Wife of Jailed Iranian Dissident Criticizes Iran’s Rulers for Ordering Her Son to Prison

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By Michael Lipin & Ramin Haghjoo (VOA)

The wife of a jailed Iranian dissident has criticized her nation’s Islamist rulers for ordering the couple’s son to go to prison for protesting the Iranian military’s January shoot-down of a Ukrainian passenger plane, saying the wrong people were being imprisoned for the incident.

Fatemeh Maleki announced in an August 11 Instagram post that authorities had summoned her son Ali Nourizad to report to Tehran’s Evin prison within five days to start his jail term.

Maleki’s husband, Mohammad Nourizad, is an Iranian filmmaker and journalist who has been jailed since August 2019 for signing an open letter calling on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to resign. In her Instagram post, Maleki said the government was summoning her son to prison to put pressure on her husband, who has protested his own detention and that of other political prisoners while in custody.

Tehran’s Revolutionary Court had given the younger Nourizad a three-and-a-half-year sentence in April for the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security.” He had been arrested on January 12 for joining peaceful street protests sparked by the government’s belated admission that it had downed the Ukrainian passenger plane filled with Iranians four days earlier.

Nourizad was released on bail on February 2.

Iran initially denied blame for the January 8 shoot-down of the Ukraine International Airlines jet shortly after it took off from Tehran on a flight to Kyiv.

The incident happened as Iranian forces were on alert for a U.S. response to their missile strike on American troops in Iraq hours earlier. Iran had attacked the U.S. troops, wounding dozens, in retaliation for a U.S. airstrike that killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on January 3.

After three days of denials, Iranian officials admitted that their top military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, had mistaken the Ukrainian plane for an enemy threat and shot it down. All 176 on board the plane were killed, most of them Iranians.

An Iranian judiciary spokesman said in June that six people had been arrested in connection with the downing of the plane but three of them had been released on bail. No prosecutions have been announced.

By contrast, U.S. group Human Rights Watch said in May that Iran had sentenced least 13 people to prison terms “apparently solely for peacefully protesting” the IRGC’s missile strike on the Ukrainian airliner and the government’s initial denial of responsibility.

In a Thursday interview with VOA Persian, Fatemeh Maleki noted that Iranian authorities had not yet brought those responsible for the plane crash to justice. “It is our children, who lit candles and chanted slogans in the streets in sympathy with the victims of the crash, who have to serve time in prison,” she said.

Maleki said that by summoning her son to prison, Iranian authorities were trying to send a message that people should not join anti-government protests. “But when we consider that waves of protests in recent years have spread to more parts of Iran and had more participants, we see that the government is wrong,” she added.

There has been no mention in Iranian state media of Ali Nourizad being summoned to prison. Maleki has not stated publicly whether her son reported to Evin by the Sunday deadline.

Maleki also told VOA that authorities in Evin prison have barred her husband from using the phone to contact loved ones. She said family members have had no information about his condition inside the prison for several weeks.

In May, Maleki told VOA sister network Radio Farda that her husband’s lawyer visited him at Evin and saw that he had tried to commit suicide, with bandages on his hand and face. Mohammad Nourizad had sent an audio message from prison the previous month, saying he was contemplating suicide to protest the harassment of his family by Iranian security forces.

The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran has said Tehran has a documented history of harassing and detaining activists’ and journalists’ family members as part of a long-established practice aimed at deterring Iranian citizens from publicly criticizing state policies.

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