By Roghayeh Rezaei
January 4, 2022
In October 2020, a Tehran University archaeology graduate named Keyvan Emamverdi was arrested in the Iranian capital. According to the Tehran police chief, Emamverdi later confessed to raping “more than 300” women over 10 years. The arrest took place after some 30 alleged victims had made complaints against him.
On November 14, 2021, Emamverdi’s trial opened at Branch 28 of Tehran Revolutionary Court. Shima Ghosheh, a lawyer and women’s rights activist representing five of the plaintiffs, tweeted that Emamverdi had said in court he considered himself a “victim” of the #MeToo movement, which he claimed was led by “hostile networks” aiming to discredit famous men. She added that despite last year’s reports, Emamverdi had vehemently denied all the charges.
On Saturday, January 1, the second session of Emamverdi’s trial was held in Tehran. This time Ghosheh tweeted only to say that on the request of the defendant’s lawyer, the judge had barred her from talking to the media about court proceedings.
Separately, one of the plaintiffs in the case said that Emamverdi’s lawyer had accused them of being part of the #MeToo movement and, therefore, of being “Zionists”.
What is going on at this high-profile trial – and why, instead of the evidence being examined in public, has the #MeToo movement come under attack? IranWire spoke to one of the alleged victims who was present at the hearing on January 1 and to Fatemeh Masjedi, a Berlin-based women’s rights activist, for context.
What Happened at the Second Hearing of Emamverdi’s Trial?
The second court hearing in the criminal trial of Keyvan Emamverdi’s came one year and three months after several young women publicly accused him of having raped them. Some of those present were left feeling that the hearing was barely part of the trial proceedings, as it focused on banning the plaintiffs’ lawyers from talking to the media, rather than the criminal case at hand.
“I cannot talk about today’s trial session of Keyvan Emamverdi,” Shima Gosheh tweeted. “Why? Because the defendant’s lawyer believes that my interviews…have been in the service of the Zionist #MeToo movement. Therefore the judge barred me from giving interviews. Thanks, Mr. Lawyer!”
One of those present in court, Nasi Goreng, wrote that Emamverdi’s lawyer “not only ignored the origins and the activities of the #MeToo and called this movement for justice a Zionist movement – but he also said that Emamverdi was in prison because of [claims in] cyberspace. Somebody shouted, ‘But he raped us in real space!’”.
The sidelining of the case followed Emamverdi having claimed in his first trial that those testifying against him were members of the “feminist and Western” #MeToo movement. One of the plaintiffs, who spoke to IranWire, said in response the judge had told him: “These things have nothing to do with this trial and Keyvan Emamverdi must defend himself against charges that have been brought against him.”
Despite this, it appears that this time around, Judge Mohammad Reza Amouzad sought to establish a gentler environment for Emamverdi. Amouzad is one of the so-called “advisory judges” who worked for many years under the supervision of notorious Revolutionary Court “hanging judge” Mohammad Moghiseh. He is known to have issued death sentences to at least three people – dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam, and November 2019 protesters Amir Hossein Moradi and Saeed Tamjidi — in fewer than five months last summer.
“The judge announced that the trial was not public and told Ms. Ghosheh that nobody could talk about the proceedings,” one of the plaintiffs told IranWire. “And Emamverdi’s lawyer said the complainants and their lawyers were affiliated with ‘#MeToo, which is a Zionist movement’.” They confirmed Nasi Goreng’s account of the shouts of protest from alleged victims, adding: “But Emamverdi’s lawyer spoke louder and louder so nobody would hear us.”
This young woman says that she was raped by Emamverdi a few years before tens of his other victims came forward with their stories. She added: “The judge told our lawyer: ‘If you talk about proceedings of this trial, which I have declared to be closed, you are going to have a problem. I will issue a different verdict, because I am free to issue any verdict that I want.”
One of charges in the indictment against Emamverdi is “corruption on earth”: a crime that according to the Islamic Penal Code can carry the death sentence. Emamverdi, the witness said, continued to deny the charges. “When we told Keyvan Emamverdi ‘Instead of all this, you should apologize to us’, he said ‘No, and I wish you salvation.’ He repeated this sentence so many times that one of the plaintiffs, who I know is against the death sentence for him, got angry and told him: ‘Our salvation will be when you no longer exist.’”.
Why Focus On the #MeToo Movement?
The #MeToo movement, an international campaign against the sexual harassment and abuse of women mostly by powerful men, began in October 2017 after widespread allegations against now-disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. It became a hashtag on social media under which thousands of women came forward with their stories. “If all the women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” American actress Alyssa Milano tweeted at the time.
The movement did not remain limited to the tsunami of #MeToo posts. It spread across the world and today remains active in the Middle East, where women have exposed rape and sexual harassment by men who – famous or not – they claim abused their positions of power over them.
Fatemeh Masjedi is a women’s rights activist who in 2011 served a prison sentence in Iran for distributing and collecting signatures for a petition to change the country’s sex-discriminatory laws. In her view, Emamverdi’s lawyer trying to deflect attention onto #MeToo makes comes as no surprise.
“Emamverdi’s lawyer and Emamverdi himself have aligned themselves with the Islamic Republic’s misogynistic right-wing propaganda,” she told IranWire, “[at a time] when the #MeToo movement is soaring in the Middle East and among activist women. This misogyny has become more aggressive since the publication of hundreds of stories through the #MeToo movement. Now that women are increasingly standing up to harassment by the mullahs, Emamverdi’s lawyer knows well how to lead the trial astray from its main goal: justice.”
Masjedi suspects that Emamverdi’s lawyer believes he can save his client by exploiting the current, insecure atmosphere in the Revolutionary Courts, where judges regard activist women as a security threat: one they seek to neutralize by taking advantage of laws that openly privilege men. “That’s why he is also targeting the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Shima Ghosheh, for being a feminist and a women’s rights activist.”
Why a “Zionist Movement”?
In the first hearing Emamverdi had falsely claimed the #MeToo movement was spearheaded by “hostile networks”. This time, his lawyer took the claim further. Masjedi says calling the #MeToo movement “Zionist” is part of a wider propaganda drive aiming to dismiss the legitimate complaints of women in Iran. “Ten years ago, when I was around the shrine [of Fatemeh Masoumeh, sister of the eighth Shia Imam] in Qom, I saw they were distributing pamphlets published by the Islamic Development Organization,” she says. “The pamphlets mainly aimed to equate the Iranian women’s movement with Zionism.
“Now it seems Keyvan Emamverdi’s lawyer is exploiting the same idea. By using buzzwords that will be very familiar to Revolutionary Court judges, he is trying to show that both he and Emamverdi are both close to the regime, so the court will rule in favor of his client. The judge probably also welcomes this approach because such accusations block possible criticism and action by women’s rights activists to enlighten public opinion.”
Early reports had also alleged that Emamverdi drank alcohol and had taken part in gatherings of intellectuals. Niloofar Hamsi, a former friend of Emamverdi, told IranWire that he even organized mixed-gender tours and was “everywhere”: “Besides numerous male friends, he had friendly relations with many women.”
“According to some stories,” Masjedi says, “Emamverdi was [formerly] active in women’s struggles. This was how he gained the trust of some of his victims. What is clear is that he and his lawyers are now knowingly deceiving the judge and the judiciary.”