The media often tells the stories of journalists and activists who are arrested and harassed in Iran. But we hear less about the lives of more ordinary people, their struggles with Iran’s security apparatus and legal system, and the persecution they face. Hadiseh Sabouri, a housewife who has been locked up in Evin Prison to serve a 14-month sentence for Instagram posts, is one of them.
Hadiseh Sabouri’s ordeal began in August 2018 when she got behind a podium in Pardis complex to speak out about the high cost of living and the harsh economic conditions she had to endure. She was arrested and detained at Evin Prison for 27 days and eventually released after settling a bail of 250 million tomans [US$12,500]. She was initially sentenced to two and a half years in prison but was later released on a temporary basis after a pardon from the Supreme Leader.
Sabouri, who was born in 1976 and has three children at university, was never told that her temporary release was the result of a pardon. A year later, in August 2019, she was summoned to the court at Evin more than a dozen times, where she was instructed to provide "explanations.” Security forces later went to her house and took her to another court at Shahid Moghaddasi. She was detained for two days and released again on a bail of 250 million tomans.
During repeated summons to the court at Evin in 2019, Guards Intelligence agents pressured Hadiseh Sabouri to expose and implicate her friends in various crimes and to delete specific posts on her Instagram feed. She refused to cooperate, and a new charge was brought against her. It was only when authorities told her the second arrest was for posts she’d made Instagram that she realized her previous case had been closed. Sabouri did not have a lawyer for either of the legal proceedings.
The initial charges against her, filed in December 2019 at Branch 96 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, included "spreading lies with the intent of disturbing the public mind" and "propaganda against the regime." She was also accused of being in contact with "known" and "deceived mercenaries of the Great Satan” (the United States).
Punished for “Not Repenting”
In her second case, heard in early June 2020, the court said that despite her pardon from the Leader for a previous crime, she had continued her “criminal behavior” in cyberspace and “not repented.” The court said she had “sufficient understanding and knowledge of the consequences of her actions” and so she could not argue that she had been unaware she was committing a crime.
Authorities said a report prepared by intelligence agents in Greater Tehran had documented Sabouri's criminal behavior and they based her sentence on evidence of "documents and images” Sabouri had posted on social media, as well as “posts or material” she had “republished” online, including posts “in support of persons who have been convicted or detained in accordance with laws and regulations." The court also stated that the defendant had "implicitly" confessed to the crime in her posts and "explicitly" in her oral defense during her hearing.
The court accused Hadiseh Sabouri of "deliberate crime" and "mal-intention" and sentenced her to two years and 10 days in prison and a fine of 50 million rials ($1,186) on charges of "spreading lies with the intention of disturbing the public mind." The court stated that “special circumstances” had been taken into account, such as the fact that she was a mother and was capable of remorse, and so it ruled under Articles 37, 38 and 139 of the Islamic Penal Code that her sentence could be commuted to 14 months in prison. Hadiseh Sabouri was also acquitted of "propaganda against the regime."
A Flawed Appeals Process
She appealed the court’s decision within 20 days of the initial sentencing as required by law. However, without any reference to her appeal, or citation of the branch of the court the initial case was filed in, and without allowing her a defense attorney, the court of appeals upheld the ruling. Authorities contacted Sabouri during the last week of June and summoned her to court for what they described as administrative procedures. When she reported, Hadiseh Sabouri was notified of the verdict and taken to Evin Prison.
Hadiseh Sabouri is one of thousands of Iranian citizens who have protested — online or out on the streets — against rising prices and economic hardship. Now, after two years of threats, arrests, and unfair trials, she will spend 14 months in prison. She is among the many we never hear about, individuals who face detention, threats from security agents, and even prison sentences. These injustices have been going on for years, but in recent months, they have been on the rise. The persecution of journalists, activists, and filmmakers is now commonplace. And so is the persecution of ordinary citizens, who are routinely punished for trying to make their voices heard.