Source: Gazette letters: Opinion – Hackney Gazette
I had heard about people being sentenced to death in Iran for vague religious offences, but I never imagined one day it would happen to someone very close to me, writes Sara Saei, Hackney and Islington Amnesty group.
In the UK it is inconceivable sharing one’s spiritual ideas or world views could result in being kept in solitary confinement for six years and ultimately receiving the death penalty. But this is exactly what happened to my teacher.
A friend introduced me to Mohammad Ali Taheri’s classes in Tehran in 2008. He is the founder of a well-known spiritual doctrine in Iran. He openly held healing and self-realisation sessions at two reputable Iranian universities. He published several books and was allowed to deliver public speeches. But, as his audience grew, challenges against him began.
As government restrictions increased he was arrested twice in 2010 and 2011. After his second arrest under false charges, he was jailed for five years. In solitary confinement, he was interrogated about alleged heresy in his books and sentenced to death for spreading “corruption on Earth”.
I will never forget the evening of July 29, 2015, when the news was announced. The walls came tumbling down. I was shocked and speechless. Mr Taheri’s teachings had helped clear my depression, and now the Iranian regime had sentenced him to death on an outrageously vague, stupid charge.
The death sentence was to stop people questioning superstitions and traditional world views about religion. I could not believe how the judiciary system had completely neglected the 400,000 written and 200 video testimonies of people about Mr Taheri’s teachings healing methods. Under Iran’s extreme repression, nearly 200 people willingly recorded such video testimonies despite the risks of arrest and persecution.
We decided to do whatever it took to lift Mr Taheri’s death sentence by increasing public and international attention. So, despite frequent arrests, we as his students started to organise weekly peaceful protests at locations including in front of Evin Prison where he is being held.
I was arrested in one of these peaceful gatherings in November 2015, kept in solitary confinement for four nights and not allowed access to a lawyer or contact with my family. I was later sentenced to 91 days in prison and 74 lashes.
Eventually, after two months of campaigns, the Supreme Court was forced to lift the death sentence in December 2015. We hoped he would be released at the end of his five-year term in late 2016. But to our surprise he was tried for the same charge in February despite having been cleared in 2015! If convicted, he will be sentenced to death again!
It is important we support Iranian prisoners of conscience. Please sign the petition.