Iran Human Rights (IHRNGO); July 27, 2023: Mohammad Seifzadeh, a veteran lawyer and one of the founders of the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran, has been sentenced to a year behind bars for a letter he signed to António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, calling for a reaction against the Islamic Republic’s execution machine.
Judicial and security authorities started the extrajudicial crackdown on lawyers taking protester cases during the “Woman, Life, Freedom” nationwide uprising, with dozens of lawyers arrested across Iran.
Veteran lawyer, Mohammad Sefizadeh considers his recent sentence to be unlawful. He told Iran Human Rights: “Since the charges against me are political, according to Article 168 of the Constitution, there should’ve been a public impartial trial with a jury of real people before an independent judiciary and in the presence of independent and impartial judges.” He says none of the above was observed in his case.
In December 2022, following the execution of protester Mohsen Shekari on 8 December, 45 Iranian activists including the lawyer, signed a letter to the UN Secretary-General calling for a strong reaction to stop the execution machine and repression of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests. On 14 May, he was sentenced to a year imprisonment for charges of “propaganda against the system” and “publishing lies to disturb public minds” by Branch 29 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court presided by Judge Ali Mazloum. His sentence was upheld by Branch 36 of the Tehran Court of Appeals on 25 June. Mr Seifzadeh refused to attend both trials.
“In that letter, we informed the UN Secretary General of the events that took place after Mahsa Amini’s murder. In the indictment issued against me, this letter has been used as evidence of the charges. However, based on Articles 32, 34, 36, 37, 61 and 159 of the Constitution and given that Revolutionary Courts are unlawful, I refused to attend the trials,” Mr Seifzadeh says.
He continues: “In the Constitution, courts or judicial authorities are mentioned, and what is meant by judicial authorities are general courts of justice. And since Revolutionary Courts are unlawful, I have not appealed or appeared in the preliminary or appeal courts. I didn't even send a defence bill or a lawyer to these courts."
Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code criminalises “propaganda against the system” and according to Article 698, anyone who spreads false news with the intention of causing harm to others or the authorities or disturbing public minds, is guilty of “publishing lies.”
Denying the charges brought against him, Mohammad Seifzadeh says: “Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code is contrary to the previsions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is against the right to freedom of expression and even contradicts Islamic laws. Furthermore, this Article contradicts Article 4 and 24 of Iran’s Constitution. Regarding the charge of “publishing lies,” it should noted that we didn’t publish the letter, it was published from abroad. On the other hand, there are no lies in the content of that letter and include factual events that happened in Iran. Our letter was also not intended to disturb public minds because that was neither our intention, nor did it actually happen. Ultimately, the public’s mind was not disturbed at all.”
The Revolutionary Court issued the judgement without evidence proving the charges against him in the case, according to Mohammad.
According to an electronic notification sent by the Tehran Courts of Appeal and signed by a Mr Mohammadreza Borji, the Court’s office manager, Mohammad Seifzadeh must personally appear in court to sign a commitment letter (express remorse and vow not to repeat similar intentional crimes) and seek the Supreme Leader’s pardon, “or necessary decisions will be made.”
“On Wednesday, 26 July, I went to the judicial authority that had summoned me and they asked me to sign a letter of repentance which I refused and told them that we had sought justice by making a complaint and according to Article 34 of Iran’s Constitution and international law, those who have been subjected to oppression may file complaints with international institutions and seeking justice is a human right. On the other hand, the dignity of human rights defenders is the dignity of an impartial judge. We have no enmity with anyone, but we are obliged to follow up cases of human rights violations," he told Iran Human Rights.
Mohmmad Seifzadeh is unfit to serve his sentence
75-year-old Mohammad Seifzade has been jailed 13 times throughout his years of human rights activism, five of which were during Pahlavi’s reign and eight times under the Islamic Republic. He has consequently contracted and suffered from many diseases due to the prisons’ inhumane conditions.
He says: “I suffered seven strokes during my last prison term to the point that I stopped breathing and could no longer feel my arms and legs. Prison authorities sent me to the Forensic Medical Organisation and despite the doctors confirming that I may die if kept in prison, they made me serve my whole sentence.”
Mohammad Seifzadeh was sentenced to nine years imprisonment and a ten-year ban from practicing law for charges of “acting against national security” by establishing the Centre for Human Rights Defenders in October 2010. Two years later, he was sentenced to a further six years imprisonment by “death judge” Salavati for charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” for signing a group statement in defence of Iranian people’s rights from inside prison.
While behind bars, he faced more pressure and vengeance by being exiled to Rajai Shahr (Gohardasht) Prison and held with ordinary crime prisoners in breach of the separation of crimes principle.
“They wouldn’t give me shoes for yard time in Rajai Shahr Prison which resulted in damage to my ankle. To this day, I trip and fall when walking,” he said of one of his physical ailments behind bars.
According to the lawyer, he must take the letter issued by the Forensic Medical doctors during his last imprisonment ruling him unfit to serve his sentence to the Forensic Medical Organisation after the national holidays so they can make a new ruling.