisons of Mortazavi’s sentence with those handed down to peaceful human rights activists demonstrate the irony. For instance, in May 2015 authorities arrested prominent human rights defender Narges Mohammadi after she met with Catherine Ashton, the former European Union high representative for foreign affairs. In September 2016 a revolutionary court sentenced Mohammadi to 10 years in prison for helping to establish the “illegal group” Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty, a nongovernmental organization.

For Iran’s judiciary, apparently, advocating for abolishment of capital punishment is a more serious offense than overseeing people being tortured to death.

Mortazavi’s two-year sentence hardly reflects his responsibility for prosecuting dozens of peaceful activists. But the judiciary has clearly resisted investigating him for other crimes. The least President Hassan Rouhani, who ran on a promise to protect citizens’ rights, could do is ensure that at least one convicted human rights abuser actually ends up behind bars.

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