Conservative Clerics, IRGC Pressured Court to Convict Rouhani Campaigner
Rouhani Campaign Sided with Defendants’ Accusers
A former campaigner for President Hassan Rouhani, Mohammad Mohammadi, has been handed a two-year prison sentence and suspended three-year prison term for allegedly “insulting the sacred” by reading a satirical letter at a campaign rally.
“There was nothing insulting in the letter,” a source with knowledge about Mohammadi’s case told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on October 23, 2017. “His arrest was politically motivated to impact the elections.”
The source, who asked not to identified, told CHRI that the court had sentenced Mohammadi under pressure not only by senior clerics, but also by the hardline conservative Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
“After Mohammadi gave his defense, the judge told him and his lawyer that they should not expect clemency at this stage because the IRGC and some religious leaders were sensitive about the case,” said the source. “That means the court has no independence.”
The source also criticized Rouhani for siding with Mohammadi’s accusers.
“As soon as the IRGC and the conservatives started attacking Mohammadi, the Rouhani campaign headquarters fired him and called for his punishment,” said the source. “They knew this was all politically motivated, but still did nothing to help him with bail or obtaining legal counsel.”
On the day of Mohammadi arrest, Rouhani’s chief campaign manager Mohammad Shariatmadari issued a statement condemning his satire for being “far from religious norms” and demanded he be “dealt with swiftly.”
The sentence, which has been appealed, was announced by Mohammad Razm, the chief prosecutor of Ilam Province in western Iran, at a news conference on October 23.
“The man who slandered Imam Reza has been sentenced to five years in prison,” said Razm, referring to the revered eighth Imam of Shia Muslims, who is buried in the city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran.
Mohammadi, a 49-year-old high school chemistry teacher in the city of Eyvan, located 400 miles west of Tehran, was arrested on April 28, 2017, two days after reading a letter jokingly complaining to Imam Reza for supporting conservatives. He was released on bail one week later.
At the time, Mohammadi was the local chief campaign manager for Rouhani, who was running against Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric who heads the powerful Astan Quds Razavi religious and business organization in Mashhad.
“Some of Raisi’s campaign advisers, along with his supporters within the Revolutionary Guards, went to religious leaders and told them that Mohammadi had insulted Imam Reza and they agreed,” said the source. “So the court convicted him despite Mohammadi’s denials and his religious background. Nevertheless, there is hope that his defense will be taken into consideration more seriously during the appeal.”
On April 28, Iranian Grand Ayatollahs Nasser Makarem Shirzai and Mohammad Ali Alavi Gorgani strongly condemned Mohammadi’s satirical poem.
“I heard the news that an evil man has gravely insulted the exalted Imam Reza,” said Shirazi in a statement. “We strongly condemn this vile, ugly act and expect the authorities to quickly prosecute and punish the perpetrator in order to protect the sacred space of the imams from defilement.”