Stop Death Sentence in Inquisition Trial

Rouhollah Tavana

(February 20, 2014)—The Iranian Judiciary must rescind the execution sentence of Rouhollah Tavana for trumped-up charges of “insulting the Prophet,” and stop issuing death sentences for ever-expanding categories of crimes, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.

Mashhad Intelligence agents arrested Rouhollah Tavana, 34, at his home in Mashhad in October 2011. According to a court ruling the Campaign reviewed, Intelligence agents confiscated a private video recording of Tavana on his personal computer, in which while under the influence of alcohol he allegedly uttered a phrase the judge interpreted as insulting the Prophet of Islam, a crime under Iranian law. However, the same law explicitly notes that insulting the Prophet is not a crime punishable by death if the person is drunk.
“It is mind-boggling that in the 21st century, the Iranian Judiciary wants to hang a young man for uttering a random phrase during a video he shot of himself and kept it private. This is an unbelievable act of inquisition at its worst,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Campaign.
“The Iranian Judiciary’s insistence on the death sentence calls into question whether these sentences are politically-motivated and intended to confront the wave of international protests against the trend of ever-increasing executions in Iran,” he added.
Since Hassan Rouhani’s election as president in 2013, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of executions in Iran. On February 19 alone, Iran carried out 12 executions in the cities of Kerman, Qazvin, Rasht, Shiraz, Roudbar, and Sowme’eh Sara. Some of these executions were carried out in public.
“We have asked all authorities for a pardon and for forgiveness for him. My son has repented. My son wrote a letter in prison and expressed remorse, but nothing happened. We can’t rely on anything. They are going to hang him just like that,” Tavana’s mother Fakhri Jamali told the Campaign.
Iranian officials consistently claim that they only issue death sentences for dangerous criminals and drug traffickers. However, Campaign research indicates that many executions are carried out in the absence of fair trials, are disproportionate to the crimes, and are issued under the influence of security organizations.
Branch 5 of the Razavi Khorasan Province Criminal Court sentenced Rouhallah Tavana to death, and an appeals court later upheld his death sentence. On February 14, 2014, Branch 14 of the Iranian Supreme Court also upheld his death sentence, which can now be carried out at any time.
According to Article 262 of the new Islamic Penal Code, “Whoever insults [the Prophet Mohammad] . . . shall be sentenced to death.” However, Article 263 of the Code states, “If the individual accused of [insult] claims that his statements were made reluctantly, negligently, unintentionally, or while drunk, or angry, or were verbal blunders, or were said without attention to the meaning of the words, or were quoting another individual, he will not be considered a insulter of the Prophet.” A note on this article further adds, “If the insult is uttered while drunk or angry or quoting someone else, and is considered an insult, it will be punishable by up to 74 lashes.”
Jamali said judicial authorities refused to accept a letter the family wrote requesting a retrial, saying that they only receive letters from families of those on death row for drug-related crimes, not for other crimes. She added that the basis for the death sentence is a private video Tavana recorded of himself at his home, joking privately with his brother while under the influence of alcohol. In addition to “insulting the Prophet,” Rouhollah Tavana was charged with “producing alcoholic beverages.”
“With this sentence, the Iranian Judiciary and security organizations aim to convey the message that Iranian citizens cannot say anything, even jokes, that are private even behind their own closed doors,” said Hadi Ghaemi. “Before another innocent individual loses his life, the Judiciary must stop this sentence from enforcement and allow the suspect to have a fair trial,” he added.
In an interview with the Campaign, Fakhri Jamali appealed for help to save her son’s life. “They said they will serve my son with his death sentence ruling at Vakilabad Prison in Shiraz over the next two weeks. My son has no idea that the Supreme Court has confirmed his death sentence. He keeps calling from prison and asking about it, and all we do is to give him hope. We are now forced to give interviews to the media. Up until now, we were afraid my son’s situation would worsen if we gave interviews, but we have no choice anymore. We ask everyone to help stop my son’s death sentence,” she said.
Describing what led to her son’s arrest and his death sentence, Tavana’s mother told the Campaign, “Three years ago, one of my son’s friends called the Mashhad Intelligence Office and told them that my son had information at his home that was ‘anti-revolutionary’ and ‘against the Supreme Leader.’ Forces from the Mashhad Intelligence Office raided my son’s home suddenly, searching through all his books, personal items, and his computer hard disk. On his computer there was a video that my son and one of his brothers had made of themselves on the night of his birthday.
According to Jamali, “In this video, my son, who was having a drink, said a sentence that cannot even be a direct insult to Prophet Mohammad. He was holding the knife he was going to cut the cake with and he said, ‘Put this knife up your prophet’s butt.’ But this film was private and other than himself and his brother, there was no one else in it. My son was kept in solitary confinement inside the Intelligence Office for three-and-a-half months, and then they transferred him to Vakilabad Prison in Shiraz.”
Judicial authorities leveled the charge of producing alcoholic beverages against Tavana based on another personal video confiscated from his home. Rouhollah Tavana did not share these videos with anyone else at any time. “He had a file on his computer which the Intelligence forces found. Rouhollah had videotaped himself when he was all alone, concocting an alcoholic beverage in a pressure cooker in the kitchen. [In the video] he was jokingly describing the directions for making the alcoholic drink. But all of these were private files. The Intelligence forces themselves took the files and put them on CDs and entered them into his case,” Jamali said her son’s other charges.
Tavana’s mother also told the Campaign that the family has a letter from the Medical Examiner’s Office confirming that Rouhollah Tavana suffers from Cluster B Personality Disorders and needs treatment.
After his arrest, Tavana spent 3.5 months in a solitary cell inside the Mashhad Intelligence Office. He has expressed remorse for cursing. His family visits him once a week through a booth and has in-person visits with him every 45 days.
“It is an astonishing affront to human dignity to see a death sentence issued for Rouhollah Tavana for a video he made at his home and which no one even saw until forces from the Intelligence Ministry raided and searched his home. To see this sentence upheld in an appeals court and then confirmed at the Supreme Court raises serious concerns about the independence of the Iranian Judiciary and the total lack of due process,” said Hadi Ghaemi.
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