Iran: Tortured protesters jailed unjustly
Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari maintain that they peacefully participated in protests that took place in Shiraz, Fars province, between late December 2017 and early January 2018, and also between late July and early August 2018. The protesters expressed a mix of grievances ranging from complaints over poverty and corruption to outright rejection of the Islamic Republic system, which many protesters denounced as a “clerical dictatorship”.
Following extensive review of court documents and other legal documents pertaining to Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari cases, Amnesty International has concluded that their convictions and sentences are flagrantly unjust and amount to a miscarriage of justice. The authorities have violated the fair trial rights of Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari, including the rights to access effective assistance of an independent lawyer of their own choosing; to be promptly informed of charges against them; to remain silent and not to incriminate themselves; to challenge the lawfulness of detention before an independent, impartial tribunal; to be protected from torture and other ill-treatment; to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence; to obtain full access to relevant evidence; to call, examine and cross-examine witnesses; to challenge the authenticity of evidence; to receive a fair, public hearing before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal; to have a meaningful review of their convictions and sentences by a higher court.
Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari were arrested in September and December 2018, and subsequently forcibly disappeared for 12 days and 35 days, respectively. They reported in written complaints and in court that between their arrests and the April 2019 completion of the investigation stage, they were repeatedly tortured and otherwise ill-treated to “confess”. They said they were held in prolonged solitary confinement, repeatedly punched, kicked, and beaten with sticks and cables while blindfolded, and psychologically tortured, including through death threats and threats to imprison, kill, sexually assault or otherwise harm their family members. Habib Afkari has reported that for several days in a row, intelligence agents also chained him to a chair and wrapped his face and head in a plastic sheet in a way that made him feel like he was suffocating. According to an official medical note dated 30 October 2019, Habib Afkari’s left shoulder was dislocated and his left wrist and one of his toes were fractured. Vahid Afkari attempted suicide on 26 October 2018 and 2 April 2019; both times, authorities failed to provide him with adequate physical and mental health care and prematurely interrupted his hospital treatment against written medical warnings.
The brothers’ repeated requests for their allegations of torture to be investigated were dismissed and ignored.
Seven of the eight charges that Habib Afkari was convicted of by Criminal Court 2 of Shiraz in July 2019 and the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz in June 2020, and five of the six charges Vahid Afkari was convicted of by Criminal Court 2 of Shiraz in July 2019 and the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz in December 2020, are vague and overly broad “national-security” related charges. They are not internationally recognizable charges and have been consistently used to criminalize the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Iran.
They include “disrupting public order”, “criminal” conduct falling short of “spreading corruption on earth”, “insulting the Supreme Leader”, “defying public officials on duty”, “insulting public officials on duty”, “membership in a group for the purpose of disrupting national security”, and “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against people’s lives and properties”. Some of the alleged activities cited in the prosecution’s case involved peaceful conduct such as “repeated” participation and chanting in protests characterized as “unlawful” by the authorities and writing slogans on walls. The other cited activities involved alleged discussions that the authorities claim the brothers had at various times in 2018 about possibly committing arson and assault to fight against the Islamic Republic system, but never carried out. The authorities do not provide any evidence in this relation and solely rely on the defendant’s forced “confessions”.
The only charges which are internationally recognizable offences are “accessory to murder” in the case of Vahid Afkari, which accounts for 25 years of his prison sentence, and in the case of Habib Afkari “deliberately inflicting injuries with a sharp object”, which accounts for eight months of his prison sentence. Amnesty International’s research shows that the prosecution authorities failed to present any credible evidence for these charges; Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari were convicted of these charges essentially on the basis of their torture-tainted “confessions” by Criminal Court 1 of Fars in October 2019 and Criminal Court 2 of Shiraz in July 2019, respectively. In dismissing the requests of Vahid Afkari to exclude his torture-tainted “confessions” as evidence and order investigations, Criminal Court 1 of Fars province said he and his brother Navid Afkari had raised allegations of torture “under the influence of what they had been taught [by inmates] in prison and their idea was that by denying the reality, they may be able to evade punishment”.