Iranian authorities are facing pressure from a leading human rights NGO to quash the convictions of five activists who face up to four years in prison for filing a complaint against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mehdi Mahmoudian and Mostafa Nili were each sentenced to four-year jail terms and two-year bans from media appearances, while Arash Keykhosravi, Mohammadreza Faghili, and Maryan Afrafaraz face two years, one year, and 95 days in prison respectively.

Human Rights Watch is calling for their release amid a broader crackdown on political activism by the Tehran regime.

Tara Sepehri Far, a senior Iran researcher at HRW, said: “Sending human rights defenders to prison for attempting to hold the government accountable for its dismal mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis is sadly an unsurprising outcome in Iran.

“Iranian judicial authorities seem more concerned with protecting the state from scrutiny than delivering justice for ordinary people.”

The convictions follow the August 2021 arrests of seven human rights defenders, four of whom are lawyers, as they prepared to file the complaint in the court under Iranian law over the authorities’ mismanagement of the pandemic response.

Under article 34 of the Iranian Constitution, “it is the indisputable right of every citizen to seek justice by recourse to a competent court” with articles 170 and 173 stating every citizen has the right to complain before a court when the government’s rules and regulations conflict with laws or norms.

The country’s national pandemic task force was specifically identified in their complaint, with the health minister and other officials also facing the scrutiny of the activists.

Of the seven arrested, Leila Heydari and Mohammad Hadi Erfanian, both lawyers, were released without charge after a few hours, with the rest facing charges including “establishing an illegal group” and “propaganda against the state.”

Mahmoudian is already serving a four-year prison sentence he received on what HRW calls “politically motivated” charges of “propaganda against the state,” and “assembly and collusion to act against national security.”

These charges were brought for his support for victims of state repression including for calling for a vigil for the victims of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in January 2020.

Sepehri Far added: “Human rights defenders in Iran should be able to carry out their peaceful activities without fear of state reprisal.”

Despite being hit by more than 140,000 deaths linked to COVID-19, Iranian authorities initially banned procuring vaccines produced in the US and Britain, choosing instead to prioritize and promote the production of a domestic vaccine with substantial government resources.

Source » arabnews