January 29, 2019
Iranian satirist Keyomars Marzban, who has been detained in Iran since August 2018, is due to face trial for the charges of “propaganda against the state” and “insulting the sacred” at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran presided by Judge Abolqasem Salavati.
Salavati is notorious in Iran for issuing harsh sentences in politically sensitive cases in Iran. In interviews with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), several Iranian human rights lawyers criticized Salavati for ignoring arguments by the defense in court and bowing to the demands of the prosecution, especially in cases in which the arresting authority was the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC’s) Intelligence Organization.
Since being detained, Marzban has also been smeared by state-run and right wing media outlets in Iran that have attempted to portray him as an agent of a foreign country who came to Iran to bring down the Islamic Republic.
Salavati has presided over many cases against dual nationals who have been imprisoned in Iran, including Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Jason Rezaian, all of whom were released in January 2016 in a prisoner swap deal with the US.
Salavati is also the presiding judge in current cases against dual nationals including against Iranian-American Siamak Namazi, his father Baquer Namazi and British-Iranian dual citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
In all these cases, the victims have been held without due process and under unclear or unannounced charges, as well as denied full and proper legal representation.
Marzban’s lawyer, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, told CHRI on January 15, 2019, that a trial date had not been set yet and that he was concerned because he had not been allowed to meet with his client in Tehran’s Evin Prison or read the full indictment.
Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) claimed on January 15 that Marzban was a foreign-based writer who allegedly worked for the US-funded news site, Radio Farda, in Prague, as well as the London-based Manoto broadcasting company.
The 26-year-old satirist was arrested by the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization on August 26, 2018, about a year after returning to Iran to visit his ailing grandmother. He had been living in Malaysia after leaving his birth country of Iran following mass street protests against the contested 2009 presidential election.
On September 12, 2018, a website affiliated with the IRGC, Edalatkhahan (Justice Seekers), claimed in the most recent smear campaign that Marzban had traveled to the US to launch an anti-Islamic Republic media outlet “aimed at inflaming the people and creating social divisions.”
Edalatkhahan also accused Marzban of working with Freedom House, a human rights organization based in Washington, DC, to get Iranian artists and celebrities to oppose state policies in Iran.
Marzban began his artistic career making short films. While living in Malaysia, he hosted a comedy podcast called “Sangetab Radio” (Twisted Stone Radio) and in 2014 he published a book of short stories titled Kham Bodam Pokhteh Shodam Balkeh Pasandideh Shodam (I was Raw, I Became Ripe and Pleasant).
“Iranians have very limited hopes and dreams,” he said. “Their biggest dream is for the economic problems to be solved and all they think about is their daily affairs. But when I asked people in other countries about this, I realized that imagination and following your dreams is a very important thing.”
Center for Human Rights in Iran