A court in Iran's second-largest city, Mashhad, has sentenced eight dissident political and civil rights activists to a total of 72 years in jail for calling for the resignation of the country's Supreme Leader.
The eight individuals, along with six others, wrote an open letter in 2019, calling on the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.
Prominent lawyer and the attorney of the eight, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, has listed the sentences in a tweet on February 2.
However, Aghasi says that the court has not officially notified him of the ruling, and he has to go to Mashhad, northeast Iran, to obtain a copy the verdict in person.
In an open letter on June 10, 2019, fourteen civil rights activists had called for Khamenei's resignation and a fundamental change in the Islamic Republic's Constitution.
The former chancellor of Tehran University, Mohammad Maleki, documentary film director, Mohammad Nourizad, Ms. Gohar Eshqi (Eshghi), whose young son was killed under torture behind bars, and Hashem Khastar, an outspoken defender of teachers' rights, were among the signatories to the letter.
In a statement addressed to the "thoughtful, intellectual, and considerate people in Iran," the signatories had urged their compatriots to leave any "tendency toward discreetness" aside, audaciously step in, and call for Khamenei's resignation and fundamentally amending the country's constitution.
"Herald a new national movement," the activists encouraged the Iranian people in their letter, "by demanding Khamenei's resignation" since they said he is increasing his "unfair" power and authority daily.
"Based on recent amendments to the constitution, there is no room for doubt that the president and members of the parliament are merely butlers of the supreme leader. People, deprived of the right to elect figures who have brought glory to their country, may only vote in individuals who play right into the hands” of the Supreme Leader, the letter said.
In the current situation in Iran, and amid the absence of republicanism as well as freedom, the statement had argued, none of Iran's problems will be solved without Khamenei resigning.
Demands for Khamenei to step down are not unprecedented in Iran. In an essay published on the dissident website Kalameh in November 2018, former regime supporter, Abolfazl Qadyani (Ghadiani), described lifetime appointments as the "mother of all corruption."
The signatories of the letter to Khamenei were immediately accused of advocating "regime change" and preparing for a "sedition."
According to Aghasi, Abdol-Rasoul Mortazavi received 26 years, Mohammad Hossein Sepehri 6; Hashem Khastar 16 and banished to the city of Nikshahr for three years and banned from leaving Iran for three years; Mohammad Nourizad fifteen, banished to the town of Izeh, banned to travel abroad for three years. Others received lighter prison terms.
Almost all the signatories to the letter were arrested in August by Intelligence Ministry agents in a rally in Mashhad in northeast Iran in support of Kamal Jafari-Yazdi, also a signatory of the letter, who was sentenced to thirteen years in prison for "insulting the leader."
Most of the signatories are still behind bars.