Farangis Mazlum, the mother of political prisoner Soheil Arabi, has been sentenced to six years in prison for speaking out for her son’s human rights and publicizing the brutal treatment he has endured during his time in prison.
Mazlum was charged with “collaboration” or “conspiracy" to commit a crime, and accused of having links with the opposition group Mojahedin Khalq Organization [the People's Mojahedin Organization, also known as MKO or MEK]” and “propaganda against the regime.” The charges were brought against her after she spoke out about her son’s hunger strike and against the violations of his rights as a prisoner, including the right to temporary leave. Branch 29 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran handed down the verdict, which Mazlum has the right to appeal.
In an interview with Radio Zamaneh on July 13, 2020 following the verdict, she said her son had been beaten in one of the wards of the Greater Tehran Prison by two prisoners who were later charged with the murder of Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali. To attract the prison guards’ attention during the attack, Arabi had thrown a television on the floor of the cell. Despite the fact that the television belonged to another inmate who issued no complaint against Arabi, judicial officials added another two years to his sentence for vandalizing public property. He is currently being held at Evin Prison.
Mazlum was previously arrested on July 22, 2019 at her sister's house after she spoke publicly about the prison conditions her son had endured. She posted a video stating that the authorities had transferred her son from Rajaei Shahr Prison to Sarollah Detention Camp on several occasions and that he had beaten by prison authorities. She was jailed for three months despite suffering from heart disease. She was released later on bail.
Her son Soheil Arabi was born in 1985, graduated with a degree in photography and, before his arrest, had his own photography studio. Like many Iranians, he regularly posted and shared about his beliefs and opinions on Facebook.
In November 2013, he was initially sentenced to death on charges of “insulting sanctity and the Prophet,” but the sentence was later reduced to 22 years and six months in prison, one hundred lashes, along with instructions to read 13 religious volumes and two years of study in Islamic values to prove his remorse. The sentence was reduced to seven years and six months in prison in line with a clause in the Iranian Islamic Penal Code that allows for punishments to be “aggregated.”
Arabi has a young daughter, and has not been entitled to a single day of leave over the last six years.
Ambiguous and Ill-Defined Laws
Zahra Ravan Aram, an attorney based in Khuzestan, told IranWire it is difficult to prove the crimes of "collaboration," "collusion" or “conspiracy,” as judicial authorities must prove that everyone in the defendant group intended to commit a crime against the government. It must be proven that the individuals formed a group and planned a crime, such as an offence against national security, in advance. "I do not think that Ms. Farangis Mazlum, for example, called the mother of another prisoner and told her, ‘Let's band together and commit a crime against the security of the country,’ and planned any action to carry out such an act.”
Zahra Ravan Aram referred to Article 610 of the Islamic Penal Code: "Whenever two or more people come together and collude to commit crimes against internal or external security or provide the means to commit it — as long as the crime ‘corruption on earth’ does not apply to them — they will be sentenced to up to five years in prison."
But she also said there was an ambiguity in Article 610 that left it open to abuse. ”It can be the basis for rulings that ignore basic human rights. The mere act of peacefully protesting or attending a rally or speech or large gathering, even if carried out in view to protest, cannot be a basis for collusion, because collusion is the gathering of more than two people to commit a crime against internal and external security. The meeting of two or three mothers, or the family of a prisoner, to protest or appeal against the judicial system's treatment of their loved ones is not considered a crime against internal or external security in any law."
She also referred to Article 27 of the Iranian Constitution, which enshrines the right to freedom of assembly. “According to Article 27, Soheil Arabi’s mother and the mother of any other prisoner have the right to defend the rights of their children as long as they are not carrying a weapon or violate the principles of Islam. Nowhere in this article of the constitution is there any mention of issuing or obtaining a license. Under this law, the principles of Islam refer to the same basic criteria and principles. No one has the right to gather with the intention of violating the basic principles of Islam. If they have a weapon, they do not have the right to assemble. However, here too we need transparency, which means that the law must explicitly clarify where the boundaries are and what it actually means to violate the principles of Islam."
According to Ravan Aram, an elderly woman going to a prison and saying that her child has been physically assaulted, or asking for him to be granted leave or to be able to see his wife and children, or pointing out that he has served his sentence and should be released, does not violate any of the principles of Islam.
A Misinterpretation of the Law?
Mahnaz Prakand, a Norwegian lawyer and human rights activist, also confirmed Ravan Aram's view of Iranian law, pointing out that Revolutionary Courts simply do not pay attention to how the law is implemented, and lack a strong understanding of what underpins the nature of these laws. For example, she has worked on cases where defendants are charged with "collaboration and collusion,” including an individual who was on his own at the time of his alleged offense and arrest. Although she and other legal experts have pointed out the unclear or vague definitions of these terms to judicial officials and judges, these judicial figures continue to apply them, often resulting in rulings that lack sound legal credibility.
"Apart from the issue of not being able to interpret the law, the judges of such courts have no will. They are subject to the supervision of judicial officers and security agents. Such cases are practically designed by the security agencies themselves: they determine the charges and the prison terms and sentences using this advice as a basis. These rulings are carried out by the illiterate judges of the Revolutionary Courts.”
She indicated that judicial officials knew Mazlun was simply trying to protect her child. "How is it possible to prosecute a mother for pursuing her imprisoned child's case on charges of conspiracy to collude against the security of the country? For me, and other members of society, such accusations and rulings are not acceptable, there is no evidence, and they are not justified.” Authorities, she said used the premise of a legal system and deliberately misused specific articles to target and convict someone who had been legally protesting.
Prakand added that what was once meant by collusion, collaboration or conspiracy was largely irrelevant to modern times, and that the judge was trying to establish that Arabi had joined with others to intentionally undermine or pose a danger to national security. She asks: “Now ask yourself, how exactly can a middle-aged woman who is restless and worried about the death and life and health of her child disrupt the security of the country?"