Like her father Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani believes that the court’s verdict in her brother Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani's case was flawed, unjust, and politically motivated. And, she says, her brother is not alone: many other verdicts issued in closed courts are also unjust, and part of a wider campaign to spread injustice and oppression.
I talked to Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani about her brother’s case. “Heresy may persist, but oppression will not,” she said several times during our discussion — a nod to words apparently said by Imam Hussein, the third imam of Shia Islam.
Hardliners have always criticized you because of your stance on certain issues. You have faced threats and also been sent to prison. But your brother Mehdi has never been outspoken or engaged in any sort of public protest — yet he has also been targeted by hardliners. What do you think is the problem?
If you study developments over the last six, seven years, you will notice that this is the fate of many others. If you take a look at each family [that has been targeted], they have at least one person in prison, or who was fired from work, or who excelled as a student, or immigrated from the country. In our family, I was the one who went to prison. Now it is Mehdi’s turn. Mohsen [their other brother] was rejected by the vetting process [when he tried to run for city council elections, the Guardian Council rejected his application to run]. I mean, everyone is related to these matters in one way or the other — everyone in society.
You have often quoted your mother, who said that the revolution began at Evin Prison. What is the significance of this statement?
In the shah’s period, the prisons were full. Evin Prison was just an example. The point is that when the prisons are crammed with innocent people, this will promote injustice and discontent, and cause problems for the ruling faction. Imam Hossein says: Heresy may persist, but oppression will not. We believe the verdict for Mehdi was not fair. The injustice is not only about Mehdi, but about all prisoners. This will cause problems. In any case, the more justice and transparency there is, the more the people will trust the government, and the problems will begin to ease.
What is creating injustice and public discontent in Iran?
The judiciary. Judicial powers play a crucial role in promoting justice in a society, stabilizing the situation, preventing the centralization of power, fighting corruption and blocking dictatorship. The main reason for separating the powers [the branches of government and the varous ruling powers] was to avoid the centralization of power. Centralization will always end up in corruption. If the judicial power becomes transparent, there will be no injustice or discontent. If things are transparent, no one can protest, because all the charges are there and the regulations are there and a verdict will be issued according to them. When the court holds sessions behind close doors, transparency is diminished. So the public cannot criticize a judge’s verdict.
This [lack of transparency] is exactly what derails the justice system. This creates the conditions for the judge to act as he wishes, leaving him open to errors and mistakes. When the court is open, the probability of errors diminishes; the judge’s verdict will be witnessed by the public and therefore will be more fair.
One of the main ways to reduce injustice is to open public courts. Article 168 of the constitution says that the courts where political and press crimes are tried must hold public sessions and must have a jury. Why is this included in the constitution? Because when the revolution took place, there were revolutionary people who had been tried in unjust courts during the shah, and who were imprisoned on unfair verdicts. The people who drafted the constitution added this clause so that no such thing could happen in the future; they had been prisoners in the shah’s period. The principle was right and was one of the pillars behind one of the revolution’s main slogans: independence, freedom, Islamic Republic. But, little by little, this principle has been derailed.
Up to this moment, no clear definition has been provided as to what a political crime is. Since the revolution, we have constantly heard that we do not have any political crimes. They closed Mehdi’s case, classifying it as an economic case, and charging him with embezzlement and bribery and the like. But we believe his case was a political one, meaning that they approached the case as a political matter. We are more than 30 years on from the revolution and still we have no approved regulations about how to hold political trials. Looking back on the goals of the revolution, we should realize just how far we have we diverted from these goals and continued to do what was done under the shah. What my mother has said about the revolution beginning from Evin Prison is an acknowledgment of the outcome of this situation.
As he was going to prison, your brother asked national television to broadcast the court’s hearing of his case. Have you followed this up?
This is still our request. One of the methods to prevent injustice and public discontent is to broadcast court sessions openly, not only for Mehdi, but for everyone. In Mehdi’s case, we are requesting they broadcast the whole trial and all of its sessions, not just selective parts of the trial. If they do this, then it will be clear that what we say about his trial being political can be confirmed. Why not do this? This is not against the constitution and it is what they do in all developed countries: to render transparent the acts of the judicial power. This is not a strange or big request. They say we are requesting this because we among the elite... no, it is not true. This should be done for everyone, including for Mehdi.
A video of your father saying goodbye to Mehdi was published online. The judiciary responded by calling it an act of victimization. Are you still going to submit a request for a re-trial to the head of the judiciary? What is your father’s opinion?
I can’t speak about my father’s views and do not really like doing so. He has to express his own views. About the verdict, I must say this is a direct result of the judiciary and the fact that there is no difference between judges. The head of the judiciary has commented on this case. Regardless of his confirmation or disapproval, the protest still remains and should be answered. It is not a huge request.
The fact that the farewell video was published is quite normal; this is a film about a father saying goodbye to his son, whom he believes is innocent. Praying for a person going on a trip is a tradition and part of our religion. We always did this. Whenever I want to go on a trip I go to my mom and my dad and my mom says prayers in my ears and my father says prayers in my ears. I don’t why this has frustrated the authorities. Mehdi is going to prison, which is a trip, and my father whispered prayers in his ears. Why do they think they have to comment on everything? This is a personal mater. Today, social networks are so popular that no matter can remain private. Why should they be frustrated by a prayer? Why should they think that this was a protest against the verdict? Of course, there is protest against the verdict, but every move has its own significance.
With every move or protest that we make, the judicial authorities say that because Mr Hashemi Rafsanjai and his family had high ranking posts in the government, they are special, and because of this they want to take advantage of their position and avoid being affected by laws and regulations. This is not true. This is a projection. We say the trial should be open so that it becomes clear [to all] whether Mehdi is guilty or not. Is this too much to ask? Our constitution calls for open courts. We are talking about normal things, but they say we are taking advantage of our family’s position. This is itself a sort of injustice, because such remarks are made by judicial authorities and will provoke public emotions, which might lead to political reactions.
This has been going on since 2009. At the moment we are protesting for the case of Mehdi, but we have done the same for others before.
Hardliners claim that Ayatollah Khamenei has received two letters, one from your mother and another from the whole family. It has been said that one of the letters concerned the judge in the case, which was then followed up and canceled by order of the Supreme Leader.
If in response to these letters, a correct path was chosen, then Mehdi would not be in prison right now.
Will your brother appeal for the case to be re-investigated? Has he decided?
This case has gone to the court of appeal once already. The case was given to a judge whom Mehdi had previously filed a complaint against. Therefore, he could not be a fair judge for this case. Secondly, this is the first time in the history of Islamic Republic that the outcome in the court of appeal has resulted in a harsher sentence. Normally the sentence is reduced on appeal. During the re-investigation process, those involved in the case are not permitted to read the files in the previous case They decided where the file should go and to which judge it should be referred. So the outcome was obvious from the beginning. The correct path was for the authorities in the re-investigation court to read the file independently and to decide whether the case should be referred to this court or not. The case was not therefore sent to an impartial judge. I do not know if Mehdi intends to ask for the case to be re-opened again.
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