Trial of activists in Iran delayed by 10 days over access to lawyers

Five human rights and labour campaigners face charges of links to banned groups

The trial of dual-citizens Mehran Raoof, left, and German Nahid Taghavi were delayed until after presidential elections. Supplied
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

A British dual-citizen scribbled his defence to criminal charges in Iran with a borrowed pen and cardboard ripped from a box after he was released from solitary confinement only 24 hours before his trial, his supporters said on Monday.

Mehran Raoof, 64, and four other suspects, including German-Iranian Nahid Taghavi, 66, went before a judge on Sunday accused of involvement in banned political groups after being rounded up in October last year.

The trial – due to be heard while G7 leaders were meeting in the UK – was adjourned for 10 days after Mr Raoof complained he had not been able to meet his lawyer or prepare a proper defence.

The case will now be heard after this week's presidential elections in which the head of the judiciary Ebrahim Raisi is considered the frontrunner. Families welcomed the delay and said they hoped it would give western countries more time to press Iran into dropping the charges.

The five human rights and labour activists were rounded up in October 2020. It is believed that Iranian officials had them under surveillance after some of the suspects met in a Tehran cafe to discuss politics.

“We don’t know if this [delay] is dangerous or good,” said Mariam Claren, the daughter of Ms Taghavi. “My mother made one demand – that she is released on bail so that she could get medical treatment before her verdict. The judge didn’t say yes but he didn’t say no.”

Lawyers for Mr Raoof, a committed trade unionist, fear he will be sentenced to more than 10 years in prison if convicted of being the leader of an outlawed communist group.

Mr Raoof has spent all of his time in solitary confinement since his arrest except for the day before Sunday’s trial when he was taken to join other prisoners. The hearing was delayed because guards were unable to find him because they did not realise he had been moved out of solitary confinement, his supporters said.

He was taken to a mainstream prison wing after Sunday’s hearing where he now remains, said UK-based supporter Satar Rahmani, who is campaigning for his release. “This appears to be more optimistic,” he said. “This means that they have changed their minds.

“He had to write his defence with a borrowed pen and wrote it on a piece of card ripped from a box. That was a kind of protest. He showed it in court and started complaining.”

At least 15 dual-citizens are believed to be held in Iran on what their supporters say are trumped up charges.

The five face political charges but many are accused of espionage and spying and similar secret trials have concluded with long prison sentences. Prisoners are often used as bargaining chips to secure Iran’s broader diplomatic goals.

Human rights groups are urging western governments not to negotiate with Iran unless they free illegally-held prisoners.

The planned trial came at a sensitive time with discussions continuing into reviving the 2015 nuclear deal that deteriorated when former US president Donald Trump pulled out and reimposed sanctions on Iran.