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Lawmakers In Iran Condemn Harsh Sentences Against Activists, Journalists

Reformist Iranian lawmaker Parvaneh Salahshouri gives an interview to The Associated Press at her parliament office, in Tehran, July 6, 2019

Several members of the Iranian parliament have criticized Iran’s judicial authorities for the recent heavy prison terms handed out to labor and civil activists, as well as journalists.

As Iran’s economic situation has worsened and the danger of popular protests have risen, the authorities have shown less tolerance for dissent. Besides heavy punishment of activists, they have also launched an anti-corruption drive, which inevitably affects some regime insiders.

Parvaneh Salhashouri a female lawmaker on September 7 blamed the new head of Iran’s all-powerful and conservative judiciary for the tough policy against activists and journalists. Ebrahim Raeesi was appointed as new Judiciary Chief at the beginning of this year and immediately began cleansing the vast bureaucracy from his predecessor’s appointees.

Mahmoud Sadighi, an outspoken lawmaker has also described the harsh sentences as "surprising" and hard to explain. Another lawmaker Farid Mousavi has said that that the usual defenders of Iran's Judiciary will naturally defend the long prison sentences.

In recent weeks, authorities have arrested dozens of dissidents, protesters and journalists. Some activists who have been detained had released statements calling on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to step down.

Salhashouri’s statement came hours after heavy prison terms were announced against several labor activists.

A Revolutionary Court in Iran sentenced a young labor and civil rights activist, Sepideh Qolyan, to eighteen years, her attorney announced.

"In an unfounded verdict, and regardless of the statement of defense, the judge has sentenced my client to a total of eighteen years jail," Jamal Heidarimanesh wrote on his Instagram page.

According to the same post, the judge has sentenced 24-year-old Sepideh Qolyan to seven years for "collusion and action against the national security," seven years for "contributing to an electronic magazine", one and a half year for "propaganda against the Islamic Republic regime," two and a half years for disseminating false information."

Meanwhile, Heidarimanesh has expressed hope that the Court of Appeals will hear the defense statement and withhold the verdict.

Five other activists have also been sentenced to eighteen tears each; an unusually harsh punishment even by Islamic Republic practice.

The Islamic Republic intelligence agents arrested Sepideh Qolyan along with the spokesman of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane industrial complex workers, Esmaeil Bakhshi on November 18, 2018.

The young journalist was reporting on a labor protest organized by the Workers Union of Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Agro-Industrial Company when the security forces detained and took her away.

The two were held incommunicado without charge or legal representation for thirty days, and the judiciary officials eventually released them on bail.

Following their release, Bakhshi and Qolyan gave Amnesty International (AI) an account of the torture they suffered while in custody of police and the Ministry of intelligence officials in the cities of Shush and Ahvaz.

They told AI that their captors brutally battered, slammed against walls, shoved to the ground, humiliated with flogging, and threatened them with sexual assault and even murder.

Qolyan and Bakhshi were arrested again on January 20, 2019. According to Amnesty International, "the timing of their arrest strongly suggests it is an attempt to silence and punish them for speaking out about the abuse they suffered in custody."

Based on the latest reports, a Revolutionary Court has also sentenced Bakhshi to fourteen years.