Iranian prisons context: Iranian security officials routinely subject those imprisoned – particularly political prisoners and those imprisoned on grounds of conscience – to forced confessions, torture and ill-treatment. Over the years, Amnesty International has documented methods of torture including floggings, electric shocks, mock executions, waterboarding, sexual violence, suspension, force-feeding of chemical substances, and deliberate deprivation of medical care. In August 2021, leaked video footage showed scenes of prison guards violently beating detainees in Evin prison. The videos also validate concerns around chronic overcrowding and solitary confinement in cruel and inhumane prison conditions.
Arabi is released on 16 November, following the expiry of his 7 and a half year prison sentence. He is sent to the city of Borazjan in South Iran, to serve an additional two years in internal exile. Arabi’s family and his lawyer have condemned the fact that Arabi was illegally imprisoned for 285 days on top of his sentence, and are pushing for this time to be discounted from his internal exile sentence.
Arabi is summoned to a hearing for a new charge of “propaganda activities against the state”. The evidence being brought against him reportedly involves “reporting on the situation of the prison, hunger strike in protest against the deprivation of the political prisoners from medical treatment, and publishing statements about November 2019 general protests in Iran.”
Arabi is acquitted of the charge of “propaganda activities against the state”. This is a new charge which was brought against him in retaliation for audio recordings he made which were published by BBC Persian, in which he described the dehumanizing treatment of detainees in Iran’s prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arabi is without warning transferred from the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary to Rajai Shahr prison, where he was placed in solitary confinement for 33 days. Arabi was held incommunicado, and was denied access to phone calls and medication during this time.
Arabi’s mother, Farangis Mazloum continues to experience judicial harassment because of her efforts to free her son. She is sentenced to 18 months imprisonment by Branch 29 of Tehran Revolutionary Court, on charges of “gathering and colluding against national security” for continuing to speak out against the conditions in which her son is being held.
Mazloum was first arrested on these charges in July 2019. She was detained in solitary confinement for a period of 2 and a half months, and was subjected to torture.
Arabi continues his hunger strike and announces in an open letter that he was doing so in protest of the Greater Tehran Penitentiary’s failure to send him to hospital in spite of his deteriorating health, the dire conditions of the prison and for the refusal to release political prisoners in light of the COVID-19 crisis. He also seeks to raise awareness of the plight of imprisoned protesters who were arrested during the November 2019 protests in Iran.
Arabi is reportedly beaten by prison guards leading to his hospitalization. His wife is also detained and harassed.
From prison, Arabi writes a letter for International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, urging people to speak out against gender-based violence and oppression.
New charges, reportedly based on his peaceful activism while in prison, are brought against Arabi.
He is sentenced to a further three years in prison (increasing his total sentence to 10 years), three years in exile, and a fine of approximately 40 million IRR [~ $400 USD] on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “disturbing the public mind.” His lawyer did not learn of the verdict until eight days later.
Arabi goes on hunger strike to protest the arrest of Atena Daemi and Golrokh Iraee and their transfer to Qarchak Prison in Varamin. He is beaten by prison authorities and suffers severe blows to his head. He is reportedly transferred to an emergency hospital in March due to his critical medical conditions and potential brain damage. He ends his hunger strike after 55 days.
Arabi makes a “taped will” via voicemail messages. In it, he states: “Today (23rd September 2017) is the third year that my daughter goes to school and I am not with her. I have gone on a dry and liquid hunger strike since I do not want her to see me behind bars, anymore […] Farewell life, bury me right here in my cell in Evin.”
Arabi is held in Hall 8 Ward 8 of Evin prison among dangerous prisoners and deprived of family visits.
Arabi goes on hunger strike to protest the arrest of his wife, Nastaran Naimi, by the IRGC. Arabi suffers severe seizures and hypotension. He is initially denied medical care, but is eventually transferred to Tehran’s Khomeini Hospital for treatment.
Following an international outcry and a drawn-out appeals process, Arabi’s death sentence is commuted to “reading 13 religious books and studying theology for two years”, as well as a 90-day jail term. The total seven-and-a-half-year jail sentence for allegedly “insulting the supreme leader” and other charges remains.
Iran’s Supreme Court upholds the death penalty ruling and unlawfully adds the charge of “sowing corruption of earth” to Arabi’s case which forecloses the possibility of amnesty. Thereafter, the court transfers his file to the judiciary’s implementation unit, opening the way for his execution.
Arabi is sentenced to a further three years in prison for “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “propaganda against the state”, again in Facebook posts.
The Criminal Court of Tehran hands down a death sentence to Mr. Arabi for “insulting the Prophet of Islam” under article 262 of Iran’s Islamic penal code.
Arabi is arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) at his home in Tehran in relation to posts made across various accounts on Facebook.
He is interrogated, and forced to spend 2 months in solitary confinement in section 2A of Evin Prison, which is under the control of the IRGC. During his confinement, he was repeatedly tortured and was eventually forced to give a confession.
Prior to his arrest, Arabi managed eight different Facebook pages while also working as a photographer. Arabi has a young daughter. Initially his former wife, Nastaran Naimi, was arrested by agents from the Revolutionary Guards, at the same time as Arabi was arrested. Naimi was freed after several hours, while Arabi was not.
Arabi was awarded the Reporters Without Borders prize for Press Freedom in 2017.
On September 29 2020, a group of human rights activists launched the hashtag #call4soheil on Twitter in support of Arabi.
Freedom of religion or belief, and the freedoms of expression, association and assembly in the Islamic Republic of Iran are all severely restricted. Iranian law bars any criticism of Islam or deviation from the ruling Islamic standards. The authorities use these laws to persecute religious minorities and government critics.
The government jails and executes dozens of individuals periodically on charges of “enmity against God” (moharebeh). Although this crime is framed as a religious offense, and may be used against atheists and other religious dissenters, it is most often used as a punishment for political acts that challenge the regime (on the basis that to oppose the theocratic regime is to oppose Allah).
According to Iran’s Islamic penal code, insulting the prophet is punishable by death, although a clause states if the accused states the insults were the result of a mistake or were made in anger, the sentence can be reduced to 74 lashes.
Humanists International calls on the Iranian government to release Soheil Arabi, guarantee his safety and well-being while he is detained, to end its campaign of judicial harassment against Arabi and his family, and to drop all charges against him.
Humanists International has worked on Arabi’s case since 2018.
In addition to behind-the-scenes advocacy, Humanists International has raised Arabi’s case at the United Nations Human Rights Council a number of times: most recently 2021, during an interactive dialogue with the with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mr. Javaid Rehman. Humanists International also raised Arabi’s case in 2018 and in 2019 in a dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
In April 2020, Humanists International campaigned for the Iranian government to release all prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders during the COVID-19 crisis, on grounds that the virus posed an unacceptable risk to those detained in Iran’s overcrowded prisons.