Omid Memarian

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why Is Ali Farahbakhsh Still In Prison?

Most people who have ever had to deal with Iranian judicial system, and have had to walk the halls of local and higher courts following their cases, often speak of the many ailments the judicial system suffers in implementing justice. But are all these political problems?

Over the past several years, Ayatollah Shahroodi has repeatedly referred to the Judiciary at the time he took it over as “in ruins.” He has criticized the conditions in different areas on numerous occasions, but the conditions prevail to the point where not only justice is not aided it is delayed or is turned into complete injustice.

This treatment is not for political cases only, but is clearly visible in other areas as well. Of course with the sensitivity of political cases and the immense media coverage such cases usually receive the shortcomings are more prominent in this area. Otherwise, it is not at all true that the judiciary’s subsystems in towns and villages are working effectively, and the situation is only isolated to political cases. Of course, because political cases are severely influenced and manipulated by non-Judiciary organizations, the situation becomes dire.

Part of the problem with the Judiciary Branch has to do with its administrative structure. Another part has to do with technical deficiencies of the system, inadequate resources and staffing, and lack of a system of checks and balances to monitor erroneous decisions. Such a monitoring system, if implemented, may penalize court officials who have been careless, and encourage the judges to pay closer attention to cases. Of course such a monitoring system will also identify those who get in the way of justice by intervening in cases.

With this background, I would like to ask why Ali Farahbakhsh, a journalist who was arrested and imprisoned four months ago, and who has been accused of and tried for espionage, and whose case file contains two letters from Ayatollah Shahroodi ordering a change of his temporary detainment status into bail, continues to remain in prison, and on whose will does he continue to be detained?

Let’s review the case: an Iranian journalist who is an economics expert, returns from a business trip to Bangkok; he is arrested at the airport; after 40 days he is located at Evin Prison; he is accused of espionage; after three months of investigations, he is tried; and in the end he is sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on the charges of receiving $2,300 from outside agencies—an amount Farahbakhsh says this was paid to him to cover his trip expenses.

Ali Farahbakhsh’s father, a 30-year veteran judge with the Judiciary who himself is quite familiar with the process, writes two letters to head of Judiciary. In reply, Mr. Shahroodi requests change of temporary detention to bail. The judge tells Farahbakhsh’s family: “Who is Shahroodi to give us orders?” Ordinarily, once investigations are complete, the sentence is issued and such a change is possible. But for Farahbakhsh, much like many other political prisoners whose cases are “managed” by others, this is not possible.

Evidence and statements by Farahbakhsh family and their lawyer, as well as the published sentence, all point to the fact that the whole story is about his receiving $2,300, a fee customarily paid to those attending seminars and workshops abroad. Take notice, he was tried for espionage, but was sentenced for receiving $2,300 for participating in a conference. There are no other items in his case file. This means that all that could be extracted against him during several months’ interrogation and imprisonment by the intelligence and security organizations was this. It is clear that the charge of espionage is completely disproportionate to the information in the petition. Nonetheless, authorities in charge of the case demand his continued imprisonment.

Ali Farahbakhsh is a journalist with a clear and lengthy track record. It is clear where he came from, what he has done, and what his capabilities are. The collection of his writings, organizations he has managed, and his entire life are clear. He comes from a good family, and along with his wife and toddler child, the image that appears is one of a good man who loves his country and has never considered leaving it to pursue further education or a better life abroad.

If there was anything else in his file, it would have been reflected in the petition and would have been raised by now. Now, since the court proceedings are complete, the question is whose will is still keeping Ali Farahbakhsh behind the bars? How is such a will capable of defying the orders of the Head of Judiciary, along with the millions of eyes who are capable of analyzing this case and understanding the outcome?

Unfortunately, the configuration and administration of the Judiciary system allows such action. This is why Head of Judiciary and other high level authorities of the country must continually interfere in certain cases and try to resolve certain issues as a group. The system itself suffers from so many cracks, it is possible for similar cases to get lost in it. Ali Farahbakhsh, however, has had access to Head of Judiciary, and he has two signed letters from him in his file. If this has happened to him, how will the thousands of other Iranians who have no access to authorities in the Judiciary, fare in their search for justice?

Farahbakhsh’s situation with respect to his arrest, imprisonment, and the sentence handed to him, is another political file dealt with injustice over the past several years, and this leads us to face the abhorrent condition of lack of justice for Iranian citizens. Every day that Ali Farahbakhsh and those like him remain in jail, is another day where this widespread and continuous injustice in Iranian society is upheld. This will do little to further the Judiciary’s reputation, or for that matter that of intelligence forces.


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