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Khamenei's 'Islamic Kindness' Turned Into Threats, Torture And Death Penalty

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks at a meeting with members of the Revolutionary Guards all-volunteer Basij force in Tehran, November 27, 2019

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's order to treat those jailed for protests in Iran in November 2019, may in fact have been a call for maximum pressure on inmates in security prisons.

The Iranian Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) on July 11 featured a letter by Hossein Reyhani, an Iranian who has been in jail since the November 2019 protests to rising gas prices.

Reyhani, 33, is a carpenter. Before being jailed, he was a married man, but his wife divorced him in absentia while he was in jail.

In the letter on HRANA's website, Reyhani says: "It might sound funny but I am in jail simply because I sent a text message to a friend and told him that "a bank was set on fire."

A court in Tehran charged Reyhani with "fighting Allah," an accusation that can entail the death penalty, simply because he sent a text message.

Reyhani says he has been denied access to a defense lawyer during the seven months he has spent in jail so far.

Ironically, four days before Reyhani's arrest last autumn, Khamenei ordered his security chief Ali Shamkhani to treat those arrested in the protests with "Islamic kindness and affection."

Seven months after Khamenei's order the accusation of "fighting Allah" is hanging over Reyhani's neck, and three young men Amir Hossein Moradi, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi are given death sentences in Tehran and eight other inmates in Isfahan are charged with "corruption on earth," another conviction that can entail death sentence.

It appears that Khamenei's reference to "Islamic kindness and affection" meant exerting maximum pressure on inmates and the accused. Even if he did not mean that, still the way the cases of prisoners charged for participation in the protests shows that officials investigating the cases have perceived Khamenei's order as harsh treatment such as intimidation, torture and issuing death sentences.

In the seven months since the protests Khamenei had ample time and opportunity to intervene and reduce pressure on prisoners, if he really meant what he said about "Islamic kindness and affection". Instead more people have been arrested and many face the threat of the coronavirus in unsanitary jails.

Reyhani wrote in his letter that he has been constantly tortured during the months he has spent in jail.

Amir Hossein Moradi, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi have also been subjected to torture and denied access to defense lawyers. It is likely that the same is true also about the cases of other prisoners jailed for taking part in the November protests.

Iran has still not still announced the number of those jailed after the November 2019 unrest. Various reports put the number as high as 12,000. One member of the Iranian parliament at the time said some 8,000 protesters were arrested. There is every likelihood that torture and intimidation are part of the routine procedure for dealing with the inmates.

The same applies to hundreds of protesters who were shot to death by security forces. There has been no official report about how many were killed. Reuters estimated that up to 1,500 lost their lives.

Putting inmates under pressure to make self-incriminating confessions, denying access to hygienic facilities and medical treatment as well as exerting pressure on the inmates' families to remain silent and not talk to the media are among punishments mentioned in various reports by human rights watchdogs monitoring the situation of inmates in Iran.

One aspect of Khamenei's order to security officials last November was about how to treat the family members of those killed in the protests. Khamenei ordered officials to pay attention to families and try to console them and even pay compensation.

But what happened to the family of Pouya Bakhtiary, a young man shot dead during the protest in November is an eye-opening example. Pouya's family members, including both parents were arrested and interrogated several times during the past seven months. The authorities prevented the holding of a commemoration service and barred the family from news dissemination about the case. They also launched an online campaign to tarnish the family's image. Mr. Bakhtiary, later explained the dreadful situation in a letter to the UN High Commissionaire for Human Rights in late May and called for an international investigation committee to probe the case.

Bakhtiary said the authorities refused to hand over his son's body to the family and buried the young man under tight security measures. More than 50 security officers broke into Bakhtiary's house and searched all the rooms and handcuffed and blindfolded and took seven family members including young children and imprisoned them for a month. Mr. Bakhtiary's letter reveals cooperation between political, judiciary and security officials who exerted pressure on the family.

Arrests, solitary confinement, intimidation and mudslinging are parts of the way Khamenei's orders have been carried out about prisoners although his supporters might claim that he is not aware of such treatments, which include threats, accusations, imprisonment, torture and execution.

This seems to be the formula for "Islamic kindness and affection." One has no idea how this article would have looked like if prisoners were to be treated brutally.

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    Reza Haqiqatnezhad

    Reza Haqiqatnezhad was a well-known journalist in Iran until he left the country a few years ago and he is now a political analyst at Radio Farda.