‘Health Defenders’ Jailed in Iran Wanted to Sue Supreme Leader Over Covid

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Two Iranian legal professionals and a civil rights activist had been amongst a bunch organizing a authorized problem to Iran’s high chief and the federal government over their disastrous dealing with of the pandemic.

But earlier than they might even file their criticism, they had been seized and incarcerated.

Now identified on Iranian social media as “the health defenders,” their case has attracted widespread consideration, although their trial in Tehran is just not open to the general public.

“We were still discussing the complaint and what to do when 15 intelligence agents from the judiciary violently broke into the office and arrested us,” the civil rights activist, Mehdi Mahmoudian, mentioned in a cellphone interview from Tehran’s high-security Evin jail, the place he’s being held alongside together with his co-defendants, legal professionals Mostafa Nili and Arash Kaykhosravi.

“We were held in solitary confinement with no access to lawyers, telephones or family visits for nearly a month in an illegal detention wing of Evin that belongs to the judiciary,” he added. Mr. Mahmoudian mentioned he and others had acquired cellphone calls from intelligence brokers beforehand asking them to cancel the assembly, a tipoff that they had been beneath surveillance.

Mr. Mahmoudian was amongst a bunch of 9 Iranian legal professionals and civil rights activists who had gathered in a Tehran workplace one afternoon in August to focus on a draft of a lawsuit they deliberate to file towards the nation’s high officers. He mentioned that they had been planning to sue Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the federal government on costs of mismanaging the pandemic and hampering the vaccine rollout with a politically motivated ban by Mr. Khamenei on importing vaccines made in the United States and Britain.

Hadi Ghaemi, the director of the unbiased Center for Human Rights in Iran, an advocacy group primarily based in New York, mentioned the deliberate lawsuit was one instance of a motion taking form throughout Iran to demand accountability from public officers and justice for a spread of offenses, from the killing of protesters, the torture of political prisoners and the deaths attributable to delays in delivering Covid vaccines.

“These lawyers were really the voice of a society that was outraged at the Covid situation and they wanted to put this on the map by filing this lawsuit,” he mentioned.

From the onset of the pandemic, Iran has handled unbiased releases of details about it as a criminal offense and a matter of nationwide safety. In the early months, for instance, authorities banned well being care staff and medical doctors from discussing the actual variety of hospitalizations and deaths.

Health Ministry officers concerned with pandemic insurance policies have mentioned publicly that they had been interrogated commonly by intelligence brokers.

Iran had already been ravaged by the coronavirus by the point of the assembly in August, and the nation was in the midst of yet one more intense wave of outbreaks and deaths. The group of legal professionals and activists debated whether or not to title the supreme chief in their lawsuit, in accordance to Mr. Mahmoudian.

Some of these current favored the thought as a result of Ayatollah Khamenei had issued the vaccine ban, delaying Iran’s mass inoculation by months. But others opposed it, arguing it might make the case too delicate.

Mr. Mahmoudian and the 2 legal professionals have been detained for the previous 4 months in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, the central web site in the nation for holding and torturing political prisoners. Branches of the intelligence service, from the judiciary to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps., management their very own wings at Evin, the place the prisoners are stored in solitary confinement. He managed to evade jail restrictions and communicate to a reporter by cellphone every week in the past.

Credit…Courtesy of the household of Mehdi Mahmoudian

The three are charged with spreading propaganda towards the state and disruption of public order in a trial that started in late October in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court — a particular court docket for political circumstances and political prisoners. They are additionally charged with forming and belonging to an enemy group — a reference to a human rights group they established known as “Citizens Rights Protection Association.” If convicted, they might every face up to 10 years in jail.

An announcement final week by a bunch of worldwide rights organizations, together with Human Rights Watch and PEN America, known as for his or her rapid launch and requested the United Nations to elevate their case with Iran’s authorities.

“They are completely innocent,” mentioned Saeed Dehghan, an Iranian human rights lawyer, who is aware of the detainees and has labored with them on different circumstances.

Iran’s U.N. mission didn’t reply to questions in regards to the three prisoners.

During the raid, the intelligence brokers demanded that each one 9 folks current — seven legal professionals and two activists — signal a press release pledging to drop the lawsuit. Some agreed and had been allowed to go away.

Five had been arrested however two had been launched on bail.

Mr. Mahmoudian is presently serving a four-year jail sentence in reference to a earlier cost that was suspended till his arrest in August: He had requested the general public to gentle a candle in reminiscence of the Ukrainian Airlines jet downed by the Revolutionary Guards in January 2020. Iran mentioned the missile hearth that had destroyed the aircraft, killing 176 folks, was a mistake.

In the months because the raid, Iran has progressed in its vaccination marketing campaign. As of this week, Iran stories that fifty million of its 85 million folks have acquired two doses of vaccine, in accordance to state media.

After the present authorities took workplace in August and conservatives consolidated energy, vaccine imports, availability and mass inoculation improved significantly.

But with the Omicron variant spreading quickly internationally, Iranian well being officers are encouraging the general public to get booster pictures to improve their defenses towards the brand new pressure. And in this sense, Iran could as soon as once more discover itself behind the curve: Only about 2 million folks have acquired a booster shot up to now, in accordance to the well being ministry.

Many in Iran have questioned whether or not high officers intentionally held off on importing vaccines throughout the tenure of former President Hassan Rouhani due to political infighting between his extra centrist authorities and the conservative camp throughout the ruling system, which is aligned with Mr. Khamenei, the very best authority in the land.

Vaccines started flowing as soon as conservative President Ebrahim Raisi, a detailed ally of the supreme chief, took energy in August, making him seem as a extra environment friendly administrator.

For its half, the federal government has blamed the delays in vaccine imports and different pandemic-related issues on sanctions and it has lobbied to get the billions of {dollars} in oil revenues which have been frozen beneath the U.S. sanctions launched to pay for vaccines by the Covax initiative.

But crackdowns on civil liberties under Mr. Raisi, who has a dire record of human rights violations, have intensified, rights teams and legal professionals say. The authorities is dealing with nearly weekly protests across the nation over a spread of grievances, from farmers indignant over water useful resource mismanagement to a trainer’s union putting over wages. It has responded with an iron fist.

The trial of the “health defenders” trio has hit a nerve with many activists, abnormal Iranians and even worldwide organizations who’re asking: If legal professionals can’t search justice in the Islamic Republic throughout the framework of the structure, then who can?

In November, greater than 500 human rights defenders and activists signed a petition demanding the discharge of the three jailed males and mentioned their ongoing detention violated honest trial ensures beneath Iran’s structure.

In October, the three males arrested in August printed an open letter from jail declaring their intention to sue Mr. Khamenei and the previous president, Mr. Rouhani in addition to the previous well being minister and members of the nation’s coronavirus job pressure.

“We created our organization with the intent that if a person’s rights are being violated, we could step in and react,” Mr. Mahmoudian mentioned. “But right now, they are not allowing any of us to even defend ourselves in court.”

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