December 17, 2020
A prominent journalist and activist is behind bars again just days after being released. His lawyer has stated that his client has been targeted simply for telling the truth.
The Culture and Media Court ruled that Mehdi Mahmoudian could be released on bail on December 9, but on December 13, he was summoned again, and told he must appear before the same court within five days.
The reason for his summons is not clear, but the court order demanded he appear with his lawyer before Branch 9 of the court to “give an explanation” regarding a judicial report about him. He was also required to present his national ID card to authorities.
Mahmoudian had initially been summoned on December 1, following a complaint by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The journalist reported that he had been subjected to to “insulting” and “humiliating” behavior from his interrogator and stated that he “did not understand the full and legal charge” against him, an account that was then published by Emtedad News. He initially refused bail so the case would go to court, and was then arrested and transferred to Evin Prison. His case was then sent to Branch 1059 of Criminal Court 2.
He was released on bail on December 9.
The journalist was charged with “publishing lies with the intention of disturbing the public mind” pursuant to a complaint filed by the Legal and Parliamentary Deputy of the Revolutionary Guards. The case against him was based at least partially on a tweet Mehdi Mahmoudian posted responding to the Revolutionary Guards’ complaint against journalists and the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) after the publication of an interview with Habiollah Sayari, the deputy army chief.
Although the news was denied by Revolutionary Guards spokesperson Ramazan Sharif, after Mahmoudian’s arrest, his wife Elham Zolfaghari released a document from the judiciary on October 18 that stopped the proceedings against the prosecution of journalists and IRNA, which proved that Mahmoudian’s reports news were true.
Lawyer and jurist Saeed Dehghan explicitly stated in an interview that Mehdi Mahmoudian was arrested not for spreading lies but instead for “publishing the truth.”
He also addressed the judiciary regarding Mahmoudian’s refusal to accept the bail agreement, and asked why it was not willing to issue an “obligation to attend the court with a promise of honor” order in exchange for a bail agreement, a legal procedure in the Iranian judicial system that is open to individuals who have cases brought against them.
“Write What we Tell you”
In his account of his interrogation, Mahmoudian wrote: “At the beginning of the interrogation, the interrogator said he had been told to summon me as a defendant in the previous case (meaning the same case that the Revolutionary Guards denied existed), but he did not summon me, and realized that he was wrong when the Guards accused me. I reminded him that he should do justice, at least in appearance, and told him not to waste any more time if he had made his decision.”
These comments, he wrote, upset the interrogator, who then said in an insulting and humiliating manner, “Who are you to decide for yourself in advance?” and stated he had dealt with major cases, implying he knew what he was doing.
“In his first question, without accusing me, he informed me that I had not been charged with slander and defamation and that he would issue a restraining order but accused me of publishing lies. I asked him who the plaintiff was in this case. He got angry again and said, ‘you are illiterate and I have no duty to teach legal lessons to illiterate people!’ And instead of answering the question, he said bitterly, ‘Write what we tell you.’ Without giving any response or allowing me to defend myself, they tried to get a written final defense from me, which I also refused.”
According to his tweets, Mahmoudian had refused bail in court to protest against the “non-observance of judicial procedures” and the “humiliating behavior” of the investigator. Although it was legally possible for him to receive an order of “obligation to attend the court with a promise of honor,” judicial officials refused it.
Given that the documents regarding the veracity of Mahmoudian’s statements have been put in the public domain, it would follow that the plaintiff in the case, that is the Revolutionary Guards, should drop its complaint. But this has not happened.
Mahmoudian is regularly targeted by authorities. In another case, he was sentenced to one year in prison on charges of “propaganda activities against the regime” for signing a statement called “77 people” that protested against the attacks on protesters in November 2009 that led to the deaths of dozens of people.
After Mahmoudian took part in a vigil and lit a candle to mourn people killed when the Revolutionary Guards shot down an Ukrainian International Airlines passenger plane, and was charged with “conspiracy to disrupt the security of the country” and sentenced to four years in prison, a two-year ban on political party activities, a two-year ban on leaving the country, and four months of public service. The case went to the Court of Appeals, where the verdict was upheld.
Now Mehdi Mahmoudian is once again up against the authorities, just a week after his release. He has been summoned back to the Culture and Media Court, and it is unclear on what basis the complaint has been filed this time. However, the text of the summons, contrary to the usual procedure of summoning and interrogation, states that he should have a “valid guarantor” while appearing in court. Has the investigator assigned to the case issued a warrant for the journalist before investigating and hearing his defense?