The lawyer for imprisoned Iranian spiritual leader Mohammad Ali Taheri is optimistic that the latest death sentence against his client will again be turned down upon appeal.
The verdict, issued by Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court on August 27, 2017 on the charge of “corruption on earth” will be appealed within the 20-day legal deadline, attorney Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaee told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“The Supreme Court has already rejected the death sentence against my client on the same charge and I am hopeful that it will once again declare the verdict unlawful and reject it,” said Tabatabaee.
The attorney added that the verdict had been issued on the basis of Article 286 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code which states, “Any person, who extensively commits felony against the bodily entity of people, offenses against internal or international security of the state, spreading lies, disruption of the economic system of the state, arson and destruction of properties, distribution of poisonous and bacterial and dangerous materials, and establishment of, or aiding and abetting in, places of corruption and prostitution, [on a scale] that causes severe disruption in the public order of the state and insecurity, or causes harsh damage to the bodily entity of people or public or private properties, or causes distribution of corruption and prostitution on a large scale, shall be considered as mofsed-e-fel-arz [corrupt on earth] and shall be sentenced to death.”
As leader of the Erfan-e Halgheh spiritual organization established in the 2000s, Taheri, 61, was arrested on May 4, 2010 and charged with “insulting the sacred,” “immoral contact with women,” and “carrying out illegal medical procedures.” At the time, he also taught at Tehran University and practiced a form of alternative medicine.
He was sentenced to five years in prison and 74 lashes, along with a nine-billion rial (approximately $300,000 USD) fine. But instead of being released at the end of his sentence, he was re-questioned about his books and sentenced to death for spreading “corruption on earth.” In December 2015, the Supreme Court rejected the death penalty and asked the lower court to review and issue a new sentence.
“I don’t understand such a sentence being issued in today’s world where freedom of speech is respected,” Taheri’s sister, Azardokht, told CHRI in reaction to the second death sentence.
“More importantly, the Supreme Court had already acquitted my brother and rejected his execution. So how can you sentence him to death again for the same charge?
“His sentence must be thrown out and he should go free. Any outcome other than his freedom will be unusual and unlawful. This is the verdict his interrogators decided for him. The trial was just a pretense.
“They say the sentence is based on charges stemming from his writings. But they denied several requests by my brother for copies of his book in prison to prepare for his defense. He wrote the books 10 years ago and he’s been in prison since 2010. He needed to read his books again to be able to defend himself.”
Iran’s security establishment has cracked down on Taheri and supporters of his Erfan-e Halgheh spiritual group, viewing it and any other organized alternative beliefs as a threat to the prevailing Shia religious establishment.
During a speech on December 28, 2016, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei described the emergence of spiritual groups in Iran as a Western plot to undermine Islam.
“The enemies are plotting to weaken our young people’s faith in Islam and Islamic principles by encouraging promiscuity and promoting false spirituality, Bahaism and home churches,” he said.
In March 2017, Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) aired a documentary titled “The Devil’s Circle,” which included alleged “confessions” from Taheri and several of his followers about the group’s ideology and activities. In the heavily edited interviews, Taheri’s “students” claimed he taught anti-Islamic ideas.