Rights group condemns jail sentence for Iranian Facebook userPublished by International Liberty on October 3, 2015
Reporters Without Borders is appalled to learn that Soheil Arabi, an Iranian Facebook user whose death sentence was quashed by the Iranian regime’s supreme court, has been given a new sentence of seven and a half years in prison starting with two years under observation, during which he must prove he has repented to avoid reimposition of the death sentence.
Detained since December 2013, Soheil Arabi received the new sentence on September 6 when he was retried by a Tehran assizes court, Reporters Without Borders said in a statement issued Friday.
“During the next two years, Arabi is required to seek answers to his religious doubts by reading 13 books on theology and Islam, writing summaries of them and writing an essay on theology and religion. He must conduct regular written correspondence with the Imam Khomeini Centre for Religious Research, copies of which will be submitted to the court.
He must also write quarterly reports to the court with the aim of proving his repentance and renewed faith. If he fails, the death sentence could be reimposed,” RSF said.
“Soheil Arabi has been spared immediate execution but this new sentence is medieval,” said Reza Moini, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Iran/Afghanistan desk.
“A defendant who repeatedly said he did not want to offend religion is being subjected to a form of arbitrary torture because the Ali Khamenei-controlled judicial system wants to scare Internet users. This sentence is tantamount to forced labour, which is banned by international and Iranian law. We call on the UN special rapporteurs to intercede to get it quashed.”
A photographer and father who was 31 when arrested by the regime’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) on 27 December 2013, was incarcerated in Security Section 2a of Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, where “he was subjected to solitary confinement for two months and was mistreated with the aim of getting him to confess to his role in creating a Facebook network that blasphemed Islam and criticized the government,” RSF said. Prosecutors then used this confession against him.
At the end of an unfair trial in March 2014, a Tehran court sentenced him to three years in prison, a fine of 500,000 tomans and 30 lashes on charges of anti-government propaganda, “insulting what is sacred” and insulting regime officials and the mullahs’ Supreme Leader. The regime’s court of appeal in Tehran confirmed the sentence.
“However, as a result of Revolutionary Guard pressure, Arabi was brought before an assizes court on 19 August 2014 on new charges of ‘insulting the Prophet of Islam, the Shiite Holy Imams and the Koran,’ and the court sentenced him to death under article 262 of Iran’s Islamic penal code,” RSF said.
“The court ignored his lawyer’s claims that his offences were not deliberate and that he was not the only person posting on these Facebook pages. In fact, although Arabi supervised several Facebook pages, most of the posts were made by other Facebook users or administrators.”
The regime’s supreme court upheld Arabi’s death sentence on 23 November 2014.
Reporters Without Borders wrote to David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, on December 2, 2014 voicing alarm about Arabi’s fate and urging him to “intercede as quickly as possible with the Iranian authorities in order to prevent his execution and to request the overturning of his conviction and his release.”