By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
When 22-year-old student Hamed Ruhinejad first
heard about the street protests that erupted throughout in Iran following the
country's presidential election, he was already in jail.
In fact, when the contentious June 12 vote took place, he had already been serving time at Tehran's Evin prison for about 40 days.
But that fact didn't spare Ruhinejad, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, from a death sentence imposed for participating in rallies he could not possibly have attended.
Last week, the Iranian judiciary announced that three detainees, identified only by their initials, had been sentenced to death for their roles in the postelection unrest. Sources tell RFE/RL that a fourth detainee also received a death sentence relating to what is considered the country's most serious political crisis since the Iranian Revolution
Ruhinejad, believed to be the fourth, now faces death after being convicted of "moharebeh," or waging war against God.
With the Iranian government publicly trying more than 100 reformists, intellectuals, and activists in what critics have branded as "show trials" against those who oppose it, some see the death sentences as the latest move by the Iranian establishment to put an end to the post election crisis and to prevent further protests.
The Paris based International Federation of Human rights says the harsh sentences appear to be a signal to all dissenting voices that they should refrain from challenging the regime.
Ruhinejad's lawyer, Mohammad Seifzadeh, agrees that the Iranian establishment is sending a message about the risk of participating in future antigovernment protests.
And Seifzadeh, a prominent human rights advocate, adds that there is no legal justification for the death sentence against his client, and says he plans to appeal.
"Based on Article 183 of the Islamic punishment law, a 'mohareb' is someone who takes up arms and terrifies people. He didn't have any weapons and he's been charged with moharebeh illegally," Seifzadeh says, adding that he hasn't been allowed to meet with his client for "even one minute" since taking his case.
Ruhinejad has been charged with being member of a little-known monarchist group, the "The Assembly of Kingdom." Three members of the group were executed several months ago after being convicted over a 2008 bombing in Shiraz.
In a letter posted by Iranian news websites, Ruhinejad has said he has no connection with The Assembly of Kingdom, or any other group, and didn't have anything to do with the June vote and the unrest that followed.
He admits only to confessing to charges that dictated to him by interrogators in order "to get his life back."
"N.A." -- one of the three sentenced to death who were indentified by their initials, has since been revealed as 22-year-old Nasser Abdolhosseini.
He was arrested after the election, but his story mirrors Ruhinejad's in that was convicted for his supposed ties to a group opposed to the Iranian government and that doubt has been cast on his participation in the postelection rallies.
Abdolhosseini was sentenced to death for belonging to the exiled Mujahedin Khalq Organization, considered a terrorist organization by Iran. But that charge has been fiercely rejected by Abdolhosseini's brothers Mojtaba and Nader Abdolhosseini, who say Nasser has never been involved in politics.
Furthermore, the two brothers have said that at the time of the major street protests in Tehran, Nassar was conducting business in Busher, where no protests were reported.
During his court testimony, aired on Iranian state television, Nassar Adolhosseini reportedly admitted that he received orders from London to go to the streets and throw Molotov cocktails.
Abdolhosseini's brothers say Nassar was told that by making a televised confession, he would secure his release.
Mojtaba says Nassar's verbal stumbling during his testimony can be taken as proof that he was not making an admission of his own volition, arguing: "My brother couldn't even pronounce 'Molotov cocktail' correctly in court!"
"M.Z.", whose death sentence was the first to be made public, has been identified as 37-year-old Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani and is also believed to have been arrested prior to the election.
He too has been accused of being a member of The Assembly of Kingdom, with the aim of overthrowing the Iranian establishment. During the mass trials that began in August he reportedly confessed to having met with an American agent in northern Iraq and having passed the agent information about Iran.
And he too is reported to have accepted the charges against him under pressure, and following promises that he would be handed a lighter sentence as a result.
"A.P.", despite the discrepancy, is believed to be 19-year-old Arash Rahmanipour, who was sentenced to death for belonging to the Assembly of Kingdom and who also appears to have been arrested prior to the election.
His lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, says Rahmanipour too confessed to the charges against him after being promised a light sentence and freedom. And Sotoudeh has told the online daily "Rooz" that Rahmanipour is not a member of the Assembly of Kingdom as alleged by authorities.
It is not clear whether the death sentences against the four might be reduced upon appeal, but Seifzadeh says that no fair court could ever uphold the sentence against his client, Hamed Ruhinejad.
"I don't know what's going on behind the scenes, but I cannot believe that any court would confirm this baseless sentence," Seifzadeh said.
The reformist website "Etemad" reported on October 14 that three legislators said after meeting with judiciary officials that the judiciary appears determined to go ahead with the executions.
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