On Tuesday, June 16, security forces arrested Mohammad Hossein Rafiee, a retired Tehran University professor and a member of opposition party Melli-Mazhabi (the Nationalist-Religious Alliance), as he was on his way home. Officers failed to present an arrest warrant and the reason for Rafiee's arrest is not yet known, though it is thought it could be in connection with either his support for nuclear talks, or as part of a crackdown ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections, or both. He is currently being held in Evin Prison.
His arrest follows the convictions of other members of Melli-Mazhabi, which has been openly critical of the government. On June 14, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Minoo Mortazi to six years in prison and a two-year ban from any political and civil activities. Another member of the alliance, journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi, was sent into exile after being released from prison on May 19. Other alliance members, including Reza Aghakhani and Nasrollah Lashani — who have been sentenced to three and six years’ imprisonment respectively — are awaiting appeal trials. Another member, Khosro Mansourian, was ordered to start a 10-year-prison sentence in March 2015.
In protest against his arrest, Rafiee began a hunger strike on the day he was detained. He ended his hunger strike on the evening of Saturday, June 20, at the request of his wife and friends. I talked to Anna Maryam Rafiee, Hossein Rafiee's daughter, about his arrest.
Can you tell us about the illegal arrest of your father?
In a phone conversation that my father had with my mother, he said he was returning home from a friend’s house at 11am on Tuesday, June 16, and that he was stopped by a car that had been chasing him. They told him they were from the Disciplinary Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran and that they were going to take him to Evin Prison. At that point, other cars arrived. There were bailiffs inside the cars, who said they were from the Intelligence Service, and they asked my father to get into their car. My father asked them to show him their arrest warrant, but they did not have one. The Disciplinary Force officers told him they did not need a warrant to arrest people.
Eventually, he was taken to the Evin Prosecution Center. At the center, Judge Nasiri Pour at first refused to issue a warrant against my father, but the security forces urged him to contact the prosecutor. Eventually, after a couple of hours, on the direct orders of the prosecutor, they took him to Evin Detention Center.
They have not yet provided any reason for his arrest. In protest, my father went on hunger strike; he refused to either eat or take any medicine. He has to take various pills for his heart, blood pressure, thyroid and allergies. Eventually, he ended his hunger strike on Saturday evening, upon the request of my mother and his friends.
Had he received any summons from the judiciary to present himself prior to his arrest?
No, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Salavati, issued a verdict against my father on May 25; however, the verdict was at the preliminary stage and had not yet been confirmed by the Appeals Court.
What are the charges against your father? Why do you think he was arrested before his verdict was confirmed by the Appeals Court?
In the verdict issued by Judge Salavati on May 25, the charges against him were stated as:
1) membership to an illegal group, Melli-Mazhabi, which has been deemed to be a threat to national security.
2) propaganda against the regime through giving interviews to media outlets hostile against the Islamic Republic, and issuing statements that threaten national security;
3) the use of television satellite equipment.
He was convicted to six years’ imprisonment and given a two-year ban on political and media activities. These charges were based on his peaceful activities, including speaking out on and circulating statements about human rights and nuclear negotiations, being a member of the Peace Council headed by Shirin Ebadi, and criticizing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions. At the same time, my father defended the nuclear negotiations, supporting the talks with international leaders.
We believe that a false case was made against him in order to prevent him from carrying out his peaceful activities. After the events of 2009, my father started to write letters to various Iranian authorities and publish analytical articles on his website. It was at this time that pressures against him mounted and eventually led to security forces raiding our house and his conviction.
My father also supported Hassan Rouhani in the 2013 presidential election. I think since the parliamentary elections are close, he was arrested in order to prevent him from supporting certain candidates.
Had your father been convicted or imprisoned in the past?
In February 2001, my father was arrested and accused of “legal subversion” [a charge that has no grounds in Iranian law and is clearly contradictory, even in language], along with other members of Melli-Mazhabi. He spent six months in Ward 59, which is under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He spent most of that time in solitary confinement. He was charged with membership to the illegal and subversive group Melli-Mazhabi, establishing a subversive group, contribution to the preparation and distribution of various statements and articles, and signing open letters. He was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, but his sentence was never implemented. According to the law, considering that more than 10 years had passed since his sentence being issued, it can no longer be implemented.
You wrote a letter to President Hassan Rouhani on June 18, two days after your father’s arrest. In the letter, you stated that you had not wanted to vote in the last presidential election, but that your father had persuaded you of the importance of voting, and outlined his hope that reform could take place in Iran. You also told Rouhani that Intelligence agents frequently harassed and pressured your father and had raided his house more than once. In the letter, you mentioned that over the past two years, your father had supported nuclear negotiations. Can you please elaborate on that?
My father has clearly stated his thoughts on nuclear energy in his writing and articles. Since my father has a PhD in chemistry, he is quite knowledgeable on the issue of nuclear energy. He had always argued that, considering that Iran has other sources of energy such as oil and gas, it does not need nuclear energy. He considers it to be very costly and unscientific. My father is against nuclear energy, especially because of all the embargoes and threats against Iran as a result of the program. My father was against it and did not consider it beneficial to Iran’s national interest.
When specific groups opposed the Geneva Accord, my father felt that warmonger groups did not want the nuclear issue to be resolved peacefully. So he wrote a 120-page paper and outlined his reasons for defending the Accord. He warned against the risks if an agreement was not reached. He also mentioned that the solution to Iran’s stability is through the release of political and religious prisoners, a free election and respect for human rights in Iran.
Your letter to Rouhani also mentioned that in June 2014, security forces raided your house. Can you tell us more?
No explanation was given for the raid. Later, during the course of the court hearing, we understood that the Intelligence Services had raided our house in order to “gather documents” and “persuade the judicial authorities" to arrest my father. Eventually, after authorities issued a $171,374 bail and a travel ban, my father’s trial started. My mother has been living in Damavand for some years because of her heart and respiratory disease. When the Intelligence Services raided our house, her illness, which had been under control for 30 years, returned due to the stress of the circumstances.
Have security forces threatened or pressured you or any other member of your family because of your father’s activities?
We have gone through the stresses that exist in every family of a critic and an activist. The fear that at any time your house can be raided, or your belongings can be confiscated, or a member of your family can be arrested, causes a real feeling of insecurity.
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