Whilst President Rouhani answered questions from the international media at the UN General Assembly about the Iranian nuclear program and ISIS with the odd reference to the human rights situation back in Iran, Mohsen Amir Aslani, a prisoner of conscience, was executed.

Asiani, 37, was hanged in Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj at dawn on Wednesday September 24 for allegedly insulting the Prophet Jonah and committing heresy. On the previous day, a prison official contacted his parents and asked them to come and visit their son one final time. Prior to this, no information about his arrest or trial was made public because his family was led to believe that by keeping quiet about his arrest, he would eventually be released.

Just several hours after they were notified, a neighbor’s relative posted the news on Facebook and then shortly afterwards, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported that Amir Aslani was being kept in solitary confinement and was awaiting his execution. This was almost eight years after his arrest and yet was the first time news of his situation became public.

Before his imprisonment, Amir Aslani was a family man who worked as a psychologist but was interested in theology and gave religious classes that looked at different interpretations of the Koran. This was the cause for his arrest and nine months in solitary confinement in Cell block 209 of Evin Prison in 2006. His original sentence was four years but was initially reduced to twenty-eight months by the appeals court until Judge Salavati, infamous for his harsh sentencing, sentenced him to death on new unfounded charges.

“He gave classes on reading and interpreting the Koran and would give out his comments as booklets,” an informed source told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran the day before his execution. “Many young people participated in his classes that did not meet the approval of the Intelligence Ministry, which is why he was arrested so suddenly.”

“The last time he saw his family, he told them how he was subjected to continuous physical and mental torture and was repeatedly moved between the common ward and the quarantine ward to make him believe his execution was imminent. He would stay awake until five in the morning, wait for the cell door to open so they could execute him but then several hours later they would transfer him back to the common ward. He said that each time he was tortured by the fear of his own death.”

In one of his religious classes, he told his audience that Jonah could not have emerged from the whale’s belly and it was this statement that led to his charge of insulting Prophet Jonah. A person close to the family told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that he was initially arrested for heresy.


The Deadly Web of Law

Although the appeals court reduced his sentence to two years and four months, new charges were also added including a so-called “forbidden act.” Having been condemned to death by Judge Salavati, Amir Aslani argued that the Revolutionary Court had no jurisdiction over his case and so it was sent onto the Criminal Court in Tehran where three of the five judges considering his case upheld the death sentence. Following this, it was taken to the Supreme Court that annulled the sentence because there was a lack of evidence and legal merit but it was then taken back to the Criminal Court, which reinstated it.

Amir Aslani’s lawyer objected once more and the case was sent back to the Supreme Court, which this time upheld the sentence and according to Iranian law, if the Chief Justice endorses the Supreme Court’s decision, the verdict is final.

News of Amir Aslani’s case progressed in silence until his family was abruptly notified of his looming execution and yet it is unlikely the international media will question President Rouhani about it. While nuclear negotiations may be an important topic to discuss, human rights continues to be a pressing and complex issue and Rouhani’s visit to New York is a good opportunity to put it on the political agenda both in Iran and among the international community. 

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