On Tuesday, September 22, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, the lawyer acting for detained journalist and documentary filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad, announced on Twitter that his client’s appeal had been “instantaneously” overruled at a court in Mashhad. The 67-year-old faces more than eight years in prison.
Mohammad Nourizad was detained in August 2019 and sentenced in February 2020 to 15 years in prison, later commuted to seven and a half, two years in exile and a two-year travel ban in connection with a letter he had co-signed calling for the resignation of Ayatollah Khamenei. A further eight months in prison and 74 lashes have now been added to his sentence for attending a protest. He has attempted suicide in prison and both his wife and son have been detained.
IranWire has spoken to his lawyer, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, about the case.
On September 22, 2020, it was announced that Mohammad Nourizad’s second sentence had been upheld by the court of appeal in Mashhad. His lawyer, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, was astonished by the speed with which the verdict came through.
In an interview with IranWire, Mr. Aghasi said: “It wasn’t more than 20 days from when I registered my objection to when the verdict was issued. Naturally I sent my objection to the main court [where the sentence was passed] and based on experience, it takes a few days for them to send the case to the head of the appeal court. After that, the appeal court must appoint a branch to hear the case, which itself takes a day or two.”
From there, he said, it can take six to seven months to for a judge to consider the appeal before a decision is reached. The case file he sent, he said, was a thick one – but “in this case, the court of appeal ruled on Mr. Nourizad’s case within two weeks as a matter of urgency and issued a final verdict. It was very surprising.”
What Happened to Mohammad Nourizad and his 14 Fellow Activists?
Mohammad Nourizad formerly worked as a journalist at the conservative Kayhan newspaper and was a supporter of the Supreme Leader. But after the 2009 presidential election and the bloody crackdown on dissent that followed, he had a change of heart, and wrote a series of open letters to Ayatollah Khamenei in protest against the heavy-handed treatment of civilians. After the publication of his third letter, Nourizad was arrested and jailed. He carried on writing to Khamenei both behind bars and after his release. These letters have all gone unanswered.
Nourizad’s most recent missive to Khamenei was penned in the summer of 2019 and is known as the 14-signature statement. In the letter, which was published on a variety of online platforms and in the media, he and other civil and political activists called on the Supreme Leader to resign.
In the aftermath Nourizad and several of his co-signatories were summoned by the intelligence services. Nourizad first appeared at Evin Prison Court on July 10, 2019 on security-related charges and later released on bail after a short period in detention. While on bail on August 11, 2019, he and other civil activists gathered in front of the court building where an appeal was being heard for Kamal Jafari Yazdi, a university professor and one of the other co-signatories. There, Nourizad was arrested by Mashhad security agents and transferred to Vakilabad Prison. After spending several months there, he was transferred to Evin Prison in Tehran.
The charges Nourizad faced over the 14-signature statement were, variously, "insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic," "insulting sacred beliefs," "insulting the leadership," "disturbing the public mind," "cooperating with foreign media," and "participating in illegal gatherings." In the court of first instance he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which was commuted to seven and a half years on appeal, as well as two years in exile in Izeh city and a two-year ban from leaving the country.
In addition, he was sentenced to eight months in prison and 74 lashes for "disturbing public order" over the gathering in front of Kamal Jafari Yazdi’s court of appeal. It was news of the confirmation of this sentence that was published by Mohammad Hossein Aghasi on his Twitter page on Tuesday.
Filmmaker’s Health Declining in Prison as Wife and Son Targeted
Based on the speed of the appeal being quashed, Mr. Aghasi said, "I can conclude that those who are following this case are very eager for Mr. Nourizad to be punished and wanted the case to reach the desired result faster.”
He is pessimistic about their chances of escalating the case to the Supreme Court. “When the verdict of the court of first instance, regardless of our protests, is considered as final, it is clear that if we complain to any other court, the result will be the same. Now all we can hope is to merge the two cases,
“My wish is for an impartial official investigate the case to confirm whether this verdict really is a true one, whether the accusation against him is in accordance with the law for what he did, and that the law has been followed in setting the punishments for these cases. If that happens, they will understand what our protestations were about."
Mohammad Nourizad has fallen ill in prison and is suffering from a loss of balance that prevents him from walking. His lawyer said he is in urgent need of treatment. “He has no control over his gait,” he explained. “He often falls down in the bathroom, where he is alone, and this is very dangerous.”
Nourizad was reportedly taken to Shohada Hospital in Tajrish last Tuesday for medical tests, but neither the patient himself, nor his family, nor his lawyer, were informed of the results. “We have no information,” Mr. Aghasi said. “I happened to go to Evin Prison on the same day to visit him, which was when I learned that he had been taken to the hospital. I stayed until noon waiting for him to return. When he returned, unfortunately his condition was too serious for him to see anyone, and so I left. He later told his wife on the telephone that he had not been conscious until the evening. But neither he nor we know the results of his tests.”
While at Vakilabad Prison, Mohammad Nourizad went on a hunger strike to protest his detention and non-transfer to Evin Prison. He also attempted suicide by slashing his wrists but survived, and later said through his lawyer that the reason for the attempt had been the pressure being put on his wife and son.
Nourizad’s son, Ali Nourizad, was also tried by the Revolutionary Guards on January 12, 2020 for "conspiracy against national security" – for taking part in a protest over the downing of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 by the Revolutionary Guards. He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. Then Fatemeh Maleki, his mother and Nourizad’s wife, was arrested for protesting in front of the Mashhad courthouse, and received the same sentence.
Mr. Aghasi is also representing Mohammad Nourizad’s son. He says the young man has not committed any crime and as such, his sentence is illegal. “He was sentenced to about three and a half years on charges of conspiracy against national security. He did not commit any such thing. I have requested permission for the execution of his sentence to be postponed."