By Mahrokh Gholamhosseinpour
February 28, 2019
An Iranian student has gone on trial for “acting against national security by normalizing homosexual relationships.”
The charge was brought against Rezvaneh Mohammadi by Judge Mohammad Moghiseh on February 17.
Lawyers said the trial, which took place at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court, focused on charges they had never come across before — there is no provision for it under Iranian law. As of yet, no verdict has been issued.
Rezvaneh Mohammadi, a gender studies student and peaceful activist campaigning against discrimination toward women, was arrested in September 2018. The same month also saw the arrests of women’s rights advocates Maryam Azad, a graduate of dramatic arts, Hoda Amid, a lawyer, and Najmeh Vahedi, a sociologist.
Mohammadi was arrested on September 3 at her home and kept in solitary confinement. On September 29, she was transferred to the Women’s Ward at Evin Prison, where she was again kept in solitary confinement in Ward 209, and then interrogated. On October 20, she was released on a bail of 150 million tomans, close to $36,000, pending the conclusion of investigations into her case.
The announcement of the charges against her have met with shock from Iranian lawyers and civil rights activists.
“You will not find the phrase ‘normalizing homosexual relationships’ in the law,” Hudad Tolloui, a US-based psychologist and a LGBTQ rights activist who writes about sexual minorities, told IranWire. “Of course, as you know, homosexual relations, from kissing to even simple touching, are considered crimes [in Iran] but ‘normalizing’ such relationships is not specified as a crime. Perhaps, in the laws of the Islamic Republic, if somebody promotes or, as they say, ‘normalizes’ a sin or a crime, it would amount to ‘corruption on earth’. In any case, they have twisted it into a crime.”
A Very Elastic Law
Samaneh Savadi, a UK-based women’s rights activist, lawyer and criminologist, asserts that all Iranian laws related to “actions against national security” are defective, flawed and vague. “Articles 498 to 500 of the Islamic Penal Code rule on crimes against national security,” she says, “but these articles are very vague and very defective because they neither define ‘security’ nor do they cite any specifics for security crimes. According these vague laws, if anybody — no matter with what ideology or beliefs — forms a group bigger than two people to act against national security, he can be sentenced to prison or even be declared a ‘warrior against god.’” Such a crime can carry the death sentence in Iran.
Article 498 states: “Anyone, with any ideology, who establishes or directs a group, society, or branch, inside or outside the country, with any name or title, that constitutes more than two individuals and aims to perturb the security of the country, if not considered as mohareb [“warrior against god], shall be sentenced to [between] two and 10 years’ imprisonment.”
Savadi says the article gives the judiciary a free hand to interpret anything that it does not like as activities against national security. “This can be delivery of a speech at a university campus, a post on Facebook, something in a blog or even a [spoken] comment,” she says. “They can be labeled as ‘actions against national security’ and become grounds for sentencing the person. This law is flawed and defective because it disregards the basic principle of jurisprudence that says the punishment must fit the crime. The crime committed by somebody who has posted a comment is inherently different from the crime of somebody who has in practice acted to encourage turmoil, but this law considers them to be the same because it fails to state the specifics.”
As with many lawyers and activists, Samaneh Savadi also believes that “normalizing homosexual relationships” is not a crime specified by Iranian law. “Perhaps they meant to define a new instance of action against national security,” she says, “but in a system in which every law is based on sharia, the security of the system is disrupted by whatever does not agree with sharia. Since homosexuality is considered unlawful in Iran then, perhaps, they wanted to say that normalizing such an unlawful act harms national security.” Savadi’s comments suggest Iranian judicial authorities are seeking to set a precedent for LGBT and rights activists.
No Due Process of Law
Samaneh Savadi has other objections to the handling of Rezvaneh Mohammadi’s case. “According to the standards of jurisprudence, this law is a wrong law,” she says. “It is not only the charge itself that has led to an outcry from women’s rights activists. Rezvaneh’s lawyer has not only not been allowed to defend her in court, she was not even allowed to read the case file.” She says both responses constitute violations against basic human rights. “According to the law, any defendant has the right to choose a lawyer, to meet the lawyer and to be defended by a lawyer, but in this case none of these rights have been observed.”
Lawyer Zahra Ravan-Aram told IranWire that in cases of actions against national security, there is usually no correlation between the crime and the punishment. And she gives examples. “A student who was waving his shirt above his head during a demonstration was sentenced to death,” she says. “We have also read in the news that all those people who came to streets in December 2018 under economic pressures and chanted slogans about poverty and high prices face similar charges of actions against national security, even though they are not political and have no partisan or political motives.”
Ravan-Aram believes that such “ad hoc” and “improvised” charges are against legal principles and, even more important, they undermine the validity of other laws required to ensure order and national security.
Nevertheless, Judge Moghiseh will issue his verdict against Rezvaneh Mohammadi based on this vague, arbitrary and fabricated charge.