Breaking the Language Barrier on Human Rights

Zia Nabavi Writes Detailed Case Report for Ayatollah Larijani

February 26, 2010

Deutsche Übersetzung auf Julias Blog lesen

Zia Nabavi’s Letter to the Judiciary Chief Sadeq Larijani

Your Excellency Ayatollah Larijani, Chief of the Judiciary,

My name is Ziaoldin Nabavi.  I was born in 1983 in the city of Qaemshahr [county in the province of Mazandaran]. I was arrested in the wake of the presidential election on the night of June 15th while I was at a relative’s house.  After spending 100 days in the Ministry of Intelligence ward 209 in Evin prison, I was transferred to the general ward. Currently I am being held in ward 350.

I graduated with a chemical engineering degree from the University of Technology of Babol, and I was prevented from completing my master’s degree in sociology (I am a so-called “starred” student) [i.e. a system developed by Iran’s Ministry of Advanced Education so students with disciplinary issues get penalized with stars. After a certain number of stars, those students are prevented from continuing their education. The system is primarily used against student activists].

Here is a summary of the charges against me and the sentence I received for each:

  1. Conspiracy to act against national security (three years in prison)
  2. Propaganda against the regime (one year in prison)
  3. Disruption of public order (one year in prison)
  4. Agitation of the public’s peace of mind (74 lashes)
  5. Ties and cooperation with Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) (ten years in prison to be served in the city of Izeh, Khuzestan)

There are three main reasons why I am writing you this letter:

First, to appeal such an unbelievably harsh sentence and to protest such irrelevant charges.

Second, to defend and restore the reputation and clear the names of “starred” students who were only defending their rights. They were never part of any political group that supported or opposed the ruling establishment.

Third, to raise concern about my situation (from the time of my arrest to the interrogations and trial).  I have a responsibility to open a debate that would possibly lead to a change in (prison) procedures. It is very likely that methods employed have become the norm and are also practiced against other detainees.  Justice directly affects the fate of people. Any mistake made is an unforgivable one.

Since the officials’ pursuit of starred students was, in my opinion, the main reason for my arrest, I would like to offer an explanation.

The trend to “star” students and deprive them of their education, as far as my generation can remember, started in 2006. In that same year, some of the students (activists or members of university Islamic student unions and who wanted entry to further their education) were disqualified despite meeting the academic criteria of admission.

Student activists took their grievance to the evaluations office (responsible for overlooking all post-secondary qualifying exams). There they discovered that although they should have been able to gain admission, they were labelled as “unqualified” to continue their education. I became a star student in 2008.

Since 2006, the students deprived from their education have exercised many possibilities to restore their rights. They have met and talked with officials at the Ministry of Advanced Education, members of delegation that deal with violations from the ministry, parliamentary committees responsible for education, cultural organizations, the National Security, members of the Supreme Cultural Council, the Expediency Council, and high officials such as Messrs. Hashemi, Khatami, and Karroubi.

PHOTO: Imprisoned student Zia Nabavi

The banned students even took their call for justice to the Government Administrative Tribunal (The tribunal that adjudicated on cases by citizens against government offices). The students’ statements were not only regarded as trivial by the officials, but the existence of starred students was completely denied.

After three years of unsuccessful attempts to restore their rights, students were obliged to set up an organization called “The Council to Defend the Right to Education”. They collectively pursued their cases at a time that coincided with the presidential election. They were hoping the election campaign atmosphere would make it easier for their voices to be heard, since there would be a larger public presence.  Students decided to write letters to officials, in addition to contacting presidential candidates and collecting data on “starred” students.

In the wake of the election and the events that followed, the goal of the students was not accomplished. Instead, eight of the most active members were arrested, imprisoned, and tried on false and irrelevant charges like Moharebeh [fighting against God. A charge brought against members of armed opposition groups], affiliation with armed opposition groups, and conspiracy to overthrow the government.

As you know, education and acquiring knowledge have been highly recommended and encouraged by our religious traditions. On the one hand, the right to education is enshrined in various articles in the (Iranian) constitution, as well as in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also considered a fundamental and undeniable right. Therefore, deprivation of the right to education cannot be legally and reasonably justified as punishment.

On the other hand, if we agree that the deprivation of education is a legitimate punishment, then the officials need to explain the legal process in which the students were tried, convicted, and banned from their education. Moreover, it is clear that the deprivation measures were taken as a response to the activities of students during their post-secondary studies. For example, in the report by the Ministry of Intelligence against me, it states: ‘The individual who had an operational role in student protests and the strike in Babol University (which by the way was not a political protest and simply concerned the poor quality treatment of students), is suspended from  his education for the year 2006.”

Even if we do not accept the argument that a trial is necessary before a student can lose their right to education, the question still remains why students, who had already faced punishment from the university disciplinary committee (I was suspended for two semesters), get additionally punished by having their right to education revoked.

The most unfortunate and painful matter is the denial of the existence of starred students by the Ministry of Advanced Education, the Evaluations Office, and even the president himself while in the media. However, this is not the end of the story.  This tragedy was concluded by the arrest and trial of some of the students charged with Moharebeh. Now, a mistake on the part of the officials was complemented by a bigger one. A problem that could have been avoided by a little leniency from the officials has turned into a catastrophe that manifested into a cruel 15-year imprisonment sentence.  The amount of years given to me is unprecedented for a student activist.

PHOTO: Judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani

In the text of the verdict and sentencing read out by the judge, some noteworthy points appear. It seems these points have been the basis for the verdict. We were never provided the written text, and as a result, I rely on my memory to lay out as many of these points that I can remember:

  • The accused has given no confession with regard to the allegations.
  • Some of the members of the family and relatives of the accused have been a member of the MKO, and are currently residing in Camp Ashraf (MKO’s base in Iraq).
  • The accused has formed a society along with other students deprived of education, and has engaged in political activities and meetings.
  • The accused has been interviewed by foreign media regarding the deprivation of education.
  • The accused prepared reports of the conditions of some of the deprived students and sent them to Amirkabir news site (belonging to Tehran’s Polytechnic University students).
  • Last year, someone from Iran News Agency contacted the accused, but the accused considered the call suspicious and did not respond.
  • In 2009, an individual called Ashkan who had returned from Camp Ashraf, contacted the accused and asked him to establish contact with the MKO. The accused refused his request.
  • In June 2009, someone that introduced himself as a freelance journalist contacted the accused, but the accused considered the contact suspicious and did not respond.
  • The accused was present on the June 25th [demonstration] from 4:30 to 5:30pm between Enqelab Square and the Ministry of Labour.

Here are my explanations about these points:

I have never stated anything but the truth during the course of my interrogation, despite severe psychological and sometimes physical pressures (sit ups, kicks, blows to the back of the head, insults, and humiliation, etc.) . I have not confessed to crimes I never committed. My activities have always been apparent and open for everyone to see.

Every person is, without a doubt, responsible for their own actions. Therefore, condemning someone for the actions and records of his relatives is illegal and unjust [referring to the regime’s accusation that Zia is Mujahedin] . If such a condemnation was justified, there would be no innocent person on earth [due to every person’s likely affiliation with at least one person who has committed an offence].

I have never denied my membership to the Council to Defend the Rights to Education, and as I said during the interrogations, I was the one with the most responsibilities in the group. However, the point is that the actions of this group was only concerned with restoring the right to education for starred students. No illegal activity ever took place, especially any that could be considered hostile toward the establishment.

Since the officials denied the existence of starred students, and national media (due to national restrictions) did not report on the students’ deprived situation, which if they did, could have helped demonstrate that the injustice students endure is real. The students were left no choice but to speak to foreign media. What was said in the interviews cannot be considered instances of lies, propaganda against the regime, or agitation of the public’s peace of mind.

Due to the susceptibility of my family, I was always careful not to, even unconsciously, establish contact with the MKO. Also, as it has been noted in the Ministry of Intelligence report, I never responded to any suspicious contact (even when it came from a news agency). It is unbelievable that my refusal to establish contact has been used against me to justify a 10-year prison sentence on the charge of collaboration with the MKO.

I was only present at the June 25th gathering at 4:30 to 5:30pm,  between Enqelab Square and the Ministry of Labour. I decided to participate on my own, and was not coordinated with any group. In this period of time, no violence broke out, thus a charge of conspiracy to act against national security and disturbing public order cannot hold.

Since my arrest seven months ago, I have not seen any arrest warrant or any renewal thereof (if such renewal took place at all).  The only written document I have ever seen was shown to me on the 70th day of my detention, titled: Request for Reduction [of bail]. The space for the amount of bail was left empty.  I hastily signed the document due to the insistence of a ward 209 guard. The document is available in my file, and the space for the amount now reads $500,000 (USD).

During the interrogations, I was under pressure to [falsely] accept the Council to Defend the Rights to Education as an organization by the MKO, and I was their operative.  However, I clearly stated during the interrogation and the course of the trial that I have no common interest or belief with the MKO, and I resent any political ideology based on violence and blind obedience.  I have repeatedly stated that if there was the smallest evidence of my ties with this group (phone calls, e-mails, etc.), or even if one of my friends or co-defendants stated that I was a supporter or sympathizer of the MKO, I would not even object to a death sentence.

Moreover, whoever knows me is aware that I have a critical personality, and I am not able to be a blind follower of a group or association. This personality trait is evident in my writings as well as in my conduct and activities during my studies. This matter cannot be unknown to the Ministry of Intelligence, and that is why I am perplexed about the logical basis behind the harsh sentence I have received.

In any case, for the sake of justice, the dignity of deprived students, and the call for justice from an oppressed person, I implore you to take a look at my case to see the injustices I have endured. I welcome, in advance, any attempt to shed light on my case, even by publishing to the media the text of the interrogations and the contents of my case. This way, my claim regarding the lack of any evidence pertaining to charges against me can be proven.

Since adjudicating is a complicated form of acquiring knowledge, the conduct of the judicial system emanates from the common theoretical and knowledge-based presumptions in society. Therefore, as an individual interested in theoretical discussions, I find it necessary to draw attention to a point:

One of our main problems is understanding the social phenomenon of reductionism: the analysis of complex issues by simplifying and focusing on one factor of a problem. The motive behind the reductionist approach, aside from uncovering the truth, is to release oneself from the stresses caused by when facing a new phenomenon dishonestly. Unfortunately, I witnessed this way of thinking during the course of my interrogations.

Experts [expert is the term used to refer to the person who is in charge of the case and/or the interrogation] who are supposed to dissect problems to find the root of it and who were faced with the issue of ‘educationally deprived students’, chose to simplify the solution by denying such students exist entirely.  After the denial plan failed, the experts then linked students to opposition and hostile political groups.

Although a thousand reasons can be offered to show that making such attributions to students is horribly illogical and unjustified, the only advantage here is the peace of mind that  intelligence and security officials receive for their formed (albeit incorrect) understanding of the problem that causes them to raise the price for the pursuit of the right to education.

Believe me that during the course of my interrogations, my wish was not to be released, but to find an opportunity to have a conversation with the expert of the case. I wanted to explain to him how the problem of the starred students started, and what they endured all these years, in addition to many other issues. This never became possible due to the environment of the interrogation sessions and the prevalent pressures. Every conversation was contingent on confessing to a crime I had never committed or imagined.

In any case, this is a request that has been left unanswered, and all these years that we have been deprived from pursuing our studies, no officials from the Ministry of Advanced Education, the judiciary, or the Ministry of Intelligence has called on us to explain our grievances or to express our demands. We hope that after the many anguishes and distresses on our parts, this letter becomes the pretext under which conversations can take place.

Honourable Chief of the Judiciary,

Please put yourself in the place of a person, who despite possessing academic skills and qualifications, is deprived from continuing education and advancing academically. What is more unfortunate is that students, due to their endeavour to restore their rights, have received harsh sentences such as imprisonment. You can see that the hidden repression in this injustice is truly painful.

Again, I implore that my case and the cases of other starred students be reviewed from a completely legal perspective, away from any political bias. Also, justice should be carried out in the appeals stage, and at least the charge of ties with the MKO be eliminated so other starred students and I can reclaim our dignity and clear our names.

Furthermore, since many students have fruitlessly taken their case to Government Administrative Tribunal, I would like to ask you that in line with other positive changes in the judicial system, the way these cases are handled should change as well. Such changes will make it possible for students to return to university and pursue their studies. Freedom is sweet, but freedom without the possibility to study and acquire knowledge is void of any joy.

I thank you in advance for your considerations.

Seyed Ziaoldin Nabavi
Ward 350 of Evin Prison

Translation by:  Siavosh J.  |

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Source for scanned copy of Zia Nabavi’s letter: International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran
  • Balatarin
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    1. thank you for this huge translation work!

    2. Copy sent to Amnesty International & Human Rights Watch. :) Thank you for translation.


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