Nearly five months have passed since the arrest of Ali Younesi and Amirhossein Moradi, two students in their twenties at Sharif University of Technology. Since their death sentence was commuted earlier in the summer, there has been no news of either a trial or release and the two young men are reportedly being blocked from accessing a lawyer.
On Saturday, September 6, Ali Younesi’s sister Aida claimed on Twitter that Ministry of Intelligence interrogators were trying to force her brother to give a recorded confession for state television. “They have been insisting on a TV interview for six weeks using threats and pressure,” she wrote.
Aida Younesi’s revelation came in response a Twitter storm over the recently televised forced confession of wrestler Navid Afkari, who has been handed two death sentences by the Iranian authorities. She also reposted a video of Maziar Ebrahimi, one of several Iranians wrongly accused of murdering four Iranian nuclear scientists, who was similarly tortured into giving a false confession and spoke to IranWire about his experience last year. In the video, Ebrahimi reiterated that he had been threatened with execution if he did not “confess” to murder.
Now the authorities appear to be exerting the same pressure on Ali Younesi, a computer science student who won a medal representing Iran at the World Astronomy Olympiad in China in 2018. Younesi, 20, was arrested in the street in April this year and transferred to Evin Prison, where he endured nearly 60 days in solitary confinement.
On Sunday, September 6, the international NGO Iran Human Rights published a new report on the situation. “Ali Younesi and Amirhossein Moradi,” it said, “two elite students detained 150 days ago without a prior legal summons, are still being denied access to a lawyer of their choice.
“Furthermore, according to one of their friends, the detention orders to keep them behind bars are regularly renewed, and they are being pressured to make televised confessions... It should be noted that the Iranian security services have a history of making false allegations and forcing false confessions under duress.”
Student Bodies Not Placated by New Coercion Tactic
This is not the first round of attempts to extract a public confession that the pair have had to endure. On July 13 this year, in an unprecedented move, Intelligence Ministry agents forced Amirhossein Moradi and Ali Younesi to give evidence against themselves in a public interrogation the Palace of Justice in Tehran in front of representatives from four university student organizations.
The independent student body the Islamic Association of the Sharif University of Technology later reported that during this humiliating episode, intelligence officials played a video in which the defendants were charged with participating in “more than 20 explosions”. These were said to have taken place in front of a number of institutional buildings and other public places, including the Ministry of Communications, the Ministry of Interior, a Basij base and a bank branch.
Ali Younesi's evidently poor physical and mental state during the meeting led to concerns among some of those present about the amount of coercion he and Moradi were under to “confess”. Younesi said Iran’s security apparatus was exerting pressure on his brother and sister living abroad, which an intelligence official denied. Younesi also said he did not want to be at the meeting, saying: “I have been asking for a lawyer for a long time to go to court and defend myself."
The vicious treatment both of the students suffered at the time of their arrest, during which their computers and other property were also seized, has also rung alarm bells among student groups. After the arrests the Iranian Students Association stated the pair had been detained by plainclothes agents, without a warrant, and badly beaten.
The case against both of the students appears to be baseless. Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili has publicly accused the pair of sabotage, possession of "explosives" and links to the People’s Mojahedin Organization (MKO), which Aida Younesi flatly denied, pointing out on Twitter that nothing suspicious had been found at the family home and even the case investigator had repeatedly told them: “Ali has no particular problem”.
It took 72 days for Ali Younesi and Amirhossein Moradi to be told that a judiciary-approved lawyer had been selected for their defence. They had no say in this and Younesi has since said in a phone call that he does not accept their appointed representative and believes they are working against them.
A student activist who knows the two students and the case, who asked not to be named, said: “It seems that cases like Ali Younesi, some of whose family members used to belong to the MKO, are ‘ideal candidates’ for the Ministry of Intelligence, who force them to confess to being connected to this organization.
“The Ministry of Intelligence hopes that by keeping up this pressure, it will succeed in convincing the two students to testify against themselves. To this day, of course, Amirhossein and Ali continue to resist this outcome.”
Director of Iran Human Rights Organization: Risk of death sentence for these two students
Mahmoud Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Iran Human Rights, told IranWire: "The interrogation of these two students concluded long ago. However, they are still constantly being summoned by interrogators and pressured to agree to a televised confession.
"Interrogators use various methods of intimidation and coercion to achieve their goals. They are using the cancellation of Amirhossein Moradi and Ali Younesi’s death sentences as an incentive to encourage them to accept this.”
“Iran Human Rights is deeply concerned about the continuing pressure on these two detained students. Each individual’s tolerance threshold against this inhuman treatment has a limit, and we are concerned that Amirhossein and Ali will end up complying with the Intelligence Ministry’s illegal request, to be done with the situation. The fear is that the death sentence is on the table for both of them, and if a confession is made, there is a possibility that this sentence will be reissued."