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Lawyer and Client Accused of “Illegitimate Relations” for a Handshake in Prison



Update: Mohammad Moghimi was released from Rajaee Shahr Prison on bail of 20 million toman (approximately $60,000) on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 17, 2015.

Mohammad Moghimi, a defense lawyer who was imprisoned for shaking the hand of his client, the imprisoned artist and civil activist Atena Faraghdani, during a prison visit, will be released on June 16 after his family posted bail, a source close to Mr. Moghimi’s family told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Mr. Moghimi, who has been in custody at Rajaee Shahr Prison since June 13 after his meeting with Ms. Faraghdani at Evin Prison, received bail orders of 20 million toman (approximately $60,000) from Branch 4 of Evin Prison Court, which his family paid on June 15. Officials told the family that he would be released on June 16, although at press time he was not yet released.

Mohmmad Moghimi was charged with “non-adultery illegitimate relations” for shaking hands with his female client. He had gone to Evin Prison to meet Ms. Faraghdani and to prepare an appeal request for her 12-year prison sentence.

A source close to Atena Faraghdani told the Campaign that Ms. Faraghdani’s family was able to see her the day after the incident. “Atena was in very bad shape and could not concentrate. She kept begging her family ‘to tell everyone that all she did was shake hands,’” said the source, adding, “Atena was excited to see her lawyer, so she offered her hand and the lawyer shook hands with her. This happened in the presence of two agents in the room. Atena apologized for this right there…but the agents didn’t let it go and took her back to her prison ward and arrested Mr. Moghimi right there.”

The source told the Campaign that Ms. Faraghdani was transferred to Evin Prison Courts on June 14. “She was so upset, she couldn’t explain to her family what exactly happened in court, unfortunately. All she told them was that she was accused of ‘non-adultery illegitimate relations’ in court,” said the source, adding, “But a handshake is not illegitimate relations!”

The source told the Campaign that the family remains hopeful that Ms. Faraghdani’s sentence of 12 years and nine months in prison would be overturned at appeal. “We had hoped the appeals court would overrule this heavy sentence. But now, with this new incident, it’s not clear what will happen. But if this story grows bigger and affects the ruling, and brings additional punishment for Atena, her family will surely sue for defamation. How is it possible to treat ‘illegitimate relations’ and shaking hands equally?!”

Ms. Faraghdani was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” and “insulting the Supreme Leader, the President, Members of the Parliament, and the interrogating prison agents” inside the IRGC’s Ward 2-A.

Evidence of Ms. Faraghdani’s insulting state officials was presented in court in the form of a cartoon she drew and published on her Facebook page of the Members of the Parliament as various animals. Critical posts on her Facebook page and visits with families of political prisoners and those killed at Kahrizak Detention Center during the post-2009 election unrest comprised the other evidence against her.

However, Fars News Agency claimed in a June 8 article that the reason for Ms. Faraghdani’s arrest and her heavy sentence was not her drawings, but her relationship with the Baha’i community. Fars alleged that Ms. Faraghdani “joined the Baha’i community following the 2009 ‘sedition’ to oppose the Islamic state.” The article alleges that her contact with former political prisoner Mohammad Nurizad is evidence of her Baha’i relations. The Baha’i are one of the most persecuted minorities in Iran.

Atena Faraghdani studied painting at Tehran’s Al-Zahra University. Security agents arrested the painter and civil activist on August 24, 2014, and transferred her to IRGC’s Ward 2-A inside Evin Prison. She was released on bail on November 2, 2014.

She published a video of herself, in which she spoke about an incident of aggressive strip search by female prison guards inside a solitary cell at Evin Prison. She said in the video that she had been ordered to take off her clothes, which she had refused. The video was widely viewed and discussed on social media networks in Iran. After the video was published, she was summoned to Branch 15 of Tehran Revolutionary Court on January 10, 2015, arrested, and transferred to Gharchak Prison in Varamin, outside Tehran.

Ms. Faraghdani embarked on a hunger strike to protest her transfer to the deplorable Gharchak Prison, where political prisoners are not separated from hardened criminals, in violation of the principle of the separation of prisoners. After her health deteriorated severely and she was transferred to a hospital on February 26, 2015, judicial authorities ordered her transfer back to Evin Prison on March 2, where she has been ever since.

“According to our laws, activities on social networks on the Internet are not recognized as crimes. In democratic countries, drawing cartoons to criticize those in power is an accepted practice. My client is an artist who expresses her thoughts through drawing cartoons, and she meant to criticize those in power,” Mohammad Moghimi told the Campaign.