Siavash Norouzi Jafarloo, a graphic design student at Shiraz University, has been sentenced to eight years in prison and 74 lashes – for taking part in a memorial service.
The events, held in the memory of passengers of the downed Ukrainian Flight 752, had taken place at universities in Iran over several days from January 11, 2020. They followed the General Staff of the Armed Forces issuing a statement that officially accepted Iran’s responsibility for firing two missiles at the plane.
The Telegram channel of United Students of Iran notified its followers that Siavash Norouzi Jafarloo had been sentenced to eight years in prison, on charges of "conspiracy to disrupt national security," "insulting the leadership," and "disrupting public order."
Some have speculated that Siavash should and would never have been arrested in the first place, let alone held liable for trumped-up charges such as these, had it not been for a close collaboration between security forces and Shiraz University.
Red Flags in Actions of Security Agents
An informed source who spoke to IranWire said the memorial service at Shiraz University had been held with the coordination and approval of the university’s security office.
“The protest of Shiraz University students against the missile attack on the Ukrainian passenger plane was held on 16 January 2020,” they said, “in coordination with the university's security.
“At the rally, Siavash Norouzi, who is not a member of any of the student organizations and has not previously been politically active, was one of those who invited students to comment on the incident. Siavash himself made a statement that the government should be held accountable for this tragic incident.
“Meanwhile, some among the students chanted slogans that became the pretext for this heavy confrontation with Siavash Norouzi. It's worth noting that at the very moment when some people were chanting, security agencies, probably the Ministry of Intelligence, were calling Siavash's cell phone."
They added: “Siavash did not respond to calls, and security officials immediately contacted his family and told his parents that Siavash was currently at a rally at the university, threatening consequences for such an act.
“It is noteworthy that during his interrogation, the agents showed videos of the gathering at Shiraz University to Siavash which had never actually been published.
“We are very skeptical about the role of the university's security teams, both in terms of the attempted contact with Siavash made by officials in the middle of the rally, and in terms of the films the interrogators referred to. The films shown to him were taken at close quarters during the rally. It's clear that the security forces intended to file a lawsuit against him."
An Arduous Journey Through the Judicial System
Two days after the rally, Siavash Norouzi was arrested in a night-time raid on his father’s house by security forces. He was detained for about three weeks at the Ministry of Intelligence Detention Center in Shiraz, and subsequently at Adel Abad Prison. He was not allowed to contact his family until around a week after his arrest, and in the meantime his parents did not know where their son was being held.
After his release on bail, his family did not make the case public, hoping that the case would be closed and forgotten. But the student’s case was eventually referred to Branch 1 of the Shiraz Revolutionary Court.
Two hearings on charges of "conspiracy to disrupt the internal security of the country" and "insulting the leadership" were held on May 19, 2020 in the same court, presided over by Judge Seyed Mahmood Sadati.
"Neither Siavash nor his lawyer were allowed to read the case until a week before the trial,” the source said. “A court hearing was held to examine allegations of ‘collaboration’ and ‘collusion’ aimed at disrupting national security, and of insulting the leadership. During the hearing, the judge did not allow Siavash or his lawyer to speak in his defence. The way the trial was conducted showed that a heavy sentence was going to be handed down against this student."
The predictions came true, and Siavash Norouzi Jafarloo was sentenced to seven years in prison for his presence at this peaceful gathering inside the university and, of course, for chanting slogans that he did not even agree with. Pursuant to Article 610 of the Islamic Republic’s penal code, he was sentenced to five years in prison, and based on to Article 514 of the penal code, he received a further two years for insulting the leadership. But due to the lack of a criminal record, the execution of the sentence was suspended for five years. During this period, the law stipulates that the convicted party is obliged to report to the Intelligence Office on a weekly basis.
Siavash Norouzi's sentence has been issued but he or his lawyer have still not been officially notified, and they have only been able to read the text of the sentence. They have not even been allowed to copy the text. He was referred to another branch of the Revolutionary Court on charges of "disturbing public order" for unknown reasons, and was sentenced there to yet another year in prison and 74 lashes.
The manner in which this charge is being processed also merits some thought. "Do not attend the trial to prevent the spread of coronavirus," the court said in a statement.
Just one day after the summons reached Siavash Norouzi on 14 June, 2020, a verdict was issued on charges of disturbing public order: before his lawyer had even presented the defense bill to the court.
Students Aghast at Authorities' Heavy-Handedness
Another person close to the convicted student said the case was preposterous. “The charges about disrupting public order seem ridiculous to us,” they said. “A commemoration for the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash was being held inside the university campus. This accusation came as other protesters took to the streets to disrupt public order with various actions, such as creating roadblocks or destroying public property. Responsibility for all activities within the university campus lies with the Vice Chancellor and the security team, and only these individuals can deal with any possible violations, under the disciplinary regulations of the university."
Relatives of Siavash Norouzi Jafarloo hope to be able to launch an appeal. Heavy sentences and the harassment of students have intensified since the protests of December 2017, when at least 100 students were arrested during demonstrations in Tehran and other cities and many were sentenced to excessive prison terms. Some 12 students at the University of Tehran were sentenced to 70 years in prison, many of which would later be overturned – or so promised the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology.