Source: Center for Human Rights in Iran
Satirist Keyomars Marzban has been sentenced to 23.3 years in prison in Iran for working for foreign media outlets, his lawyer Mohammad Hossein Aghasi told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on August 25, 2019.
"My client is a satirist and author who wrote for some media outlets outside the country and the charges were based on the content of those writings," Aghasi told CHRI.
Judge Abolqasem Salavati of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran condemned the 28-year-old to 11 years in prison for peaceful activities under the charges of "contact with U.S. enemy state," 7.6 years for "insulting the sacred," three years for "insulting the supreme leader," one year for "propaganda against the state" and nine months for "insulting officials."
Salavati is notorious in Iran for issuing harsh sentences in politically sensitive cases. In interviews with CHRI, several Iran-based human rights lawyers criticized Salavati for ignoring arguments by the defense and bowing to the demands of the prosecution, especially in cases in which the arresting authority was the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC's) intelligence organization.
Marzban, 28, was also banned from leaving Iran or engaging in social media activities and journalism for two years. He was acquitted of the charge of "assembly and collusion against national security."
If the Appeals Court upholds the sentences, Marzban would have to serve 11 years behind bars, according to Article 134 of Iran's Islamic Penal Code, which imposes the maximum punishment for the charge that carries the heaviest sentence in cases involving multiple convictions.
President Hassan Rouhani encouraged Iranians to return home when he assumed office in 2013, stating, "It is the natural right of every Iranian to visit his/her country. Do we have the right to deny Iranians the scent of their homeland?" Iran is also a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which in Article 4, states: No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.
"My client was given one and a half times more than the maximum punishment for each conviction," Aghasi told CHRI. "In court, I said that my client essentially does not agree with two of the charges [contact with U.S. enemy state and insulting the sacred.]"
"He has not made any insults against sacred [religious] matters and had no contact with the U.S. or U.S. government-linked organizations," he added. "But the court did not accept our argument."
The satirist was convicted of having contact with the "U.S. enemy state" even though Iran's Foreign Ministry has stated that it's not in a state of war with any country except Israel.
"Unfortunately, the Revolutionary Court does not accept [the Foreign Ministry's position] and holds the view that the U.S. is an adversary, enemy state," Aghasi said.
On August 24, 2019, the state-funded Islamic Republic News Agency accused Marzban of having worked for the U.S. government-funded Radio Farda as well as the private London-based Manoto television station.
Agents of the IRGC's intelligence organization arrested Marzban on August 26, 2018, about a year after he had returned to Iran to visit his ailing grandmother.
Until that time, he had been living in Malaysia since 2009 after having published online commentaries regarding the mass protests against Iran's contested presidential election that year. Marzban did not have official foreign residency or citizenship.
"When he left Iran in 2009, he lived in Malaysia for a few years as well as a few months in the Republic of Georgia. He never traveled to the U.S.," a source with knowledge of Marzban's case told CHRI on September 2018.
Marzban was first tried in early March 2019. The second trial was in late July of that year and the preliminary sentence was issued the next month in August, according to Aghasi.
In Malaysia, Marzban hosted a comedy podcast called "Sangetab Radio" (Twisted Stone Radio) and in 2014 published a book of short stories titled, Kham Bodam Pokhteh Shodam Balkeh Pasandideh Shodam (I was Raw, I Became Ripe and Pleasant).
In September 2018, the IRGC-affiliated Edalatkhahan (Justice Seekers) website, accused Marzban of traveling and working with the U.S.-government-funded Freedom House, which describes itself as "dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world."
Many judicial officials accept unsubstantiated reports by websites and commentators affiliated with Iran's security and intelligence establishment as evidence.
"Iranians have very limited hopes and dreams," he said. "Their biggest dream is for the economic problems to be solved and all they think about is their daily affairs. But when I asked people in other countries about this, I realized that imagination and following your dreams is a very important thing."
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