Iran: Artist awaits appeal of five-year prison sentence

shahriar-siroos-iran
Iranian artist and painter Shahriar Siroos is awaiting a judgment on his appeal over his five-year prison sentence handed down by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in September 2016 on charges of establishing a group to “perturb the security of the country” related to him teaching art classes at his home, reported International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran on 4 November 2016.

According to a legal analyst speaking to the human rights organisation under condition of anonymity, the charges based on Article 498 of the Islamic Penal Code, should have not been admissible in court.

Article 498 states:

Anyone, with any ideology, who establishes or directs a group, society, or branch, inside or outside the country, with any name or title, that constitutes more than two individuals and aims to perturb the security of the country, if not considered as mohareb (enemy of God), shall be sentenced to two to 10 years’ imprisonment.

“An art class is not a ‘group, society, or branch’ and there was no intention to ‘perturb’ the security of the country,” the analyst told the organisation. “Article 498 applies to subversive armed groups, not to an art instructor who held classes without a permit.”


The arrest
Siroos was originally arrested in June 2015 by Intelligence Ministry agents for teaching the classes and was sent to Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison where he was detained for nearly two months until he was released on bail. During his detention, Siroos spent 48 days in solitary confinement, reported research organisation Iran Press Watch on 3 November 2016.

At the time of the arrest 11 agents entered Siroos’s art class as it was in session, handcuffed Siroos and confiscated everyone’s mobile phones, including those of the students, a source speaking on condition of anonymity told the research organisation. Siroos taught his class on the first floor of a four-storey apartment building and lives on the fourth floor of the same building; his parents live on the second floor, and another family, which is unrelated, lives on the third.

According to the source, several of the agents searched all the apartments in the building without a search warrant and confiscated all the electronic devices they found, including laptops, phones, tablets, home computers, as well as books and CDs.


Routinely targetted by authorities
Siroos, who is of the Bahá’í faith, had been repeatedly questioned by Intelligence Ministry agents in the mid-2000s, though Iranian officials have denied they have persecuted him for his religious beliefs.

The artist had once been a teacher at the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education, an online learning centre where he taught art and humanities classes. In 2009, during a crackdown on the institute that saw members of the committee in charge of the centre arrested, agents searched the artist’s home and confiscated many of his belongings. It was at that point that Siroos stopped teaching at the institute and began teaching private lessons at his home.

The Bahá’í faith is a monotheistic religion founded in 19th century Persia that emphasises the spiritual unity of all humankind. People of the Bahá’í faith often face persecution in Islamic countries as Islamic leaders see it as an apostasy from Islam.

According to an 8 June 2016 statement by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the body accused Iranian religious, judicial and political authorities of making “verbal attacks” showing “extreme intolerance” toward Bahá’í followers that “could encourage discrimination and possibly acts of violence”, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on 8 June 2016.

Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, has also said that there is an “ongoing and systematic persecution” of Bahá’í by the Iranian government. The UN has further stated that the Iranian government has 72 Bahá’í followers in its prisons “solely because of their religious beliefs and practices”.


Photo: Internatinal Campaign for Human Rights in Iran


Sources

» International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran – 4 November 2016:
Baha’i artists sentenced to five years in prison for teaching art classes in his home awaits appeal results

» Iran Press Watch – 3 November 2016:
Baha’i artist Shahriar Cyrus sentenced to five-year imprisonment

» Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – 8 June 2016:
UN: Iranian authorities inciting hatred, persecuting Bahá’í minority

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