Father of Missing Student Sentenced to Jail and Lashes for Pursuing Son’s Case
The 70-year-old father of a student who has not been heard from for 17 years since his arrest has been sentenced to 91 days in prison and 74 lashes for “disturbing public order” by allegedly participating in a gathering in support of an imprisoned spiritual leader. But Hashem Zeinali was only there to demand answers about his son and got mixed into the crowd, according to his wife.
Speaking to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Akram Neghabi said the focus of her husband’s interrogation indicated that the authorities targeted Neghabi for seeking answers about their son rather than having any connection to the case of the spiritual leader, Mohammad Ali Taheri, who has been persecuted for his alternative spiritual beliefs.
“My husband told the judge that he respects Mr. Taheri and his followers but my husband is searching for our missing son and that’s why he was in front of Evin Prison on that day holding our son Saeed’s picture,” Neghabi told the Campaign.
“During interrogations, the Revolutionary Guards told my husband that they had not arrested our son and he should take back his accusations, therefore they knew he was not a Taheri follower,” she said.
“The judge in this case is irrelevant. It was the interrogators who wanted this punishment for my husband. They know very well that my husband is not a follower of Mr. Taheri and he was not in front of Evin Prison to defend him,” Neghabi told the Campaign.
Neghabi said the lawyer defending her husband, Hashem Zeinali, had been informed of the sentence by telephone.
“We have 20 days to object to the sentence and we will do so. But if the Appeals Court rules in favor of the sentence, my husband is 70 years old, he cannot endure 74 lashes,” she said. “They should divide the lashes between family members so that all of us can bare it.”
On November 21, 2015, Hashem Zeinali was standing among a crowd of the relatives of prisoners and civil activists who often gather in front of Evin Prison holding placards and banners. Zeinali was independently protesting the lack of attention given to the case of his missing son but was rounded up with members of the Erfan-e Halgheh spiritual group, who were simultaneously protesting the imprisonment of their leader, Mohammad Ali Taheri.
Zeinali was held for ten days in Evin’s Ward 2-A, which is run by the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization, and released on 500 million Iranian rials (about $16,500) bail.
Zeinali’s trial, along with members of the spiritual group, took place on February 19, 2016 at Branch 1060 of Tehran’s Second Criminal Court and was presided by Judge Dehghani.
Zeinali’s son, Saeed Zeinali, has not been heard from since a brief phone call three months after being apprehended from his Tehran home in front of his parents on July 10, 1999, in connection with widespread student protests that occurred at Tehran University five days earlier.
He was 23 at the time and studying computer science. The authorities have never acknowledged his arrest.
On January 3, 2016, Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said no evidence had been found to show Saeed Zeinali was ever arrested. But Saeed’s parents say they witnessed his arrest and have passionately campaigned for information about their son for more than a decade.