Iranian labor rights activists Sepideh Gholian and Esmail Bakhshi appear in a screen shot of an Iranian TV documentary “Tarahi Soukhteh” (A Burnt Plot), broadcast Jan. 19, 2019. (Video grab)

By Niloufar Rostami

May 22, 2019

Jailed activists held in Evin Prison have been told they will face harsher sentences if they speak to the media about their cases or how they’ve been treated while incarcerated.

The imprisoned labor and civil rights activists — Sepideh Gholian, Esmail Bakhshi, Asal Mohammadi, Amir Amirgholi, Amir Hossein Mohammadi-Fard, Sanaz Allahyari, and Ali Nejati — defended themselves at Branch 7 of Evin Court between May 12 and May 18, according to an informed source who spoke to IranWire. All are codefendants in the same case.

According to the source, the examining magistrate, Behrooz Shah-Mohammadi, threatened that their sentences would be heavier if they talk to the media: “He told Asal Mohammadi that if she continued talking to the media her bail would be revoked and she would be rearrested. The examining magistrate warned that even their families must not talk to the media — otherwise they will face more serious charges.”

The source told IranWire that bail amounts for some of the defendants have been set very high, but that the office of Tehran’s prosecutor has banned their release on bail anyway. “The bails have been set at 750 to 950 million tomans [around $177,000 to $224,000] and although the families have the bonds ready, the prosecution has opposed their release and refuses to explain the reason.”

At the moment all the defendants, with the exception of Asal Mohammadi and Ali Nejati, are in detention. Asal Mohammadi, a student of pharmacology at Tehran Azad University, is free on bail and Ali Nejati was released a few months ago on medical grounds.

As the defense hearing came to a close at Branch 7, judicial authorities prepared to send the case to Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Abolghasem Salavati, which will set a new trial date.

According to the source, in the last defense session a new charge, “connections with anti-regime groups and parties,” was added to the existing charges against the activists. The new charge had not previously been included in the case and had not been mentioned during interrogations. “Shah-Mohammadi only told them: ‘We have powerful evidence and you will find out in court.’ They objected and said that no mention of this charge was made during interrogations but Shah-Mohammadi ignored them.”

Four of the defendants — Asal Mohammadi, Amir Amirgholi, Amir Hossein Mohammadi-Fard and Sanaz Allahyari  — do not have lawyers and defended themselves: “They were told that they can only choose from lawyers approved by the judiciary but they refused and decided to defend themselves personally,” IranWire’s source said.

During the proceedings, the examining magistrate expressed extreme anger and shouted at the defendants. “Shah-Mohammadi complained [and demanded to know] why Sepideh Gholian and Sanaz Allahyari had not come from Evin Prison to court clad in chador but instead were wearing makeup and lipstick. He shouted that they wanted to show contempt of court.”

The Crime of Breaking the Heart of the Supreme Leader

The evidence supporting the charges in the indictment was not made clear to the defendants, the source said.  “They did not show them the indictment in full. None of them had a lawyer.” But one of the activists noticed the following in the indictment: “They have shred the heart of the dear Supreme Leader to pieces.” And yet, IranWire’s source said, “‘shredding the heart to pieces’ has no legal meaning. And why is the Leader’s heart in shreds?”

The defendants were arrested in connection with protests by workers of the Haft-Tappeh Sugar Factory, which started in November 2018. They now face three charges of “gathering and conspiracy against national security,” “founding of a communist group with the intention of harming national security” and “connections to anti-regime groups and parties.” In addition to this, Sepideh Gholian and Esmail Bakhshi have also been charged with “disturbing the public mind” and “dissemination of falsehoods.”

Civil rights activist Sepideh Gholian and Esmail Bakhshi, a union activist, were arrested during street demonstrations by Haft-Tappeh workers. Gholian was released on a bail of 500 million tomans (close to $118,000) on December 18, 2018. Esmail Bakhshi was released on December 12 of 2018 after posting a bail of 400 million tomans (over $94,000). After their release, both claimed that they had been tortured and, in retaliation, authorities rearrested the pair on January 21, 2019.

Amir Amirgholi, a labor activist, former prisoner and member of the editorial board of the pro-labor rights publication Gam, was arrested on January 14 by Intelligence Ministry agents in the northern city of Babolsar and was transferred to Tehran’s Evin Prison. Amirgholi, who suffers from diabetes and needs a regular supply of insulin, was then suddenly transferred from Evin to the central prison in Ahvaz, the capital of the southwestern province of Khuzestan, where the Haft-Tappeh factory is located. The prison lacks proper medical facilities but he was kept in this prison until April 28, when he was transferred back to Evin to await his trial.

Amir Hossein Mohammad-Fard and his wife Sanaz Allahyari, labor activists who write for Gam, were arrested on January 9, 2019 and have been in Evin Prison since.

Asal Mohammadi, a student of pharmacology at Tehran Azad University and also a member of the editorial board of Gam, was arrested on December 4, 2018 at her home in Tehran for writing in support of the rights of Half-Tappeh workers and was transferred to the central prison in Ahvaz. She was released on a bail of 400 million tomans, over $94,000, on January 5.

Ali Nejati, a retired worker and a member of the board of directors of Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Workers Syndicate, was arrested at his home on November 29, 2018 for his role in organizing the protests but was released on January 28 due to severe heart and respiratory illnesses. He was summoned to court on May 8 to deliver his most recent defense.

Gam magazine stopped publishing after the four members of its editorial board were arrested.

Iran Wire

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.