He is 32 years old. If the appeals court fails to overturn his sentence, he will be 42 when he gets out of prison. A civil engineer who has worked on a number of construction projects, Omid Alishenas’ real cause is protecting the rights of children — from child laborers to innocent children who were killed in Kubane and Gaza.
Authorities arrested Omid Alishenas at his home on September 4, 2014. In March 2015, he was told he faced 10 years in prison.
His mother, Simin Eyvazzadeh, remembers the day of his arrest. “We were at home when the agents came and said they were taking Omid away to answer a few short questions,” she told IranWire. “They seized his computer and mobile phone as well. Now, based on what they found on the computer and the phone, they have charged him with gathering illegally, conspiracy against national security and insulting the Supreme Leader.”
Alishenas was taken to Ward 2A of Evin Prison, which is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards. He spent about nine months in “temporary detention” before he was transferred to Ward 8. “They told us to provide them with a property bond of 100 million tomans [around $40,000] so he can be released on bail before the final verdict is issued,” his mother said. “We did it quickly, but each time they made us run around and they never did accept the bond. We even talked to the judge in the case and told him we had a lawful demand, and that they were rejecting the bond without providing any reasons. Omid’s detention is illegal. He should not be in prison following the interrogation and before the final verdict is issued.”
He was tried on March 5, 2015 at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court presided over by Judge Mohammad Moghiseh, who sentenced him to 10 years in prison. His lawyer only received the verdict on May 13. “Twice Omid was summoned to court to be served with the verdict, but he refused to go because they wanted to take him to court in a prison uniform and in handcuffs,” his mother said. “Eventually they handed down the verdict to him in prison, and to his lawyer outside the prison.”
Judge Moghiseh is well known for handing down heavy sentences to civil rights activists and journalists. He is one of several judges who has been repeatedly accused of violating human and legal rights of defendants in Iranian trials. But even with this in mind, the verdict came as a shock to Alishenas and his family. “We really did not expect such a heavy sentence,” says Simin Eyvazzadeh. “His lawyer has appealed and we are waiting for the appeals court’s final verdict. According to the law, Omid must be released on bail pending the final verdict, but he has been in temporary detention for more than 10 months.”
Moghiseh Insults Both Lawyers and Defendants
Alishenas’ lawyer is Amir-Salar Davoudi. “We asked many lawyers to defend Omid but most of them did not want to go up against Judge Moghiseh,” Simin Eyvazzadeh said. “He insults both the lawyers and the defendants. Mr. Davoudi accepted Omid’s request to represent him. But it took a long time for the bureaucracy to accept him. Even then, they did not allow Mr. Davoudi to meet his client before the trial. He did not meet with Omid until the court date. And he was allowed to read his case file only three days before the trial.”
Alishenas’ family has not been able to meet with him for the last three months. “They allow the families one face-to-face meeting per month,” said Simin Eyvazzadeh, “but since they require the accused to come to the meeting hall in prison uniform, Omid has objected and refuses to come to the meeting hall. We have gone there three times but we have not met with Omid.”
According the bylaws of the Prisons Organization, prisoners arrested on security-related charges do not have to wear prison uniforms. But in practice, prison authorities ignore the rules. Political prisoners have repeatedly objected to the guards' refusal to follow the rules, but to no avail. “We reminded the authorities that what they were doing was illegal,” Eyvazzadeh said. “We even went to Mr. Khodadadi, the prison’s assistant prosecutor, who oversees prison visits. We told him that he must allow Omid to come to the meeting in civilian clothes and that what he was doing was illegal. But he answered back: ‘convince your son to come in prison uniform.’ We said that we would not ask Omid to do something that he did not want to.”
Every time Alishenas phones his family, he talks about the terrible conditions at Ward 8 at Evin Prison. “Ward 8 is one of the worst cell blocks in Evin Prison,” his mother said. “They keep political prisoners next to common criminals, and the jailers incite these other criminals to be violent against political prisoners. There have been many clashes in the ward and Omid reports all of it. Thirty-three prisoners are crammed into a room with only 12 beds; those without a bed are known as ‘floor-sleepers’. They sleep in a space just the width of their shoulders. Omid says that the prisoners' whole day is spent in lines — lines for the toilet, lines for taking a shower. I cannot understand why Omid, who is a political prisoner, is kept in this ward.”
“Omid’s activities were completely public,” his mother said. “He does not belong to any political group and has not done anything against the law to deserve this sentence. My son helped child laborers, and is a civil activist — and he received this heavy sentence. But those who have embezzled billions of dollars have neither received such harsh sentences, nor have they been kept in such cell blocks. My son participated in a sit-in in front of the United Nations offices to protest against the Islamic States’ killing of children in Kubane, and now he is accused of participating in an illegal gathering. Omid and his friends helped to support children who worked, visited the families of political prisoners and those who were condemned to death, and tried to bring an end to the death penalty. I even accompanied him a few times. Once I went with him to visit the mother of Sattar Beheshti [the blogger who died in prison in 2012]. And once Atena Farghadani [a painter, cartoonist and activist currently in prison] had a painting exhibition, which I went to with him. There was nothing secret or illegal.”
Alishenas’ family has been repeatedly warned not to give interviews or talk to the media. “‘It is in your son’s interest not to give interviews,’ they kept telling us,” says Simin Eyvazzadeh. “They threatened that if we gave interviews they would arrest other members of the family. We kept silent and we did what we could outside the public eye. For example, we sent a letter to Mr. Rouhani, who had made a lot of promises about human rights before the election. We sent letters to other authorities as well. And what happened? My son was sentenced to 10 years in prison. I decided not to stay silent any longer. Now I want my voice to be heard by human rights activists outside Iran. I want to say: do not allow our children to be treated in this inhumane and unjust manner.”