Translation by Negar Irani
[Translator’s Note: I am translating Isa Saharkhiz’s moving defense behind closed doors of the Revolutionary Court in parts as it is too long to translate in one piece. In Part I Mr. Saharkhiz provides an overview of the circumstances in which he was forcefully and illegally arrested on July 3rd 2009, going to great lengths to demonstrate how specific articles in the Islamic Republic’s Constitution, The Islamic Penal Code and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights were violated by the Judiciary and other individuals and entities within the Islamic Republic. Mr. Saharkhiz’s moving defense is a must read as it points to the gross violations of basic human rights and direct violation of Iran’s Constitution, making a strong case for why the opposition leaders have insisted at minimum on going back to the fundamentals of Iran’s Constitution, trampled upon by the ruling government over the past year]
Sunday July 18th 2010 -Isa Saharkhiz, journalist and former Director of Media Relations at the Ministry of Culture during President Khatami’s administration, attended his one and a half hour trial today that began at 11:00am, behind closed doors at branch #15 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court. As per media sources, Saharkhiz presented his defense not to the court but rather to the great nation of Iran. Saharkhiz who entered the court room in shackles and was only allowed to visit with his family for 5 minutes, expressed his grievance towards the Supreme Leader, the President and Mohseni Eje’i [Translator’s Note: Former Ministry of Intelligence in Iran from 2005 to July 2009, when he was abruptly dismissed and later in August 24, 2009 was appointed prosecutor general of the country by new judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani.] Saharkhiz also criticized all those who were aware of the truth, but chose to remain silent. He emphasized that even if these individuals were not involved directly in the atrocities, their silence was nevertheless against the law.
In his written statement, Saharkhiz reiterated that he had no plans to defend himself and requested that the written statement he had presented be published in his defense. Upon the court adjourning, after complaining Saharkhiz’s shackles were removed when he was being transferred back to prison.
Saharkhiz began his statement with words from the Shiite Prophet Ali, whom he referred to as a symbol of justice. Saharkhiz referenced a letter that Prophet Ali wrote to the ruler of Egypt at that time stating that any government that claims to be Islamic, particularly Shiite, must follow the example set by the Pophet Ali and his followers. If however, they choose another path, then one must doubt whether that government is Shiite and Islamic.
The content of Isa Saharkhiz’s moving statement of defense is as follows (Part I):
To the honorable heads of the court and members of the jury,
As I am sure you are aware, I Isa Saharkhiz, was arrested a year and two weeks ago, on July 3rd, 2009, as evidenced in my case file #11257/88/TD, in the town of Panjdastgah located in the village of Tirkadeh, in the city of Nour. Ministry of Intelligence officials from the Province of Mazandaran (most likely the city of Sari) under orders given by their superiors (including the Minister of Intelligence at the time, Hojjatol-Islam Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i and his direct responsible and superior Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom as stipulated under the Constitution’s articles 133, 134, 136 and 137 is fully responsible for providing direction to and overseeing all members of the cabinet) proceeded without any provocation to beat me, leading to severe injuries including swelling and bruising on the sides of my torso and my wrists, an injury to the tendon in my left shoulder, fractures in my ribs and the dislocation of the bones from the cartilage in the lower part of my chest.
The head of the team from the Information Ministry at the time of my arrest even stated:
“If someone attempts to be obstinate or stubborn with regards to your arrest, even if it’s your own child, I will make sure they are punished accordingly.” This statement itself was revealing of his preconditioned judgment of my character based on the views of his superiors (possibly the Minister himself).
The severe torture, beatings and blows I endured at the hands of at least six officers is a gross violation of our country’s laws and in particular a violation of our Constitution and Islam’s penal code.
Article 38 of our Constitution states:”All forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confessions or acquiring information are forbidden. Compulsion of individuals to testify, confess, or take an oath is not permissible; and any testimony, confession, or oath obtained under duress is devoid of value and credence. Violation of this article is liable to punishment in accordance with the law.”
This matter has also been emphasized in the Islamic Penal Code, Article 578 that states:” All officers and employees of the judiciary and non judiciary branches of the government, if compelled to force a confession from a defendant through the use of physical harassment or any form of retaliation, in addition to monetary damages will be sentences to six months to three years imprisonment.”
You know better than I and the audience members here today that the Islamic Republic of Iran has made a commitment to International laws and regulations and in particular to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.” Article 11 of this same international declaration states:”Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law in a public trial during which he/she has had all the guarantees necessary for his/her defense.”
After enduring such physical violence and being beaten by the officers, I informed them of the fact that my ribs had been broken, but they merely mocked me, refusing to transfer me to a hospital or medical facility. Even though I could have suffered internal bleeding, I was taken on a 400 kilometer car ride to the capital Tehran and transferred directly to Evin prison.
At Evin prison, when the initial medical examination was completed by the physician on duty, my injuries were registered as swelling and bruises to the left and right sections of my torso and wrists, including severe injuries to my rib cage. As a result of the medical examination and upon consulting with prison officials, the doctor ordered that I be transferred immediately to Ghamare Banihashem hospital that very night (located on the north side of the Northern highway, before Seyedkhandan bridge). At the same time, a number of agents were sent to the hospital and the 3rd floor was vacated in the event of my possible admittance.
Honorable audience members and members of the media,
My arrest under the circumstances described above and the offenses I was charged with (namely participating in demonstrations and encouraging people to demonstrate) took place even though I had never committed such crimes. The charges issued against me were either a form of conspiracy designed to build a case against me, or designed to specifically deal with the events that followed the presidential elections that took place on June 12th, 2009. Otherwise it would have not been necessary to issue such charges under the pretext that the acts committed were against the national security of the nation, when the offense committed was in fact a simple crime to inform. An act that in itself is against articles 37 & 39 of our Constitution.
Article 37 of our Constitution is related to the presumption of innocence and states: “Innocence is to be presumed, and no one is to be held guilty of a charge unless his or her guilt has been established by a competent court.”
The fact that as part of the indictment presented to the court, the first charge was dismissed and replaced with two additional charges (insulting state leaders and propaganda against the regime) speaks to the authenticity of my claims. The question we are faced with therefore is why a defendant charged with being a member of the press, with court documents and evidence that demonstrate (assuming even that the charges are proven) that he has been accused of being a journalist, putting pen to paper and writing publications, is also referred to as a defendant colluding against the national security of the nation? Based on the charges issued by the Ministry of Justice, how do you justify keeping me in jail for 380 days in section 209 and 350 at Evin prison and the Rajai Shar prison and Fardis prison reserved for hardcore criminals? In addition, not only did they refused to release me from jail on bail while I awaited my court date but also deprived me of the minimum rights that should be afforded to any prisoners of conscience, including depriving me of the right to a temporary leave of absence from prison.
Honorable Head of the Court and Jury Members,
As I explained earlier, as a well known journalist, even though I had committed no crime, I was physically tortured, beaten and transferred to Evin’s ward 209. As a result of my dire physical condition, I was subsequently taken to a hospital at 10:30 pm on July 3rd, 2009. Upon taking two X-rays from different angles and being examined by three doctors (this included the physician who was on duty at the prison that night and two additional specialists called to report to duty on an emergency basis), I was unfortunately still not admitted to the hospital, but my claim that I had fractured my rib cage and bones in my chest were nevertheless confirmed explicitly. The medical examination however concluded that the puncturing of my lungs and left kidney by a bone and potential internal bleeding was negative.
At 1:30am on Saturday July 4th, 2009 I was taken back to solitary confinement cell #31 at Evin’s ward 209. At the time I had been prescribed a variety of pain killers (pills, capsules, ointments and suppositories) in order to alleviate my pain. From the very beginning I emphasized that I should be examined by the Judiciary’s forensic doctor, so that the necessary legal procedures could be initiated. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Intelligence officials and those in charge of my case file did not provide me with this opportunity and even refused to follow the processes that would have afforded me the necessary medical treatment. Said differently, those in charge of my case file went out of their way to inflict pain upon me and their behavior resulted in the fact that I experience constant pain from my injuries and fractures day and night. As you can see today, the fractures are visible on my skin and at night when I sleep I feel as though a needle is spiked through my body, a pain and suffering that I will have to endure for the rest of my life.
The question we face today is why when my friends and I, as citizens of this country, complain to the authorities, in particular to the Head of the Judiciary, the former head of the Intelligence Ministry and the Attorney General, years go by and our complaints are not addressed by the courts, but when the order for the arrest of the likes of me is issued, my arrest and imprisonment takes place in the span of one day, and at one of the most remote locations in our country? Moreover, despite the fact that approximately one year had passed since the case was filed and the last interrogations took place and despite the fact that 8 months had passed since the last investigations by the prosecutor, the court did not hear this case, in order to at least afford me, the defendant whose crimes had not been proven, a few months less imprisonment than the minimum amount defined under the law.
Honorable Head of the Court,
Does article 34 of our Constitution not state that: “It is the indisputable right of every citizen to seek justice by recourse to competent courts. All citizens have right of access to such courts, and no one can be barred from courts to which he has a legal right of recourse.”?
Why is it then that as a result of the injuries inflicted upon me by Mr. Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, and based on the evidence presented by the forensic doctor, when I approached the officials at the Judiciary (regarding the incident in which he through a heavy object at me and bit my ear) and even though 5 years have passed since I filed my complaint, evidence was presented and the case file was completed, the case never went to court and the accused [Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i] was never arrested? But when he files a complaint against me, I am tortured and beaten so shamelessly and arrested and imprisoned for an unlimited period as a prisoner of conscience? Is this not the sign of preferential treatment in Iran’s Judiciary System? Is this what we refer to as respect for the law, justice and the Islamic Judiciary System?
Distinguished Members of the Jury and Head of the Court,
On page 17 of my case file and regulatory proceedings dated July 3rd, 2009 (the date of my arrest) by the Nour Prosecutor’s Office, the Judiciary has charged me with the following:
Based on court order for your arrest by the Intelligence Ministry, and the Revolutionary Court’s 3rd Security Branch, you have been accused of “Participating in demonstrations with the intent to create chaos, the intent to harm the regime and the security of the nation.” How do you respond?
Response: “I do not accept this charge. I did not participate in any gathering or demonstration and do not intend to do so in the future. Even in cases where there was a possibility of conflict between the people and the president, due to the official authority I was given by Mr. Karroubi’s headquarters, and acting as a non official spokesperson for Mr. Mousavi’s campaign, I gave an interview with Al-Alam (the IRIB’s Arabic TV & Radio Network) in which I announced that the previously announced gathering on Vali Asr Square for June 31st had been canceled, requesting that people do not gather in order that clashes be avoided.”
Page 115 to 120 of my case file are dedicated to the interrogations that took place on July 8th and July 10th, 2009 (approximately one week after my arrest) and include the following question I was posed during interrogation “With regards to the charge of encouraging people to participate in demonstrations, please provide any information you deem necessary to shed light to this matter.” My response to this question was as follows: “As I indicated to the Judge presiding over the court in Nour, I Isa Saharkhiz, did not participate in any of the people’s peaceful demonstrations. In addition, with my reformist position, I have always sought to encourage people to move towards democracy, the expansion of Human Rights rather than revolting and creating chaos. With regards to the recent events that started on June 12th, 2009 and the protests that followed by a nation that was pursuing the full realization of their lost rights, all my efforts focused on encouraging gatherings that were based on slogans of Allah O Akbar (God is great), silent gatherings carrying Green symbols, and presenting flowers to armed individuals behaving in an inhumane manner, so that God willing we could put an end to this type of behavior.”
Question: “Isn’t referring to the election results as a coup, inviting people to demonstrate and creating chaos?”
Answer: “Coup d’états is a legal and political term. It is based on certain assumptions and can have both desirable and undesirable consequences. The fact that I referred to the election results as a coup, like many other prominent people in our nations (such as Seyed Mohammad Khatami) does not change the nature of the elections. The Islamic Republic’s Constitution that came about as a result of a revolution that I too had the honor to participate in, contains a number of principles including the people’s right to gather and demonstrate. Article 27 of our Constitution referring to freedom of assembly states: “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.” Naturally, protesting and creating chaos are two different things. In reality, chaos is created by those who stand in the way of, or create circumstances under which the basic rights of a nation and its citizens have been trampled upon, depriving them of legal gatherings and protests. If anything, it is these individuals who should be charged and taken to court.”
Honorable Head of the Court, Members of the Jury and all those present,
Taking into consideration the evidence presented above and in my statement of defense isn’t my illegal incarceration in various prisons against Article 32 of our Constitution? Let us assume for one moment that the authorities at the Ministry of Intelligence and the interrogators at the Revolutionary Court’s 3rd Security Branch in Tehran were wrong in assuming that there was a conspiracy theory and their accusations that I participated in demonstrations and encouraged people to participate a well were false. After hearing my defense and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, when it became clear to them that the charges were invalid and as such they were dropped, should they not have closed my file and released me from prison and removed any punishment in order to not violate the laws as defined in the Constitution? Was my incarceration for over a year not in violation of Article 32 of our Constitution? They claimed that I had committed a crime against the national security of our nation, in order to make sure that I would be deprived of any leave of absence from prison. As a result, I was unable to even attend to the construction of my mother’s charitable organization, in honor of my martyred brother Saeed Saharkhiz, depriving dozens of orphaned infants of free services. We will never know how many lives would have been saved had we have been able to provide access to this charity and its free services.
The same Article of the Constitution (Article 32) emphasizes: “…. a preliminary trial should be completed as swiftly as possible.” Assuming that the initial charges had not been dropped, does keeping someone incarcerated for 380 days translate into a “swift completion of a preliminary trial” and adhering to the law in the Islamic Republic’s Judiciary System? Who is responsible for the violation of this Article? Which person, what post and which entities should be punished based on the principles of this Article? Is the branch that is under the direct leadership of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, whose head is directly appointed by the Supreme Leader in violation of the law? Or has the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic failed to meet his obligations effectively under paragraph 2 of Article 110 of the Constitution, in other words: “Supervision over the proper execution of the general policies of the system.”?
In that case is he [the Supreme Leader] not subject to the 111th Article in the Constitution that insists: “Whenever the Leader becomes incapable of fulfilling his constitutional duties, or loses one of the qualifications mentioned in Articles 5 and 109, or it becomes known that he did not possess some of the qualifications initially, he will be dismissed…”?
No matter what, the question of who has been in violation of the 32nd Article of our Constitution and the specific punishment of such violation must be addressed.
To read original text of full statement in farsi ( پارسى )
*Many thanks to Negar Irani for taking on the immense task of translating Mr. Saharkhiz’s statement of defense.