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'Moral Outrage' As Iranian Court Upholds Student's Death Sentence

  • Golnaz Esfandiari

A protester holds stones as he faces off against security forces in Tehran during antigovernment protests on December 27. Mohammad Amin Valian has been sentenced to death for similar behavior during the rallies.

A protester holds stones as he faces off against security forces in Tehran during antigovernment protests on December 27. Mohammad Amin Valian has been sentenced to death for similar behavior during the rallies.

Twenty-year-old Mohammad Amin Valian, a student at Iran's Damghan University, could be executed at any time.

Several opposition websites have reported that an appeals court has upheld the death sentence against Valian in connection with a December antigovernment protest. He is among at least 11 people sentenced to death in trials following the protests that erupted after last year's disputed presidential election.

Aaron Rhodes, a spokesman with the International Campaign for Human Rights In Iran, tells RFE/RL that Valian has been convicted of "moharebeh" or "waging war against God," based on a photo taken during a protest on the December 27 religious holiday of Ashura.

"He was charged with moharebeh, which is just about the most serious charge that anybody in Iran can be charged with," Rhodes says. "And what this guy did -- he is a bright young student who was politically active -- he took part in several demonstrations, not as a leader but he was photographed throwing some rocks. And on the basis of those photographs he's received those charges."

During the Ashura holiday, opposition members launched fresh antigovernment protests in Tehran and several other cities. Bloody clashes were reported and dozens of protesters were arrested; at least eight were killed.

Religious Family

The opposition website "Iran Green Voice" reports that the judge who issued the initial moharebeh verdict referred to a speech by a senior cleric, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, who had reportedly said that "desecrators of Ashura" are "mohareb," or enemies of God.

Any number of others could be similarly accused, convicted, and face being hung.
The website, which has called for a campaign to save Valian from death, says that the student comes from a religious family and that his activities have always been within the framework of the law. According to the website, there have been no proven links whatsoever between Valian and groups and organizations outlawed in Iran.

Valian is a member of the reformist Islamic Association at his university in the northern town of Damghan. He reportedly campaigned for opposition leader and defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Musavi, who has said that last June's presidential vote was massively rigged in favor of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

It is not clear when he was arrested, but he went on trial in early February.

'Moral Outrage'


Rhodes describes the death sentence against Valian as a "complete moral outrage."

"It's an attempt to intimidate other students, other young people like him, who just want to exercise their basic human rights and their political rights," Rhodes says. "Any number of others could be similarly accused, convicted, and face being hung." Rhodes says the "grossly disproportionate sentence" devalues the life of a promising young man.

A prominent human rights lawyer, Abdol Fatah Soltani, tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the charge of moharebeh is being misused by Iranian judicial authorities. "None of those who are being arrested in protest demonstrations can be charged with moharebeh because they participate in peaceful protests and they're after their civil rights," Soltani says. "The essential condition for moharebeh is when someone has taken up arms and attacked people and created riots."

Soltani believes that throwing stones does not rise to the charge of moharebeh. The Iranian authorities have said that five arrested in connection with the Ashura unrest have been charged with moharebeh.

Iran has so far executed two people sentenced in trials following the postelection unrest that has plunged the Islamic republic into its worse crisis since the revolution. Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani and Arash Rahmani Pour were hanged on January 28 after being charged with moharebeh over their membership in an exiled monarchist group that aims at overthrowing the Islamic regime. The two had been reportedly arrested before the presidential vote.

Radio Farda broadcaster Elahe Ravanshad contributed to this report

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