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Mockery of Justice: The Framing of Siamak Pourzand

6.2. The Family Again Appeals for Help

The Pourzand family continued their efforts on Siamak Pourzand’s behalf, despite his conviction. On March 20, 2002, Azadeh Pourzand again wrote to President Khatami asking him to follow up on her father’s case.[139] Mrs. Kar sent a series of letters to senior governmental officials, including Seyyed Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Legal Advisor to the President; Mr. Mehdi Karrubi, the Speaker of the Majlis; Mr. Musavi Khu’ini, Majlis Representative; and Mr. Mirdamadi, Head of the National Security Commission of the Majlis.  In each letter, Mrs. Kar highlighted the illegal nature of her husband’s arrest and the way he had been treated from the time of his arrest until the time of his conviction.[140]

Mrs. Kar also sent President Khatami a letter asking him to guarantee her safety so that she could return to Iran to visit her husband. The President replied by discouraging the visit. He later told Mrs. Kar in a September 2006 conversation at Harvard University:[141]

After I received your letter asking me to ensure your safe return to the country, I discussed your request with the National Security Commission, the Interior Ministry, and the head of the judiciary. They all agreed to ensure your safe return to the country. However, the head of the judiciary, although he wanted you to return to the country, could not ensure that you would not be arrested by others. Since he did not give me strong assurances for your safety, I told you not to come.[142]

At the Harvard meeting, President Khatami also told Mrs. Kar directly that he had played no part in her husband’s arrest:

“My administration” he said “did not have a hand in Pourzand’s arrest.” He added “[T]here were other forces inside the regime that arrested him and it was the job of the parallel intelligence agencies’ work.” He told me: “My administration had nothing to do with it.” Then I said to him, “Mr. President! What difference does it make to him and his desperate family?”[143] 

The family was initially unable to gain access to Siamak Pourzand after his conviction. Finally, after the intercession of the Article 90 Commission, Mahin Pourzand was allowed to see her brother on May 3, 2002.[144] The meeting again took place in the Amaken office on Motahari Street. As usual, Mr. Pourzand was brought from an unknown location for the visit and was taken away afterwards. Mr. Pourzand’s cousin, Forouz, also went with Mrs. Pourzand but was refused access to him. Mahin Pourzand told Mrs. Kar that he looked extremely weary and complained of a toothache.[145] He spoke very little.[146]

6.3. Sentencing

On May 4, 2002, Iran newspaper reported that Siamak Pourzand had been sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.[147] The paper also reported that Mr. Pourzand had “expressed deep remorse,” adding that he had told the court that he “had manipulated his friends for his own purposes” intending “to change the mindset of the Iranian people.”[148] Mr. Pourzand had received a comparatively light sentence, in the paper’s opinion, because he was “an old man who had expressed remorse and regret.”[149] On May 6, 2002, Iran reported that Mr. Pourzand had been transferred to Evin prison, noting that he had apparently been held “in Amaken’s detention center” during his trial. The paper also reported that his sentence would likely be revised upwards by a higher court.[150]

On May 15, 2002, the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) carried an interview with Judge Sabiri Zafarqandi, head of the Mehrabad Special Court that had tried Siamak Pourzand. Judge Zafarqandi contradicted several details given in the previous media coverage of Mr. Pourzand’s trial.[151] He stated that Mr. Pourzand had been sentenced to eleven years’ imprisonment – not eight.[152] Judge Zafarqandi also added that Mr. Pourzand still potentially faced the serious charge of Maharib[153] - literally at war with God – and that he remained under investigation.[154]

The charges Siamak Pourzand was convicted of in May 2002 each carried maximum penalties of no more than ten years’ imprisonment – including the crimes against the national security that Judge Zafarqandi described as “establishing a group or a society with more than two members inside or outside the country and directing it with the intention to disrupt the security of the country.”[155] The charge of Maharib, which can potentially be a capital crime, was substantially more serious.[156]

Judge Zafarqandi told the ISNA that Mr. Pourzand had been transferred “to a military base for further interrogation”[157] and that a number of individuals named in his confession had yet to be interviewed. Judge Zafarqandi added that Mr. Pourzand would not be subjected to the physical punishment prescribed for offenses of a sexual nature – ninety-nine lashes – but would be fined instead because of his age. [158]  However, Judge Zafarqandi explained that the physical punishment for consuming alcohol could not similarly be commuted because this was a hadd offense (a crime against God rather than society).[159] The ISNA reported that Mr. Pourzand’s defense lawyer planned to lodge an appeal.

In a separate development on May 14, 2002, the head of the State Prison Organization, Mr. Morteza Bakhtiyari, told the newspaper Nourooz that he did not know where Siamak Pourzand was being held nor who was holding him, and recommended that Nourooz’s reporter contact the court that had sentenced Siamak Pourzand for this information.[160] The State Prison Organization later clarified Mr. Bakhtiyari’s statement in a letter written to Nourooz on May 19, 2002, confirming that Siamak Pourzand was being held in a prison under the control of the State Prison Organization but withholding precise details of his whereabouts.[161]

On May 27, 2002, Siamak Pourzand was brought back to the Mehrabad Special Court, to answer unspecified further questions from Judge Zafarqandi. He had recently suffered a heart attack and was still in the process of recovering.[162] The ISNA reported that Mr. Pourzand had once more admitted the charge against him and had confessed to the crime he was charged with.[163] In an interview granted to an ISNA reporter during the course of the day, Mr. Pourzand said that he did not know where he was held during the first few months of his detention. He added that now he was being kept in solitary confinement but did not indicate where.[164] Mr. Pourzand’s court-appointed lawyer, Mr. Dariabigi, also told the ISNA that Mr. Pourzand had not been transferred to Evin prison. He did not name the facility in which he was being held but added that Mr. Pourzand would be transferred to Evin once the Maharib investigation was closed.[165] At the time of writing, this investigation appears to remain open and continues to hang over Mr. Pourzand.

In early June 2002, Yaletharit Al-Hussayn, the official newspaper of the paramilitary organization Ansar-i Hizbullah, reported that Siamak Pourzand was now being investigated for a previously undisclosed offense, irtidad (apostasy),[166] which like Maharib, can potentially carry the death penalty.[167] The newspaper condemned Mr. Pourzand’s former journalistic activities and objected to his previous sentence as being too light when weighed against “his plethora of crimes.” Mrs. Kar said that when she heard of these new investigations she concluded:

Apparently, they were not able to get him to confess to a crime that carried the death penalty. Since they were determined to kill him, they kept changing the charges against him to find a way to execute him.[168]

Hard-line conservatives kept up a drumbeat of criticism against Mr. Pourzand in advance of his appearance before Tehran’s Court of Appeal, prejudicing any chance he had of receiving a fair hearing. One conservative newspaper, Resalat, even went so far as to publish a story ten days before the Court of Appeal met to consider Mr. Pourzand’s case, stating that it had already upheld the lower court’s findings.[169] Mrs. Kar immediately contacted Siamak Pourzand’s court-appointed lawyer, Mr. Dabir Daryabigi:

After the news was published by Resalat, I contacted Mr. Daryabigi. I asked him if the news was true. He said it could not be. As far as he knew, the verdict was not confirmed yet. He said that he was regularly in touch with the court and the court was debating the issue. The hard-line press had come to know about the decision before the defense. In principle, this act violated the suspect’s right to a fair trial.[170]  

When the Court of Appeal finally gave its ruling, the verdict was as Resalat had predicted. The sentence of eleven years’ imprisonment was upheld:[171]

It was the outcome the hard-liners wanted. The hard-liners were openly trying to influence the court decision. They were not simply expressing their opinion, but they were prescribing what the outcome should be.[172]

Some eight months after his original abduction and two months after being sentenced by the Mehrabad Special Court, Siamak Pourzand was still being held in an unknown location. The authorities neither allowed the IHRCI nor the Article 90 Commission to meet Mr. Pourzand, nor did they inform either organization about his whereabouts.[173]

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Tagged as:

Secret Prisons, Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Punishment, Due Process, Right to an Attorney, Equality Before the Law, Discrimination