Iran’s judiciary announced on Tuesday, October 1 that it had convicted four people on charges of spying for the United States or Britain, sentencing one of them to death. According to Gholam Hossein Esmaili, the judiciary spokesman, one of the four is Mohammad Ali Babapour, a teacher at Tehran’s Amin Police University (Academy), who was convicted of spying for the US and fined $55,000 — the amount he was allegedly paid for collaborating with the CIA.
Speaking to IranWire in an interview, Babapour’s wife Shaghayegh Dalir said the verdict against her husband had been issued without a trial by the court of appeals and without giving a him a chance to defend himself. She added that his lawyer had not yet been officially informed of the verdict, and that Babapour had never accepted the charges against him in any of the trial sessions that took place in the lower court.
Dalir, 20, says she met Babapour, 32, at the University of Applied Science and Technology when she enrolled on a course he was teaching on crisis management. The couple have a five-month-old child, who was born after Babapour’s arrest. On May 24, 2018, when she was one-month pregnant, intelligence ministry agents arrested Babapour at his workplace and took him to Evin Prison.
The first session of his trial was held on November 29, 2018, at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, which is presided over by Judge Abolghasem Salavati. According to his wife, Babapour had four trial sessions, the last of which was held in August 2019. Judge Salavati sentenced him to 10 years in prison, based on Article 501 of the Islamic Penal Code, which states: “Anyone who, knowingly and intentionally, provides maps or secrets or documents and decisions regarding the national or international policies of the State to those who are not authorized to have access, or who informs them about their content in a way that constitutes espionage, taking into consideration the circumstances and stages [of the crime], shall be sentenced to between one and 10 years’ imprisonment.”
“The trial sessions did not last for more than a few minutes,” says Dalir. “Neither he nor his lawyer were given a chance for defense. Nor did they allow us to be in the courtroom.” She added that his lawyer has asked to remain anonymous.
“After they arrested Mohammad at his workplace, they came and searched both our home and his father’s and confiscated some of his belongings,” she says. “The same night Mohammad called me and told me that he was at Evin. He said he must stay there to answer some questions and that he would return home on Saturday. I have been waiting for that Saturday for a year now and it has yet to arrive.”
Public Articles but “Classified” Information
Dalir says that, after his arrest, her husband spent 57 days in solitary confinement at Evin’s Ward 209, which is controlled by the intelligence ministry. During this time, his family was not allowed to visit him. “As far as I know, the evidence for the charges against him were the articles that he had written for various international organizations,” she says. “The interrogators told him that these articles contained classified information.”
According to her, Babapour was transferred to Amin Abad Mental Hospital for a week because of his critical mental condition but the family learned about it only after he was returned to prison. “When he returned from Amin Abad Hospital his mental state was very bad and he had lost weight,” says Dalir. “In that one week we were not permitted to call or visit him. He later said that he had been tied to the bed the whole time that he was in the hospital and could not even go to the bathroom.”
She says that Babapour had suffered from depression and used prescription drugs under the supervision of a doctor. But, she added, “when he was arrested he no longer had access to his medication. Mohammad Ali’s sister, who was in Tehran often, went to Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court to show them his medical record, until at last she succeeded in meeting Judge Salavati for a few minutes, but I don’t know whether the judge accepted that he was ill or not. In any case, they transferred my husband to Amin Abad Mental Hospital, but I wish they hadn’t. After he returned from the hospital he took pills that put him to sleep for hours and hours.”
Dalir says that her husband was tortured during his solitary confinement. “I cannot talk about it and I don’t know all the details,” she says.
Because she had to take care of their five-month-old child, she says she had no choice but to return to her parents’ home in Qom, where she now lives. “I wrote letters to the judiciary chief Ebrahim Raeesi and to Judge Salavati, asking them to process his case justly and at least release him on bail until the court’s verdict was issued so he could be with his wife and child,” says Dalir, “but I received no answers. I am really in a bad situation and I had to go back to my family with my baby.”
In his news conference on October 1, Esmaili reported that the verdicts against four people accused of spying for the US intelligence services had been upheld by the appeals court. He named three of them, including Mohammad Ali Babapour, but he did not name the fourth, who has been sentenced to death. “His appeal has been sent to the Supreme Court and if his sentence is upheld then we will reveal his identity,” he explained.
The judiciary spokesman said that Ali Nafariyeh and Mohammad Ali Babapour had each received a sentence of 10 years on the charge of spying for the United States and that Mohammad Amin-Nassab had received the same sentence for spying for the United Kingdom. Nafariyeh and Babapour were also fined $55,000, the money that they had allegedly received for cooperating with the CIA.
Executions and Long Sentences
In June 2019, it was reported that Iran had executed a "defense ministry contractor" convicted of spying for the CIA. "The execution sentence was carried out for Jalal Haji Zavar, a contractor for the Defense Ministry's Aerospace Organization, who spied for the CIA and the American government,” the Iranian Student’s News Agency (ISNA) reported, quoting the Iranian military.
The agency did not say when Zavar was arrested, but noted that his contract with the defense ministry had been terminated nine years ago. During the investigation, the suspect "explicitly confessed to spying for the CIA" in return for money, ISNA reported, adding that "documents and espionage devices were found at his house.” Zavar's ex-wife was also convicted of "involvement in espionage" and is serving a 15-year jail sentence.
In his press conference, Esmaili provided no details about the charges against the four, did not describe in what way they had cooperated with the British and American intelligence services and did not say for what services they had received the money.
According to information received by IranWire, all three of the recently convicted “spies” are imprisoned at Evin’s Ward 7. Most prisoners charged with espionage and “cooperating with enemy states” are kept on that ward, including Ahmad Reza Jalali, an Iranian physician and researcher specializing in medicine for disaster relief and a permanent resident of Sweden who has been sentenced to death on charges of spying for Israel.
Currently there are at least 17 foreign, dual national and foreign resident prisoners held in Evin and other Iranian prisons. Those at Ward 7 at Evin include Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, both Iranian-Austrian dual nationals, both of whom have been sentenced to 10 years in prison, and Anousheh Ashouri, a retired British-Iranian businessman who has been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for spying for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, and two years for “acquiring illegitimate wealth.”
In recent years, charges of espionage and “cooperation with hostile governments” have been favorite tactics used by the intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guards against Iranian dual nationals and permanent residents of other countries. But in cases when the two intelligence services have been unsuccessful in tracking down those responsible for specific crimes, agents have arrested others and tried to force them to confess to espionage.
One of these was Mazyar Ebrahimi, who was arrested in 2016 on charges of being involved in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. Under torture, he was forced to confess in front of TV cameras. He was released after 24 months and now lives in Europe. Another was Nader Nouri Kohan, who was accused of directing the operation to assassinate the nuclear scientists and sabotaging nuclear and missile sites. He was tortured brutally for five months and was released after 25 months in prison. Both have spoken to IranWire exclusively. However, there many more Iranians who have gone through similar hell on the same or similar charges.
Since Ebrahim Raeesi was appointed Iran’s Chief Justice in March 2019, the courts have issued many long prison sentences against Iranian citizens accused of various national security and political crimes. Furthermore, with the permission of Ayatollah Khamenei, Raeesi has allowed courts of appeal to bypass the trial and issue their verdicts in absentia, without the presence of the accused or their lawyers. This means that political prisoners and those charged with security-related crimes have even less of a chance to escape unjust verdicts and punishments — even smaller than the slim chances that existed prior to his appointment.
Exclusive Interview: Former Prisoner on Torture and Interrogations, September 30, 2019
The Foreign, Dual National and Foreign Residents in Iranian Prisons, September 24, 2019
Intelligence Ministry Warns Iran's Journalists About Spying. Why Now?, September 4, 2019
I had two mock executions. I wished they would execute me for real, August 12, 2019
The Judge Threatened to Sentence Us to Death if We Didn’t Confess, August 10, 2019
Iranian TV Aired My Forced Confessions. It Should be Boycotted, August 9, 2019
Spy for Us or Else: Ahmad Reza Jalali, May 21, 2019
Jalali Disowns Forced Confessions, December 20, 2017
Jalali’s Forced Confessions, December 19, 2017
Was Jalali's Lawyer Working Against Him?, December 11, 2017
Iran Sentences “Mossad Agent” to Death, October 25, 2017