Friday, 20 January 2017
After security forces arrested Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nekounam on 1 January 2015, they searched his home, broke down doors and confiscated a number of his belongings, including his laptop, hard drives, books and personal writings. Two months into his detention, he suffered a stroke while being held incommunicado and was subsequently released on medical leave on 16
March 2015. He was rearrested on 21 April 2015, shortly after an interview in which he expressed his criticism of compulsory veiling (hijab) and the violence used against women to enforce the practice was published in the Ghanoon newspaper. Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nekounam has been denied access to specialized medical care. His transfers to a hospital outside prison have, for the most part, been blocked by the authorities. On the few occasions that he has been taken to hospital or granted short periods of medical leave, he has been denied access to the specialized medical care he needs and, against medical advice, been forced to return to prison. He has also, at times, been denied family visits. Some members of Ayatollah
Mohammad Reza Nekounam’s family, and dozens of his followers, have been targeted by the authorities; some have been taking in for questioning, while others have been arrested and detained. Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nekounam was never provided with a written copy of the court’s judgement. The authorities only verbally informed him of the verdict on 8 March 2015, five days after his stroke when his cognitive functions were still impaired. Officials of the Special Court for the Clergy have set numerous conditions for Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nekounam’s release, all of which he has refused to accept. These include stopping his criticism of state-sanctioned clerics, confirming their religious authority, and relocating to the city of Najaf in Iraq.
Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nekounam is a well-known Shi’a religious figure in Iran and has written hundreds of articles on Islamic jurisprudence. Prior to his imprisonment, he gave regular public talks and sermons in which he expressed views favourable towards human rights in relation to compulsory veiling, same-sex marriage, and the internet – views which are not in line with traditional religious thought in Iran. In September 2014, in his criticism of a fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nekounam said: “Internet is power. If you can’t use it, just leave it and go. This gentleman cannot use the internet and [he] turns around and says it is forbidden.” In speeches he has given, many of which are available on YouTube, he has challenged the idea of Velayat-e Faqih (Ayatollah Khomeini’s concept of rule by an Islamic jurist and the basis of political leadership in Iran) and suggested Islam must be updated and modernized.
The Special Court for the Clergy (Dadgah-e Vizheh Rouhaniat), which was officially established in 1987, holds exclusive jurisdiction over “offences” committed by clerics. These include broad and vaguely worded offences such as “counter-revolution, corruption, fornication, unlawful acts, accusations which are incompatible with the status of the clergy, and all crimes committed by ‘pseudo-clergy’, both in terms of the ugly acts they commit and the effect they have on the reputation of the clergy”. The court is regularly used to squash dissent within the clergy. The court stands outside the country’s judiciary as a separate institution
and falls under the direct supervision of the Supreme Leader, thereby undermining the principle of judicial independence.
Amnesty International’s research shows that the authorities deliberately deny political prisoners access to adequate medical care, in many cases as an intentional act of cruelty intended to intimidate and punish political prisoners, or to extract forced “confessions”. Common practices that threaten the health and lives of political prisoners in Iran include: deliberately delaying or refusing urgent and/or specialized medical care; downplaying or outright dismissing the seriousness of prisoners’ medical grievances, and prescribing them ordinary painkillers and sedatives without addressing the underlying medical problem they complain of; withholding medication; refusing to release prisoners who are critically ill on compassionate grounds, making medical leave conditional on extortionate bail amounts; and forcing prisoners who have been transferred to hospital or granted medical leave to interrupt their treatment and return to prison against medical advice (see Health taken hostage: Cruel denial of
medical care in Iran’s prisons, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde13/4196/2016/en/).