Iran: Further information: Spiritual teacher at risk of death penalty again: Mohammad Ali Taheri
SPIRITUAL TEACHER AT RISK OF DEATH PENALTY AGAIN Iranian spiritual teacher Mohammad Ali Taheri is awaiting his second hearing due to take place in July. The authorities are prosecuting him for “spreading corruption on earth”. He has been held in solitary confinement for over six years in Tehran’s Evin prison. If convicted, he can be sentenced to death.
Prisoner of conscience Mohammad Ali Taheri is accused of “spreading corruption on earth” (efsad-e fel arz) through the establishment of the spiritual group Erfan-e Halgheh and its related teachings. His trial started on 6 March before Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. During the court session, the judge gave him a number of written questions and asked that he provide his responses in writing by the next court session. His lawyer expects the session to take place before the end of July. The questions related to Mohammad Ali Taheri’s writings on Erfan-e Halgheh. Prison officials have not granted his request to access copies of his past writings in order to draft his responses, without which he cannot complete the questions.
A week before his court hearing in March, Iranian state television aired a programme called “Satan’s Ring”, which introduced Mohammad Ali Taheri as the leader of a “perverse sect”. The programme claimed that his teachings had led people to doubt their Islamic beliefs and practices, and made them experience anxiety, distress and poor mental health. At the end of the programme individuals who described themselves as “survivors” called for the execution of Mohammad Ali Taheri. Soon after, his followers faced a severe crackdown.
This is the third time that Mohammad Ali Taheri is standing trial on the charge of “spreading corruption on earth”. The first time was in 2011 when a Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment for “insulting Islamic sanctifies” but said further investigations were necessary before it could rule on the charge of “spreading corruption on earth”. For the next four years, the authorities kept him in solitary confinement in Section 2A of Evin prison, where he remains imprisoned, under the pretext of conducting investigations. This time counted toward his five-year sentence, which was deemed complete in February 2016. He was ultimately tried again on the charge of “spreading corruption on earth” in 2015 and sentenced to death, but he was acquitted in June 2016. Despite this, he was not released and in late 2016, the authorities charged him again with “spreading corruption on earth” based on the same activities that had formed the basis of his 2011 conviction.