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Iran Sentences Poets, Filmmaker To Prison, Lashings

Iranian poets Fatemeh Ekhtesari (left) and Mehdi Musavi were sentenced to prison terms of 11 1/2 years and nine years after being convicted of charges that include "insulting sanctities."

Iran's revolutionary court has sentenced two poets and a filmmaker to a total of 26 1/2 years in prison and 421 lashes.

Poets Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Musavi were sentenced to prison terms of 11 1/2 years and nine years after being convicted of charges that include "insulting sanctities."

Their lawyer, Amir Raeisian, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the charges were brought against the two based on their poetry.

"None of the poems that were referred to in court include insulting terms, more importantly none of them were related to sanctities. Yet this is the court's interpretation," Raeisian said on October 13.

Ekhtesari and Musavi were also each sentenced to receive 99 lashes for "kissing [the cheeks] and shaking hands with unrelated members [of the opposite sex.]" Shaking hands in public with unrelated members of the opposite sex is forbidden in the Islamic republic.

Writing on social media, Musavi called the charges against him and Ektesari a "joke."

"I hope one day there will be such justice in this country that no one will be sentenced to heavy jail term for writing a poem and being a freedom lover," Musavi wrote on Instagram.

Meanwhile, award-winning filmmaker Keywan Karimi was sentenced to six years in prison and 223 lashes, the Iranian opposition website Kalame reported on October 12.

The report did not include the reason for the lashing sentence against Karimi.

In an interview with the Associated Press published on October 14, Karimi said the prison sentence was handed down against him on the charge of "insulting sanctities."

"I don't know what happened that I should go to jail for six years," Karimi said.

"I speak about the government, I speak about society, I speak about [graffiti], I speak about a laborer," he added.

Ekhtesari, Musavi, and Karimi have said they will appeal against the sentences.

Ekhtesari and Musavi were released on bail in 2013 after being detained and interrogated for more than a month by the intelligence branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The heavy sentences come even as a group of Iranian rights advocates and activists expressed the hope that the nuclear agreement reached between Iran and world powers in July would ultimately strengthen Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who has promised to give Iranians more freedom.

The cases, however, appear to highlight the determination by Iranian hard-liners who control key institutions, including the judiciary, to resist any attempt to liberalize the political atmosphere and send a warning to dissenters.

In recent weeks, several other activists and artists have been sentenced to heavy prison terms, including writer and television producer Mostafa Azizi and cartoonist Atena Farghadani.

Amnesty International reported on October 9 that Farghadani, who is serving a 12-year prison sentence, was recently forced to undergo a "pregnancy and virginity test" for shaking hands with her lawyer.

Meanwhile, the fate of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who was put on trail on espionage charges in Iran earlier this year, remains unclear.

Judiciary spokesman Mohsen Ejei said on October 9 that a verdict had been reached in Rezaian's trial but did not provide details.

The Washington Post and Rezaian's family have rejected the espionage charges against him as absurd.

Rezaian, a dual Iranian-American citizen, has been in detention in Tehran for more than a year.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, AP, and Kalame