(Yol Press, December 24, 2018, Society Section)
Interview with the reporter who was flogged:
“I was sentenced in absentia to 74 lashes” (Plus Pictures)
Mohammad Hossein Sodagar announced: “Police officers from the local precinct came to my home yesterday morning at 8 o’clock and arrested me, then took me to the Sentence Implementation [Department], and implemented the sentence, and I received 74 lashes.”
These are not good days for members of the media in Western Azarbaijan Province: Last week, a reporter against whom the Governor General’s Office had lodged a complaint was summoned and released on bail; another reporter was threatened with a complaint by that same institution; and yesterday, came the shocking news of yet another reporter’s flogging sentence having been carried out in the city of Khoi.
Azarbaijani poet, author, and director of the Sozbaz News Channel on the Telegram social media App, Mohammad Hossein Sodagar, is the person who was the target of a complaint by Majid Moghaddam, member of the Khoi City Council, and whose sentence of 74 lashes was carried out yesterday.
In an interview with Yol Press, the aforementioned reporter talked about the details and the reasons for that conviction, and stated: “After the City Council elections last year, I found out that certain claims made by Mr. Majid Moghaddam during the elections and published in his campaign literature as to his academic merits and degrees were not true; he had claimed that he was the 2016 Academic Person of Exception but there was no mention of his name in the Academic People of Exception Foundation. Furthermore, the Council member’s claims published in his campaign ads, to the effect that he held a doctorate and was a professor at Shahid Beheshti University were false. Subsequently, the picture of a dollar bill had been published that he claimed was the subject of an indirect [attack] against him, whereas it was not directly aimed at him or any special subject at all.”
Mohammad Hossein Sodagar continued: “The above caused this City Council member to lodge a complaint against me. I was served with a summons to appear in court in May 2018. However, when I attended the court at the prescribed time and date, the session did not convene because the plaintiff and other people [whose presence was necessary] were not there. This happened on two separate occasions, and the judge said that the date for the following session would be announced later. A short time later, however, I was served with an in absentia ruling of conviction, in spite of me having appeared in court on two separate occasions.”
He added: “After I had been served with the court ruling, Mr. Majid Moghaddam stated that he had dropped his complaint and would give his consent and forgiveness. I was contacted by the Sentence Implementation Department a few days ago, when I was busy with and in the midst of my mother’s medical treatment, and was told to go there so that they could carry out the flogging sentence. Police officers from the local precinct came to my home yesterday morning at 8 o’clock and arrested me, then took me to the Sentence Implementation [Department], and implemented the sentence, and I received 74 lashes.”
(Tabnak, Yahya Aghapur Khoyi, December 25, 2018, [city of] Orumieh, Political Section)
“The person that was flogged in Khoi is not a reporter.”
In an interview with Tabnak’s reporter in Western Azarbaijan Province regarding a complaint he had brought against Mr. Mohammad Hossein Sodagar, Dr. Majid Moghaddam, Head of Khoi Islamic City Council stated: “There is news going around on the internet these last few days, without talking about the main issue, and a number of people have purposely or inadvertently instigated this web of lies.”
Moghaddam said: “During the elections, this person made some unfair and false accusations against me in cyberspace, just like he is doing now, and insulted me and questioned my character as much as he possibly could, and that’s something that would be hurtful to anyone. I therefore brought a complaint against him as it is my right by law to do so, in order to defend myself as a real person and an academic personality.”
He emphasized: “This person has questioned my doctorate degree, my professorship at Shahid Beheshti University, my Exceptional Academic status, my position as a scientific arbiter, and my other activities in the scientific and academic realms, through disseminating falsehoods; he has made false accusations and slanderous remarks and has defamed me. When I lodged my complaint, he had to present evidence and documentation in order to prove his claims, but since his claims were pure lies and fabrication, he was not able to prove anything, and given the evidence and documentation that I presented, he was convicted pursuant to the law.”
In another part of the interview, Moghaddam stressed: “This case has to do with the elections and was concerned with my academic personality and me as a real person; it has nothing to do with the City Council. In fact, there were other people named in the complaint, but he was the only one who said in court that ‘I will continue to write materials against you’.”
The Head of Khoi Islamic City Council said: “There were even former city council members who brought complaints against me but the court approved and confirmed [the authenticity] of my documents. I was aware of the court ruling but I did not know whether it had become final, and had no information about the sentence being carried out. What’s more, he never apologized to me for insulting me and defaming me and disseminating falsehoods about me, not once. I had not received a notice of the sentence being implemented, however, and had this convicted person informed me, even on the day of implementation, I would not have allowed the sentence to be carried out.”
Moghaddam emphasized: “Even the pictures of the implementation of the sentence published on the internet and in foreign channels that have supported him have nothing to do with the city of Khoi, and this, in and of itself, is considered publication of falsehoods and creating apprehension in the public’s mind.”
Moghaddam noted: “As someone serving the people, and as a Moslem, I did not make this sentence public because I wanted to save this person’s reputation, as I believe safeguarding a person’s reputation is more important than going around the House of God [in performing the rite of pilgrimage in Mecca]; positions are not important to me as I am a servant of the people no matter where I am. I did what I did so that people would think twice about playing with someone’s reputation in this town and not defame and accuse others whenever they feel like it. These people are afraid of my active and compassionate presence in the city of Khoi, but no one is above the law. I ask God to protect everyone and ask the people of Khoi’s wise and well-informed people, as well as my friends and all those around me, to remain calm. God says: ‘And they (disbelievers) plotted [to kill Jesus], and Allah planned too. And Allah is the Best of planners.’”
In closing, Moghaddam added: “I deny everything that is ascribed to me other than what I have said in this interview, and I ask the dear and well-informed people’s forgiveness for having upset them either during the elections or now, and for not being told the truth [through no fault of mine], and I hope that I can, with God’s help, continue to be a good servant of the people and do good things for them as I have done in the past, and put this scheme and conspiracy behind me, with God’s help and the kindness of my fellow citizens.”
It must be noted that based on our investigations, this person was not a reporter, since these types of issues are considered in the presence of a jury, where the Province Press Administration is also a member; and no jury has ever sentenced a reporter to flogging and no jury ever will.
[Text of the Verdict Appears Below]
Western Azarbaijan Province Judiciary
Court Decision Number: [illegible]
Date Drafted: [illegible]
Case Number: 9609984436566126
Branch Archive Number: [illegible]
City of Khoi Criminal Court Two, Branch 103 (Formerly Criminal 103)
Case Number 9609984436566126, before the City of Khoi Criminal Court Two, Branch 103 (Formerly Criminal 103), Final Court Decision Number [illegible].
Majid Moghaddam, child of Esmaeel, whose address is Western Azarbaijan Province, Khoi County, City of Khoi, Janbazan Twenty-meter Street, Golriz Alley, Number 2.
1. Mr. Mohammad Sodagar, child of Esmaeel, whose address is Western Azarbaijan Province, Khoi, [illegible];
2. Ms. Massumeh Karimi, child of Mohammad, whose address is Western Azarbaijan Province, Khoi, 22nd of Bahman Boulevard, [illegible].
2. Publication of falsehoods.
Regarding the charges of Defamation and Publication of Falsehoods brought against 1. Massumeh Karimi, child of Mohammad, and 2. Mohammad Sodagar, child of Esmaeel, in the complaint lodged by Majid Moghaddam;
Having taken into consideration the Cyber Police’s report; the evidence and documentation contained in the case file; the Plaintiff’s statements and complaint; the defendants’ unjustifiable defense; the investigations conducted by the Prosecutor’s Office and the issued indictment; and the defendants’ not appearing in court in spite of having been served a summons to that effect;
Finds that the charges have been duly proven and, therefore, pursuant to Article 697 of the Islamic Penal Code of 1996-97, sentences each defendant to 74 lashes to be implemented in a covered space, observing all legal and religious (Shari’a) aspects and requirements.
This ruling is issued in absentia pursuant to Article 406 of the Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure of 2013, and can be appealed in this Court within 20 days of service hereof, and thereafter, can be appealed to the honorable Western Azarbaijan Province Courts of Appeal within 20 days of service.
Sharafkhani, Presiding Judge, City of Khoi Criminal Court Two, Branch 103
Findings of guilt in the Islamic Republic of Iran's Judicial Proceedings
The Islamic Republic of Iran's criminal justice system regularly falls short of the standards for due process necessary for impartiality, fairness, and efficacy. Suspects are often held incommunicado and not told of the reason for their detainment. Defendants are frequently prohibited from examining the evidence used against them. Defendants are sometimes prohibited from having their lawyers present in court. Additionally, confessions, made under duress or torture, are commonly admitted as proof of guilt. Because Iran's courts regularly disregard principles essential to the proper administration of justice, findings of guilt may not be evaluated with certainty.
Corporal Punishment: the Legal context in the Islamic Republic of Iran
The Islamic Republic's criminal code recognizes corporal punishment for a wide range of offenses: consumption of alcohol, theft, adultery, "flouting" of public morals, and mixing of the sexes in public. Judges have the latitude to mete out corporal punishment for those sentenced to death. In such cases, the flogging is carried out before death to maximize the suffering of defendant. Aside from flogging, the Islamic Republic also employs amputations as a punishment for theft. In such cases, the defendant is taken to a hospital and put under anesthesia as his hand or foot is amputated. In some cases the left foot and right hand are cut off, making it difficult for the condemned to walk, even with the assistance of a cane or crutches.
The Islamic Republic's Systematic Violation of its International Obligations under International Law
The use of corporal punishment is contrary to international law and is addressed in several international agreements. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Iran has ratified, states that, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Identical language is also used in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Iran is also a party to. The strongest expression of international disapproval is contained in the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). This treaty defines torture as, "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as ... punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed." Although the Islamic Republic of Iran has yet to sign the CAT, the prohibition on torture is now considered jus cogens and, therefore, part of customary international law. Furthermore, even though the norm against corporal punishment is not yet a jus cogens, there is increasing evidence that it is illegal under international human rights law. In Osbourne v. Jamaica, the Committee Against Torture (a body of experts responsible for monitoring compliance with the Convention) held that "corporal punishment constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment contrary to Article 7 of the Convention." The Islamic Republic of Iran's systematic violations of its obligations under international law have been addressed by the UN General Assembly multiple times, most recently in December 2007. In Resolution 62/168, the UN expressed deep concern with Iran's continued flouting of international human rights law, particularly, "confirmed instances of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including flogging and amputations."