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Leader Of 'Deviant' Iran Sect Freed After Years In Prison

Mohammad Ali Taheri, alleged Psymentologist and spiritual master. File photo
Tehran, April 23, 2019 (AFP) -

The leader of a "deviant" spiritual movement whose repeated death sentences drew international condemnation has been freed after almost eight years in prison, Iran's Judiciary said Tuesday.

Mohammad Ali Taheri faced "numerous cases and verdicts" but has been released due to time served, spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili told the Judiciary's official Mizan Online news agency.

"The cases were recently debated in an appeals court and he was sentenced to two seven-and-a-half-year terms of prison... of which he would only serve one," he added.

Taheri was also fined and is subject to restrictions "which are still in place", Esmaili said.

The spokesman did not specify when exactly Taheri was released and did not elaborate on the restrictions.

Taheri, in his early sixties, founded the spiritual movement "Erfan-e Kayhani" ("Cosmic Mysticism" in Farsi) in the early 2000s, and quickly became a well-known spiritual leader, appearing on state television and giving classes at Tehran University.

He promoted alternative medicine and followed what he said were messages from spirits.

But as his popularity grew, Taheri fell foul of Iran's clerical establishment and the judiciary launched a crackdown on what they dubbed his "satanic" or "deviant" sect.

He was arrested the first time for a short period in 2010 and again in May 2011 when he was charged with "corruption on earth" -- one of the gravest charges in the Islamic republic.

In June 2015 and September 2017 courts found Taheri guilty, but on each occasion the supreme court overturned the death sentence and ordered a retrial.

Throughout the years dozens of his followers were arrested, some of them for organising protests against his death sentence, Iranian media reported.

The then United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein as well as the US State Department denounced his death sentence at the time and called for his immediate release.