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Violent Aftermath: The 2009 Election and Suppression of Dissent in Iran

By July 4, Hossein Rassam, a senior political analyst for the British Embassy and the only remaining employee in custody, was charged with “actions against national security.”[532] The British foreign ministry remained actively engaged, and the Iranian authorities allowed Rassam to post bail on Sunday, July 19.[533] His trial began two weeks later. In late October, the court convicted and sentenced him to four years of imprisonment.[534]

Rassam was prosecuted with a French Embassy employee and Clotilde Reiss.[535] Reiss was arrested July 1 at Imam Khomeini Airport, as she was leaving Iran. She was a visiting assistant professor at Isfahan University teaching French literature. The authorities alleged that the twenty-three year old had taken pictures of the demonstrations on her cell phone and e-mailed these pictures to a friend. Security forces contended that this constituted the collecting of information and aiding of the protests. [536] The French foreign minister’s reaction to the accusations bordered on confusion:

That is not espionage and cannot be so. The accusation is absurd. … She was a classic young student who was doing her job, who witnessed protests like millions of Iranians. ... I do not think the Iranian authorities can think for a second that what is happening in their streets—the opposition to a government—can be settled by arresting innocent people. An innocent French person, what’s more.[537]

Reiss was tried in a closed trial on November 17, and under terms negotiated by France, remains confined at the French Embassy until she is sentenced.[538]

Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American scholar, social scientist and urban planner, had been charged with espionage and imprisoned in Evin for more than four months in 2007. He was arrested again on July 9 at his home in Tehran.[539] Tajbakhsh was held incommunicado for nearly a month and first seen by his family when images of the August 1 mass trial were published by the Fars News Agency. His condition showed the level of pressure he was under. In his confessional press conference, Tajbakhsh maintained that the massive post-election protests were the result of planning by the United States and Britain. Oddly, he also implicated Haleh Esfandiari, another Iranian-American scholar whom the authorities had also arrested in 2007 but who returned to the United States after her release. Only weeks before Tajbakhsh’s statements, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had excoriated the Intelligence Ministry for ever arresting Esfandiari, maintaining that the real agents of overthrow were elsewhere.[540]

Despite his cooperation and forced confession, Tajbakhsh was sentenced to fifteen years on October 20 for crimes including actions against national security.[541] These actions included consultation work for the Soros Foundation and membership in the Gulf/2000 Project, a website and e-mail group that shares information and analysis on the Persian Gulf.[542]

His lawyer has noted that utter falsehoods were part of Tajbakhsh’s personal indictment. For example, it charged Tajbakhsh with participation in a demonstration, when, in fact, Tajbakhsh was arrested at his home. His lawyer was given permission to see Tajbakhsh’s case file only after his sentencing and was unable to find any evidence that correlated with the charges. Weeks after his sentencing, his lawyer was still prevented from visiting Tajbakhsh to prepare his appeal.[543]

4.4       Violations of Iranian and International Law

The arrests, interrogations and torture of the non-demonstrators violated Iranian and international law for the same reasons these acts violated the rights of demonstrators. Political detainees were held for extended periods of time, often in solitary confinement, with minimal access to family or their chosen counsel.[544] Those who were assigned legal counsel were allowed little contact with their chosen lawyers.[545]

The interrogation of political activists and journalists was designed to coerce confessions that were often televised by the national media.[546] As described above and in previous reports by the IHRDC,[547] the Islamic Republic employs sophisticated methods of torture and intimidation in order to coerce confessions from political prisoners. By arresting individuals in a manner similar to kidnappings, keeping them in the dark regarding the charges they face, limiting their contact with family and legal representation, and using psychological torture, beatings and solitary confinement, the authorities hope to extract confessions and public apologies.[548] Should the torture be found to be widespread and systematic, and with the knowledge of the perpetrators, these acts also constitute crimes against humanity.[549]

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